Friday, 14 August 2015

Amicus "Dr. Who" Movies

Following their debut in the seven part serial "The Daleks", the BBC found that the neo-nazi pepperpots were a lot more popular than they had hoped.
Originally intended to be a simple one shot throw away villain for a sci-fi oriented episode intended to teach viewers about sciencey stuff, the prospect of having a lucrative licenced product on their hands took the BBC quite by surprise, as did it surprise their creator, Terry Nation.

As was to become quite common for popular TV series in later years, it was decided to transfer the TV series to a spin off film, which, if including "bankable" actors playing the characters, was hoped to cash in on "Dalekmania" and generate large amounts of box office sales and merchandising opportunities.

The films were produced by Amicus productions (who at the time were named "AARU Productions") who specialised in special effects heavy films, mainly horror films. One of the advantages of making a movie was the ability to make the entire feature in colour, as British TV was still largely broadcast in monochrome during the 60's, so, the colour aspect was heavily emphasised in the advertising, and taken advantage of as much as possible in the film.
The films themselves were never intended to replace the TV show, but were instead more there as a compliment to it, as such, numerous liberties are taken with the series' canon, as well as the original source material from the serials they remake.

Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)

Based on the 1963 serial "The Daleks", the film introduces "Dr. Who" (Peter Cushing) as a human scientist who lives in 1960s London with his granddaughters, the pre-teen Susan and Barbera, who in the film appears to be in her late teens/early 20s. At the beginning of the story, Ian Chesterton (Roy Castle) arrives at their house to take Barbera out on a date.
The film makers capitalised on Roy Castles "comedy acting" resume by having him act out numerous farcical scenes throughout the film, his first meeting with Dr. Who being the first such example, as instead of shaking hands, he gives the Doctor a box of chocolates meant for Barbera, then the Doctor establishes his role as a "absent minded professor" by getting his name wrong etc etc...pretty standard cliche stuff. 
The story gets moving along when the Doctor and Susan decide to show Ian their latest invention, a machine shaped like a mid 20th century police phone box called "TARDIS", which, following the obligatory scene in which a newcomer is astounded by the fact that it is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, is explained to be a machine that can travel to any point in space at any time in either the past or the future.In due course they are joined inside TARDIS by Barbera, and Ian accidentally pushes the lever which activates the machine, sending it off on a random course and getting the adventure moving.
In essence, this first bit is a highly simplified way of retelling the events from the first Doctor Who TV serial, so that cinema goers who hadn't seen the TV show wouldn't need anything explaining to them.
The TARDIS materialises in a petrified jungle on an unnamed planet (retroactively confirmed to be Skaro) , and the Doctor surmises that the planet must have had a nuclear war at some point. Eventually, the explorers find a city, but, after Susan is frightened by an encounter with something in the jungle, the others decide they want to go home, but the Doctor contrives to keep them there so he can explore the city by manufacturing a fault with one of TARDIS's components, thus requiring them to go to the city to seek replacement parts.
In the city they meet the Daleks, stuff happens, the Daleks evil plans are thwarted, there is a happy ending etc etc.

The ability for the film to be shot entirely in colour meant that for the first time, the Daleks themselves could appear on screen in shades other than white, black or grey, so for the film, we get a red Dalek, a black and gold Dalek and a plethora of silver and blue Daleks, which do look nice I must admit. Oddly though, some Daleks seem to have decided to replace their standard plunger arms with rather ineffective looking claw arms, and their standard Dalek gun now shoots some sort of gas (Originally, the plan was for the Daleks weapons to shoot fire, but this was nixed by the producers, firstly because many of the scenes would have easily ended up with people getting seriously burned, but also because it was thought that flames would be too scary for small children to watch, so instead, the flame guns were replaced with CO2 fire extinguishers)
Storywise though, its your average run of the mill "people out of their depth help thwart evil bad guys" type of affair, you could replace the Daleks with evil goblins and the Doctor with some sort of inept wizard and the story would still be identical, but other than that the film is pretty much a scene for scene remake of the original TV serial, just with some of the exposition cut out.

Although the film was released in cinemas throughout the English speaking world, it was only really successful in the British isles, simply because at the time, Doctor Who was pretty much totally unheard of in the United States, and was only marginally known throughout the British Empire due to some serials being purchased for transmission on TV in Australia and South Africa.

Although the film is OK for a bit of throwaway Sunday afternoon viewing, my main criticism of the film is the "comedy" scenes which were shoehorned into the story in order to accommodate Roy Castle, they really serve no purpose and are about as funny as a dose of the clap.

Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150AD (1966)

Less than a year after the lukewarm reception of the original Dr. Who movie, Amicus followed up with a sequel based on the "Daleks invasion of Earth" serial.

Again, liberties were taken with the source material for reasons of both brevity (the original serial was 3 hours long) and of continuity with the original film.

The film begins with PC  Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins) pursuing some thieves through the streets of London. When he loses them, he spots a police box, which he enters to call for back up. Unfortunately for him, the police box is the TARDIS, and as he passes out from a head wound shortly after entering, he ends up getting taken along when the TARDIS goes to the year 2150.
For this film, "Dr. Who", again played by Peter Cushing, is joined by his granddaughter Susan, and his niece "Louise" (Barbera and Ian seem to have jumped ship at some point, implying this doctor had other adventures in between the previous film and this one). Tom is initially unconvinced that they are in the year 2150, until he sees that London lies in ruins (despite them being nearly 200 years in the future, London still looks like it did in the mid 60s).
As the films title suggests, the Earth has been conquered by the Daleks, who seem to be spending all their time and energies concentrating on a massive mining operation in Bedfordshire, the reason for which horrifies the Doctor and makes him vow to stop them with assistance from the remaining human resistance fighters.
Stuff happens, the Daleks evil plans are thwarted, etc etc.

While being a much more interesting story than the original Dalek film, this one makes a lot of the same mistakes, namely pointless "comedy scenes", although this time round, Bernard Cribbins proves he is superior at comedy acting than Roy Castle as the scenes aren't as farcial or cringeworthy.
Visually though, the film is much better to look at than its original TV counterpart, although this is more down to the film having a bit of a bigger budget to work with that the BBC.

Although the film was released at the height of "Dalekmania", it ended up being a total flop due to limited release in cinemas, coupled with scathing reviews which largely regarded it as being unoriginal.

"The Chase" (Unfilmed)
Prior to the release of Daleks - Invasion Earth, plans had been made to make a third film, based off the third Dalek serial from the TV series known collectively as "The Chase" , to be released in the summer of 1967.
These plans were shelved due to the poor performance of "Invasion Earth", but would have seen the Doctor, Susan and two other new companions on the run through time and space from Daleks, who by now had built their own version of a TARDIS and were bent on getting revenge on the Doctor for foiling their evil plans.

To date, no other Doctor Who films have been planned, nor is there likely to be given the continued popularity of the ongoing revived TV series.

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