Detour: Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (A Dr. Who Movie)


1966 (in the U.K.)

Director Gordon Flemyng

Cast:  Peter Cushing, Bernard Cribbins, Ray Brooks, Andrew Keir, Jill Curzon, Roberta Tovey

Introduction
Plot Summary
Impressions
Wrap-up

My Rating:  Class M (7/7, dim red star).  It sounds like it should be an astonishing outing—Peter Cushing as Dr. Who, the time-traveling alien, versus the Daleks in an invasion of planet Earth for a nefarious purpose involving a mine in England…but it doesn’t work out too well, as the acting is a mite substandard, the script is remarkably silly, the Daleks are not very threatening, and the music score is down-right inappropriate.

Introduction

The movie, a sequel to 1965’s Dr. Who and the Daleks, is based on a television series which is often cited as the longest running science fiction series in the history of television.  However, you don’t need a true understanding of the series to follow the movie, and in fact if you’re a fan of the series the movie might be disconcerting.

The series was first broadcast in 1963, and it introduced “The Doctor,” a very intelligent alien with a rather quirky time machine called the TARDIS.  The TARDIS is bigger on the inside than the outside, and shaped like a police box—a British invention containing a telephone with a direct link to the closest police station, a log book, a first aid kit, and a few other necessities.  In the first season, the Doctor is a fairly mysterious figure who travels through time with his two granddaughters, a history teacher, and a science teacher.  Eventually it is revealed that the Doctor is a Time Lord, a species from the planet Gallifrey, and that he’s on the run from his own people because he stole the TARDIS, one of many time machines.

The movies, however, do not draw on this rich background.  Doctor Who, in the movies, is an eccentric and brilliant human inventer with the last name “Who” who builds a time machine and travels through time with his granddaughters Susan and Barbara.  The only point of commonality between the movies and the television series—which had reached season two at the time of the first movie’s debut—is the appearance of the Daleks, one of the Doctor’s worst enemies.

The first movie did well enough, and so this title was green-lighted and there were plans for a third movie.  The box office take for Daleks’ Invasion Earth was so poor that the third movie was scrapped.

Plot Summary

A policeman attempts to stop a jewelry store robbery, and runs to a nearby police box when they escape.  Unfortunately for him, the police box is actually Dr. Who’s TARDIS, a time machine, with its passengers Louise, his niece, and Susan, his granddaughter.  Dr. Who is in a hurry, so even though the unconscious policeman—who turns out to be named Tom—is aboard, Dr. Who travels into the future, to the year 2150.  London is in ruins, and before long, the girls have met a resistance group while the boys have been captured by the Daleks and their robomen.  The resistance manages to rescue Dr. Who before he’s turned into a roboman, while Susan is trapped on their ship and Tom remains behind to find her.  They all wind up at the mine, where they discover that the Daleks plan to drop a huge bomb into a flaw in the Earth’s mantle, forcing the core out of the planet, so they can steal the entire planet and take it back to their home system and put it next to their own planet.  Dr. Who figures out how to stop the plan by diverting the bomb to the “convergence of the north and south magnetic poles” where the bomb will magnify the Earth’s magnetic field and suck the Daleks into the Earth’s core.  Of course the plan works and the Daleks are defeated.  To put the cherry on the sundae, Dr. Who returns the policeman to a point a few minutes before his failure to stop the robbery, and this time he gets it right.

Impressions

Oh dear.  Such a waste of potential, this movie.  Sure, the early Dr. Who seasons were a little clumsy, with laughable special effects.  The fearsome Daleks, which in some ways are the nastiest cybernetic villains ever dreamed up, have a plunger as one of their limbs.  No, I’m not kidding.  It’s symptomatic of the series’ low production values, at least back in the sixties, and those values often found their way into the scripts and the acting as well.  But the television series always had a certain spirit and elan, and I had high hopes that the movie would retain that.

Ah well.

My first impression was that movie Dr. Who was not at all like series Dr. Who.  Not having seen the first movie, I didn’t know that Dr. Who was an ordinary human being, and I missed the somewhat manic alien Doctor almost immediately.  Movie Dr. Who seemed fallible, capricious, and all-too-mortal—it was as if I was watching a movie called Superman, but the Man of Steel was an ordinary body builder instead of the Kryptonian super-hero.  And that’s because I was, and I think that initial disappointment affected my enjoyment of the movie.

