"Obey motorised dustbins? We'll see about that!"
Gordon Flemying's 1966 follow-up to Dr. Who and the Daleks was an altogether more dynamic and action-packed adventure. The first film, released only the year before, had taken us to the pepperpots' eerie home-world of Skaro, and the knobbly dictators had enjoyed the luxury of widescreen Technicolor, bestowing them a wondrous new aura of neon-emblazoned malevolence, but the whimsical screenplay had left them making little more than silly threats and waltzing through their city-base like a troupe of obese ballerinas. As fantastical a Spartacus/Time Machine revamp as it all was, what with the peacenik bowl-headed Thals on the outside finally being shown how to rebel and overpower their oppressors by Peter Cushing's doddery old rabble-rousing Doctor, it was slight, and hampered by lethargic stretches of droning Dalek discourse. The action, when it came, was fun but possibly all a case of too little, too late. The allure of dreamy visuals was all-too prophetic as it turned out - for as pretty as it was to look at, the film was so boring that it could easily induce slumber.
The resulting production was a huge success with its intended market, as it should be, but it was critically drubbed. Now was the opportunity for Flemying to bring back the Terry Nation’s cult aggressors and really go to town with them in their fullest capacity. WAR!
Set on Earth this time, in the year 2150, the story has the eccentric grandfather-cum-time-traveller and his companions arriving during the last legs of a Dalek invasion. Isolated resistance fighters eke out a guerilla war from the blighted remnants of the Underground – how’s that for a literal metaphor, eh? – and almost immediately the Doctor is embroiled in the task of not only getting his granddaughter back home safely in time for tea, but to work out what the Daleks are drilling to the center of the Earth for, lead humanity to salvation and drive the metal mutant horde back into space.
He really should just stick to listening to The Archers on the wireless.
Peter Cushing returns to dodder once more, rejoined by Roberta Tovey, whom he insisted reprise her role as his courageous young granddaughter Susan as a condition for his accepting the part again. But this time around, Jill Curzon takes on the role of the Doc’s niece Louise, replacing Jennie Linden’s Barbara, and the audience-conduit/action man who unwittingly stumbles along is none other than Bernard Cribbins, as a koshed-copper who manages to crawl, unannounced into the TARDIS just before it whisks them all off into a London almost two hundred years later.
Asides from an intergalactic invasion force, Britain hasn’t changed all that much. We still dress as we did in the sixties, we still have too much hair. Our weapons, even given that the survivors of the maelstrom are digging-about in the rubble, are WWII holdovers, and we’re still driving around in klutzy little transit vans.
Although England has never been occupied by a foreign invader, and her population subjugated, the theme has always been a popular one in novels and drama. Alternate histories have revealed how we would have fared had the Nazis won the War, and how we would have fought back. H G Wells postulated our near-annihilation at the heat-rays of the Martians. Even the likes of Colditz establishes the “us” and “them” attitude of getting one over on the masters, scrabbling about “underground” and waging guerilla warfare. The fear that we, as a nation, had during the threat from Hitler, is indelible, and it is written large across the screen in Invasion Earth. That Colditz impression, or even The Great Escape, for that matter, is reinforced with a final act that takes place in wooden huts and plank-lined tunnels. Of course this is a blood ‘n’ thunder romp of gritty Sci-Fi, but the stop at nothing, never give in principle isn’t simply character motivation for the sake of convenience. The image of a blasted London is a provocative one, and something that many people who saw the film had actually lived through. The memories of air raids and destruction was still raw in the minds and hearts of audiences. The sixties vogue for jumpsuits, jazzy music and wacky gadgets could not be buried and, indeed, the film positively laps up the campery of the times. But the overriding impulses of Flemying’s movie are ones of fury, defiance and retribution.
The theme of London being sacked is nowhere near as popular as that of New York getting brought to its knees, although it has had its fair share of calamity, both natural (Flood) and man-made (Survivors) and, more interestingly, fantastical (Gorgo, Konga, um … The Goodies), and it is in recent years that a blighted capital has become more commonplace with Lifeforce (so soon to Blu that I can almost taste it!), 28 Days and Weeks Later, Shaun of the Dead and, oh go on then, Cockneys vs Zombies. The strange thing is how little the world has changed in the intervening centuries. And this is where the plot completely falls down. We learn nothing about how or when the Daleks actually invaded, and how long they have held England in a stranglehold. There is expositional talk about meteor bombardments and whole continents being leveled but we, like the Doctor and his chums, are pretty much dumped right in the thick of it.
