Doctor Who – Galaxy 4. Part Three – Airlock


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).

Doctor Who – Galaxy Four. Part Two – Trap of Steel

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.

Doctor Who – Galaxy Four. Part One – Four Hundred Dawns

four

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 ……

Doctor Who – The Time Meddler. Part Four – Checkmate

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.

Doctor Who – The Time Meddler. Part Three – A Battle of Wits

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.

Doctor Who – The Time Meddler. Part Two – The Meddling Monk

monk

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 …..

Doctor Who – The Time Meddler. Part One – The Watcher

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.

Doctor Who – The Chase. Part Six – The Planet of Decision

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.

Doctor Who – The Chase. Part Five – The Death of Doctor Who

death-of-doctor-who

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.

Doctor Who – The Chase. Part Four – Journey into Terror

terror

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.

Doctor Who – The Chase. Part Three – Flight Through Eternity

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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.

Doctor Who – The Chase. Part Two – The Death of Time

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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.

Doctor Who – The Chase. Part One – The Executioners

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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.

Doctor Who – The Space Museum. Episode Four – The Final Phase

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This episode brings The Space Museum to a less than thrilling climax. The first thing which stands out is the fact that Barbara and Dako have spent almost a whole episode (from the middle of episode three to the middle of episode four) coughing, spluttering and attempting to escape from the museum. This helps to give the impression that the museum covers a great deal of ground, but also that Jones had run out of anything remotely interesting to do with Barbara.

Once he’s unfrozen, the Doctor delights in asserting his superiority over Lobos. But as in episode two, his glee doesn’t last for long as he’s soon captured again. When Barbara and Vicki are also rounded up, the four time-travellers are together again once more. They debate whether they’ve done enough to change the future – or have all their actions just been moving them closer and closer to the exhibit cases? Ian attempts to smash the Morok’s freezing equipment (in a very ineffectual way, it has to be said) but the Doctor murmurs that he doubts it’s the only one they have.

The classic line “have any arms fallen into Xeron hands?” never fails to raise a smile. It surely must be intentional, surely nobody could write something that silly with a straight face? Maybe that’s The Space Museum‘s greatest failing – had it been made in the late 1970’s it would have been obvious that the Moroks and Xerons were faintly ridiculous stock characters and so more humour could have been developed from their interactions. Easy to imagine Tom having a ball with the script ….

We eventually get an explanation as to why the TARDIS jumped a time track. It’s tempting to wonder if this was a relic of David Whitaker’s work on the script (he commissioned it and later passed it to Dennis Spooner) as it has a definite echo of the gammy spring story from The Edge of Destruction. The Doctor waves a small object about and explains:

DOCTOR: You know, it’s a funny thing how it happened. It got stuck. I don’t know whether you’ve gone into a room and switched on the light and had to wait for a second or two before the thing lit itself up.
BARBARA: Yes, I have. I think most people have.
DOCTOR: Well, this is the same kind of problem, you see. We landed on a separate time track, wandered around a bit, and until this little thing clicked itself into place, we hadn’t actually arrived.
IAN: Ah. Well, thanks very much for explaining it.

Yes, that makes everything quite clear. Umm, maybe.

By far the most interesting part of The Final Test is the cliffhanger which teases us with the return of the Daleks. Although it’s fair to say that The Chase will turn out to be something of a bumpy ride …..

Doctor Who – The Space Museum. Episode Three – The Search

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Introduced as a direct substitute for Susan, Vicki has – until now – rarely been a character who has initiated events. In her previous stories she’s spent most of her time with the Doctor, which has fostered the impression that she’s a young and inexperienced girl who needs guiding.

But whilst she may be young there’s also been various hints along the way that the schooling she received in the future was well in advance of anything that Ian and Barbara would have taught their pupils. In this way she’s very much a proto Zoe – immature but with a strong intellect.

This is the episode where she steps out of the Doctor’s shadow, as we see her organise the Xerons into a revolutionary force. Like the rest of the story this is a little hard to swallow (Vicki is an unlikely revolutionary) but by all accounts Glyn Jones’ original draft scripts were much more light-hearted (script editor Dennis Spooner removed most of the overt comic moments) which might explain why the end product feels a little disjointed.

The Xerons explain to Vicki that the Moroks devastated their planet. “They destroyed everything, even our people. Only the children were spared, to work.” This is slightly odd – quite how efficient children would have been as a working force is debatable, surely it would have been better to keep the adults alive to work as slaves? But it’s a heart-wrending story and provides Vicki with a good incentive to help them, although her desire to ensure that she and the others don’t end up as exhibits in the museum is an even stronger one.

