Dr. Who and the Daleks Double Bill at the BFI

❉ We review the BFI’s premiere screening of StudioCanal’s new 4K restorations of Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD.

“Looked at today, the Dalek films strike me as a glorious, on-a-budget cross between the James Bond, Hammer and Carry On franchises. The control room in Dr Who and the Daleks and the flying saucer in Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD wouldn’t disgrace a 1960s OO7 epic; while past and future Carry On recruits Roy Castle and Bernard Cribbins provide the knockabout fun… In short, there’s something in the Dalek movies for every British cinemagoer of the 1960s who was a lover of good, clean escapist fun.”

Being into genre television when you were very young meant you were in a constant state of discovery. Everything was new and largely wonderful. As far as Doctor Who was concerned, I had vague but treasured memories of Patrick Troughton before Jon Pertwee, but knew nothing about William Hartnell. Imagine my mixture of delight and curiosity, then, when mum drew my attention to “a double bill of Doctor Who and the Daleks” at the Odeon cinema in Lowestoft. (It would have been the school holidays as I remember the films were shown in the afternoon.) The advert in the paper gave nothing away. There were just the tantalising, blocky titles side by side: Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD (1966).

We arrived late, and I remember the very moment I walked into the cinema, seeing Bernard Cribbins recumbent with a wet cloth on his forehead. (The Odeon showed the films in the wrong order, natch). Bernard Cribbins? How had I missed in Piccolo’s The Making of Doctor Who that he’d been one of the Doctor’s companions? And who was the thin-faced guy with a moustache – a moustache! – playing the Doctor? At that point, I’m sure I’d have had no idea who Peter Cushing was due to his horror film oeuvre.

Childhood is quick to make allowances for discrepancies like this, particularly with a film as unashamedly enjoyable as Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD. I loved it. Widescreen visions of a shattered London! A Dalek saucer with an ominous sound effect! A Dalek in the Thames! Exploding Daleks! An exploding van! Robomen with ray guns! Daleks being sucked into the centre of the Earth…! Why, I wondered, wasn’t the TV show as good as this every week?

Because, I now know, these colourful Dalek stories were made on a – admittedly modest – movie budget that the BBC in the early 1970s could still only dream about.

Looked at today, the Dalek films strike me as a glorious, on-a-budget cross between the James Bond, Hammer and Carry On franchises. The control room in Dr Who and the Daleks and the flying saucer in Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD wouldn’t disgrace a 1960s OO7 epic; the lurid, gothic jungle in the first film could easily hide Frankenstein’s monster stalking Roberta’s Tovey’s Susan, while past and future Carry On recruits Roy Castle and Bernard Cribbins provide the knockabout fun. The opening theme for the second film sounds, to me, like a cross between a James Bond theme and the rousing, opening music to one of Gerry Anderson’s productions (perhaps unsurprisingly, as Anderson composer Barry Gray supplied “electronic music” for both films).

In short, there’s something in the Dalek movies for every British cinemagoer of the 1960s who was a lover of good, clean escapist fun.

Perhaps that’s why the films have endured so well in their small, parallel Doctor Who universe, where the Doctor is the eccentric human inventor of a time machine and has granddaughters called Susan and Barbara Who. They’ve endured so well in fan memories, in fact, that this month StudioCanal release Dr. Who and the Daleks in a new 4K restoration, with Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD due to follow in July.

“The films have really benefited from the 4K uplift, which has done a lot to dispel the myth that the films were low-budget. Just look at the genuinely alien petrified jungle and the beautiful matte painting of the mountain range in Dr. Who and the Daleks – those just do not not look like effects staged in hurry… The general consensus was that these versions should be the best that the films have ever looked; even better, in fact, than the versions originally shown in cinemas in the 1960s.”

Presenter Justin Johnson, assistant director Anthony Waye, actors Jill Curzon and Roberta Tovey

The British Film Institute on the South Bank in London is by now, after so many events, the home of the launch of prestigious Doctor Who Blu-ray releases. On Sunday 19 July, it was gratifying and rather touching to see the Dalek movies welcomed into the domain of their better known counterpart, especially because, as presenter Dick Fiddy put it, “It’s so nice to see so many of you here to see something ‘off-canon’.”

