It’s Still A Police Box, Why Hasn’t It Changed? Part Three: Su-Su-Su-Subotksy!

Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965).

In between the second series of Doctor Who and its bewildering fixation with ants (as you can read more about here) and the third with its Pete Meaden-baiting deployment of ‘Mods’ in all the wrong places, The Doctor and company made a slight detour onto the big screen – or, to be more accurate, The Daleks did. Although ‘Dr. Who’, Ian, Susan and Barbara – or, if raining, ‘Louise’ – did nominally occupy the same character roles, recast and in canon-confoundingly slightly reconfigured iterations to boot, they took a conspicuous back seat to The Dalek Spaceship Commander and company when it came to the actual movie promotion. This was, after all, the absolute height of ‘Dalekmania’, and Amicus Productions’ head honcho Milton Subotsky probably wasn’t exactly thinking of the thrills and spills of The Sensorites when he snapped up the movie rights to Doctor Who.

‘From the B.B.C. TV Serial by Terry Nation’ – the cause of a million glib misattributions in ‘sci-fi fantasy movie guides’ written by Americans who neither know nor care about anything so trivial as factual detail – Dr. Who And The Daleks and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. have routinely been disregarded as somewhere between an of-their-time curio and an embarrassing cash-in that nobody really needs to pay any attention to. Well, enough of that nonsense. The Dalek movies are brash, loud, colourful, action-packed, and more deserving of the average Doctor Who enthusiast’s attention than a good deal of actual Doctor Who itself. If your primary concern is where they fit into ‘canon’, then you should probably just fire yourself out of one. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everything about them was quite so spectacular, though…

They Could Have Spent A Little More On The Opening Titles

Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965).
Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966).

Although this is probably so obvious that it is scarcely worth pointing it out, the big-screen Dalek adaptations had a great deal more money, bigger and better sets, more spectacular effects and more of that new-fangled ‘colour’ in general to play with than their smaller screen counterparts. Though you really, really wouldn’t know this from their opening titles. Underneath a credit font that is somehow both too casual and too formal at the same time, Dr. Who And The Daleks simply relies on a couple of blurry sweet wrapper-like coloured lights pitched somewhere between the burbly mind transference effects in contemporaneous Brit sci-fi-horror The Sorcerers and the end credits of cheapo imported make-learning-fun Canadian animation The Wonderful Stories Of Professor Kitzel. The titles of Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. are, if anything, even shoddier, idly deploying a procession of slow moving vaguely tinted whirlpool-stroke-plughole effects that might actually literally be footage of paint drying. The small-screen Doctor Who opening titles of the time, of course, were famously innovative and visually arresting and had been made for virtually no money whatsoever. In fairness, the massive orchestral themes playing out over the inexcusably uninspiring titles are ever so slightly on the thrilling side, but on the other hand…

What Were They Playing At With Those Soundtrack Singles?

Who's Who? by Roberta Tovey (Polydor, 1965).

Both of the Dalek movies would become familiar Bank Holiday television schedule-filling standbys soon enough, but back when they were first released all that music-crazed moviegoers had to remind them of the Skaro-soundtracking score were a handful of deeply peculiar tie-in singles. Quite possibly ‘inspired’ by John Barry’s bongo-tastic break-festooned A Man Alone, Part 2 from The Ipcress File, composer Malcolm Lockyer sped up the main title theme and the Thal ambush bit from Dr. Who And The Daleks into a brace of beat-crazy guitar’n’brass instrumental stompers under the misleadingly polite titles of The Eccentric Dr. Who and Daleks And Thals respectively. Less explicably still, Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. soundtrack-provider Bill McGuffie took the Bach-inspired piano hammering from the Cribbins-outwitted-by-jewel-thieves opening scene and fashioned it into a decidedly chart-unfriendly spot of classical slash free jazz crossover called Fugue For Thought. As an impulse buy in the foyer they might have just about fitted the bill, but as straightforward hit parade contenders – which, let’s be honest about it, most singles released back then very much were – they made very little sense at all. However both of these pale into, well, rationality next to the in-character single released by Movie Susan Roberta Tovey. Recorded under the musical direction of Malcolm Lockyer, the Doctor-eulogising a-side Who’s Who? is troubling enough, with its unfortunate combination of a perfectly acceptable sixties throwaway pop melody and arrangement with cloying and debatable vocal talents and jarringly peculiar lyrics about how The Doctor is “quite at home on a big spaceship or sitting on top of a horse”; the b-side Not So Old was doubtless written and recorded in all innocence back then, but nowadays an adolescent girl asking a fully grown man to ‘wait’ for her on the proviso that he doesn’t tell her mother just sounds downright wrong. Which is a bit of a pity, because it’s actually not a bad tune at all, but don’t go adding it to your playlists unless you want other areas of your hard drive to fall under scrutiny. Incidentally, there was also an adaptation of Dr. Who And The Daleks on the BBC Light Programme radio show Movie-Go-Round, but you can find out more about that in my book Not On Your Telly. While we’re on a certain subject, though…

Roberta Tovey Is Actually Quite Good

Roberta Tovey in Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965).

