The Roots of Doctor Who 5/ British Horror Movies

Now this comparison is a bit more vague. British Horror is quite a vague term. The period of British horror movies that I am really referring to is what many see as a golden age of the genre, the 50’s-70’s which saw Hammer studios emerge and really dominate the market just like Universal had done in the 30’s and 40’s and also where the likes of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and American actor Vincent Price (who appeared in many classic British horror movies) took over as the leading actors of the genre.

The period of Doctor Who that really draws on “British Horror” the most is the Hinchcliff, Holmes era, which is in turn often seen as a golden age of Doctor Who.

There are also many other strong connections between the golden age of Doctor Who and classic British horror movies which we will explore in this article.

Examples of British Horror Movies Influence on Doctor Who

Many Doctor Who stories have their roots in old Hammer movies.

The first such example was the third Doctor story “The Daemons”. It took inspiration from many hammer films such as “The Devil Rides Out” and “The Witches” in terms of its setting and also its subject matter, Witches, black magic, devil worship and satanic cults in small isolated communities.

However it would really be during the Holmes, Hinchcliff era that Doctor Who began to draw on Horror movies in particular. Indeed horror movies really replaced the spy espionage genre from the Third Doctors era as Doctor Who’s main influence for the beginning of the Fourth Doctors era.

The Holmes and Hinchcliff era is often noted for its gothic and darker tone. Both Holmes and Hinchcliff were big horror movie fans, so its not surprising that elements and tropes from classic horror stories crept their way into their stories.

The Brain of Morbius is the most obvious example of this. The Brain of Morbius as many have pointed out is essentially “Frankenstein in Space”.  Whilst there have been many versions of Frankenstein on film and television and stage. Its definitely the Hammer version that The Brain of Morbius takes the most from.

This can be seen in the way its stand in for Professor Frankenstein, Professor Solon played by Philip Madoc is a ruthless, determined character who is willing to murder for the success of his experiments. This is closer to Peter Cushing’s performance from the Hammer movies than any other version of the character.

In the original novel professor Frankenstein was a more sympathetic character and in the original Universal movie starring Boris Karloff where Henry Frankenstein was played by Colin Clive he was even somewhat of a heroic character who genuinely felt guilt for his monsters heinous actions. Peter Cushing’s Professor Frankenstein meanwhile is the villain of the piece. He is willing to murder innocent people including even a pregnant woman who is bearing his child for the sake of his experiments, Much like Solon there is no line he will not cross.

Solon is thus essentially Peter Cushing’s Victor Frankenstein in space.

Another similarity between the Hammer Frankenstein films and Brain of Morbius is that Morbius focuses more on the professor than the monster. The monster doesn’t appear properly until the final episode. This was a trait of the hammer Frankenstein film series which helped them stand out from the original Universal Frankenstein films that had focused largely on the monster instead.

Philip Hinchcliff had in fact originally hoped to cast Peter Cushing in the role of Professor Solon which would have literally made him Hammer’s Frankenstein in space. Cushing was very interested in appearing, but sadly he was busy and thus Madoc was cast instead. Even though Cushing is one of my fave actors I don’t honestly see how anyone could have done a better job than Madoc in the role of Solon, still its quite a fun what if for fans to ponder over.

Pyramids of Mars was also closely inspired by a number of Hammer Mummy films too, with Robert Holmes having cited them as inspiration when writing the story.

The Talons of Weng Chiang meanwhile also borrows many aspects from Hammer horror movies, such as its Victorian Gothic setting and its main villain who is a deformed and bitter genius, both staples of many Hammer horrors. Talons has been compared with the old Hammer horror classics by many critics. Lawrence Mills and Tatt Wood described the story as “Doctor Who does Victorian Hammer horror” though they also stated, “in all honesty no single Hammer film is as accomplished as this.” Overall I think that the Hammer movie that Talons draws the most from would be Hammers version of The Phantom of the Opera starring Herbert Lom, with Magnus Creel in some ways being a stand in for Lom’s Phantom.

