Sunday, 24 February 2013

Doctor Who and the Daleks

As a treat, today I took my son to see a big-screen showing of Doctor Who and the Daleks - ironic, considering that Ray Cusick, designer of the iconic pepperpot villains died today.

Yes, we're talking TECHNICOLOR!

Screened to celebrate 50 years of Doctor Who, this grrrrrroovy 1965 film stars Peter Cushing as a very grandfatherly (and non-alien) inventor, who is actually addressed as 'Doctor Who' (as in he's a doctor who's surname is Who - rather than 'The Doctor').

Also causing is-it-cannon? carnage are bee-hived Barbara and sassy Susan as his granddaughters - yes, granddaughters -

and light relief in the form of accident-prone bungling boyfriend Ian played by Roy Castle.  

My son quite enjoyed the simple slapstick, which gave quite a different feel to the very intense viewing experience that forms watching any present day episode of Doctor Who, which demands memorising and mentally cataloguing every single word, object and action as being hugely, incredibly significant (but not for another ten convoluted episodes of the story arc).

Back in 1965 when things were so much simpler and more colourful, the plot is that dotty grandad has cobbled together TARDIS (not The TARDIS) in the back garden.

(That's not a Weeping Angel in the background there, is it?)

Soon the foursome have popped off in it to planet Skaro, home of the Daleks, with barely a shoogle.

Now for all its colourful campness, there's actually a moment of genuine filmic excitement and tension (at least for me).  Susan is alone in the TARDIS.   The widescreen is filled by the iconic blue of the TARDIS doors, bigger, wider and bluer than you've ever seen them before.  An unknown alien figure is slowly, slowly opening them from the outside... 

(Note that this TARDIS has doors which open out-the-way, as they should - it does say 'Pull to Open' on the outside after all.  These days they open in-the-way - wrong, wrong, wrong...)

Unfortunately, the intruder turns out to be someone from an indigenous tribe of Julian-Clary look-alikes, the Thals, who aren't at all scary.  But never mind.  It's all very 60s, and that's why we love it.

They may not have food, but there's no shortage of blue eye-shadow on Skaro.  And being the 60s, the Thal ladies don't say anything, just look vacant and decorative.

However, it's really quite a thrill seeing the Daleks in big-screen colour.  

(I once went to the charmingly run-down Doctor Who Museum in off-season Blackpool (it has a great beach and pier for photographing in the winter).  I was the only visitor, and was amazed by the wide variety of shapes of 1960s and 70s Daleks.  And the Cat People, who were mainly composed of bits of acrylic fun-fur and wellingtons.) 

Anyway, the Daleks look completely fab.  Especially the red one.

As usual, the Daleks, whilst aspiring to take over the universe, are actually charmingly naive.  There's quite a gap between ambition and actuality, even though they do mysteriously seem to have managed to construct the rather impressive water-pumping pipeline over a mountain whilst not being able to travel over anything bumpier than a piece of sandpaper. Just how did they manage that one?

Anyway, they obviously have quite a bit of downtime, with plenty of time on their plungers to decorate Dalek Central with acres of fetching pink shower curtain material and shiny bits of wrapping paper,  and even the occasional lava lamp.  It's really rather endearing... 

(Lava lamps were invented by British inventor, entrepreneur and eccentric Edward Craven-Walkerin in 1963 by the way, so they're as old as Doctor Who.)

Obviously adversaries don't arrive all that often on planet Skaro, and it's clear that the Daleks have taken their eye off the taking-over-the-universe ball whilst waiting for them to turn up.  Because they are still making the same old mistake of slowly and painstakingly outlining their intended plans to their opponents at every turn, and procrastinating by starting vital countdowns to bomb detonations at '100' rather than something more imminent, like '5'.  
And so the fate of the Daleks is sealed by their lack of urgency.  If only they'd concentrated less on the home decor and complicated civil engineering feats, and focussed more on the basic error of their lack-a-daisical countdowns. 

So there you have it.  It's bright.  It's simple.  It's really rather sweet and fun.  It's so unlike the Moffat years...


  1. The lost Doctor - loved both movies. Nice blog

  2. Thank you Mark!

    Having just watched the new Bond film 'Sceptre', I couldn't help noticing that the modern Moffat narrative obsession with everything-is-connected has leeched into Bond as well.

    Sceptre's tentacles reach back into the narrative past of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. This results in a clunky, artificial, doesn't-make-sense, sacrifice-exciting-storytelling-on-the-alter-of-the-cleverness-of-the-godlike-narrator film. Which also had a strikingly dull beige/neutral colour palette.

    Oh, bring back technicolour Bond and Who! Bring back exciting adventure-filled storylines, not sitting back and having the cleverness and ego of the writer simply displayed to you for you to admire. Stuff isn't all interrelated. Stuff doesn't always make sense. Sometimes it can just be entertaining, just escapist, just thrilling. Sometimes it can be exciting enough and meaningful enough to travel with your heroes, whether it's round the world with a psychopath in an Aston Martin or through time and space with a madman in a box, seeing amazing things, being thrilled, becoming emotionally involved.

    But at the moment, with Bond and Who, the overt story arcs and conservative style palettes unfortunately make for very dull viewing experiences.