Although you won’t find anyone who dislikes Roy Castle, even with his perpetual prat-falling in the first film, people are apt to remember to Invasion Earth with a groaning, “Ugh, that’s the one with Bernard Cribbins, isn’t it?” Whilst it is true that the former Carry On star and ex-Womble is hardly someone who conjures up images of heroic rebellion, and instincts would be justified in the belief that he would only be along for the ride as comedy stooge, the Cribbster does a great job as the London Bobby caught in the wrong place at very definitely the wrong “time”. Just as visually active as Castle was – who did his best to provide physical entertainment in the frame during lengthy spells of narrative lethargy – Cribbins’ Constable Tom Campbell is forever on the move, and not in a clownish way. Castle’s Ian was composed of nervous energy, but Tom is firmly revealed to be a man of action right from the start when he gives chase to some audacious jewel thieves in the elaborate pre-titles sequence, legging it after the gang who have driven off, and hurling his truncheon at them like T.J. Hooker!
In fact, this opening sequence is quite storming. Out pounding the beat during a quiet night, Special Constable Campbell tries to intervene when this motley crew of ne’er-do-wells target a jewelry shop on the high street, which they even contrive to blow up during their getaway, leaving wreckage and debris all over the street. What I like about this is that once he and his newfound friends from that weird police box open the door to the future London shortly afterwards, it looks as though the gang has just committed biggest, most explosive smash ‘n’ grab ever committed on his patch.
What sticks in peoples’ minds, though, is the infamous routine in which Tom passes himself off as one of the zombified Robo-men and goes through a seemingly endless drill of march, sit down, stand-up, sit down, stand-up, march again that, although marvelously choreographed, and the sort of thing that Groucho Marx and The Two Ronnies excelled at, sort of flies-in-the-face of the rather grim tone of capture, slavery and death that predominates. It is almost as though Flemying has suddenly remembered that the film is supposed to be aimed at kids – the demographic who made up the enthusiastic and forgiving audience that saved the previous effort from ignominy – and just pitched this physical sight-gag variation of “Who’s on first base?” to alleviate the tension of the executions and the hair’s breadth escapes. (WHO’s on first base … geddit?)Now, of course, the sequence is apt to get on the nerves … but then you could always view it as a genuine lambasting of the overzealous brainwashed trickery of indoctrination and radicalization of vulnerable minds, or a gag-reflex at the subservience of all forms of “discipline”, to wit even our squaddies on parade. You could. But the set-piece is apt to remain just as infuriating even if you do. And let’s not get started on the shtick surrounding the automatic food dispenser aboard the Dalek ship when Tom and Louise are trying to escape via the disposal chute!
But Cribbo is great, blending surprise and gumption into a likeably lucky champion. He would, of course, return to the Whovian fold with appearances in Russell T. Davies’ reboot/regeneration.
Forget Harry Andrews. And forget Tony Hancock. Andrew Kier is the most cantankerous, curmudgeonly and grumbling of actors that Britain has ever produced. His gruff and taciturn approach, that bark of a brogue stuffed to the gills with granite, is so perpetually agitated and his bear-like demeanour so constantly burdened with rage that he poses considerable menace even amongst the other good guys. As the bully-boy tough nut, Wyler, he brings matter-of-fact anger and pragmatic resourcefulness to the underground crew of partisans. He had assumed the role of a surrogate Van Helsing (made famous by Cushing, of course) in Dracula Prince of Darkness, as the valiant warrior-monk, Father Sandor (pronounced Shan-dor, curiously), and he go on to portray one of the most dazzling and dynamic interpretations of Professor Bernard Quatermass in Hammer’s awesome third entry in the series, Quartermass and the Pit.
There is also solid support from a young Ray Brooks as cockney rebel, David, the most unlikely of warriors from the future. And check out the grimly determined Dortmun (Godfrey Quigley), the wheelchair-bound commander of the Resistance. I can’t be certain, but I reckon he’s hiding underneath Robbie Coltrane’s Cracker hairdo!
But what of the good Doctor, himself?
Much has been said about Peter Cushing not being well during the shoot, and this is one of the reasons why his screen-time is considerably less than you’d expect from the titular character. Well, whilst this makes perfect sense, I also feel that this type of story is deliberately larger scale and, as such, dependent upon multiple characters, viewpoints and scenarios. The story is much broader in terms of locations and action, and far more epic. The Doctor can’t be everywhere at once, and it is worth remembering that a great deal of fantasy fiction on TV and at the flicks during this period was devised for an ensemble cast. Star Trek, Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and, of course, the teamwork ethos of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds and UFO were all the rage on the small screen. Whilst, theatrically, there were endless war movies and Westerns that split the action up between the cast. And Dr. Who, or Doctor Who as this interpretation still sees it, has always been about a group, or a couple, surmounting peril and frequently having to go their separate ways in order that the joint mission comes to fruition. However, the two films that Flemying and Cushing made increasingly delegate tasks to the Doctor’s companions.
