Dr. Who and the Daleks Blu-ray Review
Well, I might not be enamoured with the film, itself, but I can only praise its hi-def transfer.
Presented 2.35:1, via AVC, this is a splendid image indeed. Grain appears to be intact. Never overbearing, but certainly not scrubbed away, it remains consistent and it doesn’t degenerate into noise. Damage is pretty much absent, the odd speck during the titles and a rare hair in the gate, leading to a print that is very stable, very clean and crisp and often beautifully detailed. There is really only scene in which the image softens and loses distinction, with characters in the near right of the frame becoming blurred. But I am totally convinced that this is down to the original 2-perf Techniscope photography.
And, boy, does it revel in its widescreen evolution from the confines of television!
Sumptuously filmed by John Wilcox, Dr. Who and the Daleks spreads its adventure enticingly across a huge canvas. Interiors, such as the sitting room back on Earth, the insides of the TARDIS, the corridors and chambers of the Dalek city and the tunnels beneath it, are just as wide and invitingly composed as the more expansive exteriors. The entrance to the city, the depths of the forest and the cliff that must be climbed are all marvelously rendered in a print that is never less than admirable. Look at the way that the night-time shadows are peeled-back, iris-style to reveal our heroes making their perilous ascent. There is a sublimely iconic shot of the Black and Red Daleks coming towards us with the camera making a smooth, reverse movement that also shows us the subordinate Blues crossing the frame behind them. This is a poor film in very many ways, but not in its visual beauty. And this transfer really does this aspect of the production justice.
You would hope that a film from the swirling psychedelic 60s’ would be intoxicatingly colourful too … and, for the most part, this is precisely how Dr. Who and the Daleks looks. It is not blindingly vivid or luridly saturated, but this is a very moody and evocative aesthetic – pinks, purples, greens and blues all jostle to create the landscape and environment of an alien world. There are some terrific midnight blues that suffuse the screen, and the green gel lighting is suitably eerie. The neon pink-and-shadow robe that Alydon wears provides a startling contrast to the lightning-struck surroundings. Myriad colours punctuate the interior of the TARDIS and all of these exist tightly within the frame without hint of blurring or bleeding. The aesthetic in the corridors and cells of the Dalek citadel are skewed towards the peachy and the pink, and this causes Barbara to blend in with her surroundings a little too often. The golden bowl-heads of the Thals, along with their blue eye-shadow have never looked so gleaming and radiant. And the Daleks, themselves, are spectacularly picked-out against the already decorative background. Lava-lamps appear in the film, and their soft, warm glow seems to permeate everything around them. The film even comes to resemble the fantastic and excessive Barbarella, which would hit cinema screens three years later and embrace opulent, retina-seducing colour schemes even more.
Close-up detail is very good, right down to the spiffed-up whiskerage on Cushing and the delineation on Alydon’s daft false eye-lashes to the paint-job on the Daleks and the material on Castle’s natty, ever fashionable suit. We can see the little necklace that Susan wears, and discrn some texture in the gloopy food that the Daleks serve up. Even distant shots reveal firm and tight rendering. It may sound a little off-the-cuff, but have a gander at Jennie Linden’s pert behind as she finally makes it to the top of that cliff. Even from far away, it manages to catch the eye. Facial details are as good as they can be. The sheer amount of makeup that actors had plastered-on in those days is quite staggering, so don’t expect to see pores and blemishes, but this image still gets right in there to highlight beads of sweat.
Depth is pretty good too. Shots of the Daleks patrolling down corridors have dimensionality, and the forest set, again, offers some spellbinding visual spatiality. I was also impressed with the black levels. For a film that is predominantly well-lit there are quite a few testing scenes, and those set in the swamp and when Ian, Barbara and a couple of Thals penetrate the system of cave tunnels are beautifully enhanced by their depth and consistency. Shadows are wonderfully stretched across the forest when Susan goes walkabout. Contrast may seem slightly wishy-washy in the brightly lit and pastel-shaded Dalek environment, but it is wonderfully on-the-ball during the tunnel sequence, with the glowing torches cutting through the gloom, and the frequent scenes in the shadow-peppered woods.
There is no artificial sharpening to distract you, and no aliasing. Even the more saturated portions of the frame are free from banding. The film looks amazing, and it isn’t hard to imagine how it would have appeared had the DNR and colour boosting buttons been rammed-in by over-zealous fingers. But, as it stands, this is faithful-looking and authentically film-like presentation that preserves the integrity and the outlandish vision of the original image.
A job well done.
The loving restoration extends to the film’s sound-mix too.
A solid and detailed LPCM 2.0 audio track allows Dr. Who and the Daleks to sound fresh and dynamic. Quite a forceful and dramatic track, this comes across loud and invigorating despite its obvious limitations. The restoration has taken care of any hiss or drop-out, and dialogue, effects and the score all possess clean delivery.
With the TV show already making waves with its audacious music and sound design, celebrating the sort of futuristic aural environment and invention that was made famous by the classic Forbidden Planet, Subotsky has his film follow-suit with lots of florid details enveloped in the mix. The FX are deep and resonating, especially the swelling electro-breathing of the TARDIS, and bass levels are certainly up to the task of grounding the action, and there is an agreeable sense of depth and movement.
