Back in the 1960s Doctor Who was a big thing in the UK. William Hartnell was charming hearts and minds as the Doctor and the Daleks kept coming back to do battle. In fact the Daleks were arguably more successful and more popular than anything else to do with the show whatsoever! Dalekmania was sweeping the nation – merchandise, books, stuffed toys, novelty singles, you name it it probably existed – so it was only a matter of time before they hit the big screen.
Step forward 1965’s cinematic extravaganza “Dr Who & The Daleks”! This movie is a complete retelling of the 1963-64 serial “The Daleks” (or “The Dead Planet” if you want to be that person) but there are many differences that can put fans off. For starters William Hartnell’s grumpy alien is gone, now we have Peter Cushing playing a man literally named Dr Who (which makes about as much sense as it sounds). He’s not a Time Lord; he’s a human. A human scientist who just happens to be named Dr Who, who just happens to have invented a time machine named TARDIS (no “the” this time), which just happens to look like a police box and be bigger on the inside.
The film sees Dr Who, with his granddaughters Susie (never actually called Susan) and Barbara and Barabara’s boyfriend Ian (Look kids, it’s Roy Castle!), accidentally travel in TARDIS to Skaro where they come face-to-face with the Daleks. The Daleks’ reveal is actually pretty impressive as Dalek reveals through the years go… or it would be if they didn’t get title billing! (It’s a common problem for them.) They bare a strong resemblence to the New Dalek Paradigm from Matt Smith’s time on the show with their bright colours and chunky design.
The film then spends the remainder of its 83 minute runtime – bare in mind we’re only six minutes in by now – dealing with the politics of Skaro, as the Dr and his three fellow time travellers must defeat the Daleks and save the Thals. 83 minutes to retell a story that was originally pushing 175.
Skip ahead a year to 1966 and the inevitable sequel, this time riffing off of “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” to give us the stupidly-titled “Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 AD”. This film sets the action on Earth in the year 2150 (No, really?) and replaces the Dr’s granddaughter Barbara with his niece Louise, and instead of Ian we have Tom Campbell (Look kids, it’s Bernard Cribbens!), a police constable who accidentally enters TARDIS after mistaking it for a real police box, pre-empting Tegan doing the same thing 15 years later.
This time the Daleks have invaded Earth and enslaved its people via mindcontrol as Robomen and it’s up to the Dr and his fellow time travellers to free them and defeat the Daleks… so basically more of the same. In this writer’s opinion this second movie is the superior one of the two.
Many fans of the original TV series are put off by these films, because. as far as they are concerned, these films are not just different, they’re wrong. Everything we’ve come to know and love about the series is ripped up and replaced with a more accessible family-friendly re-imagining – and it drives many fans nuts!
They’re so much more colourful in every way and much less depressing than the two serials they’re based upon. It just goes to show you by contrast just how dark the series was back then. They also look better too, not just being in colour but because everything about them is much more polished and more aesthetically-impressive than the original series ever was. The stories are told quicker, feel bigger and (Dare I say it?) they are more competently made.
But the biggest difference of them all is in Peter Cushing’s character: Dr Who. William Hartnell’s character from the TV series is only ever called The Doctor but Peter Cushing’s character is explicitly named Dr Who. (You’d never catch the TV series doing something stupid like that, would you WOTAN?) He is not an alien, this being before we knew about Time Lords, but a human scientist. A human scientist literally named Who. Goodness knows what going through life is like when Who is your surname!
While the Doctor was a cranky and crotchety grump, the Dr is a warm and accessible man. He’s a bit
While the two films exist only for reasons of LOOK IT’S THE DALEKS Cushing is still able to leave a memorable impression and marks himself out as one of the best alternate Doctors out there. It’s a shame that the hypothetical third movie, set to be based upon “The Chase”, ultimately never materialised because I would have loved to have spent more time with Dr Who than just the two movies. As is, the two films are all we have – and that’s a shame.
So finally one question: Are they canon? There are three prevailing theories on this topic. A theory from Peter Cushing himself is that the whole thing is a trick by The Celestial Toymaker (from the underrated Hartnell story of the same name) forcing the Doctor to become human and relive some old adventures.
Then there’s the Meta-Crisis Doctor from 2008’s Journey’s End. Long after Rose is dead [opens champange bottle] his mind is deteriorating. Eventually he finds some way to make his own TARDIS and just as he and his grandaughters are about to take it on its maiden voyage one of them brings their boyfriend along who accidentally sets off its controls and away they go to a “dead” planet.
…have turned into this?
Finally, Steven Moffat thinks they are films in the universe of the show. Speaking to DWM he said:
“When I started writing The Day of the Doctor I knew I wanted every Doctor to make some sort of appearance. But what about Peter Cushing? Now I love those movies, but they don’t exactly fit with the rest of the show, do they? You remember that line, in the Black Archive, when Kate is explaining about the need to screen the Doctor’s known associates? She wasn’t supposed to be looking at the Vortex Manipulator – originally she was walking past the posters for the two Peter Cushing movies! In my head, in the Doctor’s universe, those films exist as distorted accounts of his adventures. Sadly we couldn’t afford the rights to the posters.”In the fiftieth anniversary year that saw between two and three new incarnations of the Doctor, a new regeneration cycle and a tonne of returned missing episodes an explanation for Cushing’s Doctor would’ve been just the icing on the cake! But it was not to be and so the debates rage on.
“Oh, do shut up, you’re not even canonical!”
If you can look past the many changes they make to the established canon and accept them for what they are – a cult sci-fi oddity from the 60s – then you can watch these two movies and have a great time, especially with the superior second one. Whether you’ve been a fan of Doctor Who for fifty-three years or fifty-three seconds you’ll be able to get some enjoyment from Peter Cushing's time as Dr Who.
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.