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Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 A.D

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
Studio Canal UK
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Gordon Flemyng
Peter Cushing
Bernard Cribbins
Ray Brooks
Andrew Kier
Bottom Line: 
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 When Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg of Amicus Productions joined forces with executive producer Joe Vegoda for their summer 1965 release of Aaru Films’  “Dr Who and the Daleks” – a glossy full-colour big screen adaptation of Terry Nation’s first Dalek serial, originally written for the BBC TV series DOCTOR WHO in 1963 – critics reacted with vitriolic scorn to both Subotsky’s over-simplified screenplay and Gordon Flemyng’s unembellished direction, both of which pitched the film directly to a matinee market consisting of very young children on their summer holidays. However, this was one occasion on which no amount of critical brickbats would affect the outcome. The Aaru team had chosen their subject well: by 1965 ‘Dalekmania’ was at its peak all across the nation, and the film version of Nation’s tale appeared at just the right moment to capitalise on the phenomenon, becoming a major hit at the British box office and easily making back its money,  going into profit on distribution deals alone even before its release, simply because of the fact that it presented the Daleks in full colour for the first time! A quick sequel was a no-brainer, and Subotsky had already signed up Cushing to appear again as the elderly, white-haired and professorial Dr Who during the final days of the first film’s production, the actor happily agreeing so long as the follow-up also found room to include his 12 year-old co-star Roberta Tovey, who was indeed to appear again alongside him as his resourceful Granddaughter Susan.

Shot in Studio B at Shepperton Studios (“Casino Royal”, with Ursula Andress, was shooting in Studio A at the time) the sequel took much the same approach as the first film, with Subotsky again adapting  Terry Nation’s work himself, this time taking the writer’s second Dalek story, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”, as his source. This was arguably the story in which Nation and the TV production team, led by director Richard Martin, had taken what could have been a passing popular fad and made it iconic. The link between the Daleks and the Nazi regime was at last made explicit in a story that fed on the still-familiar imagery of the Blitz, as well as a sub-genre of WW2 invasion literature which imagined an alternative history in which Hitler succeeded in invading Britain. Narratives centred on the wartime occupation of France also provided an obvious model for what was a much earthier treatment of the Dalek menace, where they now habitually used their catch-phrase ‘EXTERMINATE!’ before mercilessly dispatching their victims without pity.

Outgoing script editor on the TV series, David Whitaker, is credited with working on Subotsky’s screenplay in the form of so-called ‘extra material’, which perhaps accounts for its much tauter construction and a greater emphasis being placed on fast-paced action and drama, incorporating the inclusion of stunt work –more so than was apparent in the first film. The budget was increased to £180,000 and there are consequently more effects and composite shots to be seen, such as in sequences in which the Dalek saucer hovers over a bomb-damaged London, etc. Also, the look of the movie is much more naturalistic thanks to the inclusion of exterior scenes shot on the back lot at Shepperton Studios; there’s even some location footage, filmed in the surrounding Surrey countryside and briefly also in London itself for the iconic shot of a Dalek rising from the depths of the Thames.

To pay for the bigger budget, a deal was struck with the makers of the breakfast cereal Sugar Puffs, which resulted in the picture becoming one of the first to sport prominent product placement ads on-screen. Posters for Sugar Puffs on walls and boxes of the cereal in the background can be seen prominently in shot on numerous occasions in what is supposed to be the year 2150; although this doesn’t prove as incongruous as it could have looked due to the fact that the mid-twenty-first century turns out to look exactly like a pre-internet age 1960s England with 1940s levels of bomb damage – a visual design aesthetic which very much aligns itself with the implied milieu of Nation’s script and the BBC’s own TV realisation of it, which also became the first television DOCTOR WHO story to make extensive use of location filming.

Gordon Flemyng’s direction is noticeably more dynamic and varied than his work for the first film, too, where the fantastical setting and the Daleks appearing in colour for the first time had become the primary focus, sometimes to the detriment of dramatic purpose. Here, there’s sharper editing and a more energetic shooting style in use for the copious action sequences, which include choreographed battle scenes and explosions during a raid on a Dalek saucer-ship; an exciting high-speed escape by van through the Dalek-invested streets of Central London; and much more stunt related work, courtesy of stuntman Eddie Powell -- more usually remembered for being Christopher Lee’s body double in Hammer’s Dracula films and during his stint as the Mummy, but here given a brief speaking role as a rebel who defies the Daleks and gets exterminated for his troubles after first falling through an awning onto a pile of bricks: a dramatic stunt that went seriously wrong, resulting in Powell breaking his ankle in a scene which still got left in the film because, mistake or not, it looked good.