If you read pretty much anything that has ever been written about the Dalek movies, whether favourable, unfavourable or just plain mentioning them in passing to fill up the wordcount, chances are that you will come away with the distinct impression that their most substantial problem is Roberta Tovey. Repositioned as a Top Juniors smartypants rather than an enigmatic otherworldly teenybopper, Movie Susan – so the literal armchair critics would have us believe – spoils everything with her shrill stage-school performance and precocious mannerisms. From this we can only deduce – as is so often the case – that the dispensers of such high-handed dismissiveness have no frame of reference outside of Doctor Who. It was pretty much an unwritten law that any British film of the era had to have at least one chirpy, polite and adventure-happy child character hovering around the eleven-years-old mark – it wasn’t as though TV Susan Carole Ann Ford hadn’t occupied that role a couple of times herself, in fact – and as they tend to go, Roberta Tovey is a lot more restrained, likeable, expressive and capable of delivering dialogue in a manner that suggests she may even have read something aloud at some point in the past. She may well hardly be exactly operating on the same level as the cast of Whistle Down The Wind, but she isn’t quite worthy of rounding out the cast of Our Mother’s House either. Similarly, as we’re taking down the main points of scoff-fuelled attack on the Dalek movies…

The Dalek Smoke Guns Are Also Actually Quite Good

Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966).

Whether the original plan for them to be armed with flamethrowers was vetoed on health and safety grounds as is claimed, or whether it was because big jets of fire would risk terrifying the juvenile audience as is also claimed – which seems a bit rich given that the television Daleks were OP-ER-A-TING-PYRO-FLAMES left, right and centre at the time – the Movie Daleks ended up spraying Peter Cushing and company with huge blasts of exterminating steam courtesy of their controversial ‘fire extinguisher’ attachment. Conventional fan wisdom would have you believe that this was a cheap and nasty compromise which looked little short of embarrassing next to the simple but effective negative image gambit deployed by their television equivalents. However – once again – if you consider the movies in their proper context as standalone sixties British films as opposed to charging at them with your Doctor Who gloves on and waving a copy of Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text, it all starts to make a good deal more sense. Cinema audiences of the day and their one big speaker needed a big sound and a very visible effect to go with it, and the skilful direction actually gives the off-the-cuff replacement for a familiar effect the illusion of a dangerous weapon. They may fire vapour rather than concentrated light as a needs must measure, but it actually adds a distinct atmosphere to the bigger, bolder and brighter Dalek movies. That said, not everything was quite so far removed from their television counterparts…

They Like Big Butts And They Cannot Lie – Now On The Big Screen In Colour!

Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965).

In our look at series two of Doctor Who (which you can find here if you haven’t seen it yet) we saw how, presumably courtesy of cameramen angling to hook themselves a gig on Top Of The Pops, mid to late sixties Doctor Who had a disconcerting habit of zooming in on female cast members with sizeable backsides, and rest assured that there is plenty more – and plenty worse – to come. The Dalek movies did not let the side down in this, erm, area, with poor old Film Barbara Jennie Linden being forced to squeeze herself into a circulation-threateningly tight pair of pink trousers and apparently directed to continually thrust her arse in the direction of the all-too-eager cameramen almost as if it had been specified in the script. Not to be outdone, her Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. replacement Jill Curzon opted to capitalise on her new-found fame in a decidedly odd manner by stripping down to her bra and pants and draping herself all over a Dalek in a fairly racy for the time photo session. Terry Nation’s thoughts on this blatant misuse of his creations are sadly not recorded.

Jill Curzon promoting Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966).

Surprisingly enough, this wasn’t the only dubious production decision of early sixties television Doctor Who to find its way into the films…

The Stock Footage Invariably Looks Awful

Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965).

In fairness, this is a slightly misleading observation as there is only really one piece of bought-in footage between two entire movies, but what a glorious mismatch of film stock it is. Right at the end of Dr. Who And The Daleks, Ian opens the TARDIS door onto an unseen off-screen adventure that will probably have ‘canon’ obsessed fans… well, they never actually are going to give up and go home, are they? Anyway, he opens the door directly onto bought-in film of advancing Roman Centurions, apparently giant-sized and abiding by an entirely differently defined colour spectrum, who march their way straight through the TARDIS exterior without even drawing breath. It’s a fun way to end the movie, but even to audiences back then it must have looked every bit as jarring as every last second of muddy and battered film of clouds that they could get to see in black and white and for free at home. While we’re here, although it’s not quite the same thing, special mention must be made of the sore thumb-like use of toy Daleks in the second movie’s climactic explosion sequences…

Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966).

What Box Of Chocolates Ever Made A Noise Like That?

Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965).

