The massacre begins and the humour disappears. Probably one of the reasons why this feels especially jarring is the way the audience has been invited to feel comfortable in the presence of both Priam and Paris.
When Steven is brought into Vicki’s presence it spells trouble for both of them. How can Vicki know Steven (alias Diomede) if he’s a Greek warrior? Cassandra’s convinced that she’s a spy and orders her immediate execution, but the order is countermanded by Paris. “I will not tolerate interference from a fortune-teller of notorious unreliability.”
Barrie Ingham continues to be the recipient of some first-class lines – Paris then tells his sister to “get back to your temple before you give us all galloping religious mania.”
The Myth Makers is far removed from the sober, earnest historical stories of season one such as John Lucarotti’s and . There, historical accuracy was key – with the Doctor content to be merely an observer. Here, the characters often speak in modern (i.e. 1960’s) idioms with the Doctor merrily changing the course of history as he bumbles along.
It was good fun being a Doctor Who fan in the 1990’s. Maybe this was because there were no new television stories to be ripped to shreds (apart from the quickly forgotten American TV movie). So DW fandom stopped complaining about the present and began to really dig into the past.
A hefty and lavishly illustrated hardback (The Early Years by Jeremy Betham, 1986) had already stoked my interest in the series’ first faltering steps, but it was this modestly priced, modestly sized paperback published in 1994 which really took my breath away.
To be a DW fan back then meant that studying the sacred texts (The Making of Doctor Who and DWM especially) was a solemn duty. Slowly the nascent fan would begin to drink in all the lore and history – which stories were classics, which were turkeys, how jabolite was used, the companion who lost their knickers the most, etc, etc.
One of the most important lessons concerned the first few months of the show. We all knew that things looked dicey in the early weeks until the Daleks arrived in the second story – after that, the long term future of the show was assured.
Um, not quite.
The heart of The First Doctor Handbook was the Production Diary. This laid bare just how hand-to-mouth those early years were and how often the series teetered on the edge of cancellation. I seem to recall some info had already appeared in The Frame, but most of it was new to me.
Frankly, it’s an astonishing and eye-opening read (one day, when all the files are available, I’d love to see the production history of the first 26 years of the series tackled in a single volume, or indeed a number of volumes).
The Production Diary might account for a large chunk of the book, but the interview material (both from and about Hartnell) is also of interest. More information about Hartnell has become available since, but this deftly edited selection of quotes still stands up well.
The Handbook also includes an obligatory episode guide which is somewhat of its time (The Gunfighters receives a firm thumbs down for example).
I have far too many DW books (including a fair few I’ve rarely touched in decades) but The First Doctor Handbook is one I do find myself coming back to every so often. For anyone interested in the painful birth of the series it’s a must read.
Mission to the Unknown is a bit of an oddity. After Verity Lambert decided that Planet of Giants was a tad dull and could do with losing an episode, the production team were told they had to add this “spare” episode onto another story.
Considering that the BBC has always been rather cash conscious, this has always struck me as a strange move. Four episodes were budgeted and paid for on Planet of Giants, even if only three made it onto the screen, so effectively Lambert and co were given a “free” episode. Surely the scheduling bods could have slipped a few Tom and Jerry cartoons on one week and no-one would have been that bothered?
Anyway, it seems that the original idea was to bolt an extra episode onto a Terry Nation Dalek script. If that means The Chase then I think we dodged a bullet there. I was already losing the will to live with six episodes, so seven might just have pushed me over the edge.
Or maybe they were referring to The Dalek Invasion of Earth which was the final story in the first production block (it begin in late November 1964).
And for no other reason than the fact that I love original Doctor Who paperwork, here’s Donald Wilson’s memo from 1964 to prove that I’m not talking complete nonsense.
So if the circumstances surrounding the creation of Mission to the Unknown were a little unusual, it’s also strange that it’s not sitting directly before The Daleks’ Master Plan. It works as a prologue for that story very well, but the fact you have four weeks of The Myth Makers between the two would have presumably puzzled many of those watching at home.
I’ve a strong suspicion that Terry Nation leapt at the chance to write a Dalek script which didn’t include the Doctor. He was already working on his proposal for a big-budget American series featuring the Daleks (but not that strange old man in the police box) so it’s easy to see Mission to the Unknown (and large parts of The Daleks’ Master Plan) as a dry run for this.
The American series would have featured plucky members of the space corps (similar to Marc Cory, Sara Kingdom and Bret Vyon) facing off against the Daleks week after week.The television series came to nothing, but the seventies Dalek annuals give you a flavour of what it might have been like.
Anyway, back to today’s episode. We open in a jungle on Kembel, which has plenty of lush, aggressive vegetation. You’d better get used to it as there’s going to be lots of jungle action once we hit The Daleks’ Master Plan proper. We see someone who we later learn is Jeff Garvey (Barry Jackson). His first words (“I must kill… must kill… must kill”) have a slightly ominous ring about them. He doesn’t seem at all well.
Elsewhere, space captain Gordon Lowery (Jeremy Young) is complaining to space agent Marc Cory (Edward de Souza) about this inhospitable planet. It’s clear that Cory’s the man in charge though, which is confirmed when he shoots Garvey dead. Lowery’s a tad upset about this, but Cory explains that Garvey had been infected by a Varga plant and it was him or them.
