Looking Back At DALEKS' INVASION EARTH 2150 AD - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Tony ponders the movie Daleks’ difficult second album.
When the Daleks first appeared on TV in the show’s second story, they immediately took hold of the public imagination, and in all likelihood saved Doctor Who from being a dismal, experimental failure.

When they came back the following year, they were under a challenge – to prove they weren’t just a flash in the science-fiction pan, to prove they had what it took to bottle their particular brand of lightning a second time.

Writer Terry Nation set to work, translating them from resident alien on their own planet and in their own city, and making them the staple of science fiction since at least the days of HG Wells – conquerors of the Earth.

It. Was. Breathtaking.

Daleks on the streets of London. On its bridges, giving parallels of the Nazi salute against a London skyline. Daleks turning Londoners into mechanised slaves – the Robomen. Daleks emerging from beneath the waters of the Thames! It was thrilling, and imaginative, and took the Daleks forward in a colossal bound.

More than that, though. Where the Daleks were Nation’s Space Nazis, and the Thals in his first story were more or less avatars of the appeasers who tried to negotiate with them, the TV version of The Dalek Invasion Of Earth was more or less Nation’s hymn to resistance groups who fought against authoritarianism, because a majority of the story was focused on the activities of a guerrilla fighting force, resisting – and ultimately, with a little judicious help from the Doctor, defeating – the Dalek invasion.

In an episodic format, it worked well, because it was balanced across six episodes (2.5 hours of running time), and gave as much time to character dynamics as to the Daleks on Earth and their frankly barking mad ultimate plan of dropping a big bomb down a mine shaft in (of all places) Bedfordshire, exploding the core of the planet, replacing it with a drive unit and piloting the planet around the place.

It feels important to mention that this story on TV worked spectacularly, because when the Daleks came back for their second movie – all mention of Doctor Who technically removed from the title, just in case we were confused about the major box office draw – it…well, it didn’t work quite as well.
The first Dr Who movie, featuring Peter Cushing as the First Doctor of the big screen, and closely following Terry Nation’s first Dalek story, worked superbly. The scaling up of the Daleks, their city and the precision of their control and movement – not to mention the fact that they were in spectacular colour in the cinema long before that ever happened on TV (Two whole regenerations before, in fact), made for irresistible popcorn-munching on a Saturday morning. The fact that the companions in the film were direct avatars of the versions on the small screen – Ian, Barbara and Susan (for all Susan was made much younger and regularly called Susie) helped anchor the piece in a straightforward retelling of the TV tale, just bigger and brighter and in glorious colour.

The first movie also took at least a little time to explain the set-up for any newcomers – especially the nature of the Tardis. It’s fair to say there probably weren’t that many newcomers by the time the second film was released in 1966, two years after The Dalek Invasion of Earth had aired on TV (and actually, just four months before William Hartnell would be replaced on-screen by Patrick Troughton), but still, the second movie opens with the rapid abduction of a new companion – Police Constable Tom Campbell, played by Bernard Cribbins – during a smash and grab raid. He stumbles, dazed, into a police box to report the crime, and finds himself unceremoniously whisked off into space and time.

If anything, this has echoes of the TV abduction of Ian and Barbara, and also rather a lot of the way in which futuristic space pilot Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) found himself on board the Tardis.

Ian? Barbara? Nowhere to be seen in the second movie, but we do get an introduction to the Doctor’s niece, Louise, so that we can speculate about whether she and Tom will become another Ian and Barbara-style couple.

Spoiler alert: they don’t.

But with little more than a blink of the eye, Tom finds himself travelling with the Doctor and fam (yes, really – they’re all family in this movie bar Tom, so yes, fam) to future London, to battle the Daleks.
And the strange thing is that most of the important stuff from the TV version is in there, even down to some comedy peril when Tom (Ian on TV) opens a door in an abandoned building and nearly falls to his death because there’s no room on the other side. The resistance is there, still led by Dortmun, a brave man in a wheelchair, young resistance leader David Campbell’s still there – played in the movie by rising star Ray Brooks, though lacking the romantic sub-story he had with Susan in the TV version, because Susie’s still a child in the movies. There’s still treachery among the resistance and the beaten-down humans of a conquered Earth, including a glorious cameo by Philip Madoc, who would go on to an impressive TV career and star in TV Doctor Who several times. And in a stroke of geeky genius, there’s even a brief role for Eileen Way, who had appeared in the very first TV Doctor Who story, and has the gracenote of being the first character to die in the show.

It has lots to recommend it, Daleks’ Invasion 2150. But it doesn’t work, overall, as well as either the six-part TV version, or the first Doctor Who movie.

Part of that is down to that episodic element – six episodes of guerrilla resistance fighting, schlepping from London to Bedfordshire and stopping the world’s most improbable bomb, has enough room to breathe. On the movie screen in just over 80 minutes, there’s a shimmer between the lines of science-fiction and straightforward war film, and Daleks’ Invasion 2150 AD never seems to settle on being just one of the two.
There’s also rather more out and out slapstick for Bernard Cribbins than there was in the first movie for Roy Castle, so it feels like the movie is occasionally trying to be three movies in one, and it doesn’t give any of them enough room or time. In particular, an extended scene with Cribbins playing ‘idiot new army recruit’ in a troop of otherwise well-co-ordinated Robomen, eating what are clearly Dolly Mixtures, and getting his directions mixed up goes on for significantly too long.

The Daleks themselves have also lost some impact. When they emerged out of the Thames in the TV version it was a defining moment to say ‘They’ve come on – they can do this now.’ In the movie, it feels instantly less impressive.

Compared to the first Dalek movie, they lose a little visual thrill too, because whereas in that first movie, they were full-on in terms of their use of colour, in the second movie, most of the Earth-bound Daleks are rather more TV-faithful, meaning they’re grey with pale blue accents. It should work, but somehow it feels less impressive than the colourful Daleks, adding an unfortunate drabness to events.

The colourful Daleks are still here, but they’re mostly confined to the Dalek spaceship, where they remain resplendent and epically cool.

While we’re talking about it, the Daleks spaceship in the movie is one of the elements which absolutely beats the pants off its TV version. It’s a superb piece of model work, and even decades later, it still holds up and looks believable within the context of the story.
The Robomen too look spectacular in the movie version, their black outfits shiny, their use of their whips indiscriminate – don’t think about it too hard, you’ll come over all peculiar. As an avatar of Dalek control, and how Dalek ideas can turn thinking humans into mindless, obedience slaves, the Robomen are a delicious warning of ‘the enemy within,’ and there’s no getting away from the fact that they look impressive in the movie version.

That, ultimately, is the weird point of balance about Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD. Some of it looks phenomenal. The thing that doesn’t look that great is the Earth-bound Daleks – and they’re more or less why people bought the ticket, so the disappointment feels bigger than it should.

And unlike the TV version, which was that hymn to resistance groups, culminating in Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter, being locked out of the Tardis to stay with David and make a life with him, the movie version knows its beginning and its end, but spends too much of its screen time in going from A-B, and too little time developing character, exemplifying peril, or involving the audience in the fight against the forces of Space Fascism. At the end, tom goes back to work – albeit with enough foreknowledge to foil the robbery that got him into all this.

For all that though, Daleks’ Invasion 2150 AD is still a solid enough watch, and there’s always going to be a thrill in watching Peter Cushing play the Doctor (or Dr Who, if you insist). If you want to have a seriously enjoyable Saturday, give yourself a treat and watch both Peter Cushing Dr Who movies back to back – despite the relative merits of each film, you’ll be well satisfied by the time they’re over.

Watch Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD today with a seven day free trial of BritBox.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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