Starring: Peter Cushing, Bernard Cribbins, Roberta Tovey, Jill Curzon
Directed by: Gordon Flemyng
The first Doctor Who movie, Doctor Who and the Daleks, released in 1965 at the height of so-called “Dalekmania,” was a riff on the first Dalek story from 1963, usually known either as just The Daleks or The Dead Planet. The film, while savaged by critics, was a great success with children in the UK, A sequel, based around the second Dalek story, The Dalek Invasion of Earth was quickly commissioned for the following year, 1966.
The “human Doctor Who” format of the first film was maintained, with Peter Cushing – famous in America and so a strong enough lead to play the movie Doctor – and Roberta Tovey, who played his granddaughter Susan (as a child, rather than the teenager she seemed on TV, when played by Carol Ann Ford), returning for a second trip into time and space.
Ian and Barbara (Jennie Linden and Roy Castle) were not to return for the second movie (a neat touch as their TV equivalents had been returned to Earth at the end of the third TV Dalek story, The Chase), but there’s a new parent-level pairing in town, with Louise (Jill Curzon), Doctor Who’s niece, and 1960s policeman Tom Campbell (the one and only Bernard Cribbins) joining the crew.
No-Faff Dalek Action
Essentially, the second movie pulls the same trick as the first. It takes a six-part TV story, cuts out a lot of toing and froing in the mid-section, increases the scope, the scale, the number of Daleks and the budget to proper movie levels, and add in some slapstick that absolutely isn’t in the original, to cover all its bases.
Now it’s being released in a sumptuous 4k restoration, which makes it brighter, bolder, and clearer than it’s been since 1966, when it first appeared in cinemas and… weirdly, failed to blow the doors off them.
We say weirdly, because Daleks’ Invasion 2150 AD is a great Saturday afternoon children’s movie. (Afternoon, obviously, because Doctor Who and the Daleks must be done first, on a Saturday morning).
Part of that is down to what it takes from the original Dalek Invasion script.
The Difficult Second Dalek Story
In the first story, the Doctor and his friends happen to land on the planet of the Daleks, and get involved in the power struggles between the terrified megalomaniac Daleks and the peace-loving Thals.
For their second outing, writer Terry Nation brought them to us. To Earth. And in particular, he had them having already conquer the Earth, and showed us a London essentially under Nazi siege. So the whole of The Dalek Invasion of Earth is essentially a Resistance movie, set in a future London, rather than a France of the recent past. It works on so many levels that it’s one of Terry Nation’s Doctor Who masterpieces – but it’s also true that, like many of Terry Nation’s Doctor Who masterpieces, there’s quite a bit of padding and to-and-fro in the middle.
Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD takes all the good elements of the TV version, cuts down the mid-section faff, still delivers a compelling Resistance story, tells it much, much faster than the TV version, and oh yes – gives us lots and lots more Daleks than the TV budget could afford.
Oh, and did we mention, it gives them to us in shocking, stunning, big, bright, brilliant colour?
This was still four years before Doctor Who on TV would be even notionally available in colour for the handful of British viewers who could afford colour TV sets.
The Daleks and their Amazing Multi-Coloured Dream Casings
The scope and the scale of Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD is absolutely off the charts compared to the TV version – and that in itself was one of the more ambitious storylines of the William Hartnell era.
In particular, the Daleks look insanely impressive and brightly coloured – an effort to develop a culture of expertise among the Daleks that Terry Nation had had in mind originally, but which on black and white TV never really got a chance to shine through. It’s an idea that probably found its apotheosis in Mark Gatiss’ Victory of the Daleks, where different coloured casings were assigned to their function as scientist, strategist, drone, supreme, and so on. But it was there in Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD too, and would creep its way into TV Doctor Who, particularly in the Jon Pertwee era.
The Dalek spaceship? Superb effects work for a 1966 movie, and something that would find its way into New Who on TV too.
The storytelling in the movie version is crisper, tighter, and – thanks to the youthfulness of Susan in the movies – unencumbered with an awkward romantic plot to drop her off on the shattered Earth at the end, to go make babies with resistance fighter David (Not for nothing, he’s David Campbell on TV, neatly suggesting he may be a temporally distant relation of Tom Campbell’s in the movie).