While Cushing and Tovey both resumed the same roles they’d developed for the previous Dalek movie, the rest of the TARDIS team was replaced -- Jennie Linden and Roy Castle being unavailable or unwilling to repeat themselves a second time as chaste couple Barbara and Ian. Instead Jill Curzon plays yet another time travelling Who family member when she appears as the Dr’s glamorous niece Louise; and again, like Linden, she doesn’t really get to contribute much to the plot but looks beautiful in a wonderfully designed Sherlock Holmes-themed tweed jacket with winged sleeves; Bernard Cribbins meanwhile, who had appeared alongside Cushing before in Hammer’s “She”, was an obvious choice to replace Roy Castle, having proved himself equally at home in comedy and family drama on numerous occasions in the past. In this instance he stumbles into the dystopian fantasy world of Dr Who after a nicely executed pre-credits sequence in which his character, policeman Tom Campbell, is embroiled in a jewellery heist while on a routine night patrol of a London high street. He enters the TARDIS after mistaking it for a normal police box, and after fainting from being coshed on the head by one of the escaping jewel thieves, finds himself whisked off to the 21st century by Dr Who’s time and space machine, which has had something of an interior revamp since the last film: still with no central console or roundels, but now sporting blinking computer banks and flashy controls that look much more like the original series’ conception of the futuristic ship.

The title credits play out to a busy, faster-paced title theme from Bill McGuffie, whose music for the film is much more in line with the jazz-based action cues of early-sixties crime movies, but the vortex-like opening visuals prefigure the time tunnel opening sequence which came to be associated with the TV series from Jon Pertwee’s last series and throughout the remainder of the 1970s.  

The rest of the cast is filled out by a host of very able British character actors who bring a richer characterisation to the Daleks' second big screen outing. They’re led by Andrew Kier, squeezing in a slim but noticeable role here between his appearance in Hammer’s “Dracula Prince of Darkness" and his lead role in “Quatermass and the Pit” as a disillusioned resistance fighter.  Ray Brooks (“The Knack”) handles the heavier action scenes as a denim-jacketed rebel after he teams up with Cushing’s Dr Who, helping him escape from the Dalek saucer and afterwards accompanying him on his trek cross country to Bedfordshire where the Daleks have set up a mine which turns out to be at the centre of their latest plot.  Meanwhile, TV actor Godfrey Quigley plays an idealistic, wheelchair-bound resistance leader who thinks he can defeat the trundling invaders with homemade bombs and a small army of renegade resistance fighters hidden in a section of bombed out & abandoned London Underground. Although an able comic actor, Cribbins falls more believably into the action hero mode of support than his fellow light entertainer Roy Castle did previously, saving Susan from falling masonry after the TARDIS team finds itself in the middle of a crumbling Thames embankment when the crew first exit their time machine, and later proving instrumental in diverting the bomb the evil invaders plan on using to cause a fissure at the Earth’s core. He is allowed one silly and tonally fairly ill-fitting comedy routine in the middle of the film though, when he’s comically shown trying to pass himself off as one of a platoon of the Daleks’ converted drone guards, who’re called Robomen, and attempts to march in step and eat a meal in the same regimented robotic style affected by these converted humans.

Other than this brief moment of facetiousness (and another involving an out-of-control food conveyor belt) the tone is fairly serious throughout and even Cushing’s portrayal of Dr Who is less comical and eccentric here, as befits the bleaker material. The whole film seems to be aimed at a slightly older child audience, although it still retains the U certificate. This time the protagonists enter a landscape scarred by debris and ruin -- the victim of an earlier Dalek bombardment of cosmic rays, meteorites and aerial attack from superior Dalek flying saucer technology which has managed to raze all the major cities to derelict, sparsely populated rubble during the ensuing Dalek takeover of the country. Even though we never hear anything about what’s happening in the rest of the world – this is very much an alternate British wartime allegory given a SF spin – the Daleks now proclaim themselves Masters of the Earth and broadcast Lord Haw-Haw-like radio messages to the last vestiges of human resistance, in which they attempt to deplete morale and persuade them to give themselves up.