Cory then reveals his true identity to Lowery. “Space Security Service. Licensed to kill.” Yep, this was very much the time when Sean Connery’s portrayal of James Bond was dominating cinema screens and Cory is a blatant attempt to steal a little of 007’s thunder. It’s an unusual move for Doctor Who though, which until now hasn’t tended to be influenced that much by contemporary popular culture.
Cory explains that he’s on the trail of the Daleks. They haven’t bothered the Earth for a thousand years, but all that seems to have changed as a Dalek ship has been spotted in the vicinity. This shattering revelation is followed by the most melodramatic music cue possible.
Wait! Garvey’s not dead. Instead he’s suffered a far worse fate – he’s turned into a Varga plant!
The Daleks are also on Kembel and they’re here to chair a meeting between the leaders of the seven galaxies. Some of the representatives we see here also pop up in The Daleks’ Master Plan, although by then some were played by different actors.
And some of the representatives in The Daleks’ Master Plan are totally different from how they look in this episode, which is another puzzle. Luckily there are those who have pondered these issues long and hard. For the curious, I can recommend this post by Jac Rayner on her blog Delegate Detective.
Whatever names they have or whichever actor is playing them, the delegates are a rum lot who certainly don’t have a lot of love for our precious planet Earth. As Malpha (Robert Cartland) succinctly puts it. “This is indeed an historic moment in the history of the universe! We six from the outer galaxies, joining with the power from the solar system – the Daleks! The seven of us represent the greatest war force ever assembled! Conquest is assured!”
That spells trouble. I hope the Doctor is somewhere around …..
After the Doctor and Vicki rescue Steven from the airlock, they leave him to have a chat with the Rill (still voiced in a deep and booming fashion by Robert Cartland). This is one of the more interesting scenes in this final episode. Earlier, both Vicki and the Doctor were happy to accept the Rill’s bona fides at face value, but Steven’s a much more cynical sort.
STEVEN: So the Doctor trusts you?
RILL: Why shouldn’t he?
STEVEN: No reason. I suppose you gave right ethical reasons for him, so naturally he does trust you.
RILL: We rescued you from the Drahvins, but you still don’t trust us?
STEVEN: Oh, you could be the same as them – using us for your own salvation.
Steven eventually accepts that the Rills are operating in good faith, but this scene demonstrates Steven’s independence. Peter Purves’ dislike for the story is well known (he believed his part had originally been written for Barbara and then was hastily rewritten) but little moments like this are good ones for the character.
In the end, the moral of the story is helpfully spelled out after the Doctor, Steven and Vicki have a face-to-face meeting with the Rill. Even the Doctor is slightly taken aback by his appearance, but after his initial surprise he treats him with equanimity.
Vicki and Steven are equally accepting. Vicki says that “I mean, after all, we must look just as strange to you” whilst Steven tells the Rill that “what difference does it make what your form is?” The Doctor is able to cap these noble sentiments off when he grandly proclaims that “importance lies in the character and to what use you put this intelligence. We respect you as we respect all life.”
It’s Maaga’s inability to see past the Rills’ startling experience which seals her fate and that of her soldiers. The Rills would have been happy to take the Drahvins with them once the Doctor had repaired their ship, but this was never a possibility for Maaga. For her there was only one answer – kill the Rills and take their ship by force.
But her attempt to launch an attack comes to nothing and she’s forced to watch as the Rills’ spaceship takes off without them. That we’re denied a pitched Drahvin/Chumbly battle for control of the Rills spaceship feels like a missed opportunity, as is the fact that the Doctor and his friends are able to reach the TARDIS without being stopped by Maaga.
I wonder if some of the other Doctors would have decided to rescue Maaga and the others? Not Billy though, he’s more than happy to nip off and leave them to their fate. In the world of the first Doctor it’s plain that the Drahvins had their chance to demonstrate that – like the Rills – they could show compassion for others. They didn’t, so the Doctor leaves them to face certain death.
With only one extant episode it’s hard to really know how effective the story was. The Loose Cannon recon certainly makes an heroic effort to provide some visual moments for the other three episodes, but even if the whole story existed I doubt it would be regarded as anything more than a fairly middling story.
The rather simplistic message at the heart of the story (ugly doesn’t have to mean evil) had been covered more fruitfully before – even in the sedate form of The Sensorites.
Galaxy 4 has never been regarded as one of Doctor Who‘s great tales, something which was made plain when Air Lock was recovered. The news was met with polite interest, but there was an undeniable feeling that many were wishing something from a “classic” story (like Power of the Daleks) had been found instead.
Hopefully some minds were changed after the episode was released on DVD, as the return of any missing DW episode (even from an obscure and unloved story like this one) should be celebrated. It’s wonderful to have the audios and recons, but they can only tell half the story – the previously unknown visual moments from Air Lock were a real revelation for me.
For example, we finally got to see a Rill in all its glory. One of the series’ more mysterious monsters (for a long time even photographic evidence was sparse) it’s fair to say that the visuals didn’t do it many favours.
It does rather look like a piece of cardboard slowly moving behind a screen (so this was one of those occasions where the static image was preferable). The voice acting from Robert Carland was powerful though – he certainly put everything he could into the role.
But if the visual representation of the Rill was a little disappointing, then the joy of watching Hartnell in full flow more than made up for it. I love Hartnell’s Doctor (I may have mentioned this a few times before) and he’s in cracking form in this episode.
One of my favourite moments (another of those visual touches that we hadn’t previously known about) occurs when the Doctor orders the Chumblies about. Lovely stuff! The scene when he tangles with a Drahvin, using his stick as a weapon (and calling her madam!) is another little gem.