Vicki’s skill with computers (another trait she shares with Zoe) is sort of demonstrated when we see how she bypasses the electronic brain which guards the Xeron’s armoury. The computer is designed to only open the door if the answers received to a set series of questions are both truthful and correct.

Vicki is able to bypass this by speaking the truth when she tells it that she’s Vicki and she wants the guns for revolution.  Best just to ignore this massive cop out I think. As you might expect, what we see is a typical 1960’s vision of a computer – a very bulky, solid-state affair, with whirring tapes spools housed in big cabinets.

Whilst Vicki’s running around having most of the fun, what of the others? The Doctor’s been sitting this one out and won’t return until the next episode, Ian has spent his time getting into fights and waving a gun around whilst Barbara hasn’t had a great deal to do (mainly she’s been attempting not to choke from the poison gas pumped in the museum by Lobos).

Peter Diamond, who teamed up with William Russell in The Romans, makes another appearance here – although this time, as a Morok soldier, he and Ian are on opposite sides. Once again working as both an actor and a fight arranger, Diamond was able to choreograph some reasonably decent fight scenes which allow Ian to throw various Moroks about in a nifty fashion.

Ian reaches Lobos’ office and he orders the Morok commander at gunpoint to release the Doctor. Lobos tells Ian that it’ll achieve nothing if he kills him. Ian responds “possibly, but it might be enjoyable.” This comment is so uncharacteristic that you have to assume he’s bluffing, or maybe all the fisticuffs and gunplay have made him imagine he’s James Bond?!

The episode ends with Ian horrified to see a frozen Doctor. Well sort of. Hartnell’s still on holiday, so Ian has to react to nothing and the audience is required to fill in the blanks.

Doctor Who – The Space Museum. Episode Two – The Dimensions of Time

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It’s possible to feel the goodwill of the opening episode ebbing away during the first scene of part two. Lobos (Richard Shaw) is the Morok commander responsible for administering the Space Museum (on what we quickly learn is the planet Xeros). He’s given a remarkable opening speech.

I’ve got two more millums before I can go home. Yes, I say it often enough, but it’s still two thousand Xeron days and it sounds more in days. Yeah, I know, I volunteered, you were ordered. If the truth were known, I was just as bored on Morok. Still it was home and youth never appreciates what it has. Oh, I don’t know what I’m going to do now. Still, let’s get on with it, shall we? I have to make these reports. I don’t know.

Are the Xerons one of the most boring alien races we’ve seen so far, or are they just one of the most bored? There’s a train of thought which suggests they’re deliberately written in a tongue-in-cheek manner, and in some ways Lobos’ first speech does support this view.

The mighty Morok empire seems to be not quite as mighty as it once was and he’s clearly chafing at being stuck on the backwater of Xeros, running a museum that nobody ever visits. Of course, one of the reasons why the museum doesn’t seem to be very popular could be down to Lobos’ apparent desire to turn any newcomers into exhibits – that’s the sort of thing which would discourage passing trade!

Richard Shaw was a very decent actor (his turn as Sladden in Quatermass and the Pit is an excellent one) but he rather struggles here. He’s hardly alone in that though as the dialogue doesn’t do any of the guest cast any favours.

If the Moroks, with their funny hairdos, look a little strange, then the earnest young Xerons are even stranger. With a very limited budget how do you show that they’re aliens? Give them pronounced eyebrows of course! But this does become rather distracting, as your eye does tend to be drawn to their eyebrows all the time.

Tor (Jeremy Bulloch), Sita (Peter Sanders) and Dako (Peter Craze) are three Xerons with a burning desire to overthrow their Morok overlords. All of them are so impossibly wet that once again it’s possible to wonder if they’ve been deliberately written this way. Or am I being too generous and the end result is simply a combination of ineffectual scripting and acting?

One of the highlights of the episode is the meeting between the Doctor and Lobos. The Doctor is characteristically superior and isn’t keen to submit to Lobos’ interrogation. When he’s asked where he comes from, the Doctor projects an image of some walruses onto Lobos’ screen. He then displays an image of himself in a bathing costume. I’d like to think that this wasn’t just a primitive example of photoshopping and Hartnell really did dress up.

The other highlight is the moment when the Doctor decides to climb inside the Dalek exhibit. Naturally he can’t resist doing the voice as well! (“I fooled them all! I am the master!”) It’s a lovely moment and helps to make up for some of the less successful scenes elsewhere in the episode.

