Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Doctor Who: Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.

Amicus makes a second Doctor Who film that exists separately from the TV show.

Amicus took on quite an endeavor when they made the 1965 film Dr. Who and the Daleks, which existed entirely separately from the television series Doctor Who but was based on one of the show's serials (The Daleks), condensing a story that was told in seven 25 minute episodes on TV into a 82 minute movie. The following year, director Gordon Flemyng and Milton Subotsky took on an even bigger challenge, this time taking the epic television serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth and using it as the basis for a similarly short feature. The Dalek Invasion of Earth was actually shorter than The Daleks, being told in six episodes, but it was a much bigger story, taking place in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic London overrun by the Daleks, mutant creatures that get around inside rolling robotic containers.

Peter Cushing plays the Doctor in these films, and he's not a Doctor from another world whose name is a mystery like on the TV show, but simply a British inventor whose last name is Who. The TARDIS, designed to look like a police box, is a machine Who invented that can travel through time and space, and while the TV Doctor had the same travel companions with him in both The Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth, that isn't the case for the films. In the first movie, Who travelled with his granddaughters Susan and Barbara, and Barbara's boyfriend Ian. This time around he's accompanied by Susan (a returning Roberta Tovey) and his teenage niece Louise (Jill Curzon), who doesn't share her name with a companion on the show like the others did. Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. begins unexpectedly with a jewelry store robbery to introduce a third travel companion: police officer Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins), who was also not based on a TV show companion, who enters what he thinks is a police box to call for back-up while the thieves get away. Instead, Tom gets transported away in the TARDIS.

The TARDIS materializes where anyone who has seen The Dalek Invasion of Earth would expect it to, a post-apocalyptic London that's overrun by the Daleks. The year is 2150, and the group gets stuck here when a structure collapses on the TARDIS after they exit the machine, blocking the doors.

Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. plays out much like The Dalek Invasion of Earth did, while moving along at a breakneck pace. You have to move quickly if you want to fit 150 minutes of story into 84. While Susan and Louise fall into with a group of freedom fighters, the Doctor and Tom are captured by a group of Robomen, the zombified humans the Daleks have serving them. Taken to a Dalek flying saucer, the Doctor and Tom are meant to be turned into Robomen themselves, but they're saved from that fate at the last moment... Then Tom still has to pretend to be one of the Robos to survive among them.

The Robomen are somehow simultaneously presented as being both a threat and a joke. They look ridiculous, in their shiny outfits and usually crooked specs, and the sequence of Tom trying to copy their actions is set to a soundtrack of goofy music. These Dr. Who films have a lighter tone than the Doctor Who show in general, but that sequence is a step too far for me.

The movie does shake things up a bit when it comes to which characters are in which situations, especially given the fact that Tom and Louise aren't even characters from the show. They may be stand-ins for Ian and Barbara, but they're not really like them.

Like the previous film, the existence of Invasion Earth starts to become baffling if you think about it too much. Making shortened versions of TV serials, released to theatres in color about a year and a half after people watched the black and white episodes at home, and making these films at the same time that the show was still running, with different actors playing reworked versions of the characters... It was just a weird idea from the start.

Apparently it was a bit too weird for them movie-going public. Even though the viewers of the show had Dalekmania, that didn't inspire them to go see these "Dr. Who but not really Doctor Who" films. Both of Amicus's Who films underperformed at the box office, which is why they never made a third.

Questionable as they are, they're still entertaining when taken on their own merits. If you can set thoughts of the show aside while watching them and not wonder why they were made like this, they're both fine ways to spend 80-some minutes.

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