This was Derek Martinus’ directorial debut on the series. He wasn’t the first, and certainly wouldn’t be the last, to find Hartnell rather difficult, but whilst Martinus may have been inexperienced he was still able to produce some interesting moments.
Most notable is Maaga’s monologue which Stephanie Bidmead delivers direct to camera. The flashback scene showing the moment when the Drahvins and Rills both crashed on the planet was another impressive visual touch – shot from the Rill’s POV.
The Doctor’s in a very reckless mood. He decides to sabotage the Rill’s machine which produces ammonia for them. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he didn’t realise it was vital to their survival. At least he has the good grace to look a little bashful afterwards!
Peter Purves doesn’t have a great deal to do today. Trapped in the air lock for most of the episode, he might as well have sat this one out. This passive role no doubt helps to reinforce his belief that Galaxy 4 was a story that did Steven few favours, but had one of the earlier episodes been recovered then it’s possible that he may have looked a little more kindly on the story (as Steven certainly has a more active role in the first two episodes).
Maaga has allowed the Doctor and Steven to leave the Drahvin ship in order to establish whether the planet really will be destroyed in fourteen dawns. The audience is several steps ahead though – we know that this estimate is wildly optimistic (the planet will actually expire in another two dawns).
Vicki’s been left behind as a hostage, but luckily she doesn’t have to bear Maaga’s company for too long as the others return with news. The Doctor decides to be economical with the truth to begin with and tells Maaga that the Rill’s estimate of fourteen dawns was correct. The only problem is that Maaga then reveals that the repairs to the Rill’s spaceship will also take fourteen dawns.
Maaga once again repeats what almost seems to be a mantra – the Rills are evil and must be destroyed. The possibility of working together to leave the planet never seems to enter her head.
But it’s interesting that despite the fact she seems to loathe the Rills, she’s also picked up a certain amount of information from them – the notion that the planet’s lifespan is limited to fourteen dawns and the time needed to repair their ship, for example. If they’re such implacable enemies it’s a little odd that they’ve been so free with vital information like this.
Maaga is able to winkle out from the Doctor the fact that two dawns is all the time the planet has left to enjoy. So the Doctor and Vicki (with Steven this time left behind as the Drahvin’s hostage) set out to meet the Rills to see if they can speed up the repairs
This is not before time – after all, we learnt early in episode one about them and there’s a strong sense that the story can’t advance until we hear their side of things. But the Doctor, and the story, isn’t inclined to rush so we’ll have to wait until the next episode before the Doctor and Vicki come (sort of) face to face with a Rill.
Whilst the Doctor and Vicki are slowly making their way to the Rill’s spaceship, Steven is attempting to sow discord aboard the Drahvin’s ship. He’s able to easily manipulate one of Maaga’s footsoldiers, but it doesn’t gain him much of an advantage.
Galaxy 4 has long been one of Peter Purves’ least favourite stories, mainly because he believed it was written for Ian and Barbara (and Barbara’s role was then hastily rewritten for him). There’s not a great deal of evidence for that in this episode though. Steven has several very decent scenes – especially when he confronts Maaga – and whilst it’s possible that Barbara could have been as strong, everything we see here is totally consistent with Steven’s already established character.
Little of note happens in Trap of Steel. Events are moving, but we’ll have to wait until the next episode to see how they pay off. Since episode three now exists that’s not entirely a bad thing, but it does mean that Trap of Steel is rather forgettable in its own right.
Galaxy 4 opens with a scene of domestic life aboard the TARDIS – Vicki is cutting Steven’s hair. Does she also trim the Doctor’s I wonder? But musings about the barbering requirements aboard the ship are (ahem) cut short when they land on what appears to be a completely deserted planet.
The Doctor is convinced there’s no life out there. Ooops. Just a minute later a strange robot is observed slowing moving around the TARDIS. Later Doctors tended to verge on the omnipotent, but this moment is a reminder that the original Doctor didn’t have all the answers (and also had the good grace to admit when he was wrong).
Vicki’s delighted with the small robot, nicknaming it a Chumbley, because it has a sort of chumbley movement. No, me neither. But it’s as good a name as any and it’s helpful to have the device named since it instantly imbues it with more of a personality.
So far we’re about eight minutes in and the story has proceeded in a leisurely fashion. Things start to pick up when two blonde women throw a net over the hapless Chumbley. Steven’s all over them in a rash. “Aren’t they a lovely surprise” he coos and when they introduce themselves as Drahvins he responds “and very nice too.” A smooth talker, that boy.
This early scene helps to establish that there are two factions on the planet – the Drahvins and the Rills (who control the Chumblies). The Drahvins view the Rills with extreme loathing. “They are not people. They are things. They crawl. They murder.”
I wonder if the story was asking the audience to assume that the Rills were evil and the Drahvins good? But since the script makes it plain that both the Doctor and Vicki view the Drahvins, even after this initial meeting, with suspicion that doesn’t seem to be so. They might be superficially attractive but there’s an unsettling coldness to them.
This does sap the suspense somewhat – it may have been more interesting for the Drahvins to be presented as welcoming and friendly, with their true natures only slowly revealed. Of course, another avenue to explore would have been if both sides were as evil and warlike as each other – meaning that the Doctor and his friends were caught in the middle with no potential allies.
