For those who regard Terry Nation as nothing more than a hack writer, The Chase must surely be exhibit A. It’s easy to dismiss it as nothing more than six episodes of random nonsense, held together by the thinnest of plots (the Doctor is now the Daleks’ deadliest enemy and they’ve decided to hunt him down through all time and space. Mmm, we’ll come back to that one).
It’s true that it’s not helped by having Richard Martin in the director’s chair. Martin was the go-to guy for the big stories of season two, although it’s hard to see why. He’s a decent director of film sequences, but much less assured when it comes to the multi-camera studio environment. And since Doctor Who was largely recorded in the studio that’s something of a problem ….
If many of Nation’s story ideas are odd and/or silly (Morton Dill, the Haunted House sequence, etc) then Martin’s direction doesn’t help. The Chase is one of the most technically inept productions we’ve seen so far – although whilst it’s true that the script was far too ambitious for the series at that time, with the right director (say Douglas Camfield) something could have been salvaged.
It’s no surprise that when The Daleks’ Master Plan was mounted the following season (which is pretty much The Chase 2) Camfield managed to produce a much more appealing effort (at least based on the evidence of the surviving episodes).
But having said all that, I find it impossible not to have a sneaking love for The Chase. It’s shoddy and illogical but there are some moments of magic scattered throughout its six episodes.
The Executioners opens with the Daleks swearing vengeance on their arch enemy Doctor Who. After only two meetings (and since the Daleks were apparently wiped out in the first one, who was keeping the records?) this is a bit hard to swallow. I can understand why Nation did it – the personal angle is a decent one – but like the rest of The Chase it just feels a bit off. Maybe it’s because it’s rather like a TV Comic story come to life.
The Doctor and his friends remain oblivious for the moment. They’re relaxing in the TARDIS in a sort of lazy Sunday afternoon mode. The Doctor’s tinkering with a piece of equipment he’s picked up from the Space Museum, Ian’s engrossed in a lurid book about space monsters, Barbara (being the sensible one) is doing some needlework whilst Vicki’s just bored. They make a perfect family unit and it’s a charming little moment of peace before the mayhem begins.
The Doctor proudly demonstrates his new acquisition – a Time and Space Visualiser (it’s a time television which allows the operator to view any event in history). Ian asks to see Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address (actually he doesn’t – he specifies a time, place and date and the Visualiser just focuses on Lincoln. Clever that).
Barbara is curious to see the court of Queen Elizabeth and we eavesdrop on a meeting between her, William Shakespeare and Francis Bacon. Vicki is keen to see the Beatles. Ian’s dad dancing is a legendary moment and Vicki’s comment (“well, they’re marvellous, but I didn’t know they played classical music”) is an odd one. Maybe in the future Vicki didn’t have access to the futuristic equivalent of YouTube and hadn’t already seen them (possibly there was no WiFi on Dido).
All this helps to pad out the episode, which you feel was Terry Nation’s first objective. Simply find enough material to create a twenty five minute installment and worry (or not) about whether it was any good later.
Their television viewing comes to an end when the TARDIS lands on an arid, desert planet. Vicki and Ian head off to explore, whilst the Doctor and Barbara relax and soak up the sun. The Doctor’s clearly in a good mood as he starts singing. Barbara, distracted by the sound from the Visualiser, asks the Doctor what the awful noise is. Amusingly, the Doctor believes she’s turned into a music critic. “I beg your pardon? Awful noise? That’s no way to talk about my singing! Ha! I can charm the nightingales out of the trees.” It’s not much of a gag, but Hartnell’s always good value whenever he’s given a comedy moment.
The Visualiser then shows us the Daleks. And by a remarkable coincidence it’s honed in on precisely the moment when they announce their intention to target the TARDIS crew. What were the chances of that, eh? It’s interesting that the Terry Nation formula of not revealing the Daleks until the end of episode one wasn’t quite set in stone yet. Not only do the Daleks appear right at the start (reprising the cliffhanger from the previous episode) but they also have a substantial scene mid way through.
This would have been a good point to end the episode on, but alas there’s still a little way to go (Vicki’s hysterical outbursts are especially odd. Were they as scripted or had Maureen O’Brien just lost it?). The cliffhanger’s just about worth waiting for though – a coughing, spluttering Dalek rising from the sand.