That favourite sound-effect of mine from the era – the clattering of shoes upon hard floors (heard so prevalently in the Connery Bonds and many a Hammer film) – is in full force during some running about in the Dalek corridors. And this contrasts quite nicely with the eerily silent gliding of the Daleks, themselves. The whirrings and clickings and humming of machinery – Dalek and TARDIS based – are never blurred or swamped. There is plenty of little detail to the cracking and shattering of brittle branches and twigs in the petrified forest. Latches and catches on doors and whatnot, and button pushing are also nice little details that the track makes a concerted effort to present with clarity. The whooshing of the Dalek gas-gun often has quite a sudden and jarring expulsion, and the little explosions that go off whenever one of the metal muppets gets flung about, or blows a circuit are reasonably lively. As are the sliding-doors!
I’ve already said my piece about Malcolm Lockyear’s score, but there’s no denying how well it is presented in this mix. That doom-laden ponderous Dalek march thuds its way out of the speakers with depth and an imposingly lethargic swagger. The piano, xylophone, harp and woodwinds are nicely mixed into the more mysterious and unusual cues.
There is no doubting that this is a great audio track. Detailed, clear and quite ambitious.
Well, if you are a fan, you should be pretty pleased with the little selection that StudioCanal have provided here.
There is a commentary track boasting the reminiscences of Roberta Tovey and Jennie Linden, helped along by Jonathon Sothcott, who has written about Peter Cushing. This is an excellent track that fondly goes behind the scenes of the production with keen memories and interesting trivia aplenty. Both girls talk about working with Cushing and Castle, offering up anecdotes and asides that add greatly to anybody’s appreciation of the film and the two stars, even going some way to dismissing the oft-quoted rumours that Cushing was struggling through illness during the shooting of the second film. There are some thoughts and insight given to the wonderful relationship between Cushing and his wife, Helen, all poignantly tinged with the heartbreak that would follow. They talk about the sets, the wardrobes, the FX, the action, the whole Whovian phenomenon and the Daleks, themselves ... and how to act alongside them. Both are eloquent and very informative, especially with regards to Peter Cushing. Jennie Linden appeared on stage with him, too. This is a great little track, folks, that only makes me wish I had more genuine love for the film in question.
The “fan”-tastic documentary Dalekmania has done the rounds before, but it makes a welcome return here. I’m not all that fussed about this particular movie, but you know what, watching this and meeting some of the stars and hearing all about the phenomenon from the inside sort of makes me feel a bit churlish. This is fine and entertaining stuff, with lots of anecdote, tons of relevant footage, great memories from those involved and from some, like Marcus Hearn (seen here with hair!) who provides a mini-chronicle of the production and the studio trends, and from people who are simply besotted with the crackpot pepper-pots.
There is an interview with Gareth Owen, who is the author of The Shepperton Story, in which he discusses the Dr. Who craze and the impact of the Daleks in their big screen breakthrough.
Plus, we have a Stills Gallery, the original Theatrical Trailer and an interesting look at the processes that went into Restoring Dr. Who and the Daleks in terms of video and audio.
All round, this is good, affectionate stuff.
It saddens me greatly that I cannot sing the praises of something I would normally champion, but this slice of sixties SF is a tawdry affair that falls far short of its own visual style by being unremittingly dull, dull, dull. For me, Peter Cushing can usually do no wrong, and the fact remains that he does all that he can with this interpretation of Doctor Who, but the screenplay is so damn wretched that even he can’t provide much polish, passion or charisma. Castle is good clownish value, but the Daleks, who should be the stars of the show, drag the pace right down to coma levels. And the Thals are absolutely ridiculous.
In a major shock to my system, I found that I struggled with this. The film was a slog to get through, and I couldn’t do it in a single sitting. Of course I adore the fact that it and its follow-up, which I massively prefer, have gained loving restorations and rewarding Blu-ray releases, but I am stunned that this one has so little entertainment value. As a kid, I loved it. Well, I think I did. And I am the most obstinately defensive about almost all vintage genre fare … but I’m afraid this film failed to stimulate in me even the merest sense of wonder, or magic.
A terrific commentary track makes me even sadder that I do not have more room in my heart for Cushing’s first stint as the doddery Doctor, and this goes hand-in-hand with the superb Dalekmania documentary that, together, head-up the small, but pleasing selection of extras.
As nostalgia, both Dr. Who and the Daleks and its sequel Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD, offer up a lot to be affectionate for. That hippy vibe, the colourful sets and flamboyant chutzpah of the underdogs uprising against tyranny, but this film, in particular, sets its sights too high and just fails to inspire anything other than excessively charitable favour. It is Saturday afternoon stuff, to be sure, but it has not aged well.
Fans will lap it up regardless, and it would be insane for me to think of not having this film in my own collection. The restoration is glorious and authentic, and the production is a ripe old slice of Great though far from great British Sci-Fi.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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