Doctor Who–Peter Cushing’s Doctor and his Dalek movies are the focus of new behind-the-scenes book

Review by C.J. Bunce

Happy Doctor Who Day!  Every November 23 fans celebrate the premiere of the series in 1963.  So who is your favorite great genre actor to play the time traveling Doctor from Doctor Who?  Is it Sylvester McCoy?  Matt Smith?  Or maybe it’s David Warner?  Maybe Peter Cushing?  What?  You didn’t know they were Doctors, too?  If you’re not familiar with the many audio books from Big Finish you may not be aware the late David Warner had a stint as the Doctor–as with John Hurt’s War Doctor, the franchise has had more than the fifteen number-designated Doctors you’ve heard of.  Unless you’re a major fan or followed Doctor Who for all of the past 59 years, you may not be aware that the late Peter Cushing played the Doctor in not just one, but two, major theatrical movies.  That’s right, the actor from horror films and Star Wars’ own foul Grand Moff Tarkin played a bit of a parallel universe take on the first Doctor in the 1960s in Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.  Writer John Walsh, known for several movie chronicles reviewed here at borg, has dug deep into the making of these films, including compiling new interviews with the remaining cast and crew, and compiling enhanced production photographs and marketing materials.  The result is Dr. Who and the Daleks: The Official Story of the Films, now available for pre-order here at Amazon from Titan Books.

The idea that a studio would release a movie based on a TV series only 18 months after the series began seems unthinkable today.  The book begins at the inception of the idea for the series–a show about a time traveler, leveraging the success of the 1960 theatrical adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.  And what could be a more prestigious source?  Unlike in the series Cushing’s Doctor goes by the name “Dr. Who” and was a human character.  So he’s generally not thought of as “canon,” or within the continuity of the TV show.  The choice to make the Doctor human was to accommodate American movie audiences who would not have been familiar with the series yet.  Strangely enough no creator has been able to get a Doctor Who theatrical feature off the ground since these two 1960s films.

Moving from TV to movies meant bigger Daleks (18 created for the movie) with color for hierarchies of leadership as well as bigger interiors for the TARDIS, which was even bigger on the inside than as seen on TV.  Walsh takes readers through all the differences.  He discusses why the censors didn’t allow the movie to show the fleshy/biological brain or other insides of the Daleks–what makes them full cyborg characters.  Although many of the props were damaged by the time the second movie was filmed, five new Daleks were sourced from a stage version of Doctor Who for use in the second film.  Fans can see them all here from vintage set photos.

Walsh was given access to the StudioCanal archives to pull together images for the book, including many never before published high-resolution photographs, documents, matte paintings by Gerald Larn, sketches, and other film elements, which were restored specifically for the book.  They all look fantastic, many in color, and many highlighting all the mannerisms of what made Cushing a brilliant Doctor.  According to Walsh, Cushing was later offered an opportunity to star in the TV series, but turned it down.

As for interviews, for those no longer living Walsh pulled together commentary from the past, including for stars Peter Cushing, writer Terry Nation, the first film’s co-star and companion Roy Castle and Barrie Ingham, who played the principal alien, as well as film crew members who have passed.  The young companion for both films was played by Roberta Tovey and her sister was played by Jennie Linden–both were interviewed for this book.  Walsh also interviewed Bernard Cribbins, who co-starred in the second movie.  Doctor Who fans know Cribbins returned later to play the grandfather of Donna Noble during the Tenth Doctor’s episodes.  Some insight behind director Gordon Flemyng is provided by his son Jason.

But audiences really went to see the Daleks, and the book has page after page of the colorful props used in both films.

One of the features that sets the first film apart from the TV series the most is the giant, elaborate TARDIS interior.  All the scenes were filmed on the legendary Shepperton Studios Stage H, the largest in Europe, which was also used for Lawrence of Arabia, and later 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Superman, Alien, and Flash Gordon.  If you’ve seen the first film, you’ll likely agree its TARDIS interior has one of the franchise’s most memorable and futuristic looks.  Some of the franchise’s largest set pieces can be found in the second film, including a giant, scale Dalek flying saucer.

For the fandom Walsh includes marketing images, photographs of toys, movie poster variations, even close-up photos of props from the movies as they look today.  One interesting photo captures The Beatles’ John Lennon getting photo-bombed by one of the film’s Daleks while doing his own publicity event at the same time as the first movie’s premiere event at London’s Selfridges store.

The movies have plenty of fans, the biggest of which may be Steve Moffat, who brought the series back to TV after a 16-year break.  His TARDIS design was based on the TARDIS design used in Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.

For Doctor Who fans who know and love the early years of the franchise, anyone new to Doctor Who, and fans of Peter Cushing, don’t miss Dr. Who and the Daleks: The Official Story of the Films, now available for pre-order here at Amazon.  It’s coming your way in a full-color hardcover edition December 20, 2022.

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