The Dalek Box Set

Starring: Peter Cushing
Optimum Home Entertainment
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: U
Available 25 September 2006

Dr Who and the Daleks sees the Doctor travel through time and space in the TARDIS to Skaros, the birthplace of his arch-nemeses, the Daleks. Skaro is a planet devastated by nuclear fallout, where the hideously mutated Daleks have to live in metal suites to survive, and where they plot the destruction of the planet's other life-form, the Thals, with a massive neutron bomb. The second movie, Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD, tells the story of the Doctor's battle to save the human population of the future from being enslaved as Robomen doomed to serve the dreaded Daleks forever. This special pack also includes Dalekmania, the definitive story of the Daleks, an exclusive copy of the original film poster of Dalek Invasion Earth and a pack of Dr Who and the Daleks tracing cards...

It's easy to forget just how much sneering and lip-quivering this pair of Dalek films from the 1960's had to endure from the majority of fandom over most of the last 40 years.

Judging from the reaction of Doctor Who fans, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Amicus Films had produced pieces of work that were bordering on the blasphemous (The character here is referred to as "Dr Who"! He's not an alien, he's a human scientist! Susan is far too young to be a companion! Good God, there are jokes in them!).

It would seem that most fans were simply embarrassed by them and preferred to forget that Doctor Who had ever dared to make a successful venture into cinema.

Thankfully, there was considered re-evaluation during the 1990's (They're colourful! They're kitsch! They're a bit wacky - which is what Doctor Who is all about, no harm in that, eh?) and they now seem to be wheeled out on terrestrial television more often than The Great Escape.

I think the most important thing to bear in mind whilst viewing these films is simply that they are different to the recognised television world of Doctor Who as we know it. They exist completely outside of the canonical Doctor Who bubble, and they're all the better for it. They often feel watered-down, sillier and much more lightweight than the TV show we know and love, and yet every now and then you feel dazzled by moments of sheer brilliance and magic which completely supersede their television cousin, much to our surprise and maybe even vague annoyance.

Peter Cushing, it has to be said, is a mild disappointment in the role of the Doctor (sorry, Dr Who. With abbreviation and everything). Whilst there is a genuine sniff of excitement in watching such an iconic British film star portray our beloved television character (or near enough), Cushing seems happy to coast along as a generic doddering professor, and fails to capture any of the unique identity that just about all of his television counterparts managed to instil in the role, to some degree.

The much-maligned Roberta Tovey however, is surprisingly refreshing as little 'Suzie', and despite being panned by critics for being far too young, she often comes across as much more mature and level-headed than Carole Ann Ford ever did in her occasionally whiny and wimpy version of Susan.

The first film, 1965's Dr Who and The Daleks, is my personal favourite of the two, by quite a margin. It certainly has it's flaws (Roy Castle prat-falling his way through the entire film is just one of many) but it just looks and feels so magical and charming. The cheap, dark corridors of the original BBC serial are replaced with beautifully alien and colourful sets, and it really feels as if we're watching Doctor Who being played out on an epic scale. It's naturally faster-paced and sharper than the 7-part TV version (which really begins to sag towards the end) whilst the Daleks themselves have never, ever looked so magnificent and menacing (and yes, I am including the new series).

1966's follow-up, the frankly absurdly titled Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 A.D is an entertaining enough romp but struggles to capture the family magic of its predecessor.

A fairly bleak depiction of humanity's struggle on a war-torn desolate Earth is unevenly peppered with slapstick comedy moments courtesy of Bernard Cribbins, and I almost feel myself pining for the highbrow sophistication of Roy Castle to liven things up a bit.

The exterior of the huge Dalek Spacecraft does look simply amazing, even forty years on, and pours bucketfuls of smelly water over the tin-can-on-a-string as seen in the BBC version.

But one real problem with the sequel is the ridiculously inappropriate incidental music. The powerful, stirring anthems of the original film have been ditched in favour of light-hearted jazzy material which totally destroys the potential impact and tension of the plentiful action scenes. This may well have been deliberate in order to lighten the tone for the kiddies, but it would be fascinating to see a new dub with a tension-inspiring soundtrack, as I'm convinced the film could be seen in a whole new credible light.

Despite the flaws and the silliness, both films do add up to a pretty thrilling package, and offer a psychedelic vision into a parallel world where Doctor Who was a fun-packed big-budget show.

So, what special new features justify this umpteenth reissue of the Dalek films? In truth, practically nothing, although the actual prints are cleaner and sharper than we've ever seen them before. The minimal special features contained on the discs were all present on the previous reissue from Warners back in 2002, but their inclusion here is still welcome.

The first film has an audio commentary from Roberta Tovey and Jennie Linden (Barbara), but there's nothing provided for the second film which is surely an opportunity missed by Optimum to dish up something original and enticing for this latest reissue.

We are also treated (again) to the 1995 Dalekmania documentary directed by Kevin Davies. Clearly put together with the same levels of devotion and creativity as his definitive Doctor Who documentary Thirty Years In The TARDIS, this overview of the Dalek films is produced in a similar style, based around the premise of two young children going to the cinema in the 1960's, and features the full original trailers, intriguing foreign clips (the Italian Dalek voices are incredibly eerie but the French clearly weren't even trying) and interviews with the likes of an all-grown-up Roberta Tovey and Dalek creator Terry Nation, who expresses his own disappointment at Peter Cushing's mild-mannered performance.

The only 'new' feature in this set is the actual packaging which is very slick and attractive and includes Limited Edition Trading Cards and a Movie Poster. The lack of any original new material is a real shame, but the superior quality of the film prints wrapped up in a shiny new box crammed with goodies may well entice you into shelling out those pennies again.

Danny Salter

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