The Daleks themselves benefit enormously here, both from the tighter script, which this time attempts to make them scary again rather than simply the attractive, commercialised space-age tech-fetish toys they’d been turned into by the end of the first film, and also from Gordon Flemyng’s much edgier direction. Flemying’s use of hand-held cameras enables the viewer to experience the creatures up close from a Dalek-eye-view aboard their own ship, and, rather than the petulant, childlike form of aggression they display in the first film, here they are much more cunning and ruthless, developing a clever test to determine the intelligence of their captured prisoners by leaving a built-in flaw in the design of their confinement chambers that allows for the possibility of escape: those clever enough to find it are the ones destined to be turned into their zombie-like, whip wielding Robomen, overseeing the  work of the more general human slave rabble, and thus preventing any organised rebellion against Dalek hegemony from taking root.

Although the main innovation of the first film, in which the Daleks are ranked and distinguished by the colour of their outer shells, is again used here for those seen on the flight deck of the Dalek transport saucer (and this time we also get a gleaming gold Dalek with black finish to add to our previous collection of black, blue and red ones), those we see most of the time are the generic soldier class who sport silver finish with pale blue hemispheric bumps around the ‘skirt’. Though it was absent from their previous big screen incarnation, Dalek designer Raymond Cusick’s recent upgrade of his original design – consisting of the addition of the ‘solar panel’ vertical slats circling the middle section of the Dalek casing – is also now included, and we also get to see ‘gangs’ of Daleks patrolling London exteriors (although not the famous TV series shots of them cruising around Trafalgar Square and other well-known landmarks of Central London), escorting long lines of their bedraggled human prisoner-survivors and firing on anyone who attempts to flee. Perhaps the weakest element of the Daleks’ portrayal in this film is their barmy plan itself, although that’s a feature of the original Nation plot so Subotsky can’t really be held responsible this time. It consists of forcing human slaves to dig a great big hole in a Bedfordshire mine, down which the Daleks plan to drop a bomb that will cause a fissure which will then enable them to extract the Earth’s magnetic core and replace it with an engine so that they can pilot the planet like a vast spacecraft. A plan to which the only suitable response is … Why for goodness sake???  

Although this film makes much more pronounced use of exciting action set-pieces and there’s a grittier ‘real world’ feel about much of it, both of which are qualities that mark this second movie out as a far superior vehicle for the Daleks than its predecessor, despite the use of painted London backdrops in occasional scenes (which now look even more artificial still in high definition), its greatest strength resides in better and more complex characterisation, and the  greater emphasis it places on the variety of possible human responses to occupation. Susan and Louise first encounter a depleted, divided resistance movement being led by a former geologist in a wheelchair, called Dortmun (Godfrey Quigley) who’s figured out enough of the Dalek mining plan, and what it will mean for the future of the planet, to have become almost fanatical about launching an attack on the invaders, even if it is, practically speaking, doomed to certain failure and likely to cause enormous loss of life. The conflict between his and Andrew Kier’s gruffer, more disillusioned character Wyler gets a nice payoff when, after the defeat of Dortmun’s rebel attack on the Dalek saucer (which does nevertheless manage to disrupt Dalek plans to convert Dr Who and Tom into Robomen) he elects to sacrifice his own life in order to hold off the attack of a Dalek patrol force while Susan and Wyler make their getaway by van and head for Watford. The relationship between Wyler and Susan also provides Roberta Tovey with one of the few moments in this film where she becomes the focus of the narrative for a while, after being at the centre of events all the way through the last movie. Forced to dodge numerous dangerous situations as they trek across some attractive Surrey countryside after the destruction of their van by a Dalek saucer laser attack, they eventually strike up a touching father-daughter rapport which is nicely played by both actors.

