The arrival of Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. came at something of a watershed for the Doctor Who series, just months before William Hartnell stepped down from the role he had helped to create and was succeeded by Patrick Troughton. The popularity of the Daleks in Britain since their small screen debut three years earlier had helped to launch what was in danger of becoming a fledging series into the mainstream, while also providing an abundance of merchandise for their young, growing fan-base.
The Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, provides viewers with an array of adventures to far-off lands in distant time with the help of his TARDIS, a machine disguised as a police phone box capable of travelling to any point in time and space, from an historic event in Earth’s past to some interstellar war in deep space. From 1963 until its initial cancellation in 1989, Doctor Who remained one of Britain’s most beloved and iconic TV shows and even in recent years since its resurrection in 2005, the Doctor once again became the jewel in BBC’s crown.
Doctor Who was the creation of Sydney Newman, the recently appointed Head of Drama for the BBC who wanted to develop a science fiction show that had an element of class and was not merely populated by ‘bug-eyed monsters.’ Over the previous decade America’s fear of Communism and their newfound interest in outer space had resulted in a slew of B-movies that explored alien invasions, creatures deformed from radiation or an everyday man transformed into some kind of beast. They had proved a popular attraction for audiences but many had featured dubious special effects, often just an actor in a rubber suit and so Newman was conscious of producing something as camp and unbelievable.
He already had a proven track record, with his past success at ABC being the cult series The Avengers and so despite the dubious premise of his latest idea he recruited a young producer called Verity Lambert to oversee the development of the show. Doctor Who made its debut on the BBC on 23 November 1963, just one day after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, with an episode called An Unearthly Child, in which Hartnell’s Doctor was accompanied by his first of many companions – schoolteachers Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and his granddaughter Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford).
Despite being initially reluctant to take on the role Harntell later confessed to the Radio Times that since being cast in the role he had ‘never been happier.’ Five weeks later, during which time the show had encountered a mixed reaction from critics, Doctor Who introduced viewers to its most infamous villains, the Daleks. When the TARDIS materialises on a barren, devastated planet called Skaro they stumble upon a city among the ruins and, with the Doctor claiming that without mercury they would be unable to return home, they reluctantly explore the complex but are soon taken prisoner by a sinister race of machine-like monsters.
The Daleks were conceived by Terry Nation, a writer best known at that time for his comedy, having first been discovered by Spike Milligan and starting his career working for the likes of Frankie Howerd and Tony Hancock. When Lambert had presented the premise of the Daleks to Newman he was furious, reminding his producer of the ‘bug-eyed monster’ policy but her insistence that Nation’s story had potential would result in the show’s first truly memorable episode The Dead Planet. The seven-part serial ran over seven weeks, with the finale The Rescue broadcast on 1 February 1964 and by the end of its run the show had succeeded in attracting higher ratings.
The Doctor’s journey to the big screen would be instigated by American producers Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg, co-founders of Amicus Productions, who had spent most of the previous decade attempting to compete with Hammer Films. While Amicus would first find success with Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, both of which starred Hammer regulars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, Hammer had branched out from their gothic horrors with a series of swashbuckling pictures that had started with The Men of Sherwood Forest in 1954.
Amicus, eager to exploit the family market, saw the rising popularity of the Daleks as a way to target younger audiences and so approached Joe Vegoda of AARU in order to seek financing. Vegoda agreed but on one condition, that AARU would receive sole billing at the start of the movie, to which both Subotsky and Rosenberg agreed. Next they began negotiations with the BBC and Nation, who owned the copyright for the Daleks and finally reached a settlement of £500, in which they were given permission to adapt the original seven-part serial into a feature film.
Unable to work on the adaptation himself due to prior commitments, Nation approached David Whitaker, who had worked as the script editor, to assist in condensing the seven episodes into one ninety-minute screenplay, which would be written by Subotsky. ‘With Dr. Who and the Daleks I was giving it away at this point. I’d done that story, my name was going to be over it anyway, it was all going to be based on my work,’ Nation would later tell Doctor Who Magazine on his lack of interest in the project. ‘I would have gone back very much closer to the thing we did on television. I’ve seen those first seven episodes and they are really good. They are very well-constructed.’
