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A mania spread over the youth of Great Britain in 1964 - a pop culture phenomenon that affected the little brothers of the female population that had been swept up by Beatlemania the year before. It was Dalekmania, and it originated with the wildly popular BBC-TV series Dr. Who, a science-fiction serial that premiered the previous year (and would go on to become the longest-running sci-fi series in history). The TV series was broadcast in black-and-white, and when the Daleks - malevolent aliens encased in cylindrical metal - sparked a sensation, bringing them to the big screen in vibrant color seemed to be a natural spin-off idea. The first theatrical feature was Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965), followed a year later by a sequel, Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966). The follow-up film is usually regarded as the superior of the two, featuring a larger budget and almost non-stop Dalek action. One only need to refer to the film's title to realize that in its theatrical incarnation, the Dr. Who character (played by no less than the celebrated Peter Cushing) had taken a back seat to the villains of the piece, whom the producers considered the real stars.
The two Dr. Who films featured simplifications of the already-established Dr. Who mythos; the target audience was clearly school-age kids on summer holiday so the films are pure afternoon matinee material. Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. starts off in modern London, where police constable Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins) runs to a police call box during a disturbance. He doesn't realize that it is actually the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space) ship of Dr. Who (Peter Cushing, in what was reportedly one of the actor's favorite roles). Dr. Who is time-traveling with his niece Louise (Jill Curzon) and his granddaughter Susan (Roberta Tovey) and soon the group find themselves in London in the year 2150. The city is in virtual ruins, having been conquered by the Daleks. Most living humans have been turned into slave Robomen with no will of their own, existing only to do the bidding of the Daleks. Pockets of resistance fighters exist and are based in the ruins of London's Undergound. Our heroes are separated when Dr. Who and Tom are captured by Robomen and held by the Daleks, as Susan and Louise are rescued by resistance fighters and brought to leaders Wyler (Andrew Keir, best known to fans of British sci-fi as Dr. Quatermass in Quatermass and the Pit, 1967), Dortman (Godfrey Quigley), and David (Ray Brooks). While assaults on the Daleks have negligible results, Dr. Who discovers the ultimate plan of the evil menace: they plan to explode a massive bomb in the Earth's core and take control of the entire planet following "magnetic imbalance" to navigate it as a spacecraft.
The idea for the Dr. Who films was sparked when Dalekmania was first noticed by American film producer Milton Subotsky, who was based in England. Subotsky and his partner Max J. Rosenberg owned Amicus, the studio that would become the primary rival to Hammer Films in the horror genre. Joe Vegoda of Regal International had negotiated with the BBC for Dr. Who film rights as well, so the ultimate deal involved all parties, although the primary financing came from Vegoda (which is why the films bear the credit of Vegoda's Aaru Productions although they were actually produced by Amicus). Subotsky himself took on the task of writing the screenplays for the features, which meant adapting Dr. Who creator Terry Nation's original multi-episode stories, which ran to seven parts, into a pair of eighty-minute films. Naturally, there was a considerable amount of story detail and characterization that had to be simplified or left out. In his article "The Doctor Who and the Daleks films" (in British Science Fiction Cinema, edited by I. Q. Hunter), John R. Cook notes that "If the BBC and (head of BBC Drama) Sydney Newman saw the Doctor Who concept as a means of fulfilling a public service remit by 'reaching across' to as wide a cross-section of the audience as possible, Subotsky perceived his best hopes lay in refashioning it into a vehicle specially 'niche-marketed' for children." The most obvious change that the filmmakers made was the simplification of the Doctor himself. In the series Dr. Who (played by William Hartnell in the earliest years) was a mysterious 900-year old rejuvenating alien who takes the form of a human and travels through the 4th dimension, while in the films he is simply an elderly human who has invented a method of time travel.
James Chapman, in his book Inside the Tardis: The Worlds of Doctor Who, similarly observed, "That the films were intended for children, rather than for the wider audience of the BBC series, is evident in the changes to content and characterization made by Subotsky in adapting Nation's television scripts. Thus the moral debates are largely absent, a new element of slapstick comedy is introduced and the Daleks themselves seem rather less frightening than they had on the small screen. Their weapons, for example, shoot compressed gas that looks more like fire extinguisher foam than the 'fire' described in the trailer." The Daleks in Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. are uncompromising villains nevertheless, with strength in numbers and constant, shrill demands to "Exterminate!" As Cook noted, "Their ruthless menace has to remain intact as, after all, they were the principal motivation for producing the two Doctor Who movies in the first place."
Subotsky and Rosenberg spent a substantial amount of money - 4,500 British pounds - to construct Daleks that were larger and more colorful than those from the TV series, although the basic design did not change. As Chapman noted, the Daleks were also color-coded according to their function. He also noted the more elaborate production values of the sequel, writing, "Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. makes extensive use of locations (the Dalek rising from the Thames, for example, is impressively staged) and has a more realistic visual style appropriate to its Earthbound location." The extra expense, however, did not impress the critic for Films and Filming, who wrote in 1966 that "[If] this is what London will look like in 2150 A.D., I can only say it looks very old-fashioned: positively 1966..."
According to Phillip Nutman's very thorough history of Amicus appearing in Little Shoppe of Horrors (Issue number 20), the filming of Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. hit a snag when star Peter Cushing fell ill with a flu virus. While Cushing was on orders not to work, the producers scurried to shoot around him, "but it reached the point where the film was finished apart from Cushing's contribution and the crews had to be suspended on full pay for two days until he returned. Ultimately, Amicus had to [make a] claim from the insurance firm, so the film came in on budget, but slightly over-schedule when it wrapped on March 22 ."
Nutman also reported that Subotsky was not very keen to embark on a sequel in the first place, and "dragged his heels" in writing the screenplay for Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.. Vegoda brought in David Whitaker, the story editor of the TV series, to contribute additional scenes. Subotsky's instincts may have been correct, however. Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. premiered in London on July 22, 1966 (as with the previous film, the release date was designed specifically to fall during school holidays), and while it was deemed a success, the box-office results were not as dramatic as those for the first film. The producers held an option for a third film based on another Dalek story from the TV series, but - feeling that "Dalekmania" was waning - they did not act on the option and a third film was not produced.
Producers: Max J. Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky
Director: Gordon Flemyng
Screenplay: Milton Subotsky (screenplay); Sydney Newman (characters, uncredited); David Whitaker (additional material); Terry Nation (BBC television series)
Cinematography: John Wilcox
Art Direction: George Provis
Music: Bill McGuffie
Film Editing: Ann Chegwidden
Cast: Peter Cushing (Dr. Who), Bernard Cribbins (Tom Campbell), Ray Brooks (David), Andrew Keir (Wyler), Roberta Tovey (Susan), Jill Curzon (Louise), Roger Avon (Wells), Geoffrey Cheshire (Roboman), Keith Marsh (Conway), Philip Madoc (Brockley)
By John M. Miller
"The Doctor Who and the Daleks films" by John R. Cook, in British Science Fiction Cinema, edited by I. Q. Hunter, Routledge, 1999.
"Scream and Scream Again: The Uncensored History of Amicus Productions" by Phillip Nutman, Little Shoppe of Horrors issue number 20, 2008.
Inside the Tardis: The Worlds of Doctor Who by James Chapman, I. B. Tauris, 2006.