Conflicting Opinions: DR WHO & THE DALEKS

The 1965 movie Dr Who & the Daleks often divides Who fandom. Like Marmite, some people love it, some people hate it. So it seemed only right to put across both sides of the argument. Christopher Morley feels there's a lot to love about Peter Cushing's debut 'Dr' story, but first Tom Pheby has a somewhat different point of view... 

1965 - Film Producer to the BBC: "Do you want to earn a lot of money by letting us make a film version of Doctor Who?", the representative from the BBC wisely replies "We'll have to have some sort of control over the project and advise on its design, production and have a final say in casting."

Well that's how it should have played out but unfortunately it seems the rep from the Beeb simply replied "how much?", and as a result we ended up with 'Dr. Who And The Daleks' starring Peter Cushing and Roy Castle. Roy Castle? That possibly says it all.

There's so much to complain about it's hard to know where to start. Firstly the Dr (Peter Cushing) appears to be a pleasantly confused human, in fact he almost resembles Professor Yaffle from Bagpuss. 

Peter Cushing - Professor Yaffle

More remarkably he seems to know less than his companions about quantum physics, but on the flip-side his pockets are probably bulging with Werther's Originals. With this in mind it's difficult, if not impossible, to believe that this eccentric and charming old codger could somehow invent TARDIS (no 'the'), the design aspects of which appear to have been well down the list of priorities. It's interior shamefully resembles the contents of one of those BT tents that used to litter every small street at the weekends, just a mass of coloured wires hanging out in a haphazard fashion.

Ian is played by Roy Castle. Roy Castle? (I'm going to keep doing that) His version of Ian is in complete contrast to the TV one. He's a hapless, hopeless, clueless, useless, clumsy oaf that you prey will get zapped in an opening skirmish with the bin lid aliens. Joining Roy Castle (Roy Castle?) are Jennie Linden as Barbara and Roberta Tovey as Susan, not that they get any opportunity to impress with a script that barely allows anything other than a perfunctory shriek or high pitched shrill.

As for the plot, which you suspect was written on the back of a Woolworths till receipt in crayon by Milton Subotsky (I'm not even making this up), it is an entirely watery and unpalatable affair by any standard. Basically, Ian (Roy get the idea) accidentally starts TARDIS by falling on a lever (God help us), perhaps Norman Wisdom wasn't available due to prior commitments. The Dr. (that's right, Dr.) and his intrepid band of idiots end up on Skaro after a Nuclear War (they couldn't even be bothered to do something original). What follows is radiation sickness, Susan meeting the Thals and going back to the Daleks and a Neutron bomb, blah, blah, blah. If I sound drained at this point it's because it's difficult to find any tangible excitement or enthusiasm about the whole thing. If they couldn't be bothered, why should I? Not the attitude I know, but.... Roy Castle?

Probably the worst part of the entire film is where the Dr and his chums break out of their confines by blinding the Dalek with chocolate pudding and moving it on to a plastic cape insulating it from the floor below (what is it? a dodgem?). Ian then hops inside for a prolonged spell of cheap laughs - but not as cheap as the fee for the script. I have three points on this bit; Firstly, if the Daleks can be dispensed with that easily then they are clearly not as fearsome as we first thought. Secondly, what Dalek worth their salt delivers chocolate pudding to their captives, or cares if they eat at all? And thirdly, why on earth was the assembled fluff wearing a plastic cape, is one of them a lap dancer?

Peter Cushing (incidentally, did you know he married the actress/comedian Whoopi Goldberg, there's a joke there if you look hard enough) was a superb actor, but not as Dr Who. He's vague, lacking charisma, wit and intelligence, and the whole thing is an undeniably lazy money spinner which offers nothing in return. It's totally ridiculous, annoying and cringe-worthy throughout and the only antidote is to watch the real thing. I suspect however that Mr Pertwee had been impressed by 'the Cushes ' outfit at a subliminal level without realising, and it would seem to have influenced his choice of attire when he took up the role as the Adam Ant of Space. I'm starting to digress...Roy Castle?

At best I'd describe Dr. Who And The Daleks as glossy, insipid nonsense with the aspiration of becoming a Carry On film, and not a very good one at that. I know there are a few of you out there that are wearing rose tinted spectacles, who will try to convince me that it's a great example of nostalgia, but I'm a non-believer where this stinker is concerned. I think it's because it comes across like a half arsed B-Movie. Yes it's filmed with reasonable energy and pace, and snappily edited, but it is missing just about every other key ingredient, mainly credibility. Sadly it's like trying to reinvent the wheel and then selling it on Dragons Den.