There were several significant differences between the film and the original TV series, specifically with the character of the Doctor, who had been changed from a cantankerous alien into a kind-hearted if eccentric human called Dr. Who. ‘I would have liked to have seen a little more snap but he was very loveable,’ Nation would add on the big screen portrayal of the character. ‘Bill Hartnell was, for me, the epitome of what Doctor Who should be: a snappy, bad-tempered, absent-minded professor whose interest in science and needing to know would lead them into terrible problems.’ In an effort to appeal to families, Susan would be changed from a teenager to a child, now portrayed by eleven-year-old Roberta Tovey.
While Doctor Who had failed to attract much attention in America, Amicus intended on the movie to have international appeal and so decided early in development that Hartnell would be replaced as the Doctor. Subotsky approached Cushing due to his association with Hammer, particularly The Curse of Frankenstein and his role as Van Helsing in Dracula, both of which had enjoyed considerable success in the United States. The Doctor was again joined on his journey to Skaro by Barbara and Ian, although now the roles would be taken by Jennie Linden and Roy Castle, the latter having also worked with Amicus on Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors.
Dr. Who and the Daleks was released in the summer of 1965 and, on a budget of approximately £200,000, became an unexpected success, in part due to an ingenious marketing campaign. Despite its popularity at the box office the critical reaction had been negative, particularly due to its dubious special effects and changes from the TV show. But for viewers, the movie had been their first chance to see both the Doctor and his nemesis, the Daleks, in colour with the show having been produced in black in white.
Doctor Who would not progress to colour until 1970
In fact, Doctor Who would not progress to colour until 1970 when Jon Pertwee made his debut as the Third Doctor in an episode entitled Spearhead from Space, while the Daleks would not appear on the show in colour until Day of the Daleks two years later. According to several authors, Subotsky had little interest in producing a sequel, yet in the documentary Dalekmania Tovey claimed that she had been approached about reprising the role on the last day of shooting, ‘Just before we finished shooting the first Dr. Who and the Daleks, Milton Subotsky came to see me in my dressing room and asked me would I do another film with Doctor Who.’
Following the release of the movie an unexpected development occurred when Joseph E. Levine, the founder of Embassy Pictures, expressed interest in purchasing the rights to the Daleks in order to make a movie in America, but during the negotiations faced competition from Walter Reade. With the characters remaining in Britain, Vegoda offered Subotsky the chance to direct a second picture but realising that if the sequel was to be bigger and more elaborate than its predecessor he decided to seek further funding. In exchange for product placement Subotsky signed a contract with the breakfast cereal Sugar Puffs, who would then promote the film on their boxes and through television adverts.
Cushing and Tovey once again returned to their roles as the Doctor and Susan, while Gordon Flemyng was again in the director’s chair, but due to scheduling conflicts the parts of the other companions were recast. Linden, who had followed her role in Dr. Who and the Daleks with a stage production of Thark alongside Cushing was replaced by Jill Curzon as Louise, while Bernard Cribbins, who had featured Cushing in an episode of his variety show Cribbins, took on the part of the male companion, Tom.
‘I’d worked with him previously on a film called She which we did out in Israel,’ recalled Cribbins to Den of Geek on his experience working alongside Cushing on the second Dr. Who picture. ‘It was lovely to be in harness with Peter, who was a lovely man to work with and he was playing my boss in the film She and virtually the same thing happened when we got into the Dr. Who film…I thought he was rather quaint cos he played him rather professorially and I always said that it was like he was chewing a mint at the same time, smacking his lips!’
Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. opens with Tom Campbell, a young constable walking his beat being attacked during a heist as the thieves manage to make a getaway in their car. He runs over to a nearby police box to make a call but instead finds cooky Dr. Who and his two companions inside. From the shock and the blow to his head Tom passes out and wakes up some time later to find that they have travelled forward in time to the twenty-second century, in which London has become a wasteland.
Over the years critics have made comparisons between this portrayal of a post-war England and Britain’s resistance to the Nazis during the Blitz. With the bombing of London and other major cities commencing on 7 September 1940 England found that the war had travelled from overseas in Europe to their front door, leaving the nation in the grip of fear as the constant bombing could at any moment bring about their doom. By the time the Blitz had come to an end in May 1941 much of London had been destroyed, with millions of homes left in ruins.
As the Doctor and his companions step out into the remains of the city, the landscape does indeed resemble footage and photographs that have been published of London following the Blitz and it is no coincidence that the Daleks are a fascist race, convinced of their own superiority and showing no mercy to those who refuse to submit. Fighting against the Daleks are a small band of rebels that echo the French Resistance who stood their ground against both the Nazis invaders and their own Vichy government who were collaborating with the Germans in the interest of self-preservation.
