Are current Doctor Who fans aware of how lucky they are? The show is gearing up for its 60th birthday next year under the returning stewardship of Russell T Davies, the perfect diamond geezer for such a significant anniversary. It seems like there is an exciting new announcement almost every day, from the confirmation of the charismatic Ncuti Gatwa as the 14th Doctor to the unexpected return of beloved Who alumni like David Tennant, Catherine Tate and more.
It is all a far cry from the 1990s when the BBC’s quaintly DIY sci-fi franchise was in the doldrums. If you did not have ready access to VHS or DVDs – let alone BBC iPlayer – you took your Who fix wherever you could get it.
Channel-hopping on a rainy afternoon you might sometimes stumble across Peter Cushing in film spin-offs Dr Who and the Daleks (1965) or Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD (1966). But in the best tradition of Who stories that explore seemingly utopian societies with a hidden secret, something about the movies always felt just a little off.
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Perhaps it was because Cushing’s Who was an absent-minded human inventor rather than an alien Time Lord with two hearts. While his Tardis may have been the familiar police box the rickety interior looked like it had been knocked up in the Blue Peter studio.
The off-brand ‘Dr Who’ title and notable absence of the classic theme from Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire also fed into the lingering suspicion that these movies stood apart from the larger saga. When later Doctor Who celebrated its impressive relay-race of lead actors in specials like The Five Doctors, poor Cushing never seemed to get a look-in.
Returning to these films in 2022 – with a family-friendly cinema double-bill looming and both movies also getting a full 4K bells-and-whistles Blu-ray release – it is easier to appreciate their achievements. When they were first released, there had only ever been one Doctor in black and white on cramped home TV screens. To go from blurry monochrome images of William Hartnell in late 1963 to blazing Technicolor and lavish sets on a giant cinema screen in 1965 must have been a mind-blowing thrill.