You thought it was over, but you couldn’t be more wrong: Dr. Who is back! And yes, I mean “Dr.”, not “Doctor”. Today we’re looking at the second of two “Dr. Who” feature films, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., featuring Peter Cushing as Dr. Who! Let’s get started!
Previously I reviewed the first movie in the series, Dr. Who and the Daleks, based on the 1963-1964 television serial, The Daleks. You can find my review here. That film, released in 1965, saw Doctor Who adapted for the big screen, and featured Peter Cushing in the title role as the slightly-mad scientist Dr. Who (Who being his actual surname, as he is human, not alien). He was the inventor of a time-space ship in the shape of a police box, called Tardis (no acronym), and was accompanied by his granddaughters Susan and Barbara, as well as Barbara’s somewhat incompetent boyfriend Ian, to the planet Skaro, where he met the Daleks. Taken captive, he and his companions are forced to overcome their captors and aid the native Thals in overthrowing them for good. It’s an odd mirror of the television series; as it was intended to be a series of movies, with less time for backstory, there is none of the embryonic lore that was even then present in the television series. I had commented that it fit in well with the Disney live-action movies of the day, and I still think so; that doesn’t make it bad, but it is certainly different from its television progenitor.
The following year, this sequel, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., was released, based on the serial titled The Dalek Invasion of Earth. That serial was a bit shorter than the original (six episodes instead of seven), and a bit faster-paced; it showed a slightly more advanced breed of Daleks, as they no longer require the transmission of electricity through the floor; in fact, they can function while fully submerged in water. This upgrade is also seen in the film version; the sight of the Dalek rising from the river remains one of the most dramatic moments in early series history. Rumors have persisted for years that a third Dalek movie was planned, based on The Chase, but if so, it was never produced.
Things have changed a bit this time. Ian and Barbara are no longer present (coincidentally, by the time the movie was released, their television counterparts had left the Doctor and returned home); they are replaced by Dr. Who’s niece Louise, and Tom Campbell, a policeman with the misfortune of wandering into Tardis while dealing with a burglary. Modern Whovians will recognize Tom: He’s played by a young Bernard Cribbins, who would much later play Donna Noble’s wonderfully worrisome grandfather, Wilfred Mott. While the Doctor doesn’t exactly kidnap Tom willfully, the effect is the same; he leaves with Tom aboard so as to avoid being caught in the middle of the events outside. Much more politely than the television Doctor, he later puts Tom back right where he found him—or earlier, actually, allowing him to anticipate the burglary.
No Thals are present this time around; we stay on Earth for the duration, but we do leap forward to—as the title says—the year 2150 A.D. The plot isn’t too dissimilar to the television version: Tardis is immediately blocked off by a pile of rubble, and its crew fall in with, alternately, the human resistance and the Daleks’ mind-controlled Robomen. After quite a bit of back and forth, and a scene where the Doctor and Tom are nearly made into Robomen themselves, the group ends up at a mine where the Daleks are attempting something ambitious: They want to destroy and remove the Earth’s metallic core, and install machinery that will allow them to pilot the planet through the cosmos, giving them a mobile base for their war of conquest. It varies a little from the television version, in that the Daleks there are defeated simply by the explosion at the mine (presumably leaving other Dalek cells around the world to be dealt with), whereas here they are destroyed by the Earth’s magnetism when the bomb is detonated out of place. This version is less plausible, of course, but it makes for some interesting visuals onscreen, as Daleks are pulled in and crushed like aluminum cans.
The Dalek Invasion of Earth had the distinction of being the first time in the series’ history that a main cast member left the show, as Susan left the TARDIS, or rather, was left behind by the Doctor. It’s a great scene, giving us his famous “one day I shall come back” speech. In this version, Susan looks to be about twelve at most, and there’s none of that. Really, she’s a bit unnecessary throughout the movie; but then, so is Barbara—the bulk of the action is carried out by the resistance fighters and Tom. Even the Doctor seems almost to be making a cameo in his own film; he’s definitely less involved here than he was in the previous film. None of that is to say that the movie is bad or unenjoyable; it wasn’t uncommon in the First Doctor era for him to be less involved than his companions, as they serve as audience surrogates.
Once again, we get the same colorful and explosive (literally) visuals as the first film; the Daleks, again, are clearly ranked by color. They differ from their small-screen counterparts in that they don’t fire bullets or lasers, but rather, a gas weapon of some sort. Everything is a bit bigger here, and that’s understandable. The Daleks still are susceptible to being literally pushed around, unfortunately; while I think this version are a bit more menacing than the television version of the era, it breaks the immersion completely to see them blow up upon being shoved down a ramp by a bunch of humans. If it was that easy, then how did they conquer anything in the first place?
This movie assumes you’ve seen the first one. It does give some hasty explanation of what’s going on—the nature of Tardis, especially, plus a brief recap of the first film—but it’s very rushed and short on detail. There are references to things such as the Daleks’ previous dependence on electricity, but there’s little explanation.
So, what did I think? Last time, I spoke a bit about the nature of canon, and whether this film can count as canon. I won’t get into that again; my argument there applies here as well. My impression of the movie is that, like its predecessor, it’s a lot of fun to watch—assuming, that is, that you go into it with an open mind. It’s not Doctor Who, and it never will be. It isn’t supposed to be. It’s Dr. Who—and it stands well on its own two feet. It’s very dated, of course, but then, it should be. It’s free of the difficulties that the series often faces with regard to its nature—is it a family show? Is it more for adults? What’s appropriate to show? This is a movie you’d watch with your children and not think twice. At the same time, it’s still based on Doctor Who, and still grapples with the same concepts of time, change, justice, hope, desperation—those things never change, and they’ll always be worth our time.
High entertainment? No. Still worth it? Totally.
So, take a break from saving the universe. It’ll still be there. Series Ten is a long way away. Sit back, grab a drink, and watch some Daleks get shoved around. Have some fun with this film—let the television series be serious. Spend a few hours with Dr. Who. You might be entertained, but you won’t be disappointed.
Note: Unfortunately I was unable to locate streaming sources for Dr. Who and the Daleks or Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., however both are available for purchase on DVD from Amazon.com, bundled together as The Dalek Collection.