Brand Echh: Dr. Who and the Daleks

By the middle of the 1960s, Dell, once the leader in the field, was battling for market share and audience attention. Their split from Western Publishing had caused them to lose most of their creative staff as well as a number of licenses, and so the quality of their output had seriously dipped. Dell continued with a unique strategy, however: they had made their bones on doing licensed properties, and so they continued with this trend–licensing and adapting a wide variety of television programs and films as well as newspaper strips and anything else they thought might make for a good comic book. Which is how this oddity came to be.

Published at the tail end of June, 1966, DR. WHO AND THE DALEKS was an adaptation of the first of the two Peter Cushing films adapted from the BBC television program. Amazingly, it wasn’t a reprint of a British adaptation, but was produced by Dell in the United States–making it the first bit of Doctor Who memorabilia to come from America. The film that it was based on played in the U.S. in July, right when this book hit the stands. But audiences in the U.S. had no cultural context for it–they had never seen a Dalek before, nor were they aware of the television series by and large (and wouldn’t be until it becn to be syndicated in the States in the 1970s.)

Still, it was a science fiction film, one that would lend itself hopefully to some comic book visuals, and so Dell brought out this adaptation. The identity of the person who scripted the book is unknown, but they were adapting the film script by Milton Subotsky (who was in turn adapting the teleplays written by Terry Nation for the first Daleks serial on the DOCTOR WHO television series.) The artwork was produced by Dick Giordano and Sal Trapani.

Some changes had been made for the film in order to streamline the story. First off, of course, all of the roles were recast, with the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan cast markedly younger than Carole Ann Ford. The Doctor is simply called Dr. Who in this movie–presumably, Barbara’s name is Barbara Who and Susan’s is Susan Who. Barbara has been made into Susan’s sister rather than one of her schoolteachers, and Ian has been recast as Barbara’s clutzy boyfriend, rather than her colleague from Coal Hill School. Finally, any hint that any of the players originates anywhere other than Earth has been eliminated–Dr. Who has simply designed and built his time machine TARDIS all on his own. (Surely the dimensional folding that permits its interior to be larger than the exterior is every bit as grand a discovery as time-travel, but nobody seems to much care about that.)

Ian inadvertently starts the time machine, and the quartet is transported to a random point in time and space–thus bypassing the fact that THE DALEKS had been the second DOCTOR WHO serial. From here, events largely parallel that original seven-part serial adventure.

The adaptation is, frankly, lifeless and a bit dull, especially if you don’t already have an attachment to the core property. The film itself (and its sequel, DALEK: INVASION EARTH 2150) exist apart from the continuity of either the original series or its later revival, and so is divisive among fans. It doesn’t really feel like Doctor Who, for all that it contains many of the familiar trappings.

The big attraction of these films to British audiences was the opportunity to see the Daleks in full color on the big screen. When they first appeared, the pepperpot creatures were an immediate sensation with children, putting the program onto the map in a big way. They’d been merchandised in a bevy of manners, and so doing a feature film was simply the latest step in exploiting the popularity of the property (while expanding and extending its popularity, hopefully.)

The film did well enough in England to inspire a sequel, but that second movie wasn’t released in the United States. In America, the first film was a box office flop, and rapidly sank from sight and from memory–making this Dell adaptation a true curiosity.

I don’t know how much reference artists Giordano and Trapani had to work with, but it has to be said that the Daleks in this story are pretty underwhelming specimens. (And, of course, they aren’t really robots, despite what the cover copy says.)

Apart from on this final page, we don’t really get a good look at the iconic TARDIS in this story at all. I wonder if Giordano and Trapani weren’t familiar with the British Police Telephone Box. It’s colored a weird green here as well. And Dr. Who never bothers to explain why he built his time machine in the shape of a Police Box in the first place–it’s an odd choice when you factor out it being a method of disguise.

7 thoughts on “Brand Echh: Dr. Who and the Daleks

  1. The Daleks are such strange colors, too. I’ve never seen the movie in question, but I’m wondering if the art team was working off B&W stills from the movie or the TV show in advance of this.

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    1. The standard daleks in the movie are grey, with blue heads. The leaders are black with gold accents, and red with black. The comic might be coming as close to the right colours as they could get…

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      1. That one’s just a colouring mistake πŸ™‚

        They maybe only had black and white pictures of the Tardis to work from – all the publicity photos from the film focused on the Daleks, because that’s what everyone wanted to see!

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  2. Part of the appeal of the Daleks is that they don’t move like men in suits, making them seem more alien than most aliens of the era. If you don’t know them from TV, though, that doesn’t carry over into the comics.

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  3. I remember watching the TV serial when it first aired on UK TV (and seeing the movie on the big screen). The original is better, of course, and made doubly so by Tristram Cary’s eerie score and the contribution of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Production values have improved immensely, but the soundscapes were better back then IMO.

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