The films have really benefited from the 4K uplift, which has done a lot to dispel the myth that the films were low-budget. Just look at the genuinely alien petrified jungle and the beautiful matte painting of the mountain range in Dr. Who and the Daleks – those just do not not look like effects staged in hurry. Yes, the wires holding up the Dalek spaceship are clearer on Blu-ray, but the simple decision to film the model on location gives it a realism, more visible now, that the directors of films with more resources must have envied. With more time and a bigger budget, there are some genuinely artistic shots on offer too in Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD. My favourite: the former resistance fighter Craddock (Kenneth Watson) chillingly sliding down the visor of of his Roboman helmet as a sinister light pulses on and off.

Actor Roberta Tovey.

As ever, the BFI fielded an impressive line up of guests. Anthony Badger and Mark Ayres were on hand to discuss the films’ visual and audio restoration, with the revelation that the original negatives from both movies were used to make the transfers. The one for the first film was thought unusable because of how scratched it was, but thanks to modern techniques that problem was rectified. The general consensus was that these versions should be the best that the films have ever looked; even better, in fact, than the versions originally shown in cinemas in the 1960s.

Assistant director Anthony Waye.

After Dr. Who and the Daleks was shown, assistant director Anthony Waye and companion actors Roberta Tovey (Susan) and Jill Curzon (Louise (Who?) from Daleks…) took the stage. For Waye, in a career that’s included James Bond and Star Wars movies and The Elephant Man (1980), the Dalek films were just another job that he approached with well-honed professionalism, but all three sang the praises of director Gordon Flemyng and star Peter Cushing. Tovey, who – with Cushing – were the only members of the main cast to be in both films, remembered Flemyng giving her the “financial incentive” of a shilling if she completed a scene in one take. At the end of shooting, the director presented “One Take Tovey” with a suede pouch holding 21 shillings, which she still has. Touchingly, she remembered going to see Peter and him saying he would only do the second film if she would. As Jill succinctly put it, “He was a real gentleman and a very fine actor.”

Actor Jill Curzon.

An unannounced bonus before Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD was the appearance of producer and screenwriter Milton Subotsky’s sons Sergei and Dmitri. With a stylish photograph of their father positioned between them, they proceeded to talk through some fascinating curios from their family archive. These included the original agreement to make the films between the BBC, Terry Nation and Aaru Productions Limited, as well as the option for a third film, which has caused much speculation over the years. Most tantalising was Sergei’s revelation of another Subotsky Doctor Who film script – and there was a collective “Ooo!” In the auditorium – called Doctor Who’s Greatest Adventure, which would have been sans-Daleks but would have featured young and old Time Lord versions of the Doctor. Co-presenter Justin Johnson couldn’t help quipping, “If anyone would like a copy, I’ll be selling them afterwards for £500.”

Milton Subotsky’s sons Sergei and Dmitri, with a photo of their father Milton.

I met Sergei and Dmitri afterwards. They were pleasantly overwhelmed with the affection shown for their father’s work throughout the day, and asked me if I’d take a photograph of them with a red Dalek a fan had built. I was happy to oblige and, while I did, reflected that it was a long road from being intrigued and fascinated as a child by their father’s work, to sharing stories with his sons in the BFI bar.

Sergei and Dmitri meet an old friend.

Only Doctor Who, canonical or not, is able to give you a perspective like this. It’s partly why we’ll always love it.


❉ Released initially in 1965 and 1966 respectively and directed by Gordon Flemyng, ‘Dr Who and the Daleks’ and ‘Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD’ are to be released on 4K UHD Collector’s Edition Blu-rays, steelbooks, and digital platforms via Studio Canal on 18th July 2022, and as a double bill in select cinemas from 7th July 2022.

 Robert Fairclough writes on a variety of subjects, including mental health and popular culture (sometimes both at once). He has written six books, contributes to magazines and websites, and writes regular blogs about projects he’s involved in for The Restoration Trust. He can be contacted on robmay1964@outlook.com, and his website can be viewed at www.robfairclough.co.uk

All BFI photographs © Robert Fairclough 2022

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