Revisiting the Peter Cushing Doctor Who Films 55 Years Later

Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer

Long time Redmangoreaders would have noticed the many Doctor Who articles over the years (more than 100 if we’re counting). And the simple reason for that (other than fulfilling our science fiction/fantasy quota) is that yours truly is a card-carrying Whovian (Doctor Who fan). And as both a Whovian and a show completionist I have sought to consume as much content as possible, though I still have to find the time and money to get into the much revered Big Finish audio stories. I even watched the non-canon charity special Dimensions in Time, which is the Doctor Who equivalent of the Star Wars Holiday Special in terms of quality.

And speaking of non-canon, one aspect of the Whoniverse I had never bothered to watch is the two Doctor Who films Dr Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966) which were created to capitalise on “Dalekmania” sweeping Britain at the time. Now I am a fan of Peter Cushing and loved him as Van Helsing in the Hammer horror films and as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. But to watch him not as the beloved alien Time Lord, but as a human inventor called “Dr Who” in a cinematic reimagining of two First Doctor William Hartnell Dalek stories? That just didn’t seem like the most attractive prospect. But my completionist side got the better of me and I decided to finally watch them both recently. So do the two films hold up more than five decades later for the casual viewer? And would I recommend them to a Whovian? Read on, dear reader. Read on. And I will be keeping the spoilers mild as I know many people have not seen these films. With an Allons-y and Geronimo let’s go!

Dr Who and the Daleks

Am I an alien? What a silly question. Next you’ll ask if I have two hearts

This film was based on the second serial The Daleks and was the first Doctor Who story to be filmed in color and in a widescreen format. From the opening credits you will know that you are not watching a canon Doctor Who story as the iconic theme has been replaced by some generic groovy tune. There is also no “whooshing” sound or dematerialise/materialise visual effect. The film is also three years too early for the sonic screwdriver. As mentioned above, Cushing plays Dr Who (no first name given), a curious human inventor who is highly intelligent but does make some bonehead decisions, like going to investigate a planet without first checking the conditions outside. Cushing sports some wild white hair a la Albert Einstein, the dress code of an English professor and a kindly and a patient, caring demeanour, a stark contrast to the curmudgeonly and condescending First Doctor. On a side note, if someone calls The Doctor “Dr Who” you can say, “Oh you mean the Peter Cushing version” if you want to be a smart alec.

This Dr Who created the TARDIS (still Time and Relative Dimension in Space) but why it still looks like a police telephone box is never explained, though the real-world explanation was likely brand recognition. The inside of the TARDIS is still bigger than the outside, though instead of the sleek, minimalist design from the show this interior looks a mad scientist’s monstrous experiment escaped its confines, ate all the equipment and then vomited it up.

The original story featured the Doctor’s granddaughter and aspiring scream queen Susan (Carole Ann Ford) and two teachers Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill). All three characters return for the film but are reimagined. Susan has been de-aged from a twenty-something-looking woman to a precocious preteen, though I will say I preferred the brave little Roberta Tovey version to Ford’s endless wailing. The film versions of Ian and Barbara, however, are a downgrade. This Barbara, played by Jennie Linden, is also Dr Who’s granddaughter, has no stated profession, and the most interesting thing about her is her tight pink pants and beehive hairdo. This Ian, played by Roy Castle, is Barbara’s boyfriend, also has no stated profession and, unlike the refined original, is am awkward, clumsy goofball and attempted slapstick comic relief. But just as Ian falls flat on the ground so does his comedic efforts. Even Susan calls him Ian a coward at one point. Poor guy.

And here it says the Daleks will offer us free chest wax for life!

It is actually Ian’s clumsiness that triggers the TARDIS and sends the four of them to the Dalek planet of Skaro (it is only named in the sequel). It is there they encounter the evil Daleks and the pacifistic, golden-skinned Thals. And to the film’s credit the Daleks do look like Daleks we know and love, though they are larger, multi-colored and the plunger was replaced by a claw. But you definitely won’t have trouble recognising them. And two television series Dalek voice actors (David Graham and Peter Hawkins) voice them in the film, so they sound authentic as well. These Daleks don’t fire lasers, however, but use a gas that can both stun, kill and destroy objects. The Thal make-up and costume do look very sixties and a little silly, but it’s not too bad. The design of the petrified forest and the Dalek city were actually very well done and production is one of the better aspects of the film.

Anyone who has seen Classic Doctor Who would know some stories felt a bit stretched out to meet the runtime. And this film does feel like a stretched-out episode even at a brisk 82 minutes. There are more scenes of people talking (or Daleks talking, or Daleks and people talking) than actual things happening. And when things happen it is usually people getting captured, escaping, attacking, retreating, rinse and repeat. Things do pick up in the final act but not by much. The whole experience left me with a mighty feeling of “meh”. But if you are a mega Dalek fan and/or fan of 60s Sci Fi films then you may find something to like here.

Editor Jules’ Score: 6 out of 10

Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.

Well England certainly has gone down the crapper, aye Doctor?

Thankfully the second film a year later was a vast improvement over the first, though I do believe an “of” is missing between “Invasion” and “Earth”. This one was based on The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the second serial of the show’s second season. That story featured the original trio of companions (Susan, Ian and Barbara) but the film version only keeps Susan (still played by Tovey) and dumps their versions of Ian and Barbara. And that was a good choice because those characters were useless and somewhat annoying. Those two are replaced with policeman Tom Campbell and the Doctor’s niece Louise (the lovely Jill Curzon). Campbell is played with energy and charm by Bernard Cribbins who returned 41 years later in the revived Doctor Who series as the kindly Wilfred Mott, grandfather of regular companion (and arguably best modern companion) Donna Noble and temporary companion to David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. After failing to stop a jewelry burglary Campbell goes into a police phone box to call for help but that box is actually the TARDIS with Dr Who (now with sleeker hair), Susan and Louise aboard. He passes out and the Doctor (for some season) decides to take him on a trip to the future. They arrive in the year 2150 in London which has been devastated following an invasion and occupation by The Daleks.

Now this is more like it. The sequel is a much darker tale and the pacing is much better. There is always something happening and the tension and foreboding lasts throughout. There is a scene where a white Dalek comes out of the river, which is a recreation of a scene from the original serial, that is downright chilling. Overall The Daleks in this film feel deadly and more menacing, and even closer to their Nazi inspiration. The film also has a lot more thrills and action courtesy of skirmishes between the time travelers and the rebel humans with the Daleks and their cyborg slaves the Robomen, who look like they are auditioning for an 80s rock band but are quite lethal.

Nice to see the Devo reunion tour is coming along well

The film has its flaws though. In the first act Dr Who leaves Susan and Louise to go exploring with Campbell. Seriously? Did you just leave your two relatives alone, including one still in primary school, in a place that looks like Beirut? There is also the inexplicable use of very jaunty music in some scenes, including one while the travelers are on the lookout for a possible murderer. But these are only minor quibbles. With terrific production design, plot twists, a high body count and explosive action Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. is a banger of a film. And it may not be canon Doctor Who, but it is a dang good classic Sci Fi adventure that is worth checking out.

Editor Jules’ Score: 7.5 out of 10

So what did you think of the Cushing Dr Who films? For my list of the Seven Classic Doctors, Seven Best Stories you can click here. And for more wibbly wobbly timey wimey articles you can like and follow Redmangoreviews on Facebook here

B0FC059B-BBEE-47CF-90E4-D588C1BACD93 Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. I can also be found posting about TV and movie memes, news and trailers on Facebook at Movieville.