When Peter Cushing Was The Doctor — The ‘Doctor Who’ Films Reviewed

by Rachel Bellwoar

It’s easy to watch Dr. Who and the Daleks today and forget what a big deal it would’ve been to see a Dalek in color. When the Daleks rolled out in dramatic colors during Matt Smith’s era, fan reaction was largely mixed. In 1965, the show still aired in black & white and William Hartnell was the only doctor. There’d also been no regenerations and, as author Gareth Owen points out in his interview for Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of Dr. Who and the Daleks, the show hadn’t made it to America yet. Colorful Daleks were a revelation.

All of this context can be found on Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray releases of Gordon Flemyng’s Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.. Both films come with a commentary track by writer-actor Mark Gatiss (2010’s “Victory of the Daleks”), film critic Kim Newman, and screenwriter Robert Shearman (2005’s “Dalek”). Owen is interviewed on both releases, but the interviews are film-specific.

Having Peter Cushing star as the Doctor (or Doctor Who, as he’s referred to in the movies) at that point in the series’ history would not have been something fans were accustomed to, and as much as casting Cushing probably helped with the transition, it still must’ve been strange to see someone else in the role — not that this Doctor Who is a carbon copy of the Doctor from the TV show. Neither of the big screen adaptations are part of canon or refer to the Doctor being a Time Lord.

Instead Doctor Who is an old man with a time machine and instead of putting his own spin on the character, Cushing tries to adopt an older physicality. He’s no Barbara Stanwyck in The Great Man’s Lady, and it’s not very convincing.

Cushing’s spryness aside, Dr. Who and the Daleks is an absolute treasure and sees Dr. Who on an alien planet with his granddaughter, Susan (Roberta Tovey), another granddaughter, Barbara (Jennie Linden) – on the show Barbara wasn’t related to the Doctor – and Barbara’s boyfriend, Ian (Roy Castle). Adapted from the 1963 serial, “The Daleks,” when TARDIS stops working (and for some reason it’s always “TARDIS” and not “the TARDIS” in this movie), Dr. Who ends up getting pulled into the conflict between the Daleks and the Thals (a glam rock species that look like a cross between Bowie and Spock).

While there’s always been a hypocriticalness to the Doctor’s relationship with war, having him push for the Thals to fight feels strongly out of character. It’s also surprising to see the Doctor be so manipulative — not because he isn’t, but because you wouldn’t think that would be the attribute the movies would lean into. Castle is terrific as the clumsy but stalwart Ian, the sets and matte paintings look incredible, and there’s even an elevator death scene to rival the elevator death scene in L.A. Law.

According to Tovey in the 1995 documentary, “Dalekmania” (which is included as a bonus feature on both disks), Milton Subotsky (who wrote the screenplay and was one of the producers) told her that Cushing agreed to do a sequel on the condition that Tovey be in it, too. Other than Cushing she’s the only returning cast member and one wonders if she would’ve been included otherwise, because despite how much of an asset she was to the first film she’s given very little to do in the sequel. Age becomes an issue, as the need to protect and shield her from danger keeps her from getting to participate in the action.

Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (which is a garble to try and say aloud) is set in the future and is an adaptation of the 1964 serial, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” The title is pretty self-explanatory, but joining Dr. Who and Susan on TARDIS is the Doctor’s niece, Louise (Jill Curzon), and an unassuming copper named Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins) who makes the mistake of confusing TARDIS for a real police box.

It’s an extremely cute pre-credit sequence and Cribbins, who is probably best known for playing Donna’s grandfather, Wilf, in the current Doctor Who series, is clearly meant to be a replacement for Ian. Because Tom is a stranger, though, he doesn’t have a relationship with the other characters and that never really changes. Linden might not have had much to do in Dr. Who and the Daleks either, but there was a bravery to her character that Curzon’s Louise doesn’t get to exhibit. The Daleks’ voices are less stilted in Daleks’ Invasion, but the design of the TARDIS is better in Dr. Who and the Daleks (more colored wires than glowing tubes).

If Dr. Who and the Daleks is more of a space fantasy, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. is militaristic. You don’t have to watch them together, but you should watch Dr. Who and the Daleks.

Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D are available on Blu-Ray now from Kino Lorber.

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