Dr. Who (Peter Cushing) is an eccentric old man who has built a TARDIS - a contraption that travels through time and space. When Ian (Roy Castle) arrives to court his elder granddaughter Barbara (Jennie Linden) he gets to chatting with the Doc and his youngest granddaughter Susan (Roberta Tovey) and conversation turns to the invention outside in the back yard. On investigation, Ian finds that when he has a look inside it's far bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, and one thing leads to another planet as they try it out...
Starting in 1963, Doctor Who is one of the most popular science fiction series of all time, so for the first big screen version, one of many British films taking inspiration from television, producer Milton Subotsky adapted scriptwriter Terry Nation's first Dalek adventure. On the small screen the Doctor was played by William Hartnell in crusty and often unpleasant form, but for the film the reliable Peter Cushing was brought in, playing a less mysterious and more amiable interpretation of the Doctor. Ian and Barbara were originally Susan's schoolteachers, but a certain amount of paring down the concept was going on here.
The series at this point was in black and white, so the movie takes every advantage of being in colour, with the Doctor's regular enemies the Daleks themselves presented in blues, reds and golds. It's safe to say they were part of a pop culture mania at the time, therefore everything Dalek was a surefire success, so a film was the obvious next step though the BBC had nothing to do with its production. The then-current threat of nuclear annihilation informs their villainy, with the Daleks' planet ravaged by atomic war and radiation poisoning an ever-present danger, but mostly audiences wanted to see them "exterminating" people.
Their rivals, the pasty-faced, pacifistic Thals are a pretty dull lot, and the Doctor is in the position of rallying them into fighting their oppressors, but how seriously can you take a race of people who wear blue eyeshadow and false eyelashes - including the men? The fascistic Daleks are much more pleasing and true to the series, from their metallic voices to their all-round ruthlessness; despite the impracticality of their design, they are icons of British pop culture and fairly well served by their interpretation here, such a simple and vivid idea that they would be difficult to present wrong.
All-round entertainer Roy Castle took care of the heavy handed comic relief, but proves himself a valuable ally - dedication, that's what you need. Even the Doctor's granddaughters come in useful, and know-it-all Susan, as played by Tovey would return for the sequel which adapted yet another of Nation's TV scripts. As if this wasn't set in its era so perfectly before, you may watch for the Doctor reading The Eagle and the Daleks' lava lamps for imagery redolent of the sixties. I also like Castle's Dalek voice when he climbs inside one of their armoured shells; think of the amount of tap dancing he could have performed on that electrified floor - a missed opportunity, there. With the series making such a triumphant return to television in the twenty-first century this may confound those more used to its updating, and many fans have mixed feelings about these two movies, but they have a bright charm and even retain some of the morals of the source. Music by Malcolm Lockyer and Barry Gray (the famed theme was sadly not retained).
[Studio Canal's Blu-ray looks clear and colourful, with extras including featurettes on Dalekmania and the restoration of the print, and a commentary with Linden and Tovey.]