Monthly Archives: May 2013

Daleks’ Invasion Edinburgh: 2013 AD

Daleks Invasion of Earth

Having been a Doctor Who fan for many years, it seems something has now seeped into my DNA, a “fan gene” as it were, which means I have to go and see anything Who related when it’s nearby. Whether that’s a Doctor Who Roadshow, Doctor Who Live or screenings of TV episodes in Edinburgh and Glasgow, I’m usually there.

In the last few weeks that’s meant taking myself along to two screenings of the 1960s Doctor Who (sorry, Dr. Who?) films at Filmhouse, with the second screened this weekend to an appreciative audience.

William Hartnell was still the Doctor in blurry black and white on BBC One in 1965, but it was decided that a bigger name was required for the transition to cinema screens. Peter Cushing, already a household name from his work in the Hammer horrors, was drafted in as scientist Dr. Who, along with granddaughters Susan (Roberta Tovey) and Barbara Who (Jennie Linden).

No longer a crotchety alien, this version of the Doctor is an old buffer who has built Tardis (it’s not the Tardis anymore) in his back garden and has little grasp of the complexities of space and time travel. When Barbara’s new boyfriend, Ian (Roy Castle) pops round to visit, he’s soon whisked off to the planet Skaro so that Dr. Who can have a wander.

What must have appealed to fans at the time was a chance to see the Daleks in colour, their evil schemes played out upon a more visually exciting canvas than a BBC budget could ever hope for. This reworking of the very first Dalek TV adventure from 1963 retains many of its plot points and as such isn’t a particularly rewarding watch.

That’s not to say director Gordon Flemyng fails, it just might have been better if writer Milton Subotsky had made the rather dull Thals, whom Dr. Who spends quite a bit of time helping, more, well, cinematic.

Things righted themselves somewhat for 1966’s sequel, Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 AD, based on the 1964 TV serial, The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Immediately there’s a feeling that everyone involved has more confidence in what they’re doing and that they simply want to give the audience a bit of a romp.

Sadly, Dr. Who hasn’t learned from his antics of the first film and he’s once again happy to send his time machine into the unknown, this time with Susan, niece Louise (Jill Curzon) and hapless policeman, Tom Cameron (Bernard Cribbins) aboard.

Tardis lands in, you’ve guessed it, 2150 AD, where the time team soon find themselves caught up in (you’ve guessed it) a Dalek invasion. In typical Doctor Who fashion, the Tardis crew are split up, captured and rescued multiple times, all the while trying to get themselves to the most important place on Earth, a mine in Bedford.

Daleks’ Invasion holds up well almost 50 years down the line. Bernard Cribbins’ Tom is an improvement on the first film’s Ian character; Andrew Keir makes a strong impression as Wyler, though a bit of back story might have been nice; some welcome moral ambiguity is introduced in the shape of Philip Madoc’s Brockley and Sheila Steafel’s spinster; and the whole thing looks like a few quid has been spent on it, with dozens of Daleks and a shiny new spaceship interior on show.

Gordon Flemyng adds some lovely flourishes to the picture, particularly in the scene where the Doctor is imprisoned and the camera circles him within a confined space. There’s also a longer sequence in the Dalek control room where Flemyng takes the camera behind various girders and handrails, lifting what would otherwise be a fairly bog standard scene into something more interesting.

It’s actually Cushing who comes out worst here. He does the job fine but is rarely the focus of the script, with so many characters vying for attention around him. I’m still not sure how I actually feel towards his Doctor, whether his casual attitude to time travel and the safety of his companions is something to be celebrated. OK, so he’s willing to do what he can to save them once they’re in trouble, but if he’d just settled down to a quiet retirement back in 1960s Earth they would have been fine.

Overall, it was a treat to see both films at the cinema in newly restored DCPs, meaning I probably won’t be buying the new Blu-ray sets that are out in the next few weeks. These aren’t films I can watch regularly, but perhaps in another 10 years there’ll be a chance to see them at the pictures again and I’ll be there.

Maybe I’ll feel differently towards Dr. Who and his ways by then.

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Going Mad for 3D

The Mad Magician

I’ve never been a fan of 3D. It doesn’t do anything for me, no matter how much Martin Scorsese claims Hugo is better in the format or James Cameron trumpets advances in the technology for Avatar and its sequels.

The fact that I found Avatar about as exciting as being poked in the eye with one of those vines in Cameron’s CGI rainforests probably didn’t help. If the story isn’t up to much then having to effectively wear sunglasses to dull the image isn’t going to impress me.

All that changed in March (yes, it’s taken me a while to get around to this post) when I sat down to enjoy a 3D spectacular from 1954 at my local indie cinema, Edinburgh’s Filmhouse. It was a film which had the audience laughing at the ridiculousness of the plot and the perfectly pitched performance of its leading man.

The Mad Magician stars Vincent Price as Gallico the Great, the inventor of elaborate stage tricks for magicians who decides he wants to become a performer himself. Gallico is about to debut his new buzz saw act when he’s forced to stop by Ross Ormond (Donald Randolph), who Gallico has an unfortunate agreement with regarding ownership of his tricks.

Gallico isn’t too fond of Ormond for other reasons, mainly that he stole his wife from him, so this latest slight tips him over the edge and our “hero” ends up using the saw on Ormond.

From here, Gallico is forced to cover his tracks in various gruesome ways as he attempts to forge a stage career for himself.

The plot may be pretty thin but Crane Wilbur’s witty script is brought to life by Price, who once again manages to walk the fine line between sanity and lunacy where many of his characters seem to dwell. Admittedly most of those characters end up in the latter camp, but it’s always a joy watching Price teeter on the brink.

This newly restored version of the film looked sharp in black and white, with the 3D reduced to some gimmicky moments of water being sprayed at the audience, a saw spinning towards the screen and other “terrifying” moments which caused more laughter than scares.

Still, it’s the best use of 3D I’ve seen in a long time – 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon is perhaps the only time I’ve really found the 3D actually effective – and I’d happily sit and watch classic movies like this with specs on. It also helps that it’s in black and white, meaning the dull nature of 3D is offset somewhat.

I see there’s now a restored version of Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954) returning to cinemas in 3D. I’ll be looking out for this at Filmhouse.

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