I am not what you would call an avid Doctor Who fan. I watched the odd episode when I was growing up, but it was always on at weird times on my PBS affiliate and, whatever the case, they were always random selections so it was impossible to build up a relationship with the storyline, such as it was. When the show was rebooted with Christopher Eccleston in the role, I tried again. While I found these episodes more engaging, I still ended up wandering off before the first series was complete. I haven’t watched it since.
One thing that has interested me for a long time are the two Doctor Who theatrical films made in the 1960s. These starred Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin! Van Helsing!) as the Doctor and were apparently meant as standalone entries disconnected from the TV episodes in most substantial ways. I never went so far as to actively seek them out, but when the opportunity to watch Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 AD on Turner Classic Movies arose, I jumped at the chance.
Unfortunately Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 AD is the second of two theatrical Doctor Who films, the first being Dr. Who and the Daleks, but as far as I can tell there’s precious little continuity between them, so it all works out in the end.
For those who don’t know, the Doctor is an alien being known as a Time Lord who, with the help of his science-fictional time machine, the TARDIS, travels around helping people out of sticky situations. The series was originally conceived as a way of teaching history to kids, but after the sci-fi elements became the most popular part of the show, all those educational pretensions fell away.
Well, forget what I’ve just told you. Forget about half of it, anyway. In Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 AD, Doctor Who is a human being who has somehow (maybe this is explained in the first film) gotten access to the TARDIS and travels around helping people out of sticky situations. On the show he’s called Doctor Who in the title because he has no other name. In the movie, the Doctor’s actual surname is Who. I guess the filmmakers found it easier for kids to believe in a human being than an alien with two hearts who just appears human. Who knows.
One of the most iconic of Doctor Who’s rogues gallery are the alien Daleks. They are destructive creatures that wish only to exterminate other life forms. They came back again and again (and again) on the show, and were the centerpiece villains of both filmic Doctor Who adventures. From my perspective, they never were particularly scary because they kind of look like rolling trash cans with plungers attached to their chests. Not very threatening, in other words. But in Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 AD, they take over the world. Or a chunk of England, anyway.
The film begins with a British policeman on the beat who, through a short series of mishaps, ends up aboard the TARDIS. You see, from the outside the TARDIS looks like a blue police box of the sort used by the authorities in the ’60s, and when Constable Tom (Bernard Cribbins) tries to make use of it, he’s brought along with Doctor Who and company on a time-traveling adventure.
Doctor Who is not alone. He’s traveling with his niece (Jill Curzon) and granddaughter (Roberta Tovey). They’re totally used to this sort of thing, so Tom is the audience’s proxy in all the weirdness that follows when the TARDIS whisks them all away to London of 2150 where a terrible calamity has come to pass: the Daleks have invaded and rule with an iron, er, plunger-looking thing.
Most Doctor Who episodes aren’t exactly twisty-turny thrillers, and Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 AD is likewise pretty straightforward. Of course there’s a resistance and of course the Doctor and the others get involved and of course the Daleks oppose them at every turn. It’s just a question of the particulars involved, and while the movie is unlikely to set anyone’s world on fire, it does maintain a certain level of interest. The Daleks are after more than just domination of the human species, so finding out what that’s all about is at least somewhat worthwhile.
As the show was, Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 AD is decidedly low-budget. The interior of the TARDIS is just a few free-standing tables of electronic equipment with flashy lights and a black curtain drawn around the perimeter. The Daleks themselves look as fake as ever and you will not be bowled over by the few visual effects the film has to offer. Focusing on the technical aspects of such things is kind of missing the point, however. The stories on Doctor Who were meant to be fun for the whole family, and in this Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 AD succeeds admirably. There’s nothing in the movie that’s even the slightest bit objectionable, not even the handful of deaths that occur, and while that might render up a film that’s somewhat bland, at least it’s not going to give your kids nightmares.
Probably the best thing in the movie — besides Jill Curzon, who’s very easy on the eyes — is Peter Cushing as the Doctor. Every performer who’s essayed the part, of which there have been twelve including Cushing, brings something new to the characterization and Cushing decides to play the Doctor completely against type. Pretty much no matter what role Cushing plays, he plays it with intensity. It’s something I like about him, so I’m not complaining, but with the Doctor he goes about enlivening the role completely differently, choosing instead to infuse the Doctor with absent-minded whimsy. It’s much more in keeping with the spirit of the material than his usual sort of performance would have been, and I like it. If it weren’t for the horrible wig and fake mustache he has to wear in this production, he’d make a great addition to the pantheon of Doctors Who.
If you come into Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 AD expecting something totally mind-blowing, you’re not going to get it. This is, as a film, just one step above the television productions in terms of look and feel. Come prepared, even eager, for that and you’ll do just fine.