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Motorised Dustbins On Patrol: Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. – Blu-ray review

June 13, 2013 by Simon Kinnear in At Home, Retro with 0 Comments

The second Dr Who movie is that rarity – a British blockbuster sequel – but it works better than its original because of its story’s surging confidence.

Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD
(Gordon Flemyng, 1966)

Doctor Who changed radically between the first appearance of the Daleks at the end of 1963, and their return almost a year later. A concept devised as an educational voyage into the past (history) and the future (science) had been hijacked by the “motorised dustbins” from Skaro; their rematch with the Doctor in a war-ravaged London was a genuine blockbuster, a sci-fi allegory of WWII resistance and an epic adventure involving flying saucers, brainwashed robomen and slithering monsters.

The blockbuster ambitions of the first big-screen outing for Peter Cushing’s Dr. Who meshed uneasily with the unassuming origins of its source, the first televised Dalek adventure.  Yet, by the time director Gordon Flemyng and producer/screenwriter Milton Subotsky got around to the sequel, the stars had aligned. This time around, the story was halfway to being a feature film even in its small-screen incarnation, so it was just a matter of greenlighting the budget and condensing a six-episode, two-and-a-half hour BBC serial into an action-packed 85 minutes.

It’s an altogether slicker, more confident beast, buoyed by material that retains the frisson of its clash between the iconography of the B-movie (the classic coup of a Dalek rising from the Thames) and the Blitz (amoral profiteers and collaborators, the wreckage of a bombed-out London). The only thing missing is the sense of reportage in the TV original, where budgetary limitations forced the Who team onto the streets of London to snatch shots of Daleks patrolling Trafalgar Square. Those moments still look more credible and exhilarating than the film’s similar sequences, shot mostly on soundstages and looking like it.

But, otherwise, the film’s greater control works in its favour. Flemying hits the ground running with a sly wraparound that introduces new character Tom (the mighty Bernard Cribbins, as confident amongst Daleks as he was as an elderly gent in 2000s Who).  The basics reintroduced, it’s straight into Terry Nation’s eventful odyssey to a mine in Bedfordshire. And yet, while the story shape is consistent with the original, the plot deviates significantly in a way that Dr Who And The Daleks’ beat-by-beat retread never did.

The need to pad out 25 minutes a week, including one episode where William Hartnell was unavailable, meant that several sequences – the discovery of an alligator in London’s sewers; an encounter with the Daleks’ monster guard, the Slyther – are removed entirely. Similarly, the subplot giving Susan a romantic interest (a necessary step towards the character’s departure from the show at the end of the story) is excised. That focuses the story onto the essentials to give the film its relentless driving energy.

Interestingly, though, the same events now happen to totally different characters than on TV, suggesting a film that isn’t especially interested in character. Gone are the quiet moments of contemplation, as the TARDIS crew copes with surviving in a nightmarish world… and, of course, one that would have resonated with the British public. Here, the TARDIS crew are simply cogs in the narrative machinery, especially the superfluous character of Louise (Dr Who’s niece, apparently, and an unexplained replacement for the more familiar Barbara).

Daleks Invasion Earth  2150 A.D. is available on Blu-ray now, alongside Dr. Who And The Daleks.

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