As I noted in my review of Dr. Who and the Daleks, the first of the two theatrical Doctor Who films made by Amicus back in the Sixties, I was rather surprised to find that I enjoyed it far more than I had in the past and, in fact, found it a far more interesting version of the original episode than I had remembered.
So it came as even more of a surprise that I liked this one far more than the first one.
Part of this is that Peter Cushing seems far more comfortable in the role than he had before. In the first film, one recognizes that he is trying to play William Hartnell’s Doctor, but here he seems to have made the role a little more his own. He seems less like an eccentric elderly scientist and more like an eccentric elderly scientist played by Peter Cushing — and when we’re talking about an actor who was unmatched at staring at test tubes or making a fairly static experiment seem exciting, that’s a big change!
And I have to admit that the kid in me loves the Dalek flying saucer, which comes complete with the sort of small, bump-like fins that you’d have found on an early -Fifties Caddie, and two contra-rotating disks. While people have complained you can see the wires (and I have my doubts as I missed them again this time — and on a big, projection screen!) it is a striking design, and actual working parts on a movie spaceship were still pretty rare at the time.
Once again we’re treated to the wild primary colors of the last film, although much of the film takes place on location. I’ll admit they weren’t able to match the locations used in the TV episode — in particular, one really misses the silent London sequence and crossing the deserted London Bridge. Nor is the mine location at the end anywhere near as impressive.
But this time they seem to feel a little less bound by the original and don’t hesitate to get rid of their new Barbara and Ian from the last film, or to add a new niece and a comic relief cop played by a very young Bernard Cribbins (more than forty years before he would get a regular role on the TV Who).
Okay, it’s playing to a much younger audience than most of Doctor Who; the Doctor is still an eccentric inventor from Earth; and it’s a touch more comic than the show was back then. Then there’s that intriguing moment when the Doctor actually introduces himself as “Doctor Who.”
But those are quibbles — and balanced out by a repeat of that show-stopper moment when a Dalek rises out of the Thames. This is a light-hearted family film, with a lot of fun for the kids (even the cynical ones my age!) a few thrills and lots of Daleks in bright primary colors.
Best of all, you can tell that this time Peter Cushing was enjoying himself.
And that makes all the difference.