Doctor Who – The Space Museum. Part One – The Space Museum

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The common consensus about this story is that it has an intriguing first episode but this early promise is then squandered as the remaining three installments consist of little more than a lot of tedious running about. Some, like Rob Shearman, have mounted vaillant defences on its behalf – but I think its reputation as an also-run is fairly safe.

Although saying that, it’s not a total disaster and it’s true that the opening episode does show plenty of promise. What’s unusual about this one is that it does attempt to show some of the consequences and paradoxes of time travel – an area which the series rarely tackled during its original run (Day of the Daleks, Pyramids of Mars and Mawdryn Undead are three fairly rare examples off the top of my head).

We open with a mystery – in the first few seconds the four time-travellers are still dressed in their garb from The Crusade, but seconds later they’ve changed into more familiar clothes. But since they don’t remember doing it, how has it happened?

The Doctor at first doesn’t quite get Ian’s drift when he tells him that they’re wearing their clothes (“well, I should hope so, dear boy. I should hope so”) but then airily dismisses their concerns. “You know, it’s so simple. It’s time and relativity, my dear boy. Time and relativity.” When asked to explain further, the Doctor claims he doesn’t have the time, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t have a clue!

Other strange instances – time runs backward after Vicki breaks a glass – are further puzzles, although these are harder to explain. If the Doctor’s later conjecture that they’ve jumped a time track is correct then that could explain the clothes issue – somehow the TARDIS has pushed them into their own future, so it would be reasonable they weren’t wearing their crusading costumes – but the glass/water mystery is more inexplicable.

Of course it could be that our old friend the TARDIS was attempting to raise the alarm that something was wrong (as it did during The Edge of Destruction). If that’s the case then it was with just as much success (i.e. not very much).

There’s an eerie feel to their initial investigation of the Space Museum. Although the four time-travellers seem corporeal and solid, it’s later revealed that they’re little more than insubstantial phantoms – unable to leave footprints in the dust, touch objects or speak to the inhabitants. When they find themselves displayed as immobile exhibits in the museum it’s a striking moment. In this version of the future the Doctor and his friends were captured and turned into exhibits, but that’s only a possibility – it doesn’t have to come to pass.

So they have the chance to change the future and ensure that this grisly occurrence doesn’t come to pass, but how to proceed? Should they go straight back to the TARDIS and leave? Or would that lead directly to the cases?

This part of the story is undoubtedly the highlight as it helps to raise the stakes of the adventure a little more (if they fail then they already know their fate). It’s also fair to say that had this started as just a normal adventure, without this timey-wimey subplot, then The Space Museum would be even less of interest than it currently is.

And we get to see a Dalek! Albeit as an immobile museum exhibit like everything else. It’s a nice foreshadowing of their imminent reappearance (you have to love Ian’s comment that it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever meet them again – I doubt many in the audience were convinced). What’s slightly odd is Vicki’s comment that she’s never seen an image of a Dalek, although she’s read about them in her history books. It’s hard to imagine that there wouldn’t be some visual evidence or photographs of them available during Vicki’s time.

The stock music is at times rather overpoweringly dramatic, although some of the tracks are successful in creating the required odd atmosphere. With the four regulars the only actors with speaking parts (at least speech that we can hear) it’s an excellent vehicle for all of them. For example, Vicki gets some dialogue which shows that whilst she (like Susan) may be sometimes written as a mid twentieth century girl, she’s most evidently not. “Time, like space, although a dimension in itself also has dimensions of its own.”

A more than decent opener, but what will happen when we meet the Moroks and Xerons?

Doctor Who – The Crusade. Part Four – The Warlords

If the previous three episodes of The Crusade tended to concentrate on the court intrigue at both Richard and Saladin’s camps, then The Warlords offers a sharp change of pace.

Saladin, Saphadin and Joanna are all absent and Richard himself only features in a single scene.  His brief appearance is partly to reassure the Doctor and Vicki that he knew they didn’t reveal his plan to Joanna (he was aware it was the Earl of Leicester, but confesses it was politically expedient not to confront him directly).

The scene also allows the Doctor to inform Vicki and the viewers at home that Richard would, ultimately, be unsuccessful in his aims.  He may only have a short amount of screen-time in The Warlords, but once again Julian Glover is unforgettable.

