Friday 26 August 2016

Doctor Who - The Dalek Invasion Of Earth

Hello, Dalek!

Doctor Who -
The Dalek Invasion Of Earth

21 November - 26th December 1964 BBC1

BBC DVD Region 2

“One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.”
The Doctor, The Dalek Invasion Of Earth

Well, it’s been a while since I personally watched the original version of the Doctor Who story The Dalek Invasion of Earth. My previous experience of this classic William Hartnell tale dates back to the days of VHS, when I probably borrowed it off my cousin. Of course, this 1964 adventure was remade two years later by Amicus studios as Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150AD, following the success of their 1965 remake of the 1963 Doctor Who serial The Daleks, entitled Dr. Who and the Daleks, for the big screen.

Now, while I quite like this original version of the story, I have to say I much prefer the big screen version a whole lot better with its crazy music, vibrant colours and more condensed, pacey version of the plot points. However, this version runs for six, 25 minute episodes instead of the 84 minutes of the movie version, and both have good things and bad things to offer the casual watcher of a story like this.

The first episode starts off strong with a slightly disturbing moment as a robo-man’s brains are finally scrambled enough by the device he’s wearing so that he throws himself in the river to drown, his floating body used in this and subsequent shots. Then the TARDIS materialises, not with the sound we know these days but with much less fuss. Interestingly, it’s not a model but a life size prop and... it’s looking a hell of a lot more authentic in this incarnation than it has done on many occasions in the intervening years. It even has two of its windows tilted open... not something I remember seeing before (or should that be since?). The TARDIS is still carrying its original crew who first set off in their adventures the year before, namely William Hartnell as The Doctor,  Carol Ann Ford as his grandaughter Susan, Jacqueline Hill and William Russell... as Coal Hill School teachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton. Of course, we shall be hearing more about Coal Hill School later in the year when the BBC launch their new Doctor Whoniverse spin off Class.

The four seperate into two groups after Susan sprains her ankle (no, really) and the TARDIS is accidentally buried under a falling bridge. Ian and The Doctor go to a warehouse, where they encounter the robomen while Susan and Barbara are picked up by the resistance. They soon discover that they are in the year 2164... which is 200 years after the episode was broadcast, of course. For some reason unknown to me, the big budget movie remake was set in the year 2150 so... I don’t know, maybe the producers of the movie version just liked rounded numbers.

At the end of the first episode, where Ian and The Doctor are cornered by robomen alongside the Thames, we get treated to the famous, classic reveal, cliffhanger shot. As they turn to hurl themselves into the river Thames and escape, not the best choice anyway if you don't want to get killed by the polution (in any century), we see a ripple on the surface and then a Dalek reveals itself as the main enemy of this story, slowly trundling out of the water and onto the bank of the river. Good stuff. This was only the Daleks second appearance, the first being just under a year before this in the second Doctor Who adventure but... I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to conclude that if series producer Verity Lambert hadn’t broken from her 'educational, history programme’ brief for the show in the second story... the series may not have continued running for too much longer. The Daleks were a huge hit on their first appearance and even more so with the release of more Dalek stories... as Dalekmania shook Britain in much the same way that Beatlemania had a year or two before.

It’s an interesting story and, as the groups of protagonists get further divided and find each other over the course of the six episodes they, independently of each other, all make their way with other characters to a mining operation using human slave labour in Bedford, to uncover the Dalek’s master plan of destroying the Earth’s core so our planet can be piloted around the galaxy like a huge spaceship. Fair enough, I guess.

There are quite a few differences from the film other than the obvious cinematic shorthand used in the later production. For a start, there’s certainly not an abundance of posters in post invasion London which are advertising the popular breakfast cereal Sugar Puffs like there are in the movie... where you can hardly look at any exterior shot without finding a Sugar Puffs poster at some point. The film version is, of course, very much an example of exclusive product placement gone mad and shattering the illusion of reality... unless mankind in the future really are subsisting on a diet of Sugar Puffs like they’re chowing down on Soylent Green.

The robomen are a very different beast here too. In the serial here they’re wearing very cumbersome, top heavy helmets and whatever clothes the human who was converted was wearing at the time. In the movie version it’s a much more military, deliberately Nazi-like affair with black, shiny uniforms and a sleek helmet not entirely unlike a German stormtrooper from the Second World War. It’s safe to say that the movie is pushing a slightly different commentary on the robomen than the no less sensitive but, certainly less demonised, versions in the serial. Also, I know these were being primarily watched on small, fuzzy screens which showed none of the detail you get these days but... it’s kind of hilarious when you realise the actor playing the roboman who throws himself into the river at the start of the first episode plays a roboman in various locations throughout the six episodes... and dies a fair few deaths too. Great stuff.

Other takeaways I got from this show was that, while the Daleks do say their trademark “Exterminate” a few times, it hadn't quite got the status it later achieved and, more often than not, they’ll just talk about people being killed instead. I also noticed one of the resistance fighters talking about striking a blow to give Europe a hope... so I guess by 2164 we must somehow be on very good terms again with our fellow Europeans after all this Brexit fuss... at least according to Doctor Who.

The ending of the final episode is quite dramatic and, surprisingly moving. The Doctor’s grandaughter has fallen in love with one of the resistance fighters but she has to leave him to carry on with her travels. However, The Doctor gets wind of this and locks her out of the TARDIS, abandoning her to a more stable future away from all his time travelling shenanigans. This is where the famous, farewell, ‘no regrets’ speech which I quote at the top of this review comes from. Even if you’ve never seen this episode, you’ve probably seen the speech because it is always used in documentaries about the show and in flashback sequences within the show itself. This was the very first time a companion had left the show but Carol Ann Ford would, of course, briefly return to the role opposite Richard Hurndall (standing in for the long dead Hartnell) in the 20th anniversary show, The Five Doctors.

And that’s that, I think. Doctor Who - The Dalek Invasion of Earth is something of a classic of the Hartnell era and definitely one to contemplate watching if you ever feel a hankering to watch a First Doctor adventure. Dated but kinda fun... but don’t count the movie version out just yet.

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