Until the recovery of episode three, Airlock, the only surviving visual material had been a five minute excerpt from this episode. After the static nature of the recon, it’s nice to have moving pictures again (albeit briefly) as the Doctor and the others meet the leader of the Drahvins, Maaga (Stephanie Bidmead). She rules her subordinates with fear, but is cordial with the Doctor, no doubt because she believes he could be of some use to her in the war with the Rills.
Maaga chats a little about her home planet, which adheres to various SF clichés. “Oh, we have a small number of men, as many as we need. The rest we kill. They consume valuable food and fulfill no particular function.” Most of the Drahvins are clones – only Maaga is a real person, the rest are bred to fight and die (which handily explains their wooden delivery and lack of spark).
With the planet due to explode in fourteen dawns time, Maaga has a problem. Their ship is damaged, so she has to find some way to force the Rills to take them (or destroy the Rills and commander their ship). If the episode has proceeded in a rather leisurely fashion so far, then the revelation that the planet will actually explode in two dawns does add a little urgency to proceedings ……
It’s not too much of a stretch to see the Monk as an inversion of the Doctor. Wheras the Doctor has had a strong aversion to changing history (although only it seems to apply to the Earth prior to the 1960’s) the Monk is quite the opposite.
He explains his brilliant plan to the Doctor. “Well, for instance, Harold, King Harold, I know he’d be a good king. There wouldn’t be all those wars in Europe, those claims over France went on for years and years. With peace the people’d be able to better themselves. With a few hints and tips from me they’d be able to have jet airliners by 1320! Shakespeare’d be able to put Hamlet on television.”
No surprise that the Doctor is appalled, although one of the problems with stories which address the possibility of changing history is that they pose more questions than they answer.
Doctor Who’s first script editor David Whitaker was quite clear on this point – the Doctor couldn’t change history. Not wouldn’t, couldn’t. Several less than convincing reasons were provided to explain this. For example, if they’d attempted to assassinate a key figure like Napoleon then the bullet would have been bound to miss him.
Quite how this would happen is never made clear, unless we assume that that there’s some mysterious force in the universe which knows the “true” course of history and would automatically deal with any deviations.
This isn’t very satisfying and when Dennis Spooner took over from David Whitaker he quickly changed things around. Now, the Doctor could change history but the question was more whether he should. The Doctor voices his fear about the Monk’s meddling. “He’s utterly irresponsible. He wants to destroy the whole pattern of world history.”
Is the Doctor concerned because the Monk’s plans will have a detrimental effect on Earth’s development or is it that he doesn’t want to see established history changed? If everything the Monk predicted came to pass then it might actually be positive. But how would anybody know? As discussed by Vicki and Steven, as soon as a change is made it would become true history and they’d never have known any other.
VICKI: It looks as though that Monk’s going to get away with it after all.
STEVEN: Yes, but he can’t, can he? I don’t know much about history but I do know that William the Conqueror did win the Battle of Hastings.
VICKI: Up till now he did. If the Monk changes it, I suppose our memories will change as well.
STEVEN: What about the history books?
VICKI: That’s all right. They’re not written yet. They’ll just write and print the new version.
STEVEN: But that means that the exact minute, the exact second that he does it, every history book, every, well, the whole future of every year and time on Earth will change, just like that and nobody’ll know that it has?
VICKI: I suppose that’s what I’m trying to say.
Although the Doctor’s still keen to present himself as an observer and not a meddler like the Monk, every time he visits a planet he makes a material difference and therefore changes history. If he hadn’t appeared somewhere then events would have played out differently. How different this is from the Monk’s plans is hard to say. See, time travel is a tricky business …
The Doctor manages to defeat the Monk, although I’ve always found it slightly strange that he elects to strand him on Earth. He may not have access to his TARDIS, but he still has his knowledge and a stockpile of anachronistic inventions. Surely he could do some damage to history with these?
Ah well, probably best to think about it too deeply. The Time Meddler is content to be nothing more than a comic romp, with the main entertainment to be found in the Doctor’s clashes with the Monk. It’ll never top any favourites poll, but it’s a solid entertainment and brings the second series to a decent conclusion.
At the start of this episode it’s clear that Vicki still has the upper hand over Steven. She’s the one who deduces that the Doctor must have escaped from his cell via a secret passage (and she also manages to find it).
But the roles are reversed later after they return to the beach. Vicki is appalled to find that the tide’s come in, as it surely must mean that the TARDIS has been washed out to sea. Steven tries to comfort her by telling her that maybe the Doctor has moved it, but that only upsets her even more. If the Doctor’s demateralised the TARDIS then he’d have no way of returning and they’ll be stranded in eleventh century Britain forever.
Although Vicki has developed a pleasingly independant streak over the last few stories, her sudden despair and defeatism does suggest that she’s not too far removed from the naive young girl we met in The Rescue. It seems hard to credit that she’d really believe the Doctor would just leave them – but possibly this doubt can be put down to the lingering trauma of her life on Dido.
The Doctor’s still very much about though and he pays another visit to Edith. As he takes his leave of her, there’s a nice shot as the camera moves from behind the actors and refocuses with Hartnell framed in a close-up and a puzzled looking Edith placed in the background.
Apart from Douglas Camfield’s undoubted skill with a film camera, he was also someone who pushed hard to achieve interesting picture compositions in the studio. Due to the hectic nature of Doctor Who‘s production it wasn’t always possible, but scattered throughout his stories are numerous examples (the grouping of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria at the start of The Web of Fear is a good one).
Given how unwieldy the cameras were in 1965 it obviously wasn’t an easy task to move it so quickly (you can detect a little wobble as it repositions) but I’m glad Camfield made the effort as it just adds a little something to the conclusion of the scene.
