Cat On The Wall is celebrating 50 years of Doctor Who! We’ve asked fans of the series to contribute articles and stories about the extraordinary television show that has captivated audiences for generations. We’ll be posting these fan contributions regularly until the 50th Anniversary TV special in November. If you have an idea for an article or story you’d like to submit about Doctor Who please do get in touch.
The Forgotten Doctor – Article by Mark Potter.
As Doctor Who approaches its fiftieth anniversary in November it has never been more popular or well known to the public. Lavishly produced and able to attract huge stars and top writing talent the show that started out as a children’s science fiction adventure series at Saturday tea time has become a national institution.
On television the Doctor is currently portrayed by the brilliant Matt Smith and the majority of Joe Public will be able to you that he is the eleventh actor to play the part. However if you asked a lot of viewers who played the Doctor in two feature films in the 1960’s you will easily sort the casual fan from the more hard core aficionado. However before we get to talking about the two movies we need context and we look to another icon birthed by the series.
In the 1960’s the Daleks the most famous (or perhaps infamous) of the Doctor’s enemies were introduced in the second serial and a legend was born. Dalekmania spread through Britain like wildfire. Fans could buy merchandise of every conceivable kind, John Lennon was snapped posing with one and Blue Peter even featured a segment on making Dalek shaped cakes!
American movie producer Milton Subotsky had moved to England in 1960 and was keen on producing family friendly films, perhaps sensing a wider audience if parents could take their kids along. He struck a deal with Dalek creator Terry Nation and the BBC to produce a big screen version of Doctor Who which would be a remake of the first television serial that the Daleks had appeared in.
Now it would seem only sensible for the stars of the series to reprise their roles but they were unavailable due to the hectic schedule of shooting the show. Subotsky was also keen to cast people that would allow him to attract audiences in countries where the series was not particularly well known (at the time it was shown only in Britain and Australia) and with Hammer Horror movies at the height of their popularity he signed up Peter Cushing to play the title role. To appeal to the teens the part of the Doctor’s companion Ian was played by Roy Castle. Castle was a hugely popular figure at the time having released a number of albums and singles and having his own series on television. The film was to give the Doctor two granddaughters (he had only one on television); Barbara played by Jennie Linden would also act as Ian’s love interest and the younger Susan who would be played by Roberta Tovey. This was to be the young actresses’ first film and in a 1995 documentary she revealed she was personally selected by director Gordon Flemying from thousands of youngsters.
Cushing while having appeared in many films that were designed to scare their audiences was known in the industry as a quiet and incredibly polite man, he was affectionately nicknamed “The Gentleman of Horror” and in his portrayal of the Doctor he bought a kindness and warmth that set him apart from William Hartnell’s more crotchety performance on television. In an interview Cushing noted “I decided my Doctor had to be a bit less eccentric and crabby, and a bit more lively and amusing.” A stand out moment near the opening has the camera panning across a room where the two granddaughters are reading scientific textbooks and when we reach the Doctor he is reading The Eagle comic! “Most exciting.” He exclaims and from there we can‘t help but love him.
Perhaps also informing his performance was the decision to change the Doctor (and Susan) from being an alien from another world into an inventor who had built the TARDIS with Susan’s help, his granddaughter retaining the child genius aspect of her characters television counterpart.
Looking back at the marketing of the films it is easy to see why Peter Cushing is not as well remembered by the public for playing the Doctor as the televisual actors are. The posters and trailers all trumpet the fact that the movie features the Daleks and that this is their first appearance on the big screen and in colour. Still the marketing department obviously knew what they were doing as the film which was released in 1965 was a huge success becoming one of the top ten grossing films in Britain that year and raised the profile of all involved. Roberta Tovey did an in-store appearance a short while after the film opened which was attended by thousands. In amongst all the hype and boasting of colour it can be easy to overlook the actors but they all play their parts well and Cushing is delightful as a more kindly version of the Doctor his scenes with Roberta Tovey are particularly memorable for a real warmth between the two.
Now film companies and producers know when they are onto a good thing and with Dalekmania showing no signs of slowing down a sequel was immediately called for. This time it was to be a remake of the villains second television appearance, the film was to be released as Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. Peter Cushing stated to the producers that he would only return as the Doctor if Roberta Tovey was also going to appear again.
With the dropping of Doctor Who from the title it could be seen that the character was being even further marginalised so the film company could sell the movie based on his enemies. In fact finance plays a curious part in the movie as this was one of the earliest examples of product placement. Watch as the time travellers emerge from the TARDIS into a futuristic war torn London for the first time and behind them you will see a huge sign advertising the breakfast cereal Sugar Puffs! The logo crops up several times throughout the film.
The second movie is also notable for the casting of Bernard Cribbins as a policeman named Tom who is accidentally caught up in the time travelling adventures. Cribbins would go on to play the role of Wilfred Mott in the television series from 2007 to 2010 making him one of only two actors (the other being cult TV favourite Philip Madoc) to have appeared in both the movies and series.
With a larger budget the second movie is certainly a more lavish production with lots of exteriors shots and some very good special effects. However the public did not seem to respond as well to the second movie and it was not particularly successful. This led to plans for a third movie, based around the serial The Chase, to be scrapped. Cushing would reveal that he had fond memories of his work on the two movies. “I did enjoy playing the role because it was a change from all the horror pictures, and made me popular with children, which I was very pleased about. I still believe that Doctor Who as a heroic figure is one of the best parts any actor could play.”
Looking at them now we can see the films have left a strong though perhaps less obvious influence on the television series. Some of the movie Daleks would go on to be used on television while as stated previously Bernard Cribbins would appear several times and would get a rematch against the creatures from Skaro in the 2008 two parter The Stolen Earth & Journeys End.
The most striking legacy though was in 2010 when the new look TARDIS exterior was unveiled in Matt Smith’s first episode The Eleventh Hour. The Doctor’s ship reverting to the bright blue of its movie counterpart, the St. John’s Ambulance badge was also restored to the door. Show runner Steven Moffat said of the look “There’s no mystery to it, I just like the version in the Peter Cushing movies, that’s all. It is the prettiest one.”
So what should we make of the movies now and of Peter Cushing’ performance as the Doctor. The films are bright, brash and a lot of fun. Perfect family entertainment and Cushing puts his own unique spin on the Doctor making him playful, charming and someone you would want to fly away to the stars with on an adventure. The films have just been re-released on blu ray so you can now enjoy the action in glorious high definition. In this very special year for Doctor Who you should consider them essential parts of your collection.
Sources: Peter Cushing quotes from Doctor Who: 25 Glorious Years by Peter Haining, published by WH Allen in 1988.
Steven Moffat quoted in Doctor Who Magazine issue 417, published by Panini Magazines February 2010.