Movie Ian, it has to be said, is a lot less rational and practical and a good deal more comical than his television counterpart. During his zanily clumsy introduction, there is a scene in which Roy Castle is called upon to accidentally sit down on the box of chocolates he had brought as a gift for Barbara, while Dr. Who and Susan look on in bemused despair without considering doing anything as troublesome and time-consuming as to alert him to what is about to happen. The sound effect used to denote the chocolates being crushed is, bafflingly, a loud splintery crash, rendered all the the more ill-fitting given that the assembled company have only just made a bewilderingly big deal of the fact that they are in fact soft centres; ‘Barbara’s Favourite’, apparently. Unless Terry’s were planning to introduce their hastily-cancelled Balsa Wood Assortment as a tie-in with the movie, this will just have to be chalked up to the exuberance of sixties filmmaking. Speaking of which, despite what the others keep saying, it’s not actually Ian’s fault that the TARDIS accidentally takes off and ends up on Skaro – he’s knocked over by an over-affectionate Barbara, who keeps conveniently quiet once blame starts being apportioned. Although the chocolates aren’t the only things broken by Ian…

The Other ‘Monsters’ Look Rubbish Compared To Their TV Versions

Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965).

Beefed up and bulked out for the big screen complete with flashing jam jar lights, the Movie Daleks looked more impressive than they had any right or reason to, which must have got right up the nose of poor old Raymond Cusick, the hapless BBC staff designer who lost out on his chance to share in the Dalekmania millions due to the terms and conditions of his employment. If their poor representation on the big screen was anything to go by, however, he was clearly able to prevent Amicus Films from reusing certain of his other designs. The Magnedon – that creepy spindly fossilised metal reptile that the TARDIS crew find on first venturing out into the petrified forest – is recast for the big screen as a sort of multicoloured dog with a ruff on. Meanwhile the creature in the Lake Of Mutations – never exactly the best realised of alien menaces in the first place – is suspiciously conveniently barely even visible at all. Still, what can you expect when the planet’s dominant life form simply pops down to the local Habitat for their hi-tech futuristic scientific equipment…

Why Do The Daleks Have So Many Lava Lamps?

Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965).

As the whole, the Dalek city and flying saucer sets are pretty impressive. The eye-cameras mounted on the walls look suitably sinister and oppressive, the automatic doors open and close convincingly – even if Ian does decide to mount a low-budget recreation of the video for Glory Of Love with them for some reason – and even the signs saying ‘WASTE DISPOSAL’ make sense if you interpret them as being there for the benefit of the Robomen and their paper plates full of pills. The only visually jarring note is that the Dalek labs are positively groaning under the weight of Lava Lamps; and not incorporated into the design either, just free-standing on any available bare-looking surface. Given that Lava Lamps had been commercially available for over two years by that point, they can’t even be explained away as having been excitingly ‘new’ at the time, and frankly it just smacks of cheapness in an otherwise impressively expensive-looking franchise. Then again, The Daleks did appear to be using those static lightning plasma globes as a key piece of equipment in 1988’s Remembrance Of The Daleks (and you can find much more about that here), so novelty ornamental gadgets were clearly of enormous technological importance on Skaro. Don’t be too surprised if when The Power Of The Daleks finally turns up, there’s a scene featuring them playing with those spidery octopus things that rolled down windows.

There’s Never A Postmodern Policeman Around When You Need One

Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966).

Mention Daleks, the mid-sixties and the ‘fourth wall’ to the average Doctor Who fan, and chances are that the first thing that they think of will be William Hartnell’s bafflingly contentious toast to the viewers at home on Christmas Day 1965. A more alarming and incongruous travel in hyperreality occurs, however, immediately prior to the opening titles of Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.. Keen to report the ‘smash and grab’ to the local bobby, a cheerful down-to-earth honest-to-goodness-guvnor geezer in a flat cap and mac hurls himself bodily at the nearest Police Box, only to find himself falling right through the dematerialising TARDIS. Apparently quite used to this sort of thing happening, he turns to the camera and looks straight at the audience with a shrug and a comically exasperated expression. Quite where that now places the movies in accepted Doctor Who ‘canon’ is anyone’s guess.

Next Time! A ‘Galaxy Accident’, a Twitter War with @maaga_ and Dodo swapping fashion tips with Roy Wood…

Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965).

Buy A Book!

You can find an expanded version of It’s Still A Police Box, Why Hasn’t It Changed? covering the entire sixties run of Doctor Who in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here. There’s also a feature all about the BBC Light Programme’s radio adaptation of Dr. Who And The Daleks in Not On Your Telly, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. Get one of The Daleks to give it a once-over with their steam blaster thing while you’re at it.

Further Reading

There’s more about Peter Cushing’s ever so slightly different guest role in early seventies ITV crime series with a twist – and a Paul McCartney theme tune – The Zoo Gang in Good Luck, Good Hunting, Good Friends here.

Further Listening

You can find out all about I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek – The Daleks’ hilariously unsuccessful bid to do festive hit parade battle with The Fab Four – in my chat with Paul Abbott on (Music For) The Head Ballet here.

© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.