The first ever Doctor Who feature film comes to Blu-ray for the first time...
DR WHO AND THE DALEKS
Released by: StudioCanal
Release date: 27 May 2013
"We could be anywhere in the universe, and at any time. Rather exciting, isn't it?"
Back in 1965, something remarkable happened. A year and nine months (to the day) after Doctor Who arrived on the BBC as a new Saturday evening science fiction series, it made the jump onto the big screen (and into colour) for the first time, as Dr Who and the Daleks arrived in cinemas in the UK on 23 August 1965. The film was a bold departure from what was being done on television, while still clearly showing some of its roots.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this. It had been some time since I last watched the DVD, and I recalled this, the first of the two films starring Peter Cushing as Dr Who, as being somewhat lacking compared to its sequel. But you know what? I was pleasantly surprised – I really enjoyed it. It helps that there’s such charming warmth to the whole thing. From the very first scene with Dr Who and his granddaughters Barbara (Jennie Linden) and Susan (Roberta Tovey), there’s something really cosy about the film. This is emphasised by the comedy that comes in the form of Ian (Roy Castle), who quite literally falls through the front door when he arrives.
There are a number of differences between the universe of this film and the universe of the Doctor Who TV series. Most profoundly, Dr Who is a human inventor as opposed to ‘the Doctor’, who is a Time Lord. Additionally, Barbara is his granddaughter as well as Susan, and Ian is Barbara’s boyfriend – on television, Ian and Barbara are schoolteachers of Susan, who we can infer is also a Time Lord. Finally, rather than being an organic life form in its own right, TARDIS (note the lack of the definite article) is simply a machine which has been invented and constructed by Dr Who. In the light of all this, it sounds as though this film is totally removed from the BBC series, and it is indeed very different. Yet, it feels very similar in some respects, probably because Dr Who and the Daleks is based directly upon the second-ever Doctor Who TV story, 1963/4’s The Daleks (the first story to feature the Doctor’s most celebrated adversary).
The biggest selling point of this film upon its release was that it was the very first time that Doctor Who as a franchise was ever seen in colour in any medium, and director Gordon Flemyng capitalises upon this in his composition of the shots. When the travellers arrive in the petrified jungle of an alien world, we are treated to atmospheric blue and green hues which really sell their surroundings as a dead planet. This means that there is a very effective contrast with the city of the Daleks, which is where the Technicolor really kicks in, with warm, bright colours prevailing. This is somewhat out of keeping with the concept of the Daleks, who are surely far more suited to a cold, metallic environment (which is what we would have seen in the original TV serial if it hadn’t been in black-and-white), but you can see why the makers of this film chose such a warm palette to take advantage of shooting in colour.
The set design in the film is generally pretty good. The Dalek city is a labyrinth of corridors with an impressive central control area, including a large wall-mounted control panel which vertically rotates. Curiously, the Daleks seem to have a penchant for lava lamps! The exterior entrance to the city also has a surprise in store for later in the film. The petrified surface of the planet is suitably menacing, and you get the impression that it is absolutely vast – during the climbing sequence for example, which is expanded with painted imagery which, while not looking ‘real’, stylistically works perfectly within the context of the film. The only real weak link as far as the sets go is the interior of TARDIS, which isn’t anywhere near as good as its TV equivalent. There is no central console, and it just looks like someone has dumped a load of electronics inside a garage. That said, the police box exterior is gorgeous, and was in fact the inspiration for the Matt Smith version which appeared on TV in 2010.
It could be said that Cushing’s portrayal of Dr Who is like a less temperamental version of William Hartnell’s Doctor. Their dress sense is not dissimilar, and Cushing slips in a few “Hmm”s. But Dr Who is certainly a far more approachable character. Take, for example, the scene in which he meets Ian for the first time, and then try to imagine it playing out so nicely with the First Doctor! 2013 marks the late Cushing’s centenary and he really is wonderful in this film. Dr Who is a friendly, eccentric, slightly absent-minded genius, and Cushing interacts wonderfully with his fellow cast members. But equally, Cushing tones down his performance in moments of peril, and he is always believable. The character he plays is not the Doctor, and so Cushing isn’t a part of the list of Doctors we’ve grown used to. But he absolutely makes the two Dalek films.