You still get all the thrills, spills, darkness and resistance of a gutted world under Dalek control. You still get humans working together and humans turning on each other (with Philip Madoc giving exceptional value for money as the arch-traitor among humanity’s number). But you don’t get anything like the lull in the mid-section, because a) it’s not necessary, and b) there isn’t time to fill in the movie version.
And that means that overall, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD should be the better version of the story.
The Cost of Comedy
Where the movie falls down though is in the degree of comedy it needs to inject into proceedings to make it plain that this is a popcorn-munching kids’ movie (as well as an examination of the effects of victorious Fascism). That’s largely delivered through Bernard Cribbins’ sequences, both before, during, and after his battle with Daleks in a future London. But in particular, scenes like the Robomen feeding routine and the conveyor belt of plates sequence break the tension of a Dalek invasion played otherwise more or less admirably straight.
There’s also something about the production values of the movie that works against it – and it’s a thing that’s highlighted particularly in the 4k version. The Robomen’s costumes in the black and white, admittedly comparatively fuzzy TV version, have a look of utilitarian brutalism, as well as an element of BBC budget clunkiness. They look like body horror made real.
The movie versions look positively Tarantino in their shiny black outfits and tight-fitting helmets. It’s a better aesthetic, to be sure, but the more detail you can pick out in it, the camper the Robomen begin to look – especially in scenes like the marches and the feeding sequence, when what should be a horrifying uniformity of mental manipulation looks more like a dance routine, into which Bernard Cribbins, who ‘hasn’t learned the steps,’ adds comedy chaos.
And of course, in the 4k restoration, you can pick out more detail than you’ve ever been able to before, which weirdly works against the overall impact of the film.
What are we saying? There’s lots to love about Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD, and it’s never looked better than it does on the 4k restoration, but it’s actually not the surprise much of the fandom thinks it is that plans for a third Doctor Who movie faltered in its wake.
A Beautiful, Beautiful Thing
That said, it’s glorious in 4k, and for all its slight tonal inconsistency, it’s a much more assured movie in some respects than the first one – the Tardis looks trimmer and smarter inside, the adoption of Tom Campbell is vaguely reminiscent of the joining of Steven Taylor (space policeman) at the end of The Chase on TV,and the cast gives it everything, from Cushing, to Tovey, to Cribbins, to young stars like Ray Brooks as David and Philip Madoc as Brockley. There’s even space for Eileen Way in this movie (Eileen Way having had one of the most recognisable parts in The Tribe of Gum, the story immediately before the Daleks made their TV debut in 1963).
It’s bright, it’s colourful, it’s packed with action and some solid-looking spaceship sets, and of course, it has more Daleks than had ever had sticks shaken at them on TV by the point it was released. And it’s still great fun to watch, now it’s had its 4k makeover.
The extras on the 4k release include some documentaries of a fair vintage alongside some new material. They include: Dalekmania, a fun look back at both the Dalek films, including an interview with Roberta Tovey; interviews with both Bernard Cribbins and Gareth Owen (author of The Shepperton Story); and an audio commentary track with Kim Newman, Robert Shearman (writer of Dalek for the 2005 series), and Mark Gatiss (who wrote both Victory of the Daleks and An Adventure in Time And Space).
All told, the new 4k release of Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD is a belter of a thing, and if you’re a fan of Sixties Who, and in particular the Dalek movies, you already know it has a place on your shelf. If you’re not a fan, or have yet to be persuaded, the fact remains that this is probably the best release of this movie you’re ever likely to see, and it will bring you thrills, chuckles and the odd gasp at the sheer size, colour, and number of Daleks on screen at any moment. It will also bring you an uncanny desire to eat Sugar Puffs, but that’s product placement for you.
Daleks may not quite be the masters of Earth just yet, but in this 4k resurrection, they’ll master your Saturday afternoon any time you like, and you’ll be glad they did. Tony Fyler