Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.

Release Date: August 1966
Written by: Milton Subotsky (based upon the TV serial by Terry Nation), with additional material by David Whitaker
Directed by: Gordon Flemyng
The Story So Far: Another big-screen adaptation of a Doctor Who serial, featuring an all-new cast, more and bigger Daleks, and a slightly less groovy color scheme than the first film.

This is the end of Dalekmania, right here.  Just one year before, the feature film Dr. Who and the Daleks had been a smash hit, and Daleks were everywhere in British life. But, back then, Verity Lambert was still producing Doctor Who for TV, Terry Nation was still writing for it, two Dalek serials had just aired in the previous nine months, and a 12-part Dalek epic was very soon in the future.

By August 1966, however, Doctor Who has moved on from there.  The two producers who successively replaced Verity Lambert brought a dizzying rush of different perspectives to the show, at turns more adult, cerebral, violent, darker, funnier… and a lot more exhausting, with far less mass appeal (if the ratings and Audience Appreciation figures were anything to go by).  So, by August 1966, another theatrical Dalek film could not help but appear outdated, if not tacky.  Like dressing up for Halloween as the tween pop sensation from so-five-minutes-ago.

But I love the fire engine-red design scheme.

But I love the fire engine-red design scheme.

Daleks – Invasion Earth opens on Bernard Cribbins as Tom Campbell, a hapless police constable who conspicuously fails to stop a jewel heist, and then stumbles into the TARDIS by accident.  Soon, Dr. Who, his granddaughter Susie — and, with Barbara and Ian missing without explanation — his niece Louise along for the ride, have whisked Tom off to the mid 22nd century, and the ruins of London.  It’s quickly learned that the Daleks have taken over the planet, and are seeking to mine the Earth’s magnetic core.

As with the previous film, this one follows the broad outline of its parent TV serial.  David Whitaker’s hand, however, is not entirely evident in the script that he co-wrote; it lacks a lot of the dystopian feel and emotional impact of Terry Nation’s originals (trust me, this is a sentence I never thought I’d be saying before I embarked upon this marathon).  Even apart from the absence of Susan’s leaving scene (which was all Whitaker anyway) in the film, the characters of Jenny and Larry Madison are also jettisoned — in the process, turning the story from a character-based drama about what happens when the world ends, to a two-dimensional romp about robots, ray-guns, and Robomen.

If the interminable sequence of Bernard Cribbins marching out of step with the PVC-clad Robomen even HAS two dimensions.

If the interminable sequence of Bernard Cribbins marching out of step with the PVC-clad Robomen even HAS two dimensions.

There’s a lot of action and adventure to be had, but, with few exceptions, it’s all rather light-hearted.  The Robomen are comical, not horrific.  Many of the film’s bountiful explosions involve inanimate, non-combustible objects, like a log cabin at one point (!). Dortmun’s death scene is greatly sanitized, as he manages to take several Daleks with him… as opposed to the bathos of his TV death, the most pointless noble self-sacrifice in Doctor Who history.  The old lady and her daughter, who sell Barbara and Jenny (Tyler Wyler in the film) to the Daleks in exchange for a sack of oranges, are lacking the charm of their TV counterparts; the old lady, here played by Eileen Way (who previously played a grumpy old woman in The Tribe of Gum, and would do so again in The Creature From the Pit), doesn’t get to philosophize about the magic of life in 22nd-century London before the Daleks arrive, and thus carries a hard edge even before she betrays our heroes.  Which takes the surprise and drama, right out of that betrayal.

One character-based improvement in the movie, actually, is the addition of Philip Madoc as the film’s version of Ashton, the black marketeer at the Daleks’ mining operation. Madoc, who played several memorable roles in Doctor Who during the Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker years, most of them terminally hammy, here hews a little closer to the awesomely silky-and-steely menace of his War Lord in The War Games. He’s a delicious combination of cold, hard, and smirky, in a you-love-to-hate-that-guy kind of way.  His death scene — while scientifically ludicrous — is one of the few stand-up-and-cheer moments in the whole picture.

I don't THINK it's a spoiler to say that Philip Madoc isn't possibly going to get out of THIS scenario unharmed.

I don’t THINK it’s a spoiler to say that Philip Madoc isn’t possibly going to get out of THIS scenario unharmed.

Peter Cushing, back as “Doctor Who” (which is what William Hartnell was called in the previous televised adventure, interestingly enough), is almost a complete non-entity in the film.  As with Dr. Who and the Daleks, his character is good-natured, kind-hearted, avuncular, and slightly absent-minded — not a good recipe for dominating a motion picture by sheer force of will.  William Hartnell, even at his weakest moments and with his worst scripts, did a better job of grabbing the center of attention.

Cushing, by the way, was evidently ill during the filming of this, why is why Bernard Cribbins gets so much more screen time (along with David Tennant, that makes two Doctors that Cribbins has successfully upstaged).  That’s an interesting parallel with Hartnell, who got injured during the TV production and had to miss one of the six episodes.  Cushing does at least get one great confrontation with the Daleks at the end, assuming the role that Barbara had played so well on TV .  But even here, the movie still manages to underplay the scene; instead of cleverly bamboozling the Daleks with nonsense about the “Red Indians” (or getting them to so memorably chant “We are the masters of India” in response), he basically points “Look!”, runs in the opposite direction, and pulls the comically large self-destruct lever when the Daleks’ backs are turned. Great, but not that great.

Peter Cushing as Conductor of the Mad Dalek Orchestra.

Peter Cushing as Conductor of the Mad Dalek Orchestra.

Then again, what I’m doing is nitpicking the script of a glorified B-movie.  It is also possible, in many respects, to just shut up and enjoy the picture, the way most British fans do.  During the the ’70s and ’80s, at a time when Doctor Who serials were rarely re-broadcast on the BBC, more fans became familiar with this picture than with classic episodes.  As a result, the film has a great reputation across the pond.  So it obviously has more appeal than just being a weak copy of the TV serial, and is fan-tested to be much more enjoyable than I am probably making it out to be.

Good stuff?  The Daleks, as always, look dazzling.  The multicolored and, especially, the Red Dalek, are imposing in a way the TV props never could be.  The Daleks’ flying saucer is a complicated prop, with rotating window discs (and visible wires to fly with but, hey, that’s hardly an original sin).  The Robomen, while not unsettling, do look great in their matched PVC outfits.  The stunts are terrific — Thompson’s death, while memorably staged on TV as a slow-burn build-up, is a much more complicated chase here, with the stuntman climbing up a rock pile, falling through a store awning (breaking his ankle in the process!) and getting exterminated by about 6 Dalek plunger jets at once.

A very non-cheesy flying saucer.

A very non-cheesy flying saucer.

There’s good casting, too, beyond Philip Madoc.  Andrew Keir, in the Bernard Kay role, has a bizarre costume (he’s got some weird-looking frilly shirt/sleeves thing going on), but adds true gravitas to the role.  Following Andre Morell, he’s the second Professor Quatermass actor to appear in Who.  Dortmun here is played by Godfrey Quigley (wearing a snappy, freshly-pressed purple suit, which you’d have to think would be a difficult feat to manage in a devastated world such as this one).  Quigley’s Dortmun lacks the confident bluster plus quiet desperation that Alan Judd brought to the role on TV but — shades of Andre Morell — he’d later go on to be a Stanley Kubrick actor, having memorable roles in A Clockwork Orange and (with Morell) Barry Lyndon.

Some of the special effects work quite well too.  While the TV series wiped out the Daleks through an implied volcano (in England!), here more use is made of turning the Earth’s magnetic core against them.  There are several nicely done shots of Daleks being magnetically whisked across the set, or being crumpled up by sheer magnetic force.

Worst Devo Concert Ever.

Worst Devo Concert Ever.

Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. is a pretty well-done movie for its type.  A lot of care clearly went into it, and it’s a shame that it came out at the wrong time – after Dalekmania had started to recede, and after Doctor Who‘s original format had started to lose its hold on the public consciousness.  Certainly watching it as part of the marathon, turns it from a cute Saturday night TV movie, to a bit of an irritation delaying one’s arrival on The Tenth Planet.

Plans to adapt The Chase into the third theatrical Dalek film were scuttled when this movie flopped, although fortunately a mock fan-made trailer is still available on YouTube.  You can imagine, though, that a movie based on The Chase coming out in 1967 would have been a disaster.  When you think about how much Doctor Who changed between August 1965 and August 1966, it’s no surprise that a movie remake of a two-year-old serial got caught up in the tide and washed out to sea (I think that’s not a mixed metaphor).  Now, think about how else Who was about to change between August 1966 and August 1967, and then imagine how a third film with Technicolor Daleks, and Peter Cushing genially bumbling his away around the planet Mechanus, might have been received by the public.  So maybe it’s good that the fake trailer is all we have of Dr. Who – Daleks vs. Mechons

About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
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