Susan is drastically different in the film compared to the TV series, as she is far younger on the big screen. Tovey is brilliant, and there is an obvious connection between her and Cushing. One way in which Susan is similar to her TV equivalent, though, is in her scientific knowledge – she seems to know a great deal about how TARDIS works. It’s fitting that it is Susan who needs to make the dangerous journey from the Dalek city back to TARDIS alone at one point, because it gives Tovey the chance to dominate the screen and showcase Susan’s brave and adventurous qualities.
As Ian and Barbara, Castle and Linden have an interesting dynamic. Unlike the other three main characters, Barbara never really gets anything significant to do, but it’s fascinating to see them as a couple in a relationship in the film, which is very different to the TV series. Castle steals the screen, bringing the moments of comedy to life perfectly without overdoing it. Unlike Cushing and Tovey, Castle and Linden did not return in the sequel, but it’s difficult to imagine Dr Who and the Daleks working without them.
It had a production budget of roughly £180,000, which is equivalent to something close to £2,513,000 as of 2013. Obviously, this couldn’t in any way be considered a high budget, but it was nevertheless more cash than the TV series had to play with. The effect this has is that everything is scaled up from how it appears in The Daleks on TV – the city is bigger, the Daleks are bigger and the forest is bigger, but this doesn’t diminish the magic of the film. At the end of the day, it is a fun, family-friendly romp. It would have been better if it had told an entirely new story rather than being a remake of something that had been seen on television a couple of years previously. But it was released five years before Doctor Who went into colour on TV, and forty years before it began to be shot in widescreen. Dr Who and the Daleks remains a fun, bold and humorous production to spend eighty-two minutes with.
Restoring Dr Who and the Daleks (HD 1080/50i) takes a look at the high definition restoration of the film for this Blu-ray. Structured around some impressive CG Dalek graphics, we are treated to a whistle-stop demonstration of the techniques used to improve the audio/visual quality. The featurette begins with a brief explanation of the Techniscope process, before various people involved with the restoration explain and demonstrate their work. This is a fascinating insight into the work involved in preparing Dr Who and the Daleks for Blu-ray release.
New to this release is an interview with Gareth Owen (HD 1080/50i). Owen is the author of the book The Shepperton Story, and he talks here about how the film was born as a result of the phenomenon that was the Daleks, the reason it was made under the name AARU rather than Amicus Productions and why John Lennon was photographed with Daleks and featured in newspapers, among other things. Aside from one irksome moment when Owen says that the TV series had “wobbly scenery, wobbly acting”, this is a fairly interesting item, as he talks about some of the most notable aspects of the production in turn.
Dalekmania (SD 576/50i) is a 1995 documentary directed by Kevin Davies. When it appeared on the 2006 Optimum DVD, the beginning was cut off for some reason, but it is fully intact here – it features Michael Wisher (who played Davros, creator of the Daleks, in the 1975 story Genesis of the Daleks, as well as providing Dalek voices in a number of stories) as a rather creepy cinema commissionaire. This is a wonderful opening, and it thematically resembles the opening sequence of 30 Years in the TARDIS, a 1993 BBC documentary which Davies was also responsible for. The documentary focuses on the two Dalek films (hence its inclusion here), with a number of cast members appearing on-camera. Everyone seems to look back fondly at them, with Tovey recalling how Flemyng gave her a shilling every time she got her lines right in one take during production of Dr Who and the Daleks, for example. Terry Nation, the man who created the Daleks, also appears via archive interview footage. Reflecting on the films, he says that he developed the idea of having a hierarchy of Daleks denoted by the colour of their casings – a concept which bears a strong resemblance to the New Dalek Paradigm introduced in 2010. This is a great documentary, but perhaps it goes on a bit too long – at just under one hour long, maybe it could have been tightened up a little. It’s roughly a 50/50 split between coverage of the two films, with just over half of the documentary focusing in particular on Dr Who and the Daleks. It shows its age in some places, particularly near the end when there is reference to the films being available soon on video in widescreen, but it makes for an enjoyable (if slightly overlong) watch.