This said, Cushing is quite assertive this time around. Far more so than previously. His confidence is greater in the face of danger, and his wits and cunning are certainly way more switched-on than you’d expect from an eccentric egghead. And I personally cannot see any hint of him not firing on all cylinders. I much prefer his performance here than in the earlier adventure.
Cushing imbues his time-traveller with more humanity than William Hartnell ever attempted, but this is totally down to the fact this version of him is human. I find it tantalising to wonder how he would have fared had the Doctor been a Gallifrayan in the films. True, Hartnell had that wonderful air of cosmic oddness, but I’m sure that Cushing would have been able to tap some alien vein – the over-eager scientific drive of Baron Frankenstein mingled with the off-the-cuff impulsiveness of his Sherlock Holmes, perhaps? I love his “knowing” facial expression when he and Tom first set eyes on the Dalek mothership. “It’s a flying saucer!” blurts and incredulous Tom. To which the Doctor replies, with something of a lip-chewing eureka realization, “Yes … that’s a very apt description.” Caught by a guard Dalek after escaping from captivity with the inspired use of a plastic comb, he glibly retorts, “Back in the cell?” It is also fun to see him trying to run like an old man – he looks like an extra from Planet of the Apes! Blue scarf in place and mischievous glint in his eyes, Cushing actually seems much more comfortable in the role to me despite his apparent discomfort … and it is something of a shame that he didn’t get to play the Doctor again.
But then the film did disastrously at the box office – thanks in no part to a lousy distribution and marketing deal in the States – and the mooted third part of the Doctor’s big screen time travels never came to pass.
Eddie Powell has risked life and every limb for the sake of making a stunt look cool on camera for decades. Here, he even gets the chance to play a character as opposed to just doubling for one of the stars. True, his character, Thompson, does not last long, but he certainly makes an impact early on, when we see the Daleks rounding-up humans and leading them onto their mothership. With some good old fashioned pluck, Powell’s resiliant POW makes a break for it, sprinting past the Daleks and the Robo-men and scurrying up a hill of rubble to make his escape through the bombed-out remains of a row of shops. A sonic blast soon puts paid to his flight and sends him crashing through an awning and down onto the unyielding bricks below (clearly a mixture of real ones and polystyrene ones), whereupon he is executed by three Daleks in full view of everyone else, including the Doctor and Tom in a decidedly chilling scene. As Powell recalls, a timing error up on the exposed rafters leads to his descent being not quite as calculated and positioned as it should have been, the resulting plunge damaging his ankle quite badly. We can clearly see how he swivels his injured foot so as not to place any pressure on it as he slides down towards his death scene. Far from ruining the shot, this adds a genuine jolt to what is already a surprisingly shocking moment. Plus, the sight of three Daleks converging upon the stricken man is a truly unnerving one.
As this sequence makes clear, there is something of an edge to the film. The sight of grizzled dockers in donkey jackets tooling-up with Sten-guns and grenades goes along with this, providing a grass-roots level of immediacy to the counter-invasion, the resistance’s desperate hit-and-run tactics something that would become the bloody bread ‘n’ butter in the pages of 2000 AD’s terrific hard-line what if scenario, Invasion, in which knuckle-dusted Brits fought back against thinly disguised Russian occupying army, the Volgs. Obviously, the whole endeavour is capitalising upon the stalwart stiff-upper-lipped stance of Brits during the Blitz – which is certainly worth endorsing – and you just have to love moments of cavalier rebellion such as Eddie Powell’s aforementioned shock tactics, and the eye-popping bit when someone who was probably a backstreet thug before the Daleks arrived makes a screaming kamikaze leap onto the Robo-men. Where did that come from? It would be hysterical if it wasn’t so intimidating, and you weren’t so jingoistically rooting for him.
I love the way that nobody actually thinks about reconverting the Robo-men either. They batter them whenever they get the chance. Bloody traitors and turncoats, the lot of them, eh! Stamp ’em flat! You compare this ethic to many other fantastical entries that depict originally good folks assimilated and corrupted by an evil force. Even as lately as The Amazing Spider-Man, in which the Lizard mutates some of New York’s finest into similarly reptilian monstrosities, the screenplay sees to it that they do not, in fact, hurt anyone, and they even revert back to normal once Spidey has saved the day. Understandable, I know … but still something of a cop-out. Flemying doesn’t care, though. These people may have been human before, but once they get Robo-ised and they don the dizzy helmet and bin-bag combo of a Dalek lackey, that’s it. No mercy. No repatriation. No re-integration. Take ’em out. Ha – it’s great stuff, and it definitely reflects the attitudes of the Second World War in regard to enemy sympathisers, spies and moles … of which there are few kinds in the story, from mercenaries to collaborators. This provides a distinctly mature progression from the horribly simplistic first film. Mankind may be defiant in the face of an alien invader, but it will also do whatever it can to survive – including turning on its own kind. Quite a bleak, cynical, though realistic stance, especially coming after the juvenile flamboyance of Dr. Who and the Daleks.