The nature of the Doctor’s relationship with the Monk is still a mystery (which is only answered, indirectly, at the end of the episode). That the Monk knows his name when they meet again might suggest that they already know each other, but this could also be explained away by a conversation earlier in the story which we didn’t see.
It’s interesting that the Doctor gains the upper hand by using the old trick of pointing a stick into the Monk’s back and pretending that it’s a rifle. If they were old acquaintances then you’d have assumed that the Monk would know that the Doctor wouldn’t pull the trigger. Unless, of course, the young Doctor was a bloodthirsty sort who’s only recently mended his ways!
The Monk’s plan is becoming clearer though. He wants to destroy the incoming Viking fleet and has a helpful checklist to aid his memory, which I love. It starts with his landing in Northumberland and ends with him meeting King Harold (no doubt to receive the King’s grateful thanks). Clearly the Monk was a little starstruck.
Two less than fearsome Vikings – Sven (David Anderson) & Ulf (Norman Hartley) are still lurking about. They decide to hide in the monastery, which is a bad idea as the Doctor and the Monk are able, independently, to deal with them. Both are attended to in the same way – the Doctor and the Monk bash them over their heads with what appears to be very thin strips of balsa wood. Is this just a coincidence or is the script attempting to show that the two time-travelers are very much the same deep down?
Various clues – a wristwatch in the forest, the record player – have strongly suggested that the Monk isn’t of this time, but we have to wait until the end of the episode before Vicki and Steven make a stunning discovery – the Monk has a TARDIS. This is something of a game-changer for the series as it’s the first step on the road to introducing the Time Lords.
During The Watcher, the monk was presented as something of a sinister figure, but the first minutes of The Meddling Monk portrays the character in quite a different light. We see him pottering about the monastery preparing breakfast (with the unspoken question ligering about how there could be a toaster and other modern appliances in England, 1066). He then toddles along to the Doctor’s cell and cheerily bids him good morning.
Although he’s obviously crowing that the Doctor’s still his prisoner, since he’s gone to the trouble of preparing him a hearty breakfast he can’t be all that bad. Such a pity that his efforts are wasted as the Doctor flings the food back into his face! Pre-recorded lines of dialogue from Hartnell help to create the illusion that the Doctor’s in the cell (whereas we won’t actually see him in person again until the following episode).
Butterworth’s a joy throughout this episode and indeed the rest of the story as well. Little bits of business – such as attempting to take some snuff on the windy mountaintop – might have been the sort of thing worked out in rehearsal, but it helps to fill what would otherwise be a quiet moment.
Butterworth interacts appealingly with the villagers as well as Vicki and Steven but he really shines when the monk and the Doctor clash later in the story . Hartnell and Butterworth spark off each other so well that it’s no surprise that the monk was brought back for a further appearance in season three.
Steven continues to act in a fairly aggressive manner. After they’re apprehended by the villagers he’s quick to react angrily, but the headman of the village, Wulnoth (Martin Miller), believes they’re are innocent travellers and is content to see them on their way.
He provides them with food and drink for their journey, which Steven – first grudgingly and then with more feeling – thanks him for. In parting, Wulnoth and Edith offer their ritual farewell – “god be with you”. Politeness dictates that both Vicki and Steven respond in kind. Vicki does so straightaway, but it’s another nice character beat that Steven hesitates for a few seconds before he gives the response as well.
A small raiding party of Vikings adds an element of danger to the story. They’re a rum looking lot though (beards and eye-patches ahoy). The leader orders his men to remain undetected, as their mission is to gather intelligence for a forthcoming substantial attack. However they don’t really achieve this …..
Two of them attack Edith and although it’s not explicitly stated, it’s plain that she’s been raped. That Vikings enjoyed a bit of rape and plunder is a historical fact, but it’s still a slight surprise to see it in this story (even if it’s done in an understated way).
Eldred (Peter Russell), a beardy, wide-eyed member of the village is convinced that Steven was responsible, but this potential plotline was never developed as Edith quickly confirms that it was the Vikings. Had this been a six-parter, then maybe we might have seen the angry villagers pursuing Steven and Vicki, but this potential plotline is nothing more than a throwaway moment here.
Indeed, the story continues to move at quite a pace – only a few moments after Wulnoth, Eldred and the others set off to look for the Vikings, they find them (and a brief battle ensues). With Eldred injured, Wulnoth takes him to the monastery, where the monk is forced to take him in. Vicki and Steven are also there and find the Doctor’s cell, but the Doctor’s no longer there …..
The opening moments of The Time Meddler finds both the Doctor and Vicki in a reflective mood. But this period of quiet (nicely played by both Hartnell and O’Brien) is rudely shattered by noises from within the TARDIS. Vicki’s convinced that it’s a Dalek and the pair take up defensive postures. Although had have been, I’m not sure that the Doctor’s coat and Vicki’s shoe would have been adequate weapons!
But of course it’s not, instead a rather disheveled Steven Taylor comes staggering through the door, still clutching his toy panda Hi-Fi. Our last sighting of Steven came in the previous episode when he was grabbed by the fungoids (insert your own joke here). So somehow, weak though he was, he was able to stagger into the TARDIS – but rather than remain in the console room, he ventured further inside and managed to remain undetected until after the Doctor had taken off.
