Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. – Blu-ray Review

The second of the two 1960s films starring Peter Cushing arrives on Blu-ray...

RRP: £19.99
Released by: StudioCanal
Release date: 27 May 2013

Click on the screenshot thumbnails below to access full HD images.

"They've bombarded us with meteorites, subjected us to cosmic rays, smashed our cities, destroyed whole continents of people – and some of us they've turned into living dead"

Doctor Who’s second (and, to date, final) outing on the big screen came in 1966, with the release of Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. Again starring Peter Cushing as Dr Who, this sequel to the previous year’s Dr Who and the Daleks is even more ambitious than its predecessor. The Daleks are back with a deadly plot, and this time around, the action is coming to Earth…

Unlike the first film, Invasion Earth makes use of a pre-titles sequence (in the correct place – at least one prior DVD release has moved the scene to after the opening credits), depicting London Special Constable Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins) trying and failing to stop a burglary at a jewellery shop. Right from the off, this scene demonstrates a key fact about Invasion Earth: it is considerably more action-oriented than the first film. There are explosions, fights and stunts, and while they were present in the preceding film, there is a greater quantity of them here, meaning that Invasion Earth doesn’t feel as ‘talky’ as the film that came before it. Indeed, one stunt proved to be dramatic on- and off-screen, as stuntman Eddie Powell broke his ankle while performing a fall.

Just as Dr Who and the Daleks was based on the BBC serial The Daleks, this film is based on the Daleks’ second appearance on the small screen, 1964’s The Dalek Invasion of Earth. In my review of the first film, I discussed the differences between the universes of the film and television versions in general, and Invasion Earth also differs in some ways from the specific serial it is based upon. Whereas the original story features the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara, the film replaces the latter two with Tom and Dr Who’s niece Louise (Jill Curzon), who appear alongside Dr Who and his granddaughter Susan (Roberta Tovey). Additionally, the monstrous Slyther from the TV story is absent from the film (many would say that this is a good thing), though the fundamental story remains very similar, albeit with a different take on the conclusion. The time travellers lose access to TARDIS in exactly the same way as they do on TV, a classic plot device of Terry Nation – who wrote the original story – and the iconic cliffhanger moment of a Dalek emerging from beneath the water of the Thames is also repeated for the film. Although, the question remains of what exactly it was doing down there!

This is altogether a more impressive spectacle than the first film, with TARDIS bringing the travellers to London in the year 2150, but it’s a very different city to the one we recognise. Much of it lies in ruins, and there is a great deal of mystery about what has happened and why London is so deserted. Whereas the first film was largely limited to a few locations, Invasion Earth takes place on a massively larger stage, as the time travellers and a group of resistance fighters have to make the perilous journey from London to Bedfordshire, where the Daleks’ mysterious plan is unfolding. All of the principal cast get something to do (certainly more so than in the first film) and it’s great to see a lot of location work here, something which was almost entirely absent from the previous film. The cinematography is excellent, with amazing use being made of the widescreen Techniscope format by director Gordon Flemyng and cinematographer John Wilcox. Dr Who and Tom’s search through a warehouse is very atmospheric, with Flemyng and Wilcox making the most of the set. Another notable scene is one in which we explore the Daleks’ control centre – you can really get a sense of depth, as the shaky camera moves around the large space. At one point it focuses on a Dalek on the other side of the room and follows its movement; while this sequence stands out as being quite unusual in the wider context of the film’s cinematography, it is a very creative idea and one of the film’s most memorable moments.

The music in Invasion Earth is composed by Bill McGuffie, with electronic elements provided by Barry Gray. It really evokes the period in which the film was made, and also sounds a bit similar in places to the score of the original TV story, with its percussion sounds underlining certain scenes within London. The main theme music is a different composition to that in Dr Who and the Daleks, and it has a drastically faster pace. This is appropriate given how much more exciting and set-piece oriented this film is. Although primarily orchestral, the electronic elements are a nice touch. Overall, the music represents what this film is: science fiction, sixties style.

