The Dalek Movies FROM THE SFX ARCHIVES

The Dalek movies.

Steve O’Brien takes the TARDIS for a spin back to the 1960s – when rampant Dalekmania took the nation’s favourite tinpot tyrants from tea-time TV to the big screen…

1965/1966
Director: Gordon Flemyng
Screenplays: David Whitaker, Terry Nation
Producers: Milton Subotsky, Max J Rosenberg, Joe Vegoda
Music: Barry Gray, Bill McGuffie
Cinematography: John Wilcox
Cast: Peter Cushing, Roberta Tovey, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden, Bernard Cribbins, Jill Curzon

The two Dalek films of the 1960s occupy an unenviable place in Doctor Who’s vast canon simply because they’re not, well, canon. Whereas the Doctor from the TV series was a crabby, ill-mannered alien, the movie Dr Who was a genial and doddery backroom scientist from old London town. And Barbara and Ian? Teachers in the series; granddaughter and boyfriend in the film. Forty years before Tim Burton appropriated the word “reimagining”, producers Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg were doing it to Doctor Who.

In the early 1960s, Amicus (formed in the UK by Noo Yoik producers Subotsky and Rosenberg) were doing pretty good business shadowing the more successful Hammer films. And when Hammer diversified into family entertainment, releasing films in the summer break for the holidaying little ’uns, Amicus smelled a new commercial avenue. After the Daleks’ runaway success, Subotsky approached the BBC with a view to buying the rights and shooting a Dalek movie. He assumed that there was a lucrative market ready to lap up these things on the big screen and in colour. But to produce a science fiction movie of this magnitude needed a budget bigger than anything Amicus could muster on its own. Enter Joe Vegoda.

Joe Vegoda was a film financier, and for his substantial financial input he asked for his own company’s name to be put on the film. Despite being an Amicus movie in every other way, officially Dr Who And The Daleks was an Aaru production.

The film itself was an adaptation of the second Doctor Who adventure, “The Daleks”, the story which introduced the fiendish Skaroans and which almost overnight guaranteed the fledgeling time travel show a bright BBC future. Although Dalek creator Terry Nation attended a couple of meetings at the beginning of preproduction, he passed on penning the film’s screenplay, requesting that David Whitaker, then Doctor Who’s outgoing story editor, pare down his two and a half hour plus teleplay into an arse-friendly 85 minutes.

With Amicus’s international ambitions it was inconceivable that Subotsky and Rosenberg would or could cast William Hartnell or any of the BBC actors in the movie, even if schedules hadn’t conflicted. Peter Cushing, however, was one of their few stars with transatlantic appeal. As someone who had appeared in numerous Amicus and Hammer movies, he was an established movie name and he hardly hesitated saying yes to a movie that would briefly take him out of the horror ghetto.

“It was a curious experience taking over Bill Hartnell’s role while he was playing it on television,” Cushing said at the time. “Especially as I knew Bill and I know he would love to have played the Doctor in the film. He’s so good in the part.”

“We really need to get a colour telly.”

In the television version the Doctor – who’s an alien, remember – travelled with his teenage granddaughter Susan and two of her schoolteachers, Ian and Barbara, unwitting cotravellers of the cantankerous Doc. In the movie version Susan is 11 (though still a brainbox), and Ian – now Barbara’s boyfriend – is a hapless buffoon who provides the film with its most jaw-droppingly juvenile moments. Roy Castle, who’d appeared in Amicus’s Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors, was cast as Ian. He’d go on to present Record Breakers on TV, tapdancing his way across the BBC schedules for over two decades. Twenty-six year-old Jennie Linden was Barbara and Roberta Tovey was cast as Susan, securing the role after going in for a screentest and reading from one of Spike Milligan’s books of poetry.

Gordon Flemyng, a 31-year-old with past experience on Edgar Wallace shorts and Avengers episodes, was given the director’s chair and set about refashioning Doctor Who for a family audience. “We were definitely going for a U certificate,” Flemyng noted, “and if it hadn’t received a U certificate it wouldn’t have succeeded.”

Part of that consideration was how the Daleks would exterminate. On television the Daleks’ raygun effect was achieved by turning the screen into negative. Initial plans to have the Daleks shooting out flames were jettisoned after Subotsky and Rosenberg consulted BBFC head John Trevelyan, who told them they could screw their U certificate if they went ahead with the fire option. “So we went to the other extreme,” Subotsky said, “and armed them with fire extinguishers.”

For the Thals, Flemying cast a bunch of Covent Garden tough guys to play the beautified victims of the Daleks. Under peroxided Jean Shrimpton wigs and dolled up in enough blusher and eyeliner to make an Essex slapper cry with envy, once on set they were told that their chests would have to be shaven.

“They were real tough guys,” recalled Barrie Ingham, who played chief Thal Alydon. “And then the make-up ladies said, ‘Before we make up your bodies, we would like you to shave all the hair off your arms and chests.’ They couldn’t believe it, because it was such a blow against their masculinity. But they had a meeting about it and they got more money! And they did it and it changed their personalities!”

Shooting took place over six weeks at Shepperton Studios, with a budget of just £180,000, £4,500 of which was spent building the Dalek shells. The film was released in June 1965, just as the Daleks’ third TV adventure, “The Chase”, was ending, and it arrived in a blaze of publicity. Critics lambasted the movie but it was a huge commercial success, targeting kids during the summer holiday period at the height of Dalekmania and comfortably managing a position in that year’s domestic top ten.

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