Dr. Who and the Daleks
The plot of Dr. Who and the Daleks is pretty much identical to the TV version albeit seriously slimmed down, and I think better for it, and out of the two films, survives the transition most successfully on paper. Bare basics are that Dr. Whos recently completed time machine nicknamed TARDIS accidentally whisks its inhabitants to the devastated world of Skaro. Rather than simply setting the controls to return to Earth, Dr. Who sabotages his own machine to persuade his companions to investigate the mysterious alien city to repair the damaged component. Inside they encounter the dreaded Daleks a race of survivors from an atomic war encased in metallic machines that cannot leave the city. Little do they know they are not alone, the Thals, their enemies in the long past war have survived by creating a drug to protect them from the radiation on the planet, which the TARDIS travelers have succumbed to, and have come looking for food. The Daleks having discovered they cannot use the drug as they have become conditioned to radiation decide to detonate another neutron bomb to increase radiation throughout the planet to a level that even the Thals can survive. Dr. Who has to assist the pacifist Thals to stand up and fight for their right to survive. The TV version has a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and padding to make it last 7 episodes, so the narrative certainly benefits from getting tightened up. For example on TV the initial plan to detonate a bomb was derailed due to the fact the bomb would take too long to build. Instead they hatch a plan to vent their nuclear reactors, to achieve the exact same objective. Its needless padding, removed and simplified just by saying, actually guys, we found a bomb we can use! So you see how the structure is more improved. But despite what is actually a dark story, why does it feel so light? The tone and visuals seem to massively undermine the quite gritty and powerful themes of the story, burying them under a façade of technicolour, copper paint and tinted Perspex. While I appreciate what they were going for, using a richer colour palette it does seem a bit garish and tacky, personified by the Black Dalek with alternate coloured hemispheres. It just comes across as indecisive and tacky like they are trying too hard to exploit the medium. Although Doctor Whos audience at the time was families, just as much adults as children, this film aims purely to please the children but doesnt even try to challenge its audience. It takes a fairly morbid subject matter (genocide) and tries to make it friendly and colourful. The best way to describe it is classically awful. It is never going to be in the same league as say Forbidden Planet or The Time Machine or even the Hammer Horrors because its not trying, it fundamentally misjudges its core demographic and with that alienates the wider demographic entirely. Immediately I can say that Peter Cushing fans will be disappointed as he is largely upstaged by the Daleks who are the real stars of the films. For the best as his performance is somewhat misjudged. Dr. Who is a bumbling, poorly written and under developed. The most development we observe is in the first scene where whilst his Granddaughters are reading about science, he is reading the latest Dan Dare comic. Its something you can imagine Matt Smith doing and it is a charming and amusing sequence, but it becomes tiresome very quickly. The biggest revelation is Roberta Tovey as Susan, she is surprisingly quite a capable young actress and the characterization of Susan is far more successful than on TV. Susan here is actually quite sensible and mature, capable of looking after herself and although at times scared, she is quite brave and does what she has to. Also her relationship with her Grandfather is something of greater value as you see that she looks after him just as much, if not more than he looks after her. Shes very much Dr. Whos right hand person and its something to appreciate. Rather than being Susans curious school teachers, the established relationship is that Barbara (who retains the same level of bouffant of badassery as her TV counterpart) is also Dr. Whos granddaughter (though youd be forgiven for forgetting this) and Ian portrayed by Roy Castle is her new boyfriend. Barbara is completely unnecessary to the plot, and has pretty much nothing to do, whereas Ian varies wildly from comic slapstick to ultimately self-sacrificial heroism. There is not so much as the slightest hint at romance between Ian and Barbara past the swooning kiss that sets the TARDIS in flight. Ian and/or Barbara could have been the major heroes of this film but it makes one question at times whether the film would be better without the lead cast entirely. Now even though I have seemingly condemned it, there are some redeeming features because surprisingly there are some things to enjoy. One of these aspects is naturally the production values. £180,000 was the budget for this film which is a medium sized budget for the films and most of it shows, even if it isnt all in the right ways. All the money was basically poured into the Daleks, 18 props were built, all painted in their vibrant colour schemes. As for where the Daleks live, the Dalek city control room was at the time I believe was the biggest city that had ever been built at Shepperton studio. Incorporated in that was a marvelously inventive, rotating central control panel. Its something that nowadays in principle we have every day with smart phones and touch screen, the interface we want is available at the touch of a button. The Daleks took a more old fashioned approach but its still magnificent. If this were made now then the Daleks would no doubt have an Iron Man style interface. However everything else suffers as a result of all the money being spent on the Daleks, appearing to be an afterthought. The Thals for example look like a bunch of hippy come glam rockers and stray into B-Movie territory. The petrified jungle clearly looks studio bound, not helped by the high definition but the worst, worst, worst scenery is the TARDIS interior. Why? Because it is a khaki green wall with some wires, Perspex and lamps sticky taped to it. Even the sitting room of the Who residence (I cant believe I just wrote that) looks like its had more money spent on it, but that is only seen in the opening 5 minutes then never again. It is while inside the TARDIS however that one of the greatest technical flaws of this film becomes apparent. The vocal recording is abysmal. There are moments where lines are dubbed over out of sync with the actors mouths and others where they used audio direct from recording, which was a big no no in those days. Due to the motorized machinery in the TARDIS there are lines of dialogue that emerge from the actors mouths with a very fine clipped grinding noise, so much so its hard to make out a lot of what is said. I watched these releases with my housemate and sound is his game and his actual words were wow, that is some seriously bad audio mixing!. Im not sure if he was cross or impressed, but youd think with current technology some effort would be made to do some noise reduction or improve the mix just to make it at least less sudden and jarring. What about the improvement of the picture quality? Well I have these films on DVD and having now seen the Blu Ray, I cant say Ive seen much improvement on the DVD predecessor. The picture is marginally clearer and weirdly the frame rate seems to be more like video than film, but that change seemed to cheapen it slightly. Some of the textures are clearer and has now lead me to believe that the Daleks covered the exterior of their city with artex wallpaper painted bronze. However I wasnt blown away by the vividness or the sharpness. Bottom line, why should you buy this? Well I would have said that there is not much in the Doctor Who universe pre 2010 you can view in HD apart from Spearhead from Space which is coming soon, but I cant even recommend it for that because I found the difference minimal. My other reason was that it would be a great way for kids to familiarize themselves with the origins of the Daleks, yet there are flaws with that due to the slimming of the plot. I cant recommend it to Peter Cushing fans either as it is hardly his finest hour and he is in no way centre stage. That only leaves Dalek fans, who will probably buy this Blu Ray anyway so I neednt waste my breath.