Cushing’s portrayal of Dr Who (a human alternative to the TV series’ Time Lord) is much along the same lines as in the previous film, with all of the same values and characteristics present here. An eccentric, kind and extremely clever inventor, he has all of the principles of the small screen Doctor, even though he is essentially a different character. There’s something about Cushing which just seems right for the role, as he works on every level in the part. It’s amusing how readily Dr Who allows Tom, a complete stranger, on-board TARDIS (although he did enter by accident) – they swiftly become friends, and Cribbins is absolutely wonderful throughout the film as Tom’s disbelief soon turns to wonder and then curiosity. In my review of Dr Who and the Daleks, I said that Cushing is the person who made that film so special. In this case, I’d suggest that it is Cribbins, as he is just a joy to watch. One very memorable scene features him having to pretend to be one of the Daleks’ robotised slaves, and Cribbins really goes for it.

Tovey returns to her role as Susan, and she is as fantastic here as she was in the first film. Again, the relationship between Susan and her grandfather is lovely, and it really shows through in the actors’ performances. In fact, Cushing apparently said that he would only return for a second film if Tovey came back as well, which is a really touching story. Although, Susan is separated from Dr Who for a large amount of the running time, as she has to make her own journey with rebel leader Wyler (Andrew Keir). This builds on Dr Who and the Daleks, in which Susan bravely volunteers to make a dangerous journey on her own, and Tovey’s scenes with Keir in this film are a highlight. Curzon works well alongside Cribbins, and for a while the pair must face danger in their own part of the plot. Invasion Earth is arguably skewed more towards Dr Who, Tom and Susan, but as Louise, Curzon gets more to do than Jennie Linden did in the first film.


Restoring Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (HD 1080/50i) is a short featurette about the film’s restoration for this Blu-ray. The beginning is very similar to the start of the equivalent feature on the Dr Who and the Daleks Blu-ray, with an explanation of the advantages and disadvantages of Techniscope. This time though, the topic is expanded slightly, with discussion of Flemyng’s skilled use of the format. This is followed by interviews with some of those responsible for the restoration at Deluxe, with a quick glimpse at how the clean-up and grading was dealt with. This is a highly interesting (albeit brief) item, and it’s great that the people who made the film look and sound as good as it does have had a chance to appear on-screen and talk about their work.

A new interview with Bernard Cribbins (HD 1080/50i) appears. At just over four minutes long, it’s a shame that this item isn’t a bit longer, but it’s still great to hear Cribbins’ memories of the production. He explains that he had worked with Cushing before, and shares some memories of the late actor (whose centenary is this year). My favourite of the stories he recalls involves the cast ending up giggling uncontrollably, resulting in a stern telling off from Flemyng. Cribbins also talks about his audition for the part of the Fourth Doctor on TV (which eventually went to Tom Baker) – this is a nice reminder that while the films inhabit a different universe to the one we are used to, it’s all ultimately part of the same thing. The sound on this interview is somewhat on the quiet side (which is also the case with Gareth Owen’s interviews on both this release and that of the previous film), but that doesn’t spoil a lovely little interview with a legend of the industry.

The new interview with Gareth Owen (HD 1080/50i) is around the same length as the Cribbins feature, and it is a bit stronger than the corresponding item on the Dr Who and the Daleks Blu-ray. The author of the book The Shepperton Story explains that this film was created in an attempt to capitalise upon the success of the previous one, although it ran into some problems during production; Owen expresses his belief that Cushing was “slightly underused” in the finished film due to the actor being written out of some scenes because he was unwell. The feature concludes with Owen discussing some of the reasons why a third film didn’t happen, and he reads a “favourable” tabloid review which really isn’t very favourable at all, demonstrating how vitriolic the critical reaction was at the time.

A new Stills Gallery (HD 1080/24p) shows some images relating to the film. This is by no means the most comprehensive gallery ever, but it does show some interesting shots (of the model Dalek saucer, for example), in addition to a variety of promotional publications. Finally, the original theatrical trailer (SD 576/50i) is included. It shares one of the oddities seen in the Dr Who and the Daleks trailer, namely referring to the Daleks as “men of steel”, but it is nevertheless fun to watch. The audio leaves something to be desired, as there are no less than four dropouts in the soundtrack, but this does at least allow for comparison with the HD restoration – something which is also true of the picture quality.


