Scientist Dr. Who accidentally activates his new invention, the Tardis, a time machine disguised as a police telephone box. Dr. Who, his two grand-daughters, and Barbara's boyfriend Ian are transported through time and space to the planet Skaro, where a peaceful race of Thals are under threat of nuclear attack from the planet's other inhabitants: the robotic mutant Daleks.
Directed by: Gordon Flemyng
. Starring: Peter Cushing
, Roy Castle
, Jennie Linden
, Roberta Tovey
, Barrie Ingham
, Geoffrey Toone
, Michael Coles
, John Bown
, Yvonne Antrobus
, Mark Petersen
, Ken Garady
, Nicholas Head
, Mike Lennox
. Music by: Malcolm Lockyer
I have never understood the rather low esteem the die-hard Who fans give to the Amicus films. I'm a casual Yank fan of the series; I enjoy the series overall, but find individual episodes and portrayals to be very hit and miss. However, I enjoy the heck out of the movies, despite hearing bad things about them before finally encountering Dr. Who and the Daleks on a late night TV broadcast.
The films depart from the series in a few respects, mostly in the character background. The Doctor is an eccentric Earth genius who has developed the TARDIS, rather than an alien. He has two granddaughters, Barbara and Susan, where only Susan was a granddaughter in the series (though the 20th anniversary magazine had a story that suggested Susan wasn't a blood relation of the Doctor). In the series, Barbara and Ian are Susan's teachers, who stumble into the TARDIS, after following the odd little girl home. Here, Ian is Barbara's boyfriend, who is shown the TARDIS by the family. Also, the TARDIS interior is vastly different, with the film version looking like a complicated mess of wires, tubes, and equipment, compared to the cleaner and more functional lines of the series. After that, the film pretty much follows the plot of the original Dalek serial.
Our explorers are accidentally propelled into the future, and to another planet (Skaro), where they discover a devastated world, as seen in the wonderfully designed petrified forest. They encounter a strange city, where they meet the Daleks, armored apparently robotic creatures who have survived a nuclear holocaust. Later, they will meet the Daleks' foes, the Thals, humanoids who have developed a serum to cure radiation sickness and create immunity. The Doctor and his family join with the Thals to stop the Daleks and their aims of conquest and destruction.
The world is wonderfully realized, at times very reminiscent of the 60s, yet also appearing otherworldly and timeless. The exterior of the Dalek city is very evocative of this strange race, while the insides are sleek and functional, as who fit this mechanical race. The Dalek designs are slightly modified from the series, with some of the "plunger" arms replaced by gripper claws, slightly larger dome lights, and wider bases. Also, since the film is in color, we get to see varied designs for the Daleks that weren't available in the original black & white TV broadcast. The petrified forest is an amazing set, with a sandy gray texture and the appearance of a world frozen in time (rather like Pompeii or the petrified forest of Arizona). Watching the film, you feel like you are observing an alien world, not a studio set.
The actors are all terrific, with Peter Cushing making a fine Doctor. he was a bit of a departure from the gruffer William Hartnell, but fits right in with the more twinkle-eyed qualities of Patrick Troughton or Tom Baker. It's a lighter portrayal, for sure, but never campy. Jennie Linden makes for a fine Barbara, who gets to muck in with the action, though she is the closest to the standard Who companion, asking lots of questions and screaming at the appropriate moment (though not nearly as much as the television ladies did). Roy Castle adds some comic relief as the slightly bumbling but valiant Ian. Castle proves very versatile and would have made a great hero, had he continued in the sequel. Roberta Tovey is excellent as Susan, the youngest granddaughter. She essays a very mature character, one who combines the seriousness of an adult scientist with the curious nature of a young girl. Susan makes for a great heroine, as she doesn't stand around screaming or whining. She explores and she solves problems. She could have easily have been the main focus of a whole series. The Thals are able assayed by Barrie Ingham and Geoffrey Toone, in the key roles. They are given an odd appearance that does look very 60s, but doesn't scream "The 60s" at you. really, they kind of look like a proto-Glam Rock band.
The film offers plenty for everyone, with great sets, costumes, and vibrant colors contrasted with more subdued elements in the petrified forest. The is plenty of mystery to go along with the action and fantastic, presenting something for both child and adult. It has many tense moments and a rousing climax that makes good use of plot points that were introduced along the way.
I personally feel that the harsher criticisms of some fans are grounded in fact that they forget this (and the series) was designed for children. As such, many elements are kept simple; but, that helps strip away some of the excess baggage of many sci-fi dramas and lets you focus on the key story elements. The lighter tone helps offset the rather grim nature of the story (a post-holocaust world and a fight for survival), but it never descends into farce. If you enter the film with an open mind, you will find much to entertain you.
Review by grendelkhan from the Internet Movie Database.