Monday, August 6, 2012

Movie Monday: Dr. Who and the Daleks

This week's Movie Monday selection is 1965's Dr. Who and the Daleks!

Despite being a 100% nerd/geek all my life, the world of Dr. Who is one I have never entered. I remember when Marvel did a couple of comic book adaptations (starring the then-doctor, Tom Baker), as well as seeing the occasional cosplayer dressed as the Doctor at the low-rent comic cons I attended. From what I saw of it, the show looked really cheesy and silly, and I was of the age where I took my sci-fi/fantasy very seriously.

I have never caught up with Dr. Who, even after the series' resurgence in the 21st Century; the sheer massive amount of material that's out there now feels a little too daunting to take on, so it remains--like Dungeons & Dragons and video games--a corner of geekdom to which I don't venture.

The one bit Who-dom I did see was the 1965 movie starring Peter Cushing--Gran Moff Tarkin himself--as the Doctor. We had it at the video store I worked at, and once in a while I would put it on the store's TV for everyone to enjoy(?). But I had never actually sat down to watch the movie all the way through, so I thought why not dip my toe in the water?
Dr. Who and the Daleks, from what I understand of the Whoverse, exists outside the show's regular continuity, such as it is. Cushing had never played the Doctor before, and as it opens we see it takes a few liberties with the show's basic premise.

In an unassuming brownstone, the Doctor lives with his two granddaughters Barbara (Jennie Linden) and Susan (Robert Tovey). They are enjoying what seems like a typical morning of tea and reading the papers--with the Doctor engaging in one of my favorite pastimes:
Barbara's boyfriend Ian (Roy Castle) comes to visit, and the Doctor (whom Ian specifically calls "Dr. Who", one of the movie's breaks from canon) shows off his newest invention, the TARDIS. Roy is amazed at the contraption, which is ten times bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, and which--the Doctor claims--can travel through time!

Via some forced slapstick, Roy bumps a control switch, and the TARDIS goes rocketing through time and space, carrying all four of them to another planet, a planet that clearly has been devastated by nuclear war. Soon after, Dr. Who and his charges meet one of the forces behind the war--the evil robots known as, you guessed it, the Daleks!
The Daleks explain that they their race, sickened by nuclear radiation, retreated to the one remaining city and built robot casings for themselves, so as to be able to keep living. Meanwhile, another race of beings known as the Thals were able to counteract the radiation through the development of a drug, and became a peaceful community of farmers. They ask the Doctor for help in getting some of the drug for themselves.

Barbara and Ian want to leave--naturally--but the Doctor's curiosity gets the best of him and fakes the TARDIS being damaged. While on a search for supposedly-needed fuel, the whole group starts feeling sick, and the Doctor surmises they, too, are starting to suffer from radiation sickness. Young Susan heads out, where she meets one of the Thals who gives her some of the drug to cure herself and the others. The Daleks learn of this, and we learn their real plan: to lure the Thals (whose crops have recently died) into the city, where they will be, yes, exterminated!!
The Thals, a trusting and pale bunch, read a letter from Susan telling them to come to the city where the Daleks want to make peace. One of the Thals is skeptical, but he is overruled and the Thals decide to come to the city in peace.

Dr. Who and the others learn that the Daleks have been spying on them, and what the plan really is. They figure out the Daleks use some sort of static electricity to move about the city (not down stairs, though), and lay a trap for one them, using a plastic cape from one of the Thals to break the connection and stop it in its tracks.

(There's an interesting scene where Dr. Who and Roy remove the Dalek from its metal body, scooping it out with the plastic cape, and it appears to be no bigger than an infant:)
Dr. Who has Roy climb inside so they can move about the city (Luke Skywalker borrowed this same gag when he, Han, and Chewie ended up on the Death Star), and it works for a little while, until an alarm goes off. Who and the rest warn the Thals, and escape with them back into the jungle.

The Daleks test the drug, but learn it has horrible side effects on them. Knowing now they will never be able to leave the city, they decide to throw the baby out with the bath water, they plan to detonate a nuclear bomb, and destroy the Thals once and for all.

I won't get into the details of the ending, suffice it to say the Doctor and his traveling companions (SPOILER ALERT) survive, and make it back into the TARDIS. But unfortunately, when they emerge from it again, they find themselves not in London, but somewhere else entirely:
...Just the Beginning!

Well, sort of--there was a sequel produced, Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., but apparently it was a bit of a disappointment so that was the last of Peter Cushing as the movie Doctor. Apparently, die-hard Who fans don't think too much of either film; they're considered too silly and take too many liberties with the established world, but of course coming into it with no expectations, I was free to just enjoy the movie.

And I did--Dr. Who and the Daleks is no sillier than most of the other lower-budgeted sci-fi at the time, and while it leans more towards the juvenile in its look and approach than the series did (again, only according to what I've read), the plot is tight (the film is a lean 79 minutes), the visuals are pretty good, and of course I always enjoy Peter Cushing, whether he's a good guy or a bad guy. The final scene has some clowning around by Ian that's pretty embarrassing, and the sfx are laughably bad. Its what I imagine Dr. Who would have looked like if produced by Irwin Allen.

But overall I came away with a good impression of the whole Dr. Who universe, and while I still don't know if I'll ever get into the show, I am kinda interested in seeing more of the good Doctor's adventures!

1 comment:

Robert M. Lindsey said...

I've never gotten into Dr. Who. I watched one episode and it was pretty bizarre.

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