I think if you want to sum me up, just observe that yesterday, I hated The Graduate, and today I shall be thoroughly enjoying Dalek Invasion Earth 2015AD, the second Peter Cushing alternate universe Doctor Who film.
This is a much better movie than the first one. The story is more compelling, simply by dint of being set on Earth. And it has a far more interesting cast of characters than the first, which was saddled with the boring Thals.
The mighty Bernard Cribbins co-stars as a policeman who fails to stop a bank robbery, and stumbles into the Tardis trying to call for assistance, just as the Doctor, his niece Louise and his granddaughter Susan were going to visit London in the year 2150AD.
The film (like the TV version before it) made good use of derelict parts of the capital, still not rebuilt or in the process of being demolished since the war. It’s an easy way of shooting a deserted, broken down London.
It’s good to see that Sugar Puffs are still going string in the 22nd century.
The Doctor and Tom (Cribbins) come across a dead man in a shiny black jumpsuit and a strange helmet with a radio on the side. “Oh yes, highly advanced. A Miniaturised antenna.” says the Doctor. Look at the size of those resistors.
As they pursue the possible killer, Tom stumbles out of a 2nd floor door in a great stunt, although neither stunt man looks remarkably like the actors.
We get our first glimpse of the dalek saucer (before we see a single dalek – sorry if it’s a spoiler). I love this design, with its contra-rotating sections, although it must be very disorienting for anyone trying to go from one floor to another.
When we get our first look at a dalek, it’s coming out of the Thames. A striking image that’s blown by poor panning and scanning. I suspect in the widescreen print the shot of the dalek emerging also had Cushing and Cribbins in the frame, but as presented here it just appears out of the water out of context. I hate pan & scan.
The Tardis party is split up, with Louise and Susan being found by Wyler (Andrew Keir) who takes them to the Underground, where the remaining people are in hiding.
There they meet Godfrey Quigley as Dortmun, the leader of the resistance, barrelling around in his wheelchair examining the weapons and bombs the people there are making.
Also among the resistance is Ray Brooks as David, who, in the TV serial, would become the love interest for the (older on TV) Susan. Clearly, that plot element doesn’t make it across to this adaptation, despite it being the 60s.
Meanwhile, The Doctor and Tom have been captured by the Robomen, the enslaved, programmed humans controlled by the Daleks, and taken aboard the Dalek saucer. Luckily, the Doctor knows how to get out of the cell they’re locked in, by sliding a plastic comb underneath the magnetic door. I guess they didn’t have a credit card handy.
Wyler, David and the resistance stage a daring raid onto the saucer to rescue the humans before they get robotised, and there’s a great action sequence where they manage to rescue the Doctor and some of the other men, but Louise is left on board, and Tom stays there looking for her, disguised as a Roboman, featuring some fine physical comedy from the great Cribbins.
The Doctor and David return to the underground hideout, but completely miss the message left by Susan telling them where they’re going. Shame, really, as I wanted to see The Doctor visit Watford.
I love the way that no attempt has been made to posit far future vehicles. Everything looks completely contemporary to the mid 20th century. Even the number plate scheme is the same.
The Doctor and David plan their route, but unfortunately “we’ll have to bypass Watford, the place is crawling with Daleks.” Plus, the Ring Road is chocka at this time of day. And here’s the most exciting shot of the entire film.
It’s the only time (that I’m aware of) that my home town of Hemel Hempstead has featured in Doctor Who, and it always gives me a small thrill. As a young boy, walking round the woods and fields near my home with my friends, I used to say “wouldn’t it be great if the Daleks landed here?” I don’t think I’d really thought through the ramifications of the human cost. I was an idiot.
Wyler and Susan are still trying to get to Watford when they discover Sheila Steafel and Eileen Way living in a small cottage. They repair clothes for the Dalek work party, and offer some soup and shelter.
There’s some effective matte paintings of the Daleks’ mine in Bedfordshire, where they are tunnelling to the core of the planet for reasons yet unknown.
More trouble for The Doctor and David as they meet Philip Madoc, who doesn’t appear to be very friendly, but he says he’ll help them to get into the mine. I don’t trust him. His coat is too clean.
As you might have suspected, Sheila Steafel rats on Susan and Wyler, and they too are taken to the mine. I like the way the story organically brings all the principals back together without undue coincidence.
The Doctor learns the Daleks’ plan – to remove the magnetic core of the Earth so they can pilot the planet like a spaceship. The Doctor has a counter plan to deflect the bomb they’re using to blow up the core, so that it will destroy the Daleks instead. It’s up to Tom to enter the mine and block up the shaft to deflect the bomb.
But Madoc is a traitor, and betrays the Doctor. He doesn’t have the last laugh, though, when the Daleks blow him up.
The Doctor is taken to the Daleks’ command center, where he explains to them (and to Tom who’s listening from the mineshaft) that the Daleks are strongly affected by magnetism, and any deviation of the bomb’s trajectory would destroy them. Then he pulls the oldest trick in the book. “Look!” he shouts, then runs to the command microphone and orders the robomen to attack the Daleks. “This order cannot be countermanded.” Oh the folly of completely logical systems.
Then we get that most common Terry Nation plot device, the countdown. It counts down in Rels, which I presume is the Dalek equivalent of seconds.
When the bomb explodes off course, thanks to Tom’s handiwork, there’s loads of great scenes of Daleks toppling down shafts and exploding, of the kind the BBC could rarely afford to stage.
After that, it’s just a matter of returning Tom back to London a couple of minutes before he left, so he can foil the robbery.
As much as I’m slightly bored by the first Dalek film, this one is a total delight. It’s a much better story, populated by far more interesting characters, and the cast here is full of familiar faces. By being cut down from 6 25 minute episodes to an hour and twenty minutes, the story doesn’t have a chance to drag, and there’s lots of colourful action at a scale the BBC couldn’t remotely manage.
After the programme, there’s a plug for a doctor who text adventure, Doctor Who and the Warlord from BBC Soft. I don’t think I ever played this but there’s a bit of a play through on Youtube.
After this, there’s an episode of Film 85 in which Barry Norman reviews the following films:
There’s a report on the phenomenon of product placement, not quite as common in those days as it is today.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 30th April 1985 – 22:50
There’s another Film 85 after this, with Barry’s reviews of
- Falling In Love
- The Bay Boy
- The Times of Harvey Milk – “From The Bay Boy to the gay boy” says Barry by way of a link.
There’s a look at the launch of British Film Year.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 7th May 1985 – 22:55
The next episode features reviews of
- Johnny Dangerously “Did you know your last name is an adverb?”
- American Dreamer
- Mata Hari
- The Grey Fox
There’s a location report on Ladyhawke.
And another location report on Deborah Kerr’s first film for 11 years, The Assam Garden.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 14th May 1985 – 22:45
The recording stops after this episode.