Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Doctor Who and the Daleks (4 Stars)


This film is hated by most Doctor Who fans. I'd like to make an attempt to defend it. It's a well made film which succeeds in what it sets out to accomplish.

In December 1963 the Daleks first appeared in the Doctor Who TV series. They returned in a second adventure in November 1964. This resulted in a phenomenon referred to as Dalekmania. Although the Doctor was the hero of the series, the Daleks themselves were the ones who received the highest acclaim. Something about them won the public's attention. They were feared and loved at the same time.

Back in the 1960's there were only three television channels in England, none of which were active for 24 hours. Television time was limited, and repeats of already broadcast programs were rare. Of course, there were no home video players in those days. This means that the original TV episodes with the Daleks were shown once, and that was it. Gone. If you watched them you were lucky, you could sit and remember them, but if you missed them you had to rely on what others told you.

That's where the film steps in. It was decided to remake the first Dalek adventure for the big screen, so that people would have another chance to watch it. The budget would be bigger, the actors would be better, and most of all it would be in colour. Instead of William Hartnell, who nobody seriously considered a good actor, Peter Cushing was picked to play the Doctor. An actor of his stature gave the Doctor a strength and credibility that none of the other actors had until Christopher Eccleston finally took over in 2005.

The main problem of making a film was that it was a standalone item. It had to appeal not just to Doctor Who fans, but to those who had never watched the series. It had to be easy to understand. In a TV series there can be mysteries that are slowly unravelled over the course of months or even years. In a film everything has to be wrapped up within 90 minutes. This meant that the Doctor couldn't be an alien. He was an inventor who lived in London and built a time machine. He was the eccentric old man who lives next to you and me.

Once you accept that the Doctor in the film isn't the same Doctor that we know and love from the TV series, everything makes sense. Think of it as another Doctor from a parallel universe. After the introduction of the characters is out of the way and the Doctor arrives on Skaro it's a very good story that mirrors the original TV episodes. Okay, I admit that it's amusing that the Daleks have lava lamps to decorate their control room, but maybe they have a sense of aesthetics as well.


7 comments:

  1. Well I backed you up on Facebook Mike, but what on earth makes you say William Hartnell was not a good actor? Yes, Cushing is superior, but perhaps also luckier with the projects he picked, the health he had to allow him a longer life and career, and who he shared the screen with. Being constantly pitted against Christopher Lee will help you get on a roll.

    Then you basically say none of Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison or Paul McGann are strong or credible enough. I really don't think Cushing could do a proper alien Doctor. He might even be inferior to Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy for that persona, as good as he is in his many roles.

    No, you need to back up these assertions more. Ecclestone was an interesting choice for the Doctor and did well, but I think new Doctor Who benefited from great writing, great marketing and an absolutely brilliant turn from Billie Piper as Rose. Donna may be my personal favourite, but Rose brought a much needed depth to the rather one-dimensional role of the companion. Once Tennant got involved, the show became even more popular. If RTD had got Tennant as he first wanted, then the show probably would have been just as successful.

    Just because Cushing and Ecclestone have the best careers, does not mean they are the best Doctors. I'm sorry. Half the people I have met flat out say they don't like Ecclestone. And his lame refusal to grace the 50th anniversary special meant John Hurt's involvement, and I think he is clearly the best ever actor to play the Doctor (if kind of meant to be exempt at the same time).

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    1. William Hartnell was never a good actor, especially not in his later years. It's true that he slotted in well in his role as the Doctor, but that doesn't mean he had talent as an actor. Take Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example. He was perfect as the Terminator, but nobody in his right mind would call him a good actor.

      Of the Doctors in the original series I would say that Patrick Troughton was the best actor. However much the others might have been admired by Doctor Who fans, none of them were well-rounded performers who could have been hired to star in a variety of films.

      How many leading roles was Tom Baker given in films after he retired as Doctor Who? Zero. That speaks for itself. Nobody in the film industry took him seriously.

      Chris Eccleston was the first outstanding actor to be cast as the Doctor. He didn't need "Doctor Who" to make him a star, he already was. If anything, he was too big for the series. They couldn't hold him back.

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    2. You can't judge an actor on one role. You have to look at his body of work. That's why I hate Keanu Reeves, even though "The Matrix" is one of my favourite films.