Louise and Susan are saved by Wyler and David, two members of the resistance who take them to the safety of their underground shelter, from where they plan their fight against the enemy. The Doctor is later horrified to discover that those responsible for the destruction of London are the Daleks but he is captured along with Tom and taken to their spaceship, where they are to be transformed into automatonic slaves known as Robomen. Under the command of their wheelchair-bound leader Dortmun, the resistance hatch a rescue plan in which some of the men, posing as Robomen, will escort the other fighters as prisoners onto the ship, allowing them to attack the Daleks from inside.
As with the previous film, Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. took its inspiration from a television serial, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, which as the title would suggest showed the human race being overrun by an army of Daleks. Written again by Nation the six-parter was broadcast almost a year after the first serial, commencing on 21 November 1964 and concluding on Boxing Day. Subotsky would take many liberties with the source material, replacing Barbara and Ian with Louise and Tom, while also adding some unnecessary humour which would often dumb-down certain scenes that had played been played straight-faced in the serial.
‘They were very enjoyable. A little frustrating, though, because they were not quite what we planned,’ confessed Cushing over a decade later when looking back on his two appearances as the time-traveller. ‘I think I speak for everyone involved when I say that we intended to make them a little darker. But they turned out well, very good entertainment and a hit with the children.’
Once again filming took place at Shepperton Studios in Surrey, where Dr. Who and the Daleks had been produced the previous year. The demolished ruins of London were built on a giant stage, with the base of the spaceship constructed for the scenes in which prisoners are escorted up the ramp into the craft, while the inside of the ship was also built at the studio.
When the ship takes off and leaves the city Wyler and Susan pursue it by car, making their way deep into the Bedfordshire countryside and taking refuge in a farmhouse owned by Dalek collaborators, who betray them in return for food. Meanwhile, Louise and Tom finally escape from the spaceship to find themselves at a mine where the Daleks are digging deep into the Earth in an attempt to transform the planet into a ship that can then be navigated through space. But even while humanity is fighting for its very existence there are still those who value capitalism over liberty, with the Doctor and David doube-crossed by Brockley, a smuggler who makes a living from selling food to the miners who have been enslaved.
One impressive effect showed a Dalek being thrust backwards against a wall and crushed from the weight of the magnetism
But his cowardice and lack of morals come at a price and after handing over his two hostages to the Daleks he is murdered by his ‘employers.’ Dropping a large bomb into the mine, the subsequent explosion releases a magnetism from within the Earth that begins to pull the Daleks down the shaft. One impressive effect showed a Dalek being thrust backwards against a wall and crushed from the weight of the magnetism. According to an article in Doctor Who Weekly, ‘A rubber dummy was inflated and a small explosive device detonated at the back of it. As the air rushed in the Dalek appears to shrivel up, imploding like a TV tube.’
The Doctor and the other survivors escape from the mine and take shelter over a hill, watching in amazement as the magnetic pull causes the escaping Dalek spaceship to lose its balance and come crashing down to Earth, bursting into a ball of flames. With their enemy finally defeated, seemingly once and for all, the Doctor returns to the present day, allowing Tom to appear minutes before the robbery so he is able to apprehend the thieves. As he drives away with the criminals unconscious in the back of their car he waves farewell to his companions, with the Doctor, Louise and Susan waving back as they watch him disappear into the night. This final shot of the three showed how family-oriented the movies were, showing the Doctor as a loving grandfather to Susan and a responsible guardian to Louise, unlike the sometimes-reckless Doctor from the television series.
Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. was released on 5 August 1966 and despite receiving more favourable reviews than the first movie performed poorly at the box office, forcing the producers to abandon their plans to adapt further serials into feature films. Two months after the release of the picture William Hartnell stepped down as the Doctor on the TV series and was replaced by his successor, Patrick Troughton, who would making his first – albeit brief – appearance alongside the Cybermen in The Tenth Planet. ‘When Bill Hartnell was forced to quit I was asked if I would be interested in taking the lead in the new series,’ claimed Cushing. ‘I turned it down, which I now regret a little….But perhaps if I’d said yes they would have been pleased and you would have had me fighting Daleks and Cybermen week in, week out. But I’m glad I didn’t in some ways because Patrick was so wonderful.’