It’s a slightly contrived way of reintroducing him, but nonetheless it’s quite effective – I’m sure a large portion of the audience would have assumed he was simply a one-episode character who we’d never see again.
Immediately after Steven makes his presence known, the TARDIS lands on a rocky beach next to the sea. One the things that most impresses me most about this serial is how Douglas Camfield was able to use a number of simple, but very effective, tricks to create the feel of outdoors locations in this wholly studio-bound story.
The arrival of the TARDIS is a good example – there’s a few seconds of stock footage showing waves crashing on rocks, then a cut to a photographic slide of a rocky outcrop where the TARDIS materialises, followed by a shot of the monk (Peter Butterworth) observing events from higher up. Behind the monk, courtesy of back projection, clouds roll past. The latter was a fairly common trick used at the time, but sometimes – if the backcloth was wrinkled – it didn’t convince. Here it’s perfect and the illusion is very effective.
Whereas Vicki had little difficulty in her first story about believing that the TARDIS could travel anywhere in time and space, Steven is a lot harder to convince (he’s rather like Ian in this respect). But whilst Vicki (and later Dodo) were designed to be little more than Susan clones, Steven is a little different from Ian. Steven is initially presented as brash and arrogant and incurs the Doctor’s displeasure when he refers to him as Doc (something which always irritated the Doctor down the years).
The Doctor’s quickly separated from Vicki and Steven (and isn’t reunited with them until episode four). This is partly designed to cover Hartnell’s absence from episode two, but it also allows Purves and O’Brien to immediately build a rapport. Steven and Vicki work well together and there’s a few entertaining sparks in their relationship (something which never happened with the much more settled combination of Ian, Barbara and Vicki).
Meanwhile the Doctor’s wandered off to a small settlement and has made the acquaintance of Edith (Alethea Charlton). Charlton had appeared in the first story, also in a somewhat grimy role, but Edith is a much more welcoming character than Hur. The Doctor’s scenes with Edith, as he shares a cup of mead and they chat, are rather charming. But his time relaxing is cut short when he hears strange noises at the monastery – the chanting monks suddenly dramatically slow down.
This moment marks the first occurrence of what tended to be known as the pseudo historical. Historical stories had been a feature right from the start of the series, but this is the first time that elements from the future (apart from the Doctor himself) were added into the mix. Possibly this was done in order to shake up the format – a mixture of history and sci-fi was an obvious move.
During this episode Peter Butterworth’s monk has been a solitary, silent figure (the watcher of the title). The cliffhanger shows the Doctor trapped in the monastery and the monk laughing at his fate. We’ve still yet to learn anything about the monk or his motivations though – but the next episode (as Hartnell takes a holiday) will allow him to come to the fore.
The Mechanoid takes the time-travellers up to the city. The lift they travel in is incredibly quiet, which is either an intentional touch (to suggest how advanced the Mechanoids are) or it’s because Richard Martin forgot to add any sound effects. Given all that’s happened so far, I tend to favour the latter possibility ….
It’s easy to see where a large part of the budget went. The Mechanoids are substantial creations, although their sheer size and unwieldiness was a major factor in making this their only appearance.
The episode has a faint echo of The Daleks – the Doctor and his friends are apprehended by the strange inhabitants of a futuristic city who then imprison them – but the Mechanoids have quite different motives from the Daleks.
The Daleks are thinking creatures, acting on fear and racial hatred, whilst the Mechanoids are purely machines – they aren’t evil, they’re simply obeying their programming. And if that means keeping people captive (albeit in comfortable surroundings) then so be it.
Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) has been a prisoner of the Mechanoids for several years. Starved of any human contact during that time, his first reaction when he meets the Doctor and his friends is to wonder if they’re real.
This might suggest that his grip on reality has started to go, but we’ll soon see that he’s still a very resourceful young man. After appearing as the hillbilly Morton Dill a few episodes earlier, Purves (now with a natty beard) returned to play a quite different character.
With the imminent departure of William Russell and Jacqueline Hill, Purves would go on to be the solid rock of the series during the next year or so. William Hartnell remained the star (although there are points during series three, which we’ll no doubt touch upon in due course, where he’s rather sidelined) but his increasing health issues meant that he would come to depend on Purves, who would be invaluable in dealing with his variable moods.
One interesting point is that the Daleks refer to the Mechanoids as Mechons, due to the fact that all their dialogue was pre-recorded before this script element was changed. Given the chaotic nature of the story it’s good there aren’t any glaringly obvious Dalek dialogue mis-cues (as happened in The Dalek Invasion of Earth).
The set-piece battle between the Daleks and the Mechanoids is impressive – an element of the serial which benefitted from being shot on film. It’s got nothing to do with the Doctor though, who’s hot-footing it with the others down to the surface of the planet, courtesy of a very long rope. Possibly Terry Nation already had visions of his big-budget Dalek series (in which they maybe faced off against the Mechanoids week after week) so was this ending something of a trial run?
So that just leaves the departure of Ian and Barbara. Companion exits tend to happen in one of two ways – either their desire to leave is hinted throughout their final story (Susan or Victoria, for example) or, like Ian and Barbara, they only decide at the end of the story that the time is right to go.
The discovery of the Daleks’ abandoned time machine gives them a perfect opportunity to return to their own time (remember this was still the period when the Doctor had no control over the TARDIS) although the Doctor’s very dubious.
You’ve got to a feel a little for Hartnell here. Although the Doctor’s obviously sorry to have to say goodbye to Ian and Barbara, William Hartnell was even more unhappy that William Russell and Jacqueline Hill were leaving. Possibly this contributes to one of his most famous fluffs (he tells them they’ll end up as cinders floating around in “spain, err space”) if they use the DARDIS.