Invasion Earth’s mono audio is presented as a lossless LPCM 2.0 soundtrack. Generally, the audio is very satisfying considering the age of the source material, with clear dialogue and strong, immersive music. There is one scene in which I noticed that the audio becomes more muffled, quite noticeably so compared to the surrounding material. But luckily, things get back to normal pretty quickly. Compared to the unrestored audio which can be heard on the trailer (which is plagued with dropouts), the restored audio on the main feature really is a revelation.

The source for the video is a 35mm interpositive produced from the original Techniscope negatives. This is presented at 1080/24p in its correct aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC. The technical advantages of shooting with Techniscope come at the expense of picture quality. Whereas an ordinary 35mm film frame occupies four perforations on the film, Techniscope pictures only use two. This means that when the film is blown up to any significant size (either a cinema screen, or as in this case, a 1080p HD transfer), it becomes quite grainy. Thankfully, this grainy aesthetic that is a part of the Techniscope process is preserved on this Blu-ray, without any overzealous attempts to ‘improve’ the picture. Because of the limitations of the Techniscope process, the picture quality of this Blu-ray isn’t comparable to a lot of 4-perf 35mm film transfers that are available on the format, but nevertheless, the benefits of HD are very apparent. Something which seems to be inherent in Techniscope footage is that scenes with high-key lighting look quite a lot better than those with low-key lighting, so daytime scenes in Invasion Earth are where the most impressive shots can be found. The darker scenes occasionally have a blue or green tint to them, and the black levels are variable. Sometimes blacks are very deep, while other times dark scenes have a murky grey feel to them. So, the darker shots are quite inconsistent (which is almost certainly because the Techniscope process itself isn’t as well-suited to that sort of material), but it is the daytime scenes which truly shine on this Blu-ray. I’d say that this release looks better in this regard than the Blu-ray of Dr Who and the Daleks – perhaps that’s because of the naturalness of the location filming, rather than the more artificial nature of the studio-bound scenes which prevailed in the first film. But whatever the reason, more brightly-lit material has a stunning vibrancy to it considering the source materials, and is more consistent in its clarity than Dr Who and the Daleks, which varies more on a shot-by-shot basis. The colour grading is accurate to the original intentions of the filmmakers (the interpositive used for this transfer already had colour grading applied to it), and it has a very naturalistic feel to it while still conveying the bold, Technicolor selling point of the film. The restoration has resulted in a very clean, stable presentation; of course, there is a blemish in the film every now and again, but this doesn’t detract from how lovely the film looks overall.

Below are comparisons between the 2006 Optimum DVD and the 2013 Blu-ray – above is the DVD release and below is the Blu-ray. For the best comparison, open each image in its own tab and flick between the two.

Please note that this Blu-ray is locked to Region B. Anyone who imports it to another region should ensure that their region-free equipment supports 50i content, as this is the format the menu and certain extras are presented in.


After this one, no further big-screen films based on Doctor Who were made. The critical reception was dire, and unlike the first film (which still managed to be a roaring commercial success), the press reaction probably put a dent into the box office takings of Invasion Earth. Maybe the novelty had worn off – whereas Dr Who and the Daleks sold itself primarily through being in colour and widescreen, perhaps this was a trick that only worked once. It’s a huge shame that the films didn’t continue – if the first film was great then this one is amazing. The narrative is far grander, and we can only guess at what might have been forthcoming had the idea continued. It would have been interesting to see a film starring Cushing as Dr Who which didn’t have Daleks in, although the box office prospects might not have been spectacular. But now we’re entering the realm of infinite what-ifs. Looking at Invasion Earth as a whole, it is largely a thrilling viewing experience, head and shoulders above the first film with fine performances from the cast and amazing direction and cinematography. Where the extras are concerned, it would have been better if they were a little longer (especially the Cribbins interview), but they are still enjoyable and complement the film nicely. The restoration does the best it can with the source material, and while the darker scenes aren’t brilliant, the daytime ones are absolutely worth the price of the Blu-ray. All in all, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. is a stunning conclusion to an alternative world of Doctor Who, and it’s never looked as good as this.

8 OUT OF 10

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Thanks to StudioCanal

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