Doctor Who complete reviews: The Dalek Invasion Of Earth
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
Almost a rehearsal for the Cushing big-screen outing, but the deadly pepper-pots still retain their power to send you behind the sofa...
Long before the days of The Godfather, Star Wars and – erm, American Pie, Doctor Who had that sequel thing down to a fine art. The Doctor Who makers knew very well what their audiences wanted after the Daleks caught on with kids the previous Christmas. And sure enough, the kiddies got their wish with The Dalek Invasion Of Earth.
Invasion is an important 1st Doctor story in that it not only successfully brings back the motorised dustbins back for a successful rematch, but it’s also the first companion departure, as Susan falls in love with super-quiffed Scot David Campbell.
"The TV version isn’t quite as visually impressive as its big screen counterpart, but it’s still vintage Who"
It's also a story probably better known to older fans who grew up in the 80s as the Peter Cushing Technicolor glory Daleks Invasion Earth: 2150 AD. Scary-looking Robomen. Daleks and fire extinguishers. And hey – the mighty Cribbins in a pre-Wilf companion role. All of which combine to bring back happy memories of rainy school holidays when there was nothing else on TV but Paddles Up.
The TV version isn’t quite as visually impressive as its big screen counterpart, but it’s still vintage Who. Rather than go for the mini-adventure quests, Terry Nation decides to go for his other favourite narrative device: the desolated Earth. Just look at Survivors, originally created in the 1970s, and now successfully brought back to life for the 21st century. There’s a lot of mileage in this idea, and there’s a great feeling of dread and depression in the first episode of Dalek Invasion, more so than in the reports that ubiquitous bore James Corden is about to guest star in the show’s 31st season.
The oppression is well-conveyed through the evocative location filming, which is captured effectively by Richard Martin. It’s odd - Martin seems to be a lot more comfortable on location than in the studio, where sometimes his shots come across as a little stagey or forced. But out in the big wide world, there are loads of impressive shots such as The Doctor and Ian making for the deserted warehouse or the notorious cliffhanger when the Dalek rises from the depths (although it’s never quite clear as to what the Dalek’s doing there in the first place – deep sea diving isn’t a very Dalek-y thing to do).
"The Daleks are still just as scary for the kids as they were in their debut outing"
Just like Survivors, Dalek Invasion Of Earth contains a motley collection of hard-nosed clichés, some of which work, some of which don’t. The most successful is probably Bernard Kay’s Tyler. Kay gives the first of many convincing guest performances in Who, and adds a lot of down-to-earth, no-nonsense gravitas to the part. Peter Frazer as David also works very well here, and he strikes up an immediate rapport with Carole Ann Ford as Susan. Less successful are Dortmunn and Jenny, not really the respective faults of Alan Judd or Ann Davies, who are actually quite good, but more the faults of their hammy, stilted dialogue. Dortmunn is given to making pompous speeches, while Jenny is the Nation cliché of the hard-nosed, aloof hanger-on (think Avon from Blake’s 7) writ large. It doesn’t help either that Jenny’s lumbered with a ridiculous looking balaclava throughout, which makes her look like a female Tucker from Citizen Smith.
The Daleks are still just as scary for the kids as they were in their debut outing - exterminating luckless prisoners and planning to remove the magnetic core of the Earth. Too bad that their plan is just a little implausible, scientifically, and also that they have to resort to utilising rubbish sidekicks and monsters.
The Robomen, for example. Impressive in the film version, useless in the TV one. I always thought that they’d look like the creepy masked men on the front of Chris Achilleos’ cover jacket for Uncle Terrance’s adaptation. Instead, they are no more than badly acted extras with waste paper bins on their head and a penchant for talking in sloooowwww, duuuuullllll monotones that makes them sound like bored newsreaders rather than terrifying henchmen.
"Badly executed, the Slyther really should have been kept off screen – at least kids could have used their imaginations and conjured up far more convincing threats than what was on the TV"
And the Slyther. What’s all that about? To be fair, the sound effects for the Slyther are excellent, but on screen it just looks like a man in a giant seaweed costume. Badly executed, the Slyther really should have been kept off screen – at least kids could have used their imaginations and conjured up far more convincing threats than what was on the TV. Still, apparently the Slyther was the talk of the town back in the day – the accompanying (and otherwise rather good) DVD making-of featurette seems to take up an awful lot of time prattling on about the Slyther, as actor Nick Evans gushes about how he was a minor celebrity for stomping about in a green sack for five minutes.
Overall, The Dalek Invasion Of Earth trots along very well as a fast-paced (well, for the 60s anyway) action adventure. Despite the many clichés, Nation’s script is well written and gives the characters plenty of development. Ian and Barbara get some good material as they are divided from each other (typical Nation) and paired off with Larry and Jenny. Larry’s character is well thought out, and the scene in which he is reunited with his Roboman brother manages to be both brutal and rather poignant at the same time. Even the minor characters such as Ashton and Wells are given enough development, and look, there’s Mr Rumbold from Are You Being Served (according to the documentary, actor Nicholas Smith wants to be The Doctor apparently… Now there’s a casting suggestion for when Matt Smith ditches his geography teacher’s blazer).
But of course, this is Susan’s last bow, and you can see how she’ll be parted from her grandfather throughout. The Doctor gradually catches on that his granddaughter is maturing and falling in love. He initially chides her for always following what David says, and after catching them in a clinch on the moors while cooking supper, he wryly says: “I can see something’s cooking.” Susan is reluctant to leave though, and torn between her usual time-travelling life and the possibility of starting a new one with David, the decision is ultimately taken out of her hands by The Doctor, who locks her out of the TARDIS. His last speech to Susan is beautifully delivered by Hartnell, his voice even breaking at one point. I’m not quite sure that the following sequence quite works, as Susan stagily drops the TARDIS key and exits with her new boyfriend to the strains of what sounds like a pensioner sitting on a Hammond Organ (although Francis Chagrin’s score has otherwise been very good). Still, all that’s excused though, since both the writing and the performances from William Hartnell and Carole Ann Ford have been so strong. A marvellous ending to an enjoyable sequel.
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.