I love the photo-montage that shows their delight in returning to the 1960’s, especially Ian’s mock-horror at observing a telephone box! They’ll certainly both be missed, as Ian and Barbara were the moral centre of the series (especially during the early stories) but it’s true that their place in the series was becoming slightly redundant.
By this point the Doctor was a much more rounded character, so he didn’t need other people to act as his conscience. All he needed was a young girl to get into scrapes and a young man to provide a bit of muscle – a formula that would endure for the rest of the decade.
One of the frustrating things about The Chase is the fact that the script has some very good ideas which are then rather frittered away. The robot duplicate of Doctor Who is a case in point – this could have easily been developed over a number of episodes, possibly with the audience unaware that a substitution had been made (which would have made the reveal all the more dramatic).
But as this didn’t happen, this part of the plot doesn’t really progress beyond the robot Doctor briefly menacing Barbara before its true nature is revealed to her. Although there’s one plus point – since today’s episode was structured more effectively than the previous one, Hartnell’s able to play both the Doctor and his robot double in several key scenes.
There are still some close-ups of Edmund Warwick mouthing William Hartnell’s pre-recorded lines which doesn’t even remotely convince, but we do get a short battle between the real Doctor and his mechanical counterpart which is quite amusing.
Although The Chase isn’t the sort of script you really should spend a great deal of time thinking about, it’s always slightly irritated me that although the Daleks have now got a time machine they never seem to think it might be a good idea to find out where the Doctor is going to land next and then arrive before him That’s what a time machine can do, for goodness sake!
Instead, Terry Nation seems to regard the TARDIS and DARDIS (only named in the script – popular fan opinion states that it stands for “Daleks are Rusty Dustbins in Space”) as purely linear machines, meaning that the Daleks are always x number of minutes behind the Doctor’s craft. This is rather silly, but no more than the rest of the script I guess.
Anyway, mild rant over. The Doctor, Ian and Barbara have arrived on the planet Mechanus, home of the Mechanoids (who are mechanical, do you see?). Mechanus has the sort of jungle that Terry Nation always seemed to love – the flapping fungoids are an unforgettable sight – although it’s a lot more of a low rent environment than those we would later see in The Daleks Master Plan or Planet of the Daleks. Money was clearly running out, so it’s a mercy that the lighting is kept low (although Barbara and Vicki’s tussles with the fungoids are still hopelessly unconvincing even in this dim light).
The others are reunited with Vicki and after defeating the robot Doctor they ponder their next move (they can’t get back to the TARDIS, since the jungle is crawling with Daleks). The dawn of a new day reveals the city of the Mechanoids in all its glory – it’s a shot not dissimilar to our first sight of the Daleks’ city on Skaro.
For those keeping an eye on the number of times that BBC television cameras wander into shot, then 21:14 into this episode gives us a good sighting of another one. Although if you wanted to do a ret-con, maybe it was actually a new, special weapons Dalek ….
If this episode has somewhat meandered about, then the final twenty seconds or so – when we get our first sight of a Mechanoid – is worth waiting for.
Journey Into Terror (yet another generic Terry Nation episode title) is pretty poor stuff. Technically it’s very sloppy (watch out for the camera at the top of the stairs about five and a half minutes in). There’s another problem a few seconds later when a Dalek is revealed. But the Daleks haven’t arrived yet, so this prop shouldn’t have been in shot. Oops …..
The script had a rather confusing genesis. Terry Nation originally conceived the haunted house as only existing in the imaginations of the four time-travellers (and there’s a remnant of this in the script since that remains the Doctor’s theory). Nation then muddied these waters in the draft script when the Daleks announced that the TARDIS had landed in Transylvania – implying that the Doctor was preparing to meet the real Count Dracula. In the end the script was redrafted to explain that everything they see is nothing more than an elaborate funfair attraction.
Which is closed. So why is the power on and why are the various (very realistic) mechanical monsters moving about? Also, why do they develop homicidal tendencies? Maybe that was the reason why the attraction was closed down. I love when Barbara asks Vicki if she thinks whether “there’s something strange going on around here?” That’s after they’ve both met Count Dracula, so it’s a fair bet that something’s not quite right!
By now, the pattern of events should be clear. The Doctor and his friends arrive somewhere, look around and leave. The Daleks then turn up (they’re always just a little behind the TARDIS) curse that they’ve missed the Doctor yet again and get into a tussle with the locals. If the Daleks have a time-machine why are they always a few minutes behind the TARDIS? This makes no sense, but The Chase isn’t a story that makes a lot of sense anyway.
A little wrinkle is added after Vicki is left behind (she’s forced to take refuge in the Daleks’ time machine). It’s rather remarkable that the others don’t twig she’s missing straight away. Nation would do this again a decade or so later in the Blakes 7 story Seek, Locate, Destroy where Cally went AWOL for a long time before anybody noticed.
The Daleks’ next wheeze is to create a robot copy of Doctor Who. It’s identical to him in every respect (at certain angles anyway, at others it looks nothing like him). This is another of those script ideas that just doesn’t work. Had Hartnell played both the Doctor and his double all the time (with split screen filming for the scenes where they meet) then they could have pulled it off. But Richard Martin bizarrely elected to use shots of Edmund Warwick dressed as the Doctor, badly miming Hartnell’s pre-recorded dialogue. Does this convince? Umm, not really.
