You Were Expecting Someone Else? (Dr. Who and the Daleks)

I wonder what the major selling point of this movie was.

You Were Expecting Someone Else is a recurring feature covering non-televised Doctor Who from classic eras, generally more or less in the period where they came out. Today we look at the 1965 film Dr. Who and the Daleks, staring Peter Cushing.

It is August 23, 1965. A month after Doctor Who left television for its summer break, and a little under three weeks until it returns. As it should be, The Beatles have #1 with “Help!” And, in order to fill the sad gap in our lives between July 24th and September 11th, AARU Productions have helpfully released Dr. Who and the Daleks.

More than anything, to understand this we need to back up and look at British culture in the summer of 1965. We’ve done this to some extent already – we know about Swinging London and the rise of mod and post-mod youth cultures. We know that we’re in the midst of a Labor government, and that there’s a strong sense of overthrowing the old and putting in the new. We know that the Beatles are big, and that they brought with them a wealth of other bands that, at least temporarily, put the fallen industrial power of Liverpool at the center of the cultural map, second only to London.

We know perhaps less well that the Daleks are massively popular. But they are. The term “Dalekmania” that describes this era is perhaps overstated, if only because it obviously attempts to equate the Daleks with the Beatles. But on the other hand, there is a mass of Dalek merchandise. Little rolly action figures, Dalek play costumes (which are ludicrously valuable today), Dalek board games, and far weirder things like Dalek White Boards to draw on, or Dalek Viewmasters.

The Daleks, then, up to this point sat exactly on the line between Doctor Who’s public service duties as a good and proper BBC series and its status as a commercial hit. On one level, Doctor Who was like air. For almost two years straight, it aired faithfully on Saturday evenings as part of a family programming block. You watched it whether you liked it or not. (In fact, the steadily climbing AI figures for the program over its classic run are probably less a product of the show getting better and more a product of the fact that the changing nature of television meant people who didn’t like it stopped watching it.) It was clear that a secondary market of people who really liked it existed, because the toys sold, but the show was not “for” that market.

And so the first thing to realize about Dr. Who and the Daleks is that it is the first time Doctor Who was made entirely for fans. Because this was Doctor Who for people who cared about it enough to pay for it. This, more than any other fact about the movie, including that it was in color, is the most important thing about it.…

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