Friday, 8 January 2010

Dr. What for?

I like films; I like Dr. Who; I like Peter Cushing. But Dr. Who films starring Peter Cushing? Nah, you’re alright, ta.

There’s nothing terribly offensive about the two sixties big screen Dr. Who adaptations:
‘Dr. Who & The Daleks’ (1965) and ‘Dalek Invasion of Earth 2150 AD’ (1966), they’re just difficult to love or, indeed, even be moderately fond of.

Produced by horror experts Amicus, the films are ostensibly well made, but they lack the special ingredients that made the TV show such a success. One of the main charms of the original is that, despite its far-flung time and space settings, it seems very intimate: the production is black and white and small screen, restrained and economic, and although the stories cannot be called realistic, they seem believable, logical, they make contextual sense. The films, although based on stories from the TV show, miss the target by turning small, thought provoking productions into a loud, garish, full colour, wide screen films for young children, and dumb down the characters and back story to the extent that Dr. Who is no longer a Time Lord but is, instead, a Doctor whose surname is Who. & Peter Cushing, love him, just isn’t right in the role. Whereas William Hartnell could be irascible and ruthless, Cushing’s doctor is like a doddery, lovable grandad, which is all very nice, but pretty useless when it comes to saving the Universe.

Oddly, one of the better elements of the films is the music, despite it not being provided by the geniuses at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. That may sound heretical, but I’m not suggesting the music is better or even comparable to what the Workshop did or would have come up with, it just fits these particular productions better.

The first film features music from conductor and arranger Malcolm Lockyer and has a fairly generic sound that owes a lot to John Barry, particularly his twangy John Barry Seven days and the incidental music he composed for Sean Connery's Bond. 'Fanfare & Title Theme' gives you the general idea, and features Joe 90 type electronic effects from the estimable Barry Gray. 'The Eccentric Dr. Who' is a reworked version of the title theme released as cash in single to cash in on the cash in film and is a cracker that mixes mainstream jazz, pop and film music in a way that can perhaps be described as 'groovy squared': modern, snappy, commercial pop music played by middle aged men that can sight read AND swing.

The snappily titled 'Dalek Invasion of Earth 2150 AD’ has music from jazz pianist turned composer Bill McGuffie. It’s less subtle and slightly more Keystone Cops than Lockyer's score, and is best sampled through the driving title theme with its electronic swoops and frenzied bongos.

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