It’s true that split-screen would have probably been outside of the programme’s budget, but it’s baffling why the script wasn’t tailored to enable Hartnell to play all of the robot scenes at the end of this episode. Instead, we have shots of Warwick miming, which then changes to a close up of Hartnell. Hardly the most impressive of cliffhangers.
The opening scene in the Daleks’ time machine looks pretty impressive. The set (designed by Raymond Cusick) feels substantial and has some groovy 1960’s embellishments such as the spinning wall designs. It’s also populated with quite a few Daleks – true, at least one is a cardboard cutout and others are cannibalised from the Peter Cushing movie, but it all helps to create the impression of a decent fighting force.
It’s therefore a pity that one of the Daleks is rather hesitant (“umm err”) which rather dissipates this good start. This wasn’t scripted and seems to have been a gag dropped in during rehearsals. It’s another moment which chips away at the invulnerability of the Daleks, although there’s worse to come ….
The TARDIS next drops our intrepid time-travellers off at the top of the Empire State Building. This is the cue for a number of interesting American accents. The first comes from Arne Gordon playing the guide. If you’re bored with the story at this point you can always amuse yourself by counting the number of times he says “err”. Gordon had also played Hrostar in The Web Planet, although you’d be forgiven for not realising this. There’s no excessive hand movements or mutterings of “Zaaaarrbbiiii” for example.
Next up is hillbilly Morton Dill, played by Peter Purves. As is well known, Purves’ small role so impressed Verity Lambert that she offered him the role of series regular Steven Taylor a few weeks later. Quite what she liked about Morton Dill is a bit of a mystery to me as Purves overplays horribly, although you could argue that The Chase is hardly the story where naturalistic acting is required.
I’d assume it must have been Purves’ off-camera persona which convinced her that he’d work well with Hartnell (and she was quite right as he would provide Hartnell with solid support during the next year or so).
Dill’s brief run-in with the Daleks is another instructive moment – he’s convulsed with laughter at their appearance and refuses to take them seriously. Had he then been blasted into nothingness it would have reminded the audience about the power of the Daleks (to coin a phrase). This doesn’t happen, so Skaro’s finest remain something of a joke.
Mercifully, we don’t spend too long in New York. The TARDIS is on the move again, landing the Doctor and his friends on an old-fashioned sailing ship. As with the Empire State Building sequence, it’s over and done with so quickly that only very superficial characterisation can be established.
A gag from The Romans – Ian is knocked out by one of his crewmates, this time Vicki – is reused and once again the Doctor leaves before the Daleks arrive. But whereas they couldn’t be bothered to deal with Morton Dill, here they’re in a much more bloodthirsty move and elect to exterminate all the crew.
This does give us some nicely shot film sequences, showing hapless crew members jumping from the ship into the sea (including, rather disturbingly, a mother and her child). As with the events in the previous episode, you have to wonder why the Doctor never seems to worry that almost everywhere he’s visiting is then obliterated by the Daleks. This is a throwback to the self-centered Doctor of season one, where his survival (and that of his companions) was his sole interest.
The reveal that the ship was the Mary Celeste is a rather groanworthy one, but at least it gives us an explanation for this age-old mystery. The crew and passengers were exterminated by the Daleks! It’s as good a solution as any other.
It’s pulpy sci-fi thrills all the way for the duration of The Death of Time. The appearance of the Aridians (they live on an arid planet, do you see?) isn’t a highpoint of the story as not only do they look ridiculous but they’re forced to deliver fairly uninspiring dialogue in a very stilted way.
These scenes are mainly of interest thanks to the appearance of Hywel Bennett as Rynian. Like Martin Jarvis in The Web Planet there’s a morbid curiosity in watching someone who’d go on to have a long and successful career looking ridiculous. With only a short amount of screentime the Aridians are very lightly sketched. They give the Doctor and his friends an account of their history, but since it’s not naturally delivered it feels like little more than info-dumping.
The Daleks present the Aridians with a stark ultimatum – hand over the Doctor or their planet will be destroyed. It’s no surprise that the Doctor’s able to escape but it’s slightly more of a surprise that he doesn’t seem to feel any obligation to the Aridians and is quite content to leave them to their fate. Because the Aridians are such pallid, comic-strip characters it’s hard to feel that invested about what happens to them, but it still feels a bit off for the Doctor just to beat a hasty retreat.
For those keeping an eye on the technical imperfections of the story, 16:45 in is a good one. For several seconds nothing seems to happen, then Jacqueline Hill is covered with unconvincing polystyrene rocks. It’s one of a number of moments that was crying out for a take two. A minute later, Richard Martin lingers over a shot of the Mire Beast. If you’ve ever seen it then you’ll know why that wasn’t a terribly good idea.
There’s now just one Dalek between the Doctor, Ian and the TARDIS. Do you get the feeling that they aren’t treating this Dalek with all due seriousness? Ian distracts the Dalek with the memorable call of “yoo-hoo! Dalek! Over here, friend!” whilst the Doctor gets in on the act with “yoo-hoo, Archie!” Dudley Simpson’s jaunty music doesn’t help to engender a sense of menace either. Treating the Daleks as comic characters is a dangerous road to go down as once you so it’s harder to recreate their sense of power.
And what exactly does The Death of Time refer to? Sometimes I get the feeling that Terry Nation just drew his episode titles from a hat, not caring that they sometimes bore no resemblance to the events of the script.
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.