The On Her Majesty's Secret Service of the Doctor Who world, the two Peter Cushing-Dalek films have seen occasional reappraisal that labels them as "coolly kitsch" or "lovably camp". In reality, of course, they're complete pants.
The Doctor Who TV series actually had a considerable integrity, despite being made on a budget of 50p and never managing to shake off the "Kid's Telly" tag. Here Cushing plays the Doctor of the title, his surname actually becoming "Who". The Tardis, his sophisticated space-time machine, is now "Tardis", a naff-looking thing with a Yale lock on the door. Around the time this was made a "Carry On" actor would do his only television work in the Doctor Who series â" Peter Butterworth as the Meddling Monk. For the film we got Bernard Cribbins as P.C. Tom Campbell, a similar character to the one that married the Doctor's granddaughter on TV. Though as the film Susan is only ten that would be inappropriate here.
Both films (the other â" Doctor Who and the Daleks, Cushing joined by Roy Castle) were based directly on actual TV stories, the novelty being they were in colour. By the time the second came around the novelty was over and it didn't do the business of the first, despite being someway the better film. Perhaps this is because the original serial â" The Dalek Invasion of Earth â" was an attempt to mount a film's epic scale on a TV budget. To this end it transfers better to the medium, and its setting (future Earth as opposed to the first film's alien planet Skaro) is more accessible to audiences.
The big failure is, of course, send-up. Some of the series' b-movie concepts (mutated nuclear war victims get robot-armoured shells and invade Earth to steal its core) are ludicrous, but played straight can be rewarding. The films make a mockery of the whole concept, showing a total lack of respect for their source material. My advice is: if you don't like 'em, don't make 'em. Bearing in mind the Daleks were hot merchandise properties at the time, this is a cynical cash-in on the nation's youth. There's even a shameless product placement for Sugar Puff Cereals.
All involved are capable of better. Peter Cushing, respected in adult horror films, here opts for a no-effort parody of TV Doctor William Hartnell's performance. There is no trace of depth or consideration for the part he has chosen. Full credit does go to Ray Brooks, Andrew Keir and Philip Madoc for at least trying to take it seriously. Madoc was rewarded with four seperate roles in the television series, most notably as mad scientist Solon (1976) and The War Lord (1969). On the plus side, direction in terms of camera angles is actually very, very good, but is offset by incidental music so loud and outdated that it works against the mood entirely. Think SF drama with Carry On music and you're almost there.
Bright and colourful, (including a funky red Dalek) the film certainly has visual appeal. But the Daleks' voices, their volume increased considerably, are extremely grating. They also lack their trademark warmth and charm, being little more than robots. Their weaponry was scheduled to be flame-throwers, but was disallowed due to the young audience. This is perhaps fortunate as their gas sprays aid the Nazi allegory. Best bit? The exploding shed.
Trite jazz, lame comic setpieces and binliner outfits, the film is on TV virtually every Bank Holiday in England. And you know the strangest part? As bad as it is, come next Bank Holiday I'll probably be tempted to see it again.