A pre-existing commentary with Linden and Tovey, moderated by Jonathan Sothcott, is included. It’s a nice discussion, with Linden and Tovey reminiscing about how they got involved with the film and their memories of their fellow cast members. It does sometimes drag a bit, because it doesn’t always manage to sustain itself, but thankfully Sothcott is on hand to keep it going more than it might otherwise have done. A new Stills Gallery (HD 1080/24p) runs to over two minutes, and contains a number of photos and posters related to Dr Who and the Daleks. It’s very simple in terms of its presentation, but it does what it says on the tin.
Finally, the original theatrical trailer (SD 576/50i) appears, which is great fun to watch. It has a special Cushing/Dalek voiceover, and although there are a couple of oddities in it, such as its description of the Daleks as “men of steel” and its proclamation that viewers will be “so close you will feel their fire” – strange when you consider that these Daleks shoot something more closely resembling fire extinguishers! – it’s a brilliant curiosity. They don’t make trailers like this any more…
The mono audio has been encoded as a lossless LPCM 2.0 track, derived from an optical soundtrack. Dropouts and other glitches have been repaired during restoration, resulting in the best possible sound quality. Dialogue is clear, and Barry Gray and Malcolm Lockyer’s music sounds amazing.
A 35mm anamorphic interpositive has been transferred, presented here at 1080/24p and encoded with MPEG-4 AVC. Dr Who and the Daleks was shot using the Techniscope process, which results in each frame only occupying two perforations on the 35mm film, as opposed to the usual four. This has obvious budgetary advantages in terms of using less physical film, but it also has drawbacks when it comes to quality. So, don’t go into this expecting the sort of quality you see with some other 35mm films on Blu-ray. This one looks fantastic, but the level of sharpness and detail you might see elsewhere just isn’t achievable here due to the source materials. If that sounds concerning, don’t worry too much – you can still tell that this is a high definition transfer, though exactly how much detail there is in the image varies. As often seems to be the way with these things, it is the facial close-up shots which usually look the best. But beyond this, the well-lit scenes tend to look better than the darker ones. Thankfully, the restoration has been very sympathetic, and there is still a nice (but not overwhelming) amount of grain in the image – there has not been any over-enthusiastic DNR here. There is the occasional blemish, but overall this is a very clean and stable presentation. The grading is in keeping with the intent of the film-makers, and the colours always have a great vibrancy to them while remaining naturalistic. Due to the nature of the film and how it was shot, there is a limit to what can be done with Dr Who and the Daleks. But in my opinion, this Blu-ray release is definitely justified, as this is the best it has looked on any commercial release to date.
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.
I was very pleasantly surprised by how well Dr Who and the Daleks stands up; it’s certainly better than I remembered. It’s great as an alternative approach to the world of Doctor Who, and while the changes made to the formula mean that it doesn’t match the quality of the TV series it originates from, there’s barely a dull moment. Barbara arguably pulls the short straw in terms of getting something meaty to do in the storyline, but all of the cast turn in a strong performance. While this high definition Blu-ray presentation doesn’t bring with it any jaw-dropping revelations like some archival releases have in the past, it’s most certainly a step up from any prior version. The new special features are quite brief, but taken as a whole, this release has a decent extras package, with my personal highlight being the insight into the restoration process. StudioCanal has done a great job with an overlooked gem of Doctor Who’s history.
7 OUT OF 10
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