The middle section of the film largely concerns itself with Dr Who and Susan attempting to find each other again after earlier having become separated in the traditional manner of a standard DOCTOR WHO plot line, Susan for the present under the grudging care of Wyler and Dr Who teaming up with Ray Brooks’ David (while Tom and Louise hitch a ride to the Bedfordshire mine in the Daleks’ transport saucer). During the course of each of their picaresque roamings, and while attempting to evade capture by Dalek round-up squads and Robomen alike, both groups discover home truths about the social precariousness of life in an occupied land. Two of the film’s better sequences hinge on aspect of betrayal and collaboration:  Sheila Steafel and Eileen Way are particularly notable as a cottage dwelling daughter and mother pair who appear to be kindly when they first take in a fleeing Wyler and Susan, but then unrepentantly betray them to the Daleks in return for extra food rations. Philip Madoc is similarly creepy and untrustworthy as the rain-coated black marketer Brockley. After putting them in touch with workers at the Dalek mine who are willing to help Dr Who and David in their effort to disrupt the Daleks’ plan to detonate a bomb at the Earth’s core, Brockley then goes and tells the Daleks exactly where to find the Doctor. In this case though, his betrayal has been anticipated by the wily old time travelling scientist, who stays behind in a shed on a work site near the mine shaft, deliberately hoping to be captured so that he can get aboard the Dalek saucer in order to put one last vital part of the resistance’s plan into effect. Brockley, meanwhile, pays for his betrayal by being blown up while still trapped inside the shed, while Dr Who is led away by his Dalek captors.

“Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.” is an entertaining action SF spectacle that comes with an enjoyably satisfactory payoff in which the Daleks all manage to get themselves sucked down the mine shaft and into the Earth’s core by haywire magnetic forces, and Bernard Cribbins gets to re-enact the last few minutes of the jewellery raid seen in the pre-credits sequence thanks to Dr Who setting him back down in his own time several minutes before the crooks were able to make their getaway. The film ends with Tom Campbell driving the captured criminals’ own getaway car back to the station while contemplating his coming promotion – ‘Detective Inspector Tom Campbell … OBE!

Subotsky had the option to make Nation’s third Dalek story, “The Chase”, into a movie the following year, but poor box office returns for this much bigger budgeted feature, in combination with a lacklustre promotion campaign for the film in America and the gradual fizzling out at home of the Dalekmania phenomenon, meant that Amicus’ backers British Lion had little interest in seeing it through, and the Company instead made do with shoddy low budget SF adventure fantasy films such as “The Terrornauts” and “They Came From Beyond Space”. The film is probably better than the TV serial it was based upon, though: distilling six episodes into a pacy 80 minute full colour action extravaganza, which also has a strong cast and some nice performances in the midst of the Dalek onslaught. The transfer is as clear and well-defined as the Techniscope format the film was shot in allows for, and it generally looks gorgeous, the grainier elements almost certainly inherent to the original source but never becoming in the least bit distracting. The transfer was created using the original 35 mm interpositive which was made from the original Technisope negative, and the records of the original colour grading had been preserved allowing for what Marcus Hearn describes as ‘the best looking version of the film since it originally played in British cinemas’. The original mono audio track has also been digitally restored and brushed up, and now sounds excellent.

Extras on this disc are fairly light (although there was quite a lot of information about it on the documentary “Dalekmania” and the commentary track that can both be found on the “Dr Who and the Daleks” disc, where Roberta Tovey shares her memories of making this follow-up feature alongside Peter Cushing). There are three short featurettes though, the first “Restoring Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.” features BFI curator Jo Botting and film historian and writer Marcus Hearn talking about the history of the Techniscope format, and various technicians at the Film and Digital Service Deluxe talking about the work that is required in the process of digital restoration of archive film prints. The second featurette is a short interview with actor Bernard Cribbins who remembers working with Peter Cushing and director Gordon Flemyng; while the third and last of the video extras features author of “The Shepperton Story” Gareth Owen talking about the making of the film and its poor reception from critics. There is also a small collection of production stills included in an animated gallery, and, finally, a theatrical trailer for the film rounds of the release.

Available separately as a Blu-ray or a DVD release, or in a limited Blu-ray collector’s edition which brings together both Dalek films in one package, this is an entertaining spectacle which has only grown in stature and value over the years, with Cushing perfecting his portrayal of the cinema’s alternative version of Dr Who and the Daleks finally fulfilling their potential as megalomaniacal big screen villains. Both films are a must buy.

Read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing but the Night!

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