Wednesday, 8 August 2012

“Excuse me, Mr Dalek, would you care to move onto this cape?”

Dr Who and the Daleks
Written by Terry Nation and Milton Subotsky, directed by Gordon Flemyng, 1965

I’m a big fan of sixties Doctor Who, and especially of Hartnell. Therefore, you’d be forgiven for expecting me to tow the party line when it comes to the Aaru movies (such as there is even a fan consensus at all): that at best they’re a bit of fun, and at worst a cartoonish Technicolor travesty of the original stories’ relatively unparalleled realism and ‘grittiness’. And I do. I think they’re shit.

But, see, here’s the thing – I’d love, I’d really love to like the films. I love apocrypha – the weird digressions and convolutions that Doctor Who’s colossus-like straddling of numerous media inevitably throws up. I like to be able to go, ‘Hey, you know what – I love the TV originals’ committed approach (which makes their no-budget values pretty much irrelevant), but this is something different’; I’d like to be able to embrace the idea that these are a different thing, some bold, fun, deliriously colourful digression from the norms of the canon. Well, let’s see, as I get my blog-along on for Dr Who and the Daleks.

  • If its existence weren’t so accepted (albeit tacitly ignored), it’d seem like a joke: a big-screen sixties remake of Doctor Who?! The jazzy sub-Barbarella titles scream YouTube fake.
  • The pratfalls immediately count against it.
  • What’s majorly frustrating is that it should be FRICKING AMAZING that Peter Cushing played the Doctor, in any capacity, but, though it’s sweet for him to get to play cuddly, this dithery old duffer is so far from his customary hawkish, dignified screen persona that it might as well be anyone.
  • I get the logic of going down the human ‘Dr Who’ path, but eschewing the series’ most iconic elements – the theme, the TARDIS interior design and dematerialisation sound effect – just seems bizarrely contrary (rights issues, perhaps?).
  • The protagonists’ absolutely total non-reaction to their arrival on AN ALIEN PLANET firmly locates us within the cartoony tone the film occupies, which has absolutely no time for even the most basic sense of realism, let alone actual emotion or character development. In fairness, that just highlights the original series’ (comparative) realism, and the skills of the TV regulars. By contrast, no-one’s required to act here. It kind of emphasises how miraculous it is that the series bothered to engage with at least an approximation of the emotional trauma that being whirled away through time and space by (in this case) your girlfriend’s dementia-ridden grandfather might engender.
  • I was always chronically embarrassed by these films’ naffness as a kid (and my family’s assumption that they must be like catnip to my ming-mong soul). Unfortunately, I really haven’t loosened up on that view. There’s total non-characterisation, non-drama.
  • Okay, this isn’t meant to be the Doctor we know, but I find his characterisation at its most compelling when the series plays on his ambiguities, as in The Daleks, which makes dramatic meat out of his endangering the TARDIS crew through his selfishness – something that’s totally skipped over here. Like everything, a potential moment of conflict is neutered by this kiddie bullshit. By contrast to Hartnell’s early crotchety and irascible old gentleman, a loveable Eagle-reading granddad is a bit dull. Similarly, they even fudge the dangling-Thal suicide/self-sacrifice (“Oh, he’s alright!”). So toothless.
  • Roy Castle fucking around with some comedy doors is pretty weak anyway, but its unfunniness is emphasised by much of the film’s lack of score.
  • Tinfoil on the walls?!
  • The Daleks do look ace (you might want to savour that statement; it might be the only positive one), and the forest is pretty good (in a studio-bound, luridly-lit kind of way), but, really, shouldn’t Aaru have been embarrassed that for all their “on the big screen… in colour!” posturing, the sets, while impressively sizeable, are far tackier and crapper than the small screen production design?
  • So flat, so undramatic. It’s just stupid and dull. I imagine this might be what it feels like to be a not-we watching Doctor Who in general.
  • I like trash – ie, things that are consciously setting themselves up to be about cheap thrills – at least, if they’re well done. But this manages the feat of having zero dramatic value or depth, but while not even being fun either. Even a bag of white chocolate and raspberry cookies to dunk in my tea hasn’t improved my goodwill; maybe getting blitzed on red wine might’ve done the trick. At least the Thals’ Liz Taylor makeup might’ve been funny that way. (Well, there’s a plan for Daleks – Invasion: Earth 2150 A.D.) I’d’ve preferred to see Cushing tackle the role in dramatic mode (he’s far more Doctorish in stuff like The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires), but failing that I sort of wish, as it is a travesty of the original, they’d gone the whole hog and ramped up the camp to the proportions of the Adam West Batman, or at least B-movie thrills’n’spills.
  • So static.
  • Hard not to see it as a bit of a travesty of the original.
  • Roy Castle bumps into things! Comedy gold!
  • I reread the DWM Time Team’s comments on the movies recently, so a lot of their comments are still fresh in my mind, yet I’m failing to get their appreciation for Roberta Tovey’s Susan. I mean, she is the only member of the cast who isn’t a total moron, but still.
  • There’s some painted landscapes the artificiality of which is quite delish, verging on an almost Fantastic Planet look, bu-ut…
  • None of it really makes sense, which is pretty damningly indicative of a fundamental lack of care or even respect for the audience: why does ‘Dr Who’ live in a bungalow but dress like a Victorian? Why did he make ‘TARDIS’ in the form of a police box?
  • The TV version (take your pick of titles) is overlong and, obviously, in terms of editing, etc, seems more dated than this; but it’s so much more impressive in its integrity and conviction. This has got higher production values but – not that this should surprise anyone – what does it matter if it’s so flat and moronic, and populated by blue-skinned ponces?
  • The Chase would have been fun on the silver screen, though.

Final verdict: Interminable. Toothless. Invasion: Earth might be put on hold, I need a few months to recover myself.