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Christopher Morley now gives us his conflicting opinion...

Ask most Whovians their thoughts on Dr Who & The Daleks, Peter Cushing's first cinematic outing as the Doctor (who wasn't really even technically a Doctor for many, many reasons) & you'll most likely be branded a heretic for even mentioning it in the same breath as the original, for which read 'canon' series.

But if you can suspend your disbelief, as every Doctor from First to Eleventh has asked us to on occasions, & approach it from an aesthetic standpoint - that's 'just look at it' for those of you without any Media Studies grounding - you just might find something to enjoy if you can stop bitching about the whole thing, & recognise his often bigger than advertised part in the workings of both his own & the 'conventional' Whoniverse.

In a parallel universe - & yes, he really was approached to do so - it might have been Cushing who took the TARDIS on its maiden flight in An Unearthly Child. That's one - nil on the 'trivia' scoreline. Scheduling conflicts prevented him from doing so, but we really might have seen the man who would one day become the face of Hammer Horror & indeed Grand Moff Tarkin as a 'legitimate' incarnation of the Time Lord.

Victory Of The Daleks

Let's now up the 'trivia' score to two. Remember the New Dalek Paradigm, which made its bow in Victory Of The Daleks? Forget the rather long-winded explanation of why they appear to have taken on the appearance of fat Smarties tubes (the gist is it denotes their rank in the new 'officer-class' line-up of the Dalek hierarchy). Where else have we, Steven Moffat & Mark Gatiss seen the tyrannical wheeliebins willing to experiment with new colour schemes?

That's right- Doctor Who & The Daleks! Luckily for these more colourful inhabitants of Skaro, their lifespan extended beyond one film. Only just, though - two. In between though, several appear in black & white in 'The Chase' having been snapped up by the BBC. Thanks to the broadcast of that story before the film's release they're actually thus first seen in monochrome before the bigger screen allows them their full glorious Technicolour moment.

When released in America in 1966 (a year after British audiences got to see it), it also provided a notable first, particularly in light of the modern-day Doctor Who Magazine comic series. A similar treatment of the film was the first inkling Americans got that the Doctor could invade a medium they'd been more used to seeing the likes of Spider-Man ambling around. A new frontier for the TARDIS, indeed!

A radio series was also proposed, with a pilot episode made & subsequently lost - though the 'Cushing Doctor' would enjoy resurrections of sorts in Justin Richards's short story for the Short Trips & Side Steps anthology, The House On Oldark Moor, & the novels Conundrum & Head Games, by Steve Lyons.

Perhaps the two New Adventures novels come closest to defining the popular perception of him - in this he's a creation of the Land Of Fiction (first visited, of course, by the Second Doctor), made by its new Master as an analogue of the 'real' Doctor (but implicitly based on Cushing's portrayal), by now in the form of his Seventh self. The Fictional Doctor is presented as rasher, less bound by morals than his 'real-world' self, which gets out of hand when he & his companion/creator Jason (the aforementioned new Master) find a way to bring themselves out of the Land to Earth. And it may well be that that's how many fans see the Doctor of the film & its sequel, Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD.

But ask yourself this- is he really doing any harm? Of course, its nothing less than pure exploitation of the 'Dalekmania' fad of the Sixties, which sprung up despite Sydney Newman's insistence on 'no bug-eyed monsters' as recreated in An Adventure In Space & Time. But if you can look past the obvious lack of even lip service paid to the fundamentals of the original programme - this Doctor isn't even a Time Lord, he's implied to have built TARDIS (notice a chronic lack of 'the'), its a harmless enough romp, a product of the times in which it was made & a monument to rushed big-screen adaptation.

Perhaps the best approach is indeed to believe that what you're watching is the Land Of Fiction's finest achievement yet, or a bungled human effort to recreate the First Doctor's various travels through time & space on their own terms. Lest ye forget also that a large part of Cushing's Hammer Horror back catalogue later inspired the Fourth Doctor's own 'Gothic horror' stories (Seasons 13-14 most blatant in this regard - see the likes of Pyramids Of Mars, The Brain Of Morbius, The Masque Of Mandragora & The Hand Of Fear as but a few examples).

Wibbly wobbly timey wimey in the extreme!

So, what are your thoughts on Dr Who & The Daleks? Heresy? Or harmless fun?
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