Sure, there were creepy aliens inside those tin cans, but before Next Gen gave us the Borg, nothing better represented our fears of technology’s dehumanizing influence than the Daleks. Fortunately, Doctor Who was there to stop their ambitions for galactic domination, even when he wasn’t strictly speaking Gallifreyan. Evidently, the two mid-1960s Doctor Who movies have been somehow retconned into the extended universe, but they have always been considered canonically suspect, since their Doctor is an Earthling who actually calls himself “Dr. Who.” On the plus side, he was played by Peter Cushing and he reliably foiled the Daleks. Both Amicus Doctor Who films air tonight on TCM, but the second, Gordon Flemyng’s Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. is by far the superior film.
After saving a foreign planet from the Daleks in the first film, the Doctor touches down in Swinging Sixties London just long enough to pick up police constable Tom Campbell after he is knocked cold by a gang of armed robbers. When he comes too, the Tardis has traveled forward to the year 2150, which much to the Doctor’s distress, Earth has been temporarily been conquered by the very same Daleks.
It takes some doing, but the Doctor’s niece Louise and his granddaughter Susan convince the copper they really have traveled forward in time. Of course, the metal megalomaniacal Daleks are quite persuasive. Unfortunately, the travelers become barricaded from the Tardis during a scouting trip, forcing them to take refuge with the underground human resistance. After the Doctor and Campbell are captured and escape, the time-travelers will be forced by circumstances to split up, but all roads seem to lead to a mysterious mine, where the Daleks are implementing their evil planetary scheme.
The first Peter Cushing Doctor Who (Doctors Who and the Daleks) movie is jokier and skews much younger as a result. However, the visual impact of bombed out London in Earth 2150 is quite striking. Clearly, the look of the post-apocalyptic city was inspired by scenes of destruction wrought by the Blitz during the Battle of London, memories of which would have still been vivid for many viewers in 1966.
The narrative is also more effectively structured, breaking apart the Doctor and his companions. The paring of the protective Wyler, a crusty old resistance activist, with young Susan is especially effective. Ironically, this is something of a case of necessity being the mother of invention, since illness forced Cushing to curtail his work on Earth 2150.
For a science fiction film produced in 1966 with largely a young adult audience in mind, Earth 2150 holds up surprisingly well. The razed cityscapes look legitimately real and the groovy, retro design of the Daleks’ spacecraft is nostalgically cool. Of course, Cushing completely sells the Doctor’s crazy scientific proclamations. Plus, the funky big band score composed by Bill McGuffie (who often played with Benny Goodman) really gives the film a distinctive vibe. Doctor Who and the Daleks is just okay, but Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. is a great Dr. Who adventure and an excellent alien invasion film in its own right. Highly recommended, it airs Monday night (10/12) on TCM.