Monday, February 8, 2010

Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (Flemyng 1966)

Finally, we reach the end of the Doctor Who film reviews, with the sequel to Dr. Who and the Daleks (Flemyng 1995), Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (for the sake of readability, from now on I am just going to write 2150 A.D. when it comes to the title). Again adapting a Terry Nation script from the series as the basis for the film, the Dalek story “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” the story of both the film and television versions follow the crew of the TARDIS as they land in London of the 22nd century, only to find the Daleks have invaded and now occupy Earth, transforming various citizen’s into Robomen, squads of mind controlled humans who police the streets of London,rounding up humans to work in mines. The reason for the Daleks digging to the core of Earth is unknown, but the TARDIS crew find themselves caught up in events and fighting alongside the resistance in a desperate hope to solve the mystery of the Daleks plan and save Earth.

The original television version of the story is an excellent and significant serial in the history of show, if perhaps undermined by some poor science. Whereas the first Dalek story was a moral and ethical drama, the second story addresses the issues surrounding being a country occupied by a military force, and how it corrupts human values. Furthermore, the story is a character driven piece, addressing issues of identity and how we define who we are. The Doctor (William Hartnell) is very much an individual who defines himself as being the outsider: no true home save the TARDIS, living outside the bounds of time and space and in the early days refusing to name just where he was from, the Doctor revelled in the freedom his lifestyle provided. In stark contrast to him is his granddaughter Susan, who from the beginning of the series has been looking for a place to belong. “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” is really her story, as she finds a home and place among the human’s of the 22nd century, resulting in the first ever companion leaving the series in a touching and iconic scene, as the Doctor says goodbye to his only existing blood relative (that we know of) in his own peculiar, yet perfect, fashion.

Once again, all of this wonderful character and thematic material is gutted from the film adaptation, with 2150 A.D. being nowhere near the equal of its television original, just like Dr. Who and the Daleks. The darker elements of the story are toned down and the characters are reduced to stock adventure types. However, unlike its predecessor, 2150 A.D. manages to function well enough given the simpler goals it sets out to achieve. While Dr. Who and the Daleks’ narrative suffered from the simplification of the moral complexities upon which the original story hinged, 2150 A.D. manages to function well enough as an adventure yarn to be entertaining, if totally hollow and ultimately forgettable.

While hardly the grim yet hopeful narrative of the television original, 2150 A.D. noticeably takes itself more seriously than Dr. Who and the Daleks, cutting back on the forced slapstick and camp humour that was totally out of place in the last film. While some out of place humour crops up from time to time here, it is more tolerable this time thanks to the presence of actor Bernard Cribbins as the character Tom Campbell, a police officer who accidentally ended up in the TARDIS on its journey into the future. Campbell is a replacement for the character of Ian, apparently written out of the film due to the unavailability of actor Roy Castle. This is an absolute blessing, as Castle’s performance as Ian was the case of an actor simply trying too hard to make the material work, playing the character as a walking cartoon. Cribbins’ Tom by contrast is a competent man in a situation he didn’t ask to be in, and the moments of comedy involving Tom are more natural as he tries to work out the situation he has found himself in. Cribbins’ is good enough that a painful scene involving Tom trying to behave like a Roboman almost works. Oh, and for the record, I am not praising Cribbins’ acting in the film only in light of his wonderful work on the modern Doctor Who series as the character Wilf.

The returning actors also seem to be making a stronger effort here, with Peter Cushing being noticeably more energetic and lively compared to the last outing, though the weaknesses of that performance may have been the result of the script’s failings to make the warm and cuddly Doctor Cushing played make the darker decisions that Hartnell’s initially anti-heroic Doctor did in the original episodes. Once again promoted to the forefront of all the action, Cushing makes his Dr. Who quirky and fascinating enough to engage the viewers through the entire running time.

The biggest step up however is on the part of director Gordon Flemyng, who seems far more at ease with the large scale set pieces in this film than he was dealing with the various conversation scenes in the last film. While he still has no understanding of subtly, Flemyng does manage to keep the pace moving this time out, packing in enough modestly budgeted spectacle to temporarily overcome the failings of the rest of the film.

Still, when it is all said and done, 2150 A.D. is really nothing to go out of your way to see. Along with the major flaws noted earlier, the film is internally inconsistent with regards to the Daleks, who apparently can take direct explosions from high powered bombs, but will be destroyed when smashed gently by a small truck or thrown off a ramp. Furthermore, the major flaw of the television version returns to plague the film adaptation as well: the Daleks’ plan makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. At least the television version bothers to make its character drama interesting enough so that the reveal of the plan doesn’t result in laughter on the part of the viewer during the final few episodes. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the film.

Thus, we arrive at the end of the series of Doctor Who film reviews begun in December. The final verdict on all three films is the same: each is a well meaning attempt to expand the audience and awareness of the Doctor character, but each ultimately fails for a variety of reasons. As such, I highly recommend letting the show do the talking for itself, be it the classic series or the current revival. Trust me when I say it is well worth the investment of time and effort to watch.

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