Marcus Hearn is a well known film historian who recently produced the snazzy features on the restorations on the Doctor Who Peter Cushing movies. Here he chats about the movies and how he’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the show.
Can you recall the first time you saw these Dalek movies?
I first saw them on television when I was a kid in the 1970s. They were very important for young Doctor Who fans in the era before home video – for a long time they were the only chance you got to see any Doctor Who from the 1960s. The BBC certainly didn’t repeat any episodes from that time, and as we now know many of them had been wiped anyway.
What did you think of them?
I’m very nostalgic about them. I can see they’re nothing like as sophisticated as modern Doctor Who, and on a script level they’re not even as sophisticated as mid-60s Doctor Who. But they’re brazen, garish pop culture artefacts, and entirely legitimate adaptations of Terry Nation’s first two Dalek stories. Seeing them restored in high definition for the new Blu-rays is a revelation.
How do you feel Cushing stands up with all the TV Doctors?
[pullquote align="right"]One thing Cushing never gets the credit for is convincing the public that Doctor Who could be played by anyone other than Hartnell – he was the first person to do that.[/pullquote]It’s an unusual performance from Cushing. It’s nothing like his work for Hammer, but it bears comparison with his doddery characters in Tales from the Crypt and especially At the Earth’s Core. It was clearly a reaction against William Hartnell’s contemporary television portrayal, which Cushing thought was a bit too brusque. One thing Cushing never gets the credit for is convincing the public that Doctor Who could be played by anyone other than Hartnell – he was the first person to do that.
Do you think the stories work better on the big screen rather than their small screen originals?
They’re coming from very different places, really. Along with Cushing, I think Milton Subotsky, who wrote and produced the films, saw Doctor Who as entertainment for children. I think Terry Nation, who wrote the original Dalek stories, saw Doctor Who as a horror show. Subotsky’s version of Doctor Who works very well in these films, but it’s not an approach or an interpretation that’s familiar from any version of the series.
Do you think the third film could still be made, say, in an animated edition similar to the missing TV episodes have been?
I’m not sure that would be a good idea – mere months after the second film came out we had a new Doctor, Patrick Troughton, and the craze for Daleks was over. Subotsky’s moment had passed. I’m sure there will be another Doctor Who film at some point, but it will be more closely tied to the TV series.
You’ll know of the unmade radio serial that was that was proposed in the 1960s that was to star Peter Cushing. Can you enlighten us more on this?
It was Peter Cushing’s third and final performance as the Doctor. He recorded a pilot episode in summer 1966, but unfortunately it was never broadcast – I think the BBC were a bit wary of taking a version of Doctor Who from an independent producer. Sadly no recording is known to survive.
Will you be celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary?
I raised a glass to Peter Cushing on his recent centenary and I’ll probably do the same for William Hartnell and his colleagues on 23rd November. I think Doctor Who is more popular now than any of them could have imagined.
So what projects are you working on at the moment?
My book about the history of saucy seaside postcards is being published by Constable & Robinson in July. I’m currently writing the 50th anniversary Doctor Who book for BBC Books, and editing three 50th anniversary ‘bookazines’ for publisher Panini. The first volume – which coincidentally is all about Daleks – has just gone on sale. In between I’m continuing my work making documentaries for Hammer’s Blu-ray restoration programme. It’s been a busy year so far, but lots of fun.
Marcus Hearn, thank you very much.
Incidentally there is a marvellous article (by which we mean “one of the best features in ages”) by Marcus about the Peter Cushing Dr Who movies in this month’s Doctor Who Magazine.