I still enjoyed the movie, mind you, but it wasn’t because it was a good movie.

The performances were a little lack-luster.  Only Cushing was truly good, and his Dr. Who is a befuddled, absent-minded, somewhat capricious man who displays flashes of brilliance.  The other performers, discounting Bernard Cribbins, more or less phone in their performances.  Cribbins, the kidnapped policeman, shows character and does his best with the rather silly situations that the script forces him into…

If you’re a fan of the series, the name Bernard Cribbins might be familiar.  None of the Wretched Excess Crew twigged to it, but in the modern series Cribbins plays Wilfred Mott, the grandfather of Companion Donna Noble (the angry bride)—and the man who plays a significant role in the Doctor’s regeneration at the end of The End of Time, which marked the last appearance of David Tennant as the Doctor in the modern television series.

Visually, the movie is something of an improvement over the television series of the same era, and at the same time, it’s not.  For starters, it’s in color.  And we get lots and lots of Daleks, virtually an army of them, which is fun to watch.  These Daleks show some new characteristics, starting with the ability to submerge in water; in deference to their method of locomotion (Daleks have wheels and roll along) their ships and buildings have ramps rather than stairs.  But the striking destructive rays are gone, replaced with a weapon that looks like a plume of smoke or steam, prompting Chris to exclaim FUMIGATE!

I might add here that the Daleks look really silly, but one of the great strengths of the television program is to make the ordinary and innocuous into terrifying villains.  On this count, I can’t say the movie fully fails, but it is not completely successful, either.  These Daleks are peculiarly vulnerable, so that when grabbed by two or three resistance fighters and shoved down a ramp, they topple and explode.  When hit by a car, they topple and explode.  They’re still dangerous, mind you.

The score is…well, it’s surprising.  It uses a mod-sounding near jazz thing which is dissonantly light at some of the most peculiar moments.  It’s as if the composer viewed the entire film as a joke, and wanted to let us in on it.  One of the potentially more impressive and moving scenes, when the wheelchair-bound leader of the resistance deliberately sacrifices himself to prevent Dr. Who’s capture, is nearly ruined by a light-hearted and silly musical passage…

The script is weak in a lot of ways.  For starters, there’s no introduction to Dr. Who and his family and how they came to be in possession of a time machine.  Given that this was a sequel, and that it was so very different from the television property, there’s no real excuse for not working in some exposition so that viewers would know what was going on.  Dr. Who’s decision to essentially kidnap a policeman is without any real motive or explanation.  He’s just ready to go, and the policeman is coming with them because he’s inside the time machine when Dr. Who decides to go.  And that’s just the first few minutes.  The script is plagued with that sort of weakness throughout.

The science behind the movie is laughably idiotic.  The Daleks’ master plan is basically to steal the Earth and move it to their own solar system, but in order to do that, for some reason they need to get rid of the Earth’s core.  Don’t ask me why, as I can’t imagine a reason—unless they were planning on putting an engine there or something.  I found the idea that there was a region in England where the influence of the north and south magnetic poles met singularly silly—the magnetic poles are features of a single magnetic field, after all rather than two things that could mingle.  And if the mingling takes place in England, the north pole would be substantially weaker than the south…and the idea that a bomb could somehow amplify the effects of that region is even worse.

Wrap Up

We had a good time watching this movie, which may seem a bit odd given my review.  I don’t know if you’ve ever watched a really bad movie and enjoyed the experience because it was so bad, but I think that encapsulates my reaction to Daleks’ Invasion 2150.

Part of my reaction stemmed from the fact that this Dr. Who is so very different from the Doctor I see in the modern television series.  He’s a completely different character with only a surface similarity to the television Doctor.  But the movie has substantial weaknesses on its own merits, and that’s true regardless of the changes to the concept.

Some might suggest that my review is unnecessarily harsh, as it is a children’s movie.  I can only say that my reaction is mirrored, in general, by Dr. Who fandom.  In point of fact, I could find only one or two positive comments about the movie at all, and they were frankly tinged with nostalgia.

All things considered, I had a great deal of fun watching this movie, though not for the reasons the director and producers intended.

Bonus:  The music score, or part of it

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