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

Dr. Who And The Daleks film poster

In between the second series of Doctor Who and its baffling obsession with ants, and the third series with its 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 lead roles, recast and in canon-confounding slightly rewritten incarnations to boot, they took a back seat to The Daleks when it came to promotion. This was, after all, the 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 clueless Americans - Dr. Who & The Daleks and Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. have traditionally been written off by fans as somewhere between an of-their-time curio and an embarrassing cash-in. Well, enough of that nonsense. The Dalek Films are brash, loud, colourful, action-packed, and more deserving of the average Doctor Who fan's attention than a good deal of 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 Bit More On The Opening Titles


It's scarcely worth pointing this out, but the big-screen Dalek adaptations had a great deal more money, bigger and better sets, more spectacular effects, and more colour in general to play with than their small-screen counterparts. Though you really, really wouldn't know this from their opening titles. Underneath a credit font that might as well just say 'HOORAY FOR BRITISH FILMS' over and over again, the first movie merely relies on a couple of blurry sweet wrapper-esque coloured lights pitched somewhere between the burbly mind transference effects in superlative cheapo Brit sci-fi-horror The Sorcerers and the end credits of decidedly non-superlative cheapo make-learning-fun imported animation The Wonderful Stories Of Professor Kitzel. The second, if anything, looks even worse, simply relying on a procession of slow moving vaguely tinted whirlpool-stroke-plughole effects that might actually literally be footage of paint drying. Meanwhile, the small-screen Doctor Who opening titles of the time were famously visually arresting, and had been made for virtually no money whatsoever. In fairness, the massive orchestral themes playing out over the inexcusably dull titles are somewhat on the thrilling side, but on the other hand...


What Was Going On With Those Soundtrack Singles?


Nowadays, thanks to the sterling efforts of Mark Ayres and Silva Screen, we can enjoy the splendid soundtracks to both Dalek movies in full. Back when the films were first released, though, all that music-crazed moviegoers had to remind them of the Skaro-friendly score were a handful of tie-in singles. And what peculiar tie-in singles they were. 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 of Dr. Who & The Daleks into beat-crazy guitar'n'brass instrumental stompers, under the misleadingly sedate 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/free jazz crossover called Fugue For Thought. As an impulse buy in the foyer they must have 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 little sense at all. However, both of these pale into rationality next to the in-character single released by Big Screen Susan Roberta Tovey. Recorded under the musical direction of Malcolm Lockyer, the Movie Doctor-eulogising a-side Who's Who? is bad enough, with its unfortunate combination of a perfectly acceptable sixties throwaway pop melody and arrangement with cloying and debatable vocal talents and peculiar lyrics about how The Doctor is "quite at home on a big spaceship/or sitting on top of a horse". Meanwhile 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. A pity, because it's actually not a bad tune at all. Incidentally, if you want to know more about the little-known radio spinoff from the movie, there's a huge feature on it my book Not On Your Telly. But while we're on a certain subject...


Roberta Tovey Is Actually Quite Good


If you read pretty much any article ever written about the Dalek films, whether favourable or not, you'll 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 they 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. Alright, so she's hardly exactly operating on a Whistle Down The Wind level, but nor is she worthy of swelling the cast of Our Mother's House either. And while we're taking down the main points of scoffing-fuelled attack on the movies...


The Dalek Smoke Guns Are Also Actually Quite Good


Whether the original plan for them to be armed with flamethrowers was vetoed on health and safety grounds, or because it would risk terrifying the juvenile audience (which seems a bit incongruous given that the TV Daleks were OP-ER-A-TING-PYRO-FLAMES left, right and centre), 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 on the small screen. 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 The Unfolding Text, it all starts to seem a lot more favourable. Cinema audiences 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 films. Of course, though, not everything seen in the films was quite so different from their television counterparts...


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


We've already looked at how, presumably courtesy of cameramen angling to hook themselves a gig on Top Of The Pops, mid-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. Needless to say, the films did not let the side down in this, erm, area, notably with poor old Film Barbara Jennie Linden being forced to squeeze herself into a circulation-threateningly tight pair of pink trousers, and 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 by stripping down to her bra and pants and draping herself all over a Dalek in a somewhat racy-for-the-time photo session. Terry Nation's thoughts on this blatant misuse of his creations are sadly unrecorded.


And, funnily enough, that's not the only dubious production detail of the television version to find its way into the films...


The Stock Footage Invariably Looks Awful


Alright, this is a bit of a misleading heading, as there's only really one piece of stock footage between the two movies. But what a glorious mismatch of film stock it is. Right at the end of the first film, Ian opens the Tardis door onto an off-screen adventure that will probably have 'canon' obsessed fans... well, they never are going to give up and go home, are they? Anyway, he opens the door onto bought-in film of advancing Roman Centurions, apparently giant-sized and abiding by an entirely different colour spectrum, who march straight through the Tardis exterior without even drawing breath. It's a fun way to end the on-screen action, 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. And although it's not quite the same thing, a special mention here for the sore thumb-like use of toy Daleks in the second movie's climactic explosions.


In case you hadn't worked out from the above, Movie Ian is a lot less rational and practical and a lot more comical than his small-screen counterpart, and sometimes they take that a bit too far...


What Box Of Chocolates Ever Made A Noise Like That?


During Ian's zanily clumsy on-screen introduction, there's 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. There's nothing wrong with this scene in itself, not least because it's played with decent comic timing from all concerned, but the real issue is with the sound effect used to denote the chocolates being crushed; a loud splintery crash. This is all 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 film, we'll just have to chalk this 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 on Skaro - he's knocked over by an over-affectionate Barbara, who keeps conveniently quiet once blame starts being apportioned. And while we're on the subject of things being broken by Ian...


The Other 'Monsters' Look Rubbish Compared To Their TV Versions


In-house BBC staff designer Ray Cusick may have infamously lost out on his chance to share in the Dalekmania Millions due to tedious contractual reasons, but he was clearly able to prevent Subotksy and company from using certain other of his designs. How else would you explain the fact that The Magnedon, the creepy, spindly fossilised metal reptile that the Tardis crew find on first venturing out into the petrified forest, here becomes a sort of multicoloured dog with a ruff on. Or that the creature in the Lake Of Mutations - never exactly the best realised of alien menaces in the first place - is barely even visible at all. Still, what can you expect when the planet's dominant life form simply pops down to their local Habitat for their hi-tech scientific equipment...


Why Do The Daleks Have So Many Lava Lamps?


On the whole, the Dalek city and flying saucer sets in the two films are pretty impressive. The eye-cameras mounted on the walls look 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. The only 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 'new' at the time, and frankly it just smacks of cheapness in an 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, so novelty ornament gadgets were clearly of enormous technological importance to them. Don't be 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


Mention Daleks, the mid-sixties and the so-called 'fourth wall' to the average Doctor Who fan, and chances are that the first thing 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 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 films in accepted Doctor Who 'canon' is anyone's guess...

...but next time, we're back to the series itself, so join us then for a 'Galaxy Accident', a Twitter War with @maaga_, and Dodo swapping fashion tips with Roy Wood...