DOCTOR: There is something important, sire. If you are able to defeat Saladin in this battle, can you hold the city?
RICHARD: Win the battle, lose the war. The greatest fear we have. We’ve come so close. I must see Jerusalem. I must.
DOCTOR: You will, sire.
RICHARD: You think so?
DOCTOR: I am certain, sire. And when you look upon the city itself, you will be able to find the answer to the problem of this war. May we now take our leave, sire?
VICKI: Are we going back to the ship?
DOCTOR: As fast as our legs can carry us, my dear.
VICKI: Doctor, will he really see Jerusalem?
DOCTOR: Only from afar. He won’t be able to capture it. Even now his armies are marching on a campaign that he can never win.
VICKI: That’s terrible. Can’t we tell him?
DOCTOR: I’m afraid not, my dear. No, history must take its course.
(The Doctor and Vicki leave.)
RICHARD: Help me, Holy Sepulchre. Help me.

Ian (still on his mission to find Barbara) has unfortunately run into the villainous Ibrahim (Tutte Lemkow) who has devised a novel way to discover where Ian’s money is stashed.

A little pot of honey, made from pounded dates and very, very sweet. There, my lord, a little bit on your wrists and a little bit on your chest. Now, over there is a hungry home, full of ants that go wild for date honey. We must be generous to them. Lay a little trail across the sand, like this. And I will sit in the shade of the trees and dream of all the treasures I will get when the ants discover you. If you crane your neck around, my lord, you will soon see what you take to be a black line along the honey. Why, you will be able to see it getting closer and closer. My little ones! Such ecstasy!

Lemkow is good value, especially when Ian turns the tables on Ibrahim and forces the little thief to take him to El Akir’s palace.  From then on, Ibrahim becomes servile and keen to assist Ian (although there’s no doubt that he would be happy to change sides again at the first opportunity).

At the start of the episode Barbara is once more in El Akir’s clutches – although yet again she’s able to escape from him fairly easily.  This unfortunately doesn’t do the character of El Akir any favours – and his limited screen time during all four episodes does ultimately means that he’s not one of Doctor Who’s most tangible or memorable villains.

El Akir is more of a plot-device (initiating the story by attacking Richard and his friends, kidnapping Barbara to ensure that the Doctor can’t leave) than a fully-rounded character.

If you compare him to the likes of Tegana or Tlotoxl then he seems even more underwritten, although had this story been a six-parter there might have been more scope to develop him. As it is, he seems to be denied even a particlarly impressive death scene as the soundtrack suggests that Haroun quickly dispatches him quite abruptly. 

Since Haroun rescues both his elder daughter Maimuna and Barbara it unfortunately rather negates Ian’s mission (he turns up shortly afterwards).  It’s a little surprising that Ian doesn’t get the heroic fight with El Akir – particularly since William Russell was well able to handle a sword (he had previously starred in The Adventures of Sir Lancelot).

Ian and Barbara then head for the forest at exactly the same time as the Doctor and Vicki.  This is slightly sloppy plotting, as it would have been more logical for Ian and Barbara to return to Richard’s court (they had no way of knowing that the Doctor and Vicki had made an enemy of Leicester).

But clumsy though this moment is, it does give us a nice final scene as Ian is able to spirit the Doctor and Vicki away from under Leicester’s gaze.  Leicester watches in horror as the four time-travellers disappear in the TARDIS and resolves to “not speak of this. Let this story die here in this wood or we’ll be branded idiots, or liars. Poor Sir Ian, brave fellow. Spirited away by fiends. What dreadful anguish and despair he must be suffering now?”

If The Warlords doesn’t quite match the scale and sweep of the previous three episodes (and who are the titular Warlords anyway?) overall The Crusades is still a first class story which thanks to the cast and Douglas Camfield manages to transcend the limited budget and studio-space and produce something quite magical.

If the two missing episodes are never recovered, maybe one day animated versions can be produced – as it’s a story that certainly deserves to sit on the shelf alongside the rest of the second season.

Doctor Who – The Crusade. Part Three – The Wheel of Fortune

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For me, The Wheel of Fortune is the best episode of The Crusade. It has three moments of special interest – Haroun’s life story as told to Barbara, the clash between Leicester and the Doctor and the confrontation between Richard and Joanna.

Haroun (George Little) lives for one reason only – to kill El Akir. He tells Barbara the reason why.

HAROUN: Last year my house was a fine and happy place. A gentle wife, a son who honoured and obeyed me, and two daughters who adorned whatever place they visited. Then El Akir came to Lