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Dr. Who and the Daleks
Doctor Who-mania was sweeping the UK in the 1960's, and although some consider this film a ‘cash-in' vehicle, leading man Peter Cushing brings his own unique brand of charm and character to this movie, based on the hit BBC television series and putting the Dr. in direct confrontation with the show's most enduring villains. Produced by Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky (the duo behind Amicus Films) and directed by Gordon Flemyng, who was reasonably prolific in both the British film and TV scene of the time, Dr. Who And The Daleks remains a lot of fun for kids of all ages.
The story? Dr. Who (Peter Cushing, of course, best known for his roles in numerous Hammer classics such as The Horror Of Dracula and The Curse Of Frankenstein to name only two) is an eccentric time traveling scientist, and creator of T.A.R.D.I.S., a British Police Box that has been modified so that it is able to travel through time and space.
When he and his granddaughters, Barbara (Jennie Linden of Vampira) and Susan (Roberta Tovey of The Beast In The Cellar) are accidentally sent back in time when Barbara's clumsy boyfriend Ian (played by Roy Castle of Legend of the Werewolf) inadvertently hits a switch inside TARDIS, they end up stranded in a post-apocalyptic world full of petrified forests, mutated swamplands, treacherous mountains and a seemingly lifeless city.
Dr. Who tricks his traveling companions into exploring the city, duping them into believing that they can't get off the planet, as the T.A.R.D.I.S. needs a refill of the mercury they're sure to easily come across inside the city. Once inside, however, they're captured by the Daleks, a mysterious race forced to live inside odd mechanical suits due to harsh levels of radiation on the planet.
The Daleks decide to send Susan back to the forest, where T.A.R.D.I.S. has been left, as there is a special drug out there that they need in order to inoculate themselves from the radiation poisoning so that they can get on with their plan to rid themselves of the Thals, a peaceful race who are immune to the radiation on the planet.
After escaping from the Dalek cell in which they've been imprisoned, the time travelers warn the Thals and convince them that they need to fight the Daleks before they become exterminated. Dr. Who and crew find themselves in a race against the Daleks nuclear attack to save not only themselves, but also the entire Thal race from becoming exterminated once and for all.
As a kid, I was a huge Doctor Who fan thanks to a grandfather who really enjoyed the show, but as I grew older I lost interest in it only to have that interest rekindled decades later when the show was revamped. While revisiting the classic film presented here, however, it all came rushing back to me in spades, even if the movie takes place out of the continuity of the television show after which it was named. Cushing and Castle are a great team and work really well together. Cushing in particular really nails the quirkiness you expect from anyone playing the character, while at the same time bringing a noticeable sense of kindness to the part that works really well. Cushing's Dr. Who is just plain likeable, a wacky old man with a weird sense of humor who appreciates all the adventure and wonder that the universe can offer.
The sets in this lighthearted picture are wonderfully campy and if you pay attention you'll see all sorts of great lab equipment, eerily colored swamps, magnificently gloomy forests, and even some lava lamps. The design work on the Daleks is genuinely cool and while this may have been made on a fairly modest budget, comparatively speaking, the effects are pretty neat. The cinematography is solid, it definitely takes advantage of the scope photography employed, and the score from Malcolm Lockyer works really well. Sure, the story is pretty basic and the film is certainly an obvious product of the era in which it was made, but the undisputed charm of its set pieces and lead actors carry it through, providing viewers with a lot more fun than they'll have had at the movies in a long time.
Dr. Who And The Daleks arrives on a 50GB Blu-ray disc disc framed at 2.35.1 widescreen with the transfer taking up 26.3GBs of space on the disc. Taken from a 2k restoration (according to the back of the packaging), the picture looks great. Detail is very strong and the colors in particular really pop, looking bright and bold and vibrant without ever coming across as oversaturated. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and black levels are nice and deep. Contrast looks good as well, and the image is very clean, showing pretty much no actual print damage while retaining the expected amount of natural film grain you'd want to see. There are no issues with any noise reduction or edge enhancement issues nor are there any problems with compression artifacts. This is quite a nice picture.
The only audio option offered is a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 track in the film's native English. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. The track has a fair amount of depth to it for an older film, especially in terms of the sound effects used in the picture, which can sometimes pack a real punch. The score also sounds quite nice, very clear and strong, while the dialogue is always easy to understand and follow. No problems with any hiss or distortion to note here at all, the audio is pretty solid overall.
Extras on the disc start off with a new audio commentary by writer/film critic/film historian Kim Newman who is joined by screenwriter/author/film historian Robert Shearman and actor/writer/filmmaker Mark Gatiss. It's a very enjoyable track with Newman leading the charge and keeping the other two participants engaged throughout. They cover a bit of the history of the TV series as well as how the feature came to be produced by Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, the casting of Cushing in the lead, the supporting players, the depiction of the Daleks in this movie and a bit of history on that aspect of Who-history and lots more. It's a very jovial track, these guys get along well and seem to be really enjoying themselves here, and that really comes through when you listen to it, and on top of that, not only is it fun but it's packed with a load of information and insight.
Carried over from the UK release is Dalekmania!, a fifty-eight-minute documentary from 1995. This piece, directed by Kevin Davies, explores the history of the two Dr. Who movies that Cushing would star in and it features interviews and archival clips with Roy Castel, Yvonne Antrobus, Bernard Cribbens, Peter Cushing, Jennie Linden and quite a few more. It's quite interesting and well put together, showing off a wealth of vintage newspaper material and film clips.
The disc also includes an eight-minute interview with author Gareth Owen who speaks fondly about the film and offers up his take on it. Restoring Dr. Who and the Daleks is an eight-minute featurette from 2013 that demonstrates what all was involved in cleaning up the picture and the sound to get it into the condition that we see it in on this release.
Finishing up the extras on the disc is a theatrical trailer, a few bonus trailers (Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150, They Came From Beyond Space, The Day The Earth Caught Fire and The Eart Dies Screaming), menus and chapter selection options.
A wonderful slice of 60s science fiction fun is given a nice release from Kino Lorber with a great presentation and some nice extras. This disc is essential for Doctor Who fans, Cushing aficionados, and sci-fi movie buffs alike. Even those who are not die-hard Doctor Who fans should still find reason enough to enjoy this utterly charming British classic based on the amusing performances and some great pulp-style sets and characters. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.