The Deadly Assassin also meanwhile draws very heavily from old British horror movies too. Once again there is Hammers version of The Phantom of the Opera rather obvious influence, with the Master now being a deformed, vengeful and scarred sociopath rather than the charming and elegant villain from the Pertwee era.

The deformed Master or the crispy Master as fandom has come to refer to him as has shades of many similar deformed, bitter, hateful villains from British horror movies. His flamboyant and over the top nature make him somewhat similar to Dr Phibes a character played by Vincent Price in two British horror movies. His cowardly desire to live above all else is also similar to the character of Dr Georges Bonnet from the Hammer film The Man Who Could Cheat Death. Bonnet who is played by Anton Differing (who later guest starred in Doctor Who in the story Silver Nemesis) murders young women in order to get their parathyroid glands to use in his experiments to remain young forever. At the end of the movie when his experiments fail he ends up as deformed freak. Bonnet is also somewhat similar to Magnus Creel the main antagonist from Talons who similarly murders young women to keep himself alive.

Many of the Hinchcliff/Holmes era stories borrowed elements from horror movies even when their stories weren’t directly inspired by them. Mad scientists, haunted houses, spooky gothic castles, were during the Hinchcliff Holmes era as much a staple of Doctor Who as they were of British horror movies themselves.

Doctor Who’s Connection With Classic British Horror Movies

The Doctor being tortured by Count Dooku. How’s that for a crossover.

Many actors from Doctor Who appeared in Hammer Horror movies. Indeed I could probably make a whole seperate article that was just a list of  Hammer actors who have appeared in Doctor Who.

Instead I will just list the most prominent connections.

Patirck Troughton who played the Second Doctor appeared in a number of Hammer Horror films. His most prominent role was as Dracula’s servant Klove in the movie The Scars of Dracula. Troughton apparently considered this to be one of his favorite roles and even had a picture of him being tortured by Christopher Lee’s Dracula hung on his bathroom wall! He also joked that his character Klove actually enjoyed being whipped by Dracula and referred to him as “Kinky Klove”.

Also just as Doctor Who borrowed some elements from Hammer Horror so did some later Hammer movies take inspiration from Doctor Who.

The Hammer movie The Satanic Rites of Dracula is essentially a Third Doctor story. It features Peter Cushing as Doctor Van Helsing who is an eccentric, maverick professor (that also serves as a special advisor on the paranormal to the government) battle his archenemy Dracula played Christopher Lee who is a psychopath that dresses in black, has hypnotic powers and seeks to destroy the world. Van Helsing is also assisted by a young dashing, Mike Yates, Benton stand in, and his young and brainy female assistant played by a young Joanna Lumley.

Christopher Lee at one point even says “I am the Master”

Christopher Lee as The Master battles Doctor Van Helsing.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula was actually written by Don Houghton who wrote two Doctor Who stories Inferno and The Mind of Evil.

The largest connection between Hammer and Doctor Who however is the fact that Peter Cushing played the Doctor in two films “Doctor Who and the Daleks” and “Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD”. These films are set outside of main Who canon, with Cushings character being an eccentric human scientist who has Who as his surname.

The films were almost made canon in a way by Steven Moffat for the 50th anniversary. Moffat intended to have scene where a poster for the movies would be seen briefly, supporting the fan theory that the Cushing movies within the Doctor Who universe were made by either Ian or Barbara based on their adventures and starring Peter Cushing.

Peter Cushing was not a fan of Doctor Who, but he did respect the series immensly. He was in fact one of their choices for the second Doctor, but turned it down as he didn’t want to get tied down to one series, though he later mentioned that he regretted this decision.

Here are some quotes from Cushing about Doctor Who.

On the way it changed his image as a horror movie villain.

“I had played Winston Smith in ‘1984’ on television, and the next thing I played ‘Doctor Who’. I was doing it in the cinema while Bill Hartnell was doing it on TV! That’s the way it goes. It was no surprise to me to learn that the first ‘Doctor Who’ film was in the top twenty box office hits of 1965, despite the panning the critics gave us. That’s why they made the sequel and why they spent twice as much money on it. Those films are among my favourites because they brought me popularity with younger children. They’d say their parents didn’t want to meet me in a dark alley but ‘Doctor Who’ changed that. After all, he is one of the most heroic and successful parts an actor can play. That’s one of the main reasons the series had such a long run on TV. I am very grateful for having been part of such a success story.”

