In 1965, British children had a new obsession: Daleks! Having first appeared in 1964 as part of the BBC’s new Saturday drama series, ‘Dr. Who’, the ‘pepper pots’ had proved an instant hit.
Unsurprisingly, ‘Dalek mania’ was deemed ripe for commercial exploitation and the 1960s would see two feature films, countless toys, books, comics, and numerous appearances on television all featuring Terry Nation’s most famous creation.
The Blu-ray release of ‘Dr. Who and the Daleks’ and ‘Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.’ marks the films’ debut HD transfer, and both pictures have never looked so good! The films have, however, been released many times in the past, including a prior DVD release, a variety of VHS compilations and have been available for the domestic home market since as far back as 1977 when they were released on Super 8mm.
Before we talk about the release itself, it’s important to look back at the origins of these films and to understand how they fit into the Dr. Who ‘franchise’. Since 1963, 11 actors have occupied the role of ‘The Doctor’ in the BBC show, however Peter Cushing’s fine performance is not considered ‘canon’, nor are the films accepted by Dr. Who fans as being compatible with the television series of the same name – despite Cushing appearing for double the screen time of the series’ eighth incumbent Paul McGann. However, much like the strange relative that all families refuse to fully acknowledge, but reluctantly accept as part of their own, most Dr. Who fans have a grudging respect for the films, and almost all will already own a copy.
With BBC regular William Hartnell committed to making the television series, the use of Peter Cushing, a stalwart of British Cinema (with white hair and being of a similar age to Hartnell) is understandable. What’s altogether more questionable was the decision to re-invent the series’ back story and replace the concept of an alien traveller with that of a domestic ‘mad professor’ who has seemingly stumbled upon the key to time travel from the comfort of his back garden. The eponymous character’s personality and temperament is also markedly different between Hartnell and Cushing’s portrayal and the broody, melancholic Doctor is portrayed here as a carefree spirit with an almost childlike thirst for adventure. In the years before viewers had come to witness the Doctor ‘regenerate’ from actor to actor, reconciling this figure with their favourite television hero must have been a tall task indeed.
Beyond these differences, the plots to both films produced by Amicus Productions, and directed by Gordon Flemyng, follow their television counterparts reasonably faithfully and the slight reduction in screen time on film helps move the story along. The huge budget difference between television and film is also self evident as the Doctor’s adventures, and indeed his fearful foes, are presented on a scale never seen on the BBC.
If you already own the films on DVD, and don’t have a high-definition setup, it’s arguable as to whether it’s worth ‘upgrading’ to this package. However, if you’re a lover of Blu-ray and all things HD, the films are a worthy addition to any self-respecting Dr. Who fan’s collection. Despite 2013 marking the series’ 50th anniversary, precious little footage from the original series exists in a high-definition format with the programme originally recorded on 405 line, two inch quad studio videotape, and ending on 625 line, one inch quad videotape by the end of the classic series run in 1989. Indeed, it took until the David Tennant ‘specials’ in 2009 for the series to permanently adopt HD as its format of choice. So, with only one serial from the first 46 years of the show prime for Blu-ray (Jon Pertwee’s debut adventure ‘Spearhead from Space’ – recorded on location on 16mm due to a studio strike), Dr. Who fans really can’t be fussy when it comes to HD content!
In reviewing this latest release it’s clear from the off that both films look luxurious in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and prove that, in the 1960s, British cinema could hold its own on the world stage. The HD transfer is an incredibly sympathetic one and the balance between film grain and over-the-top noise reduction is achieved almost to perfection. The grading is brilliant and allows both films (which are incredibly colourful and vibrant in of themselves) to have impact, without becoming over saturated. There’s the odd scratch and dirt visible from time to time, but it’s not enough to distract and serves to add some patina to the transfers. The sound to both films has also enjoyed a high level of restoration, and listening to some old clips online from prior transfers highlights the immediate difference. Both films are presented as LPCM 2.0 tracks and the distinctive and effective music scores that underpin the films have never sounded so good.
The extras package available for both films is strong, though the jewel in the crown – the brilliant DalekMania documentary has been around for nearly twenty years. A nice commentary by Roberta Tovey and Jennie Linden is welcome though and there’s a nice little restoration feature, which is always good to see when a film has been lovingly restored. Film trailers and galleries have also been included along with a couple of other interesting novelties to bring added value. The films are presented with pleasing cover artwork, and are available individually or together as part of a package.
Watching both films, it’s a shame that the planned, but ultimately abandoned, third movie – an adaptation of the television serial ‘The Chase’ – was never made. Ultimately, although ‘Dr. Who and the Daleks’ and ‘Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.’ will never be ‘our’ Dr. Who, they are a great oddity which allows us to see the Daleks, at the height of their power and popularity, given their rightful ‘big budget’ outing on the big screen and I’m sure many future fans may have come to the series through seeing these films. As long as the television series remains, these films will continue popping up every few years for new generations to enjoy, but this HD restoration probably marks the pinnacle of their presentation…well, at least until 4k becomes the norm!