The film needs these opportunist conspirators and henchmen, however. Divide and conquer may the impetus for the Daleks getting their enemies to do their dirty work for them, but having ranks of faceless goons to punch and pummel allows for the sort of visceral physicality that you can’t really get with a cumbersome foe on hidden wheels.
Whereas, the good guys acted as galaxy police in the first film – entering a world they knew nothing about and immediately taking sides and helping to affect a devastating coup – they at least are fighting for all the right reasons this time out. Though, of course, the Daleks probably reckon they are entitled to a bit of payback after losing to the Thals last time around, courtesy of old Grandfather Time (lord), they have overstepped the mark by bombing our chippies!
The full-throttle depiction of a war-torn and ravaged future in which pockets of human resistance are systematically mopped-up by a techno-enforced enemy of cybernetic aggressors, you say? Hmmm … how does that grab you, Mr. James Cameron? Sounds like a fun basis for a film. Well, we all know that the self-proclaimed “King of the World” took his inspiration from (ie – nicked) his Skynet saga from Harlan Ellison but, visually, there is a lot going on here that could so easily have influenced how Kyle Reese’s post-apocalyptic skirmishing looked. Let’s be honest, the flying baked-bean tins that strafe the skull-covered ground don’t look all that much better than the big gobstopper that the Daleks survey England from, do they?
Another “potential” influence upon classic SF/Action is heralded with our first sighting of just who is responsible for laying waste to a once heaving metropolis. As the Doctor and Tom survey the large-scale damage to London from the banks of the Thames, something comes towards them through the river, its head forming a bizarre cone at the spear-tip of a menacing, churning V-trail in the brackish water. Although this terrific introduction reveals a patently rust-proof, marine-Dalek, the image is very similar indeed to the first reveal of the Predator as it swims up behind a mud-caked and battered Arnie in John McTiernan’s iconic chest-beater of the same name. In fact, now I come to think about it, that lozenge-shaped mothership that the blink-heads fly around in also looks a little bit like the ship the Predator is dropped off by at the start of Arnie’s film. Go on, you go and have a look. It even moves with the same smoothly fluid motion. Flemyng’s film has far-reaching tendrils indeed.
You forgot to tell ’em about the honey, mummy!
Oh no she didn’t! There’s Sugar Puffs plastered all over every wall in Amicus’ infamous thank you to their cereal sponsor.
Even though there are plenty of naff bits, such as Louise’s utterly indifferent reaction to the sound of gunfire just after they arrive in an apparently deserted London, the miraculous appearance of a crowbar in Tom’s hand a second after he mentions that they should look for one, and some quite disorientating camerawork moving with the Daleks around their control centre, marvellous touches abound. The mass escape from the saucer, all knives in stomachs and knees to the mush; the Doctor and David searching for a clue left behind in so obvious a place that they never see it; Wyler and Susan running the gauntlet of Daleks and ploughing into them with the van – love the way he smashes a brick through the spider-webbed windscreen and it leaves a perfectly rectangular viewing-hole! And what about the awesome explosive comeuppance meted-out to Philip Madoc’s shifty snake-in-the-grass!
Bill McGuffie composed the jazzy, breakneck score, but the copious electronic flourishes that create such a wonderfully alien soundscape in the Dalek saucer, came courtesy of Barry Gray, who would also compose for Gerry Anderson’s Joe 90, Stingray, Thunderbirds and the first series of Space 1999. Interestingly, McGuffie elects to have a prepared piano thunder over the opening and closing “modern day” sections that bookend the film, lending them a surprising gravity.
Although saddled with some inept and unwanted comedy, Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD is great entertainment that hits the rubble running (just like poor Eddie Powell), and offers plenty of action, some surprising violence (this is a U certificate, when all said and done), a way out and wacky masterplan from the bogeymen, and a terrific depiction of England under occupation. It is true that Cushing is only part of an ensemble cast, as opposed to being the main player, but he still gives it all he’s got, and lets that famous pointy-finger do some of the most crucial talking. Cribbins was never going to be an action-hero or a leading man, but he acquits himself well as Earth’s unlikeliest savior. Despite being a flop that sealed the fate of the Doc’s big screen adventures, the film effortlessly trounces the previous outing and provides acres of nostalgic fun, whilst still making a few astute observations about some very human foibles. Plus, it introduced what would become a veritable staple ingredient later on in the TV series - the quarry pit/mine location!
As far as I am concerned, this one does it all right ... and I can heartily recommend it.
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