Here’s a full interview he took during Tom Bakers era where he discusses how he was almost the Second Doctor, his almost landing a role in The Brain of Morbius and whether or not he considered the films canon to the tv series.

Q: What do you remember of the two ‘Dr. Who’ movies you made?

A: They were very enjoyable. A little frustrating, though, because they were not quite what we planned.

Q: What do you mean by that?

A: I think I speak for everyone involved when I say that we intended to make them a little darker. But they turned out well, very good entertainments and a hit with the children.

Q: How close did you come to making a third?

A: Very close. I thought we would, and possibly a fourth. Sadly it didn’t come to pass.

Q: Were you a fan of the TV series?

A: I thought it was very good. Very well made. But I didn’t watch TV then, and I don’t much now.

Q: The character you played in those two films was very different from the character on the TV show. Were those films a complete remake?

A: Well I’ll tell you something I thought once. I just said I didn’t watch TV, but one of the few episodes of the ‘Dr. Who’ series that I saw was one that involved a kind of mystical clown (‘The Celestial Toymaker’? – ed.), and I realised that perhaps he kidnapped Dr Who and wiped his memory and made him relive some of his earlier adventures. When Bill Hartnell turned into Patrick Troughton, and changed his appearance, that idea seemed more likely. I think that’s what happened, so I think those films we did fit perfectly well into the TV series. That would not have been the case had I taken the role in the TV series.

Q: Were you ever asked?

A: Twice, as it happens. When Bill Hartnell was forced to quit, I was asked if I would be interested in taking the lead in the new series. I turned it down, which I now regret a little. It would have been fun. But at the time, you know, I considered myself a serious film actor and stepping into a television series seemed like a step backwards. I don’t know how serious the producers were about hiring me. But perhaps if I’d said yes, they would have been pleased and you would have had me fighting Daleks and Cybermen week in, week out. But I’m glad I didn’t in some ways, because Patrick was so wonderful.

Q: You said you were asked back twice.

A: Yes, another time was quite recently, with Tom Baker’s Dr. Who. I don’t know the part, but they wanted me and I was interested by scheduling conflicts scuppered it. But perhaps in the future I’ll be able to take a part. I’d be very keen on that.

Peter Cushing as I’m sure most film enthusiasts will know was one of horrors greatest stars having appeared in many Hammer horror films including most notably their Dracula and Frankenstein film series where he played Professor Victor Frankenstein and Professor Van Helsing.

A different Doctor Who kills Count Dooku.

Overall as you can see there are quite a few connections between Doctor Who and old classic British horror movies. Though classic British Horror films like Dr Phibes and the Hammer films only really inspired one era of Doctor Who, the fact that is was such a prominent era. One that is still seen even today as the golden age of the shows history means that their influence on the programme I think should always be mentioned.

2 thoughts on “The Roots of Doctor Who 5/ British Horror Movies

  1. Burrunjor–

    I could feel the horror elements in Baker’s era as a child, and wondered why they were there. And Solon was one of my early favorites. There were some Pertwees that also had that feeling of dread attached to them, but I think it usually was because of some gross alien appearance, and not as much a psychological condition.

    Great series! Thanks again for sharing these articles.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the interesting article. Being a horror fan as a kid always watching old Vincent Price or Hammer Horror movies, I really enjoyed the Tom Baker era the most due to the gothic overtones for the stories. Especially when I started seeing the series after “The Pyramids of Mars.” I found that I liked the monster stories during the Troughton, Pertwee and the Tom Baker period a lot.

    Also I did a lot of Doctor Who fan fiction where I created a female lead, but the stories are always inspired by horror films. The atmosphere and mood always draws me.

    Certainly I can see Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee guest appearing in some of the 1970s serials! I am always disheartened to see the new Doctor Who series in the 2000s never exploring a gothic era again. Doctor Who works best when scary.


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