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  2. Ok, if we are talking best actor as the focus. But you frame it as 'gave the Doctor strength and credibility'..
    Tom Baker was a brilliant character actor, and just happened to be right for the lead role as the Doctor. He still did quite well on TV after his tenure. I don't think the 'zero' Hollywood films rhetoric means that what he did in the role should be penalized.
    You actually agree with me on Patrick Troughton, so I have some vindication there. He really was a massive star in his prime. After he got older he became more and more of a specialist character actor.
    I don't think the 'too big for the series' point really counters my feelings and awareness of Chris as a bit of a shifty temping professional (albeit a brilliant one). He never could commit to a high-profile role. cf Cracker, and many other examples.
    His reasoning for leaving the role after a year was and is still a bit opaque. He stood up for poor treatment of crew members, but I really don't think that it's just that.

    Lastly, the body of work thing is itself open up for a much bigger debate, probably with many more people. Marlon Brando did many poor films as he struggled for years until his classics with Francis Ford Coppola. The recently departed Christopher Lee probably made more turkeys than decent films, even including Attack of the Clones.

    Anyway, I do like Cushing. I do like Ecclestone in many of his TV stories. I just think the Doctor is such a brilliant character, full of range, that you can't question the charisma and x factor that the many other actors had.

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    1. I don't think we can agree on this. I fail to see how anyone can rate Tom Baker highly as an actor. He did well as the Doctor, but that was it. What made "Doctor Who" so interesting was that all of the Doctors in the original series played themselves. It might have been accidental with William Hartnell, but it was definitely deliberate from Patrick Troughton onwards. This "playing themselves" factor made it easy to play the role.

      As for Christopher Eccleston, I still don't know why he left. There have been too many conflicting stories. I just wish he had stayed longer. He would have had more time to develop the character. I say that even though I preferred David Tennant as the Doctor.

      Almost every great actor has had a couple of turkeys in his life. Roles he should never have accepted, etc. A couple of mishaps in a long career don't diminish my respect for a great actor. We all make mistakes. I consider Christopher Lee to be a magnificent actor, but during his career he probably appeared in more bad films than good. That will probably be Pierce Brosnan's legacy: a first-rate actor who appeared mainly in third-rate films.

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    2. Which reminds me... Peter Capaldi is really growing on me. The change in style from Matt Smith was so extreme that it jarred at first, but now he's getting into his stride. If he stays long enough he could really contribute to the character. We need continuity. A Doctor who will stay for 10 years or more. And a companion who will stay for 5 years or more.

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  3. Ok, final comments from me..
    Tom baker won the attention of outgoing showrunners letts and dicks, based on his roles in films like 'nicholas and alexandra' and 'golden voyage of sinbad'. He made a fine villain, but they sensed his presence could do justice to the role of the Doctor. Several tom baker stories see him either acting evil or facing evil doppelgangers. Not all of the other doctors could do this so convincingly. Baker made the mistake of staying too long (as much as I enjoy most of his final season) and so got typecast.
    Jon pertwee stayed a bit less longer and still did well in worzel gummage. He eventually became an elder statesman of Doctor who as it became a cult and had vhs releases of a few stories ( before many more came out in the 90s). Now tom baker is that elder statesman, and he was the only Doctor to come back, or should I say Invited, for the day of the Doctor special.

    William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton were two complex men, and I really disagree that they simply played themselves. Hartnell was irritable and jingoistically close minded, and that did not always show onscreen as he played the self described 'citizen of the universe'.
    Troughton may have been good to work with and charming at times, but he was a man who had little stability in his personal life and was shifty and devious. He had many affairs and all but disowned his first family. So the clever jester who made enemies underestimate him was played to perfection but Troughton ached to move into roles where he could show his range, and dare I say his dark side.. As he ended up doing in he definitive tv serial of Henry viii.
    Peter Davison is far too accomplished an actor for you to bundle him off as playing just himself. He really can do many things well. Within his era there were at least 4 or 5 different ways he played the Doctor, albeit that was just as much the result of a hesitant producer and script editor struggling to dispel the very well known image of Davison in 'all creatures great and small'. But come the final year for Davison, he totally nailed the role, and did some of the best moments for he Doctor, e.g. showing he would kill Davros and then struggling, letting the master die (of course that didn't last!), and the whole of his last story. That finale was just terrific acting as he showed an acid wit which perhaps was not properly used beforehand.

    Of course this is a movie blog and you are right to hail those who have done great works in big films. I do think though that network tv can leave just as big a legacy on a viewership as cinema does on moviegoers, and it can be a case of apples and oranges when ranking actors.

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