Friday, December 8, 2017

Dr. Who and the Daleks

Dr. Who and the Daleks
Gordon Flemying

Doctor Who, the television show, is a global icon that finds its popularity ebbing and flowing over the decades, but in the mid-1960s, its most popular villains, the Daleks, nearly eclipsed the show itself. Dalekmania ran wild in the streets (of Great Britain anyway) and kids were more than happy to pretend that they were murderous mutants rolling around in private tanks. Then again, who wouldn’t? The creators of Dr. Who and the Daleks elected to remake the television program’s initial encounter with the Daleks as a standalone film. It is difficult to separate Dr. Who and the Daleks from its source material, but I will try to review it as its own entity rather than as a footnote in a massive global property.

"I don't know why they call this a Hitachi Magic Wand,
it operates on solid scientific principals."
Dr. Who (Peter Cushing) is an absent-minded inventor who has created a vehicle called a T.A.R.D.I.S. This device can travel in time as well as in space and is bizarrely housed inside of police box that is larger inside than it is outside. Dr. Who along with his granddaughters Susan (Roberta Tovey) and Barbara, and Barbara’s bumbling boyfriend, Ian (Roy Castle) find themselves launched into a far-flung radioactive world called Skaro, where two groups of mutants are struggling for survival. One group are the beautiful Thals, the other are meaning machine beings known as The Daleks.

It is without a doubt that Dr. Who and Daleks is aimed primarily at young children eager to see their favorite monsters make the leap to the full-color big screen. On that level it succeeds, nearly every scene is awash in lurid psychedelic color. The Daleks themselves are big, bright and shiny. They feature prominently and often lend themselves to some great screen composition by using their rigid shapes and fluid movements against the strange backdrop of their futuristic city. That said, they are a little too much of a good thing. Lengthy scenes of the Daleks taking in their monotonous electronic voices ruin much of their menace and their sinister method of execution is apparently a fire extinguisher.

The other inhabitants of Skaro, the Thals, are much less impressive, looking more like humans with shiny blonde wigs and a serious eyeshadow addiction.  Nobody is watching this movie for the Thals, but they shouldn’t feel like an afterthought. You could lift them out of this story entirely and it wouldn’t change much of the story at all.

Peter Cushing turns in a whimsical performance as Dr. Who. It is obvious he is taking delight in doing something more light-hearted in the face of his usual grim work in horror films. Jennie Linden and Roberta Tovey are fine as Barbara and Susan, albeit saddled with uninteresting roles. Roy Caste’s Ian is nominally the comic relief, but his mugging and pratfalls irritate rather amuse. I wouldn’t have been upset to see the Daleks give him a couple blasts from their fire extinguishers guns.

Dr. Who and the Daleks is a big colorful spectacle. There are some genuinely fun and beautiful looking moments, but it can’t overcome a listless plot and several redundant and annoying characters. Still, if you are looking for some featherweight adventure is not a bad way to travel through time.

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