Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Interlude - "Dr. Who and the Daleks"

Dr. Who and the Daleks

Released: August 23, 1965

Written by Milton Subotsky

From the Story by Terry Nation

Directed by Gordon Flemyng



Dr. Who lives in London with his granddaughters Susan and Barbara. One evening, Barbara's boyfriend Ian comes calling, and Dr. Who decides to show him his latest invention, a time machine he calls TARDIS, outwardly disguised as an ordinary police box, but much larger on the inside. Ian accidentally activates TARDIS, which takes them all to a petrified jungle on an alien world. Dr. Who wishes to investigate a nearby futuristic city, and lies about a faulty piece of equipment, suggesting that the mercury needed to repair it could be found in the city. They go to explore, and are soon captured by beings called the Daleks.

The travelers discover that there are two races on the planet, and that they are both survivors of a long atomic war. The Daleks were forced to encase themselves in the protective machines they now live within in order to survive the radiation. The Thals survived the fallout, but the Daleks claim they are now hideously mutated. The travelers also discover that they are all suffering from radiation sickness. Dr. Who recalls that Susan had found a case containing strange drugs seemingly left near TARDIS.

The Daleks know those drugs are likely the Thal's anti-radiation medication. The Daleks want to conquer the entire planet, but have been trapped inside their city, dependant on their armor to survive. If they had the medication, they could leave the city and exterminate the Thals. The Daleks allow Susan to return to TARDIS and obtain the drugs left outside the ship. Susan gets to TARDIS and there meets Alydon, leader of a Thal expedition. Not at all disfigured as the Daleks claimed, it was he who left the drugs for the travelers. He gives Susan a secondary supply to hide from the Daleks and also loans her his plastic cloak.

Upon her return, the Daleks discover the hidden drugs, but allow the travels to keep them and treat themselves. They do so to gain a measure of the travelers' trust, so that the Daleks can ask Susan to write a letter to the Thals, suggesting the Daleks wish to end hostilities and share their food supply with the Thals. The letter states they will leave the food in the courtyard as a sign of good faith. The travelers discover this is a ruse, however, designed to ambush and exterminate the Thal expedition.

The travelers escape their cell, using Susan's borrowed plastic cape to interrupt a Dalek's connection with the metal floor, disrupting the flow of static electricity that powers it. The travelers attempt to warn the Thals, but the Daleks do manage to kill a Thal before they all escape.

The Daleks attempt to use the medication but it causes horrifying side effects. With this option unavailable to them, the Daleks decide to detonate a neutron bomb, further irradiating the planet to the point where no one but Daleks could survive.

At the Thal camp, Dr. Who urges the pacifist Thals to fight against the Daleks for their own survival. The travelers discover they cannot leave, as the Daleks confiscated the fluid link Dr. Who had lied about being broken. They have to recover it in order to repair TARDIS. Dr. Who finally succeeds in convincing the Thals to fight, and a plan is devised.

Ian, Barbara and a contingent of Thals will approach the city from a treacherous route over the mountains that is unguarded, while Dr. Who, Susan and the rest of the Thals create a diversion with a frontal action. As Ian and company face numerous perils on their journey, Susan and Dr. Who are captured by the Daleks during their diversionary attack.

Ian and his group successfully infiltrate the city, while the remaining Thals mount a counter-attack to rescue Dr. Who and Susan. Breaching the control room, the groups all converge in a massive battle, whil Dr. Who shouts for someone to stop the countdown to the neutron bomb's detonation. Ian manoeuvres himself in front of the Dalek control panel and draws the fire. Dodging their blasts at the last moment, the Daleks inadvertently destroy their own control systems, stopping the countdown and shutting off their power supply.

Afterwards, the Thals bid farewell to Dr. Who and his friends, and the travelers set off for home.


If you ever wondered what Doctor Who would be like if you sanded off all the rough edges and enlarged the budget, then feast your eyes on this. Unfortunately, this sanding off also eliminates all the complexity, subtlety, darkness, and plain old weirdness that makes the TV series so great.

To be fair, the film does justify its existence in that it fulfills its most basic reason for being; it's both Doctor Who and the Daleks in colour, with a feature film budget. With one major exception, it looks absolutely brilliant. The Daleks are amazing, bright and shiny and imposing, zooming around on magnificent sets decked out in bright colours. They won't look this good until the 21st century. The other sets and special effects are equally impressive. The matte paintings look dated now, but they're still beautiful. The jungle sets are amazing too.

So it's odd that the interior of TARDIS is so horrible and uninspired. It's a black room with lab equipment strewn about and a big red lever. It's utterly without imagination. I'm only guessing that the BBC didn't allow these filmmakers to directly copy (and lessen the impact of) the TV version, but this was the best they could come up with? It's just dreadfully dull and completely lacking in impact. And why exactly is the ship called TARDIS and not the TARDIS? No reason given, but it just sounds wrong.

The film's story does not suffer comparisons to its source material very well. While the action is streamlined for its shorter running time, it doesn't feel any zippier. All of the main characters are far less interesting than their small screen counterparts. Dr. Who is not only implied to be an ordinary human being, but his name actually seems to be Dr. Who! All of Hartnells' eccentricities are pretty much gone, replaced by a kindly old scientist. This is a shame, as it renders your central protagonist ineffectual and eliminates that sense of magic that the character evokes so well.

This could have been offset by an Ian that closely reflected William Russell's stalwart heroic portrayal. But Ian here spends most of the time as cowardly comic relief, then inexplicably finds his bravery instantly when the story needs him to. I'd have no problem with a little character development, but having the character change with nary a line of dialogue to show why is lazy. As for Barbara, she has absolutely no character whatsoever. She is simply there, not really offering anything. The only character that seems to work is Suzy, mostly because it's interesting to place such a young child in such a grim story, and she actually gets some good moments in her trek back to TARDIS. The cast all do a solid job with what they're given, it's just that what they've been given is so bland.

The film is well-directed, and it's not bad per se. If you had never seen the TV series, you might find this to be perfectly serviceable adventure story for young children, but if you have seen the series it was based on (and who else would this be marketed to?) you're bound to be disappointed. I'd argue that the TV series was aimed at pretty much the whole family, so why the need to make it such a "kiddie" film without any of the series' best qualities baffles me. In the final analysis, it's a waste of a huge opportunity to depict Doctor Who without the limits TV imposed. But then again, perhaps those very constraints forced its makers to be more imaginative and to rely on innovation in character and storytelling rather than spectacle. All of this renders this film an interesting curiosity, but nothing more.

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