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Dr. Who and the Daleks
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by Jay Seaver

"Utterly non-canonical, but still kind of fun."
3 stars

Alternate realities are a staple of science fiction, and this movie (along with its sequel) are an interesting example of the idea - not so much because its characters explore parallel universes, but because they're a strangely skewed version of a sci-fi favorite themselves. The first movie based upon the TV series "Doctor Who" changes almost every detail in ways that the fans will likely have trouble looking past, but is kind of fun if they do.

Here, Dr. Who (Peter Cushing) is an elderly, eccentric inventor who has built a machine that can transport people anywhere in space and time with the help of his granddaughters Barbara (Jennie Linden) and Susan (Roberta Tovey), a child genius. Not quite so bright is Ian (Roy Castle), Barbara's new boyfriend, who accidentally activates it, sending them to another planet. They opt to explore a little bit, finding a strange city populated by the Daleks - warlike creatures who travel within personal armored vehicles to protect against radiation.

I know, fans, believe me, I know - that's not the way the characters were portrayed in the series at all! But put fifty years of surprisingly consistent continuity out of your head, and it's not really a bad set-up: The precocious/curious kid with an indulgent, kind of doddering grandfather who nevertheless makes the suitor for his quite capable adult grandchild nervous and accident prone dynamic is arguably a more cohesive, entertaining unit than that presented on the show in its early years.

It's certainly rather more light-hearted, and that tone suits the movie, which is colorful and sort of groovy, with its elfin space hippies and splashy opening titles, in a way that the black-and-white series produced by the BBC's children's department wasn't. It's deliberately funny throughout, with Castle especially giving a fine comic performance: He does a nice sort of collapse-a-bit-but-get-right-back-up every time Ian falls short in his attempts to impress Dr. Who or Barbara. Still, while it's a kind of a light adventure for the whole family, it also doesn't hold back in terms of cliffhanging adventure or keeping the dangers of nuclear war - which left this planet a radioactive wasteland and seemed quite likely when this film was released in the 1960s - right at the forefront of the audience's mind.

Of course, being this sort of movie aimed at family audiences in a time when sci-fi was not exactly taken seriously as a genre, it's kind of a mess at times. The characters generally stay on the right side of the line between endearingly and frustratingly clueless, but not always. There are a ton of scenes where the Daleks tell each other things that they must already know to keep the audience informed, and since those scenes are often terrible with human beings, they hit new heights of unintentional hilarity with what are basically expressionless robots. It pulls back from what might be actual scary moments.

And Peter Cushing is not going to be anyone's favorite Doctor, since he probably wasn't when there were only two to choose from. He's playing quite a different character from the TV version, but neither he nor the filmmakers really figure out the right balance between fool and genius to make the character work. As mentioned, though, Roy Castle is an entertaining reluctant hero as Ian, with Jennie Linden also good and Roberta Tovey actually one of the most enjoyable spunky kids in the middle of an action-adventure you'll find.

It looks nifty, too. A product of its time, for sure, but the Daleks are still a great design fifty years on (the ones built for the movie are more elaborate than the ones used to that point on television). It's got obvious matte paintings and forests built on soundstages that still look kind of cool, monsters that are obviously guys in suits, and plenty of the sort of fast-paced excitement that would have entertained the heck out of 1960s kids.

And since that's what it was intended to do, it has to be considered a success on that level. Watching it with an auditorium full of people who have seen "Doctor Who" evolve in a rather different, more adult direction, it's tremendously camp, but still fun both for and despite its shortcomings.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=25121&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/25/13 14:04:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2015 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/04/13 dr.lao Loved this movie as a kid. Has its flaws, but its still fun to watch 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  N/A
  DVD: 20-Nov-2001

UK
  23-Aug-1965 (U)

Australia
  N/A (PG)




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