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Dr. Who and the Daleks

Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // November 20, 2001
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted December 25, 2001 | E-mail the Author

The Story: Miserly inventor Doctor Who (the always great Peter Cushing) and his companions, granddaughters Barbara and plucky, young Susan, along with Barbara's bumbling boyfriend Ian, find themselves transported though time and space in the good Doctors new invention, the TARDIS. Landing on the deserted, petrified planet Skaro, they meet two alien races, who have been long separated after their kind warred with each other generations before, destroying the planet. On one end you have the beautiful, golden, peace loving Thals, a simple, natural people. On the other, you have the cold Daleks, damaged, mutated to the point where they are confined to robotic shells and still a race bent on conquering and eradicating other species. As the Daleks hold onto a piece of the TARDIS that is essential to operating it and getting them all back home, the Doctor must convince the peace loving Thals to rise up against the Daleks before the Daleks destroy them all, a fight that will involve penetrating the Daleks sleek fortress.

The Film: Made to cash in on Doctor Who (and the Daleks) first rise to fame, Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965) is a curiosity more than an official, important step in the Who mythology. By choosing to recycle a tv story instead of creating new one and in altering the Doctor persona, the film makers made a lesser film. Instead of an eccentric, crabby alien, we get a kind inventor grandfather, who for some reason makes a time machine that looks like a police box?, instead of an alien time lord whose machine got stuck on its police box cloak. Pretty big hole there... Its not his fault, but the humanity of Cushing's movie Doctor pales in every way because the thing that made the Doctor interesting was his alien nature, his wide ranging emotions that were most likely alien behavioral quirks... Adapted from the televised serial, "The Desert Planet", the film misses the opportunity to make the film a vast improvement, increase the scope of the story beyond nicer sets- For instance, the suggesting of the monsters in the swamp was no doubt a good idea on a tight television budget, not being able to afford making the creatures, but in the film they still don't show the creatures, just imply them, and it comes off as blatantly cheap. The most action you get is some gorge jumping and a little exploding Daleks in the finale. Likewise in structure, you can almost feel points where a cliffhanger, "until next week, or "to be continued" could be inserted. A fairly odd thing they also do is refer to the doctor as "Doctor Who", when the title was always meant to be a question, Doctor Who?, instead of a namesake, but once again, a fumble becasue they threw out the alien-ness of the Doctor... The buffoonery of Ian is a minor annoyance, as is the Doctors limited screen time, (I swear the Daleks almost have more dialogue than the Doctor), but, lets say you throw out all the Doctor Who Mythology and don't even look at it as a Doctor Who movie but just a work of science fiction for children. Well, its still a fairly limited one, but a little fun nonetheless, a B or C grade feature with some neat sets, from the green glow across the gray landscape of Skaro, to the sleek golden hallways of the Daleks fortress.

Doctor Who and the Daleks was made for children, and that has really always been the general bane of Doctor Who's existence. Like most Americans, I was turned on to Doctor Who when I was a wee one in the early eighties and PBS first began broadcasting the series to American audiences. Doctor Who was originally intended for children, but as the show progressed and its characterizations evolved, the show kept a lot of is younger audience when they grew into their teens and twenties, as well as picked up other sci fi fan adults who enjoyed the shows unique mythology and British wit. (Same goes for me, I appreciated it as a kid and still appreciate it as an adult.) So, it was always sort of intended for kids, yet, as time went on, its audience was as much teens and adults as children, so the poor writers and BBC programmers never quite knew who their audience was. At one point, the show came under fire for a season of stories leaning towards horror elements, complaints poured in that the stories were frightening the children too much, yet the teen and adult faction loved the season... So, I guess for all those older Who fans, like myself, Doctor Who and the Daleks ultimately is a footnote of those early days and original rise to fame, a piece of work that falls short of the elements we older Who fans love, but a still an intersting curiousity.

The DVD: Anchor Bay Entertainment's pleasantly packed DVD very smoothly straddles between being a work for Cushing fans and Doctor Who fans, finding a nice balance between the two. The cover is quite a bit of an eyesore, but, in the long run, it is the insides that are really important. Picture- Widescreen, anamorphic, enhanced, in full Technicolor Techniscope. It is absolutely gorgeous, a nice testament not only on how to make a low budget film look good, but great swinging, funky, vivid 60's photography. Sound- English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. Crisp, clear. No complaints. Extras- It begins with a nice little liner notes, one whole page being a poster for the film, then two pages of notes, and the remaining page being the Chapter selections.- Commentary by stars Jennie Linden (Barbara) and Roberta Tovey (Susan), moderated by Cushing expert Jonathan Scott. While no doubt informative without many silence gaps, the commentary does suffer from having actresses instead of more involved people in the production. (After nailing home the stories of how they were cast, what was it like filming, general reminiscing, they do begin to talk about, say, how one actress's hair was teased so high.) They do have anecdotes a-plenty about the overall experience and what it was like to work with those not on the track (Cushing mainly), it still could have benefited from a producer, director (who died in 1995), or writer, someone who could have added just a tad more insight to the behind the scenes machinations. While Scott does a great job of covering the Doctor Who mythology angle, the actresses are a little out of the loop, but luckily he is able to inform them about many things, such as why most Who fans disregard Cushing's Doctor.- Theatrical trailer(s)- A huge Poster and Stills Gallery, containing lots of press material, posters lobby cards, promo shots and behind the scenes pics. -Photo Essay: A History of Doctor Who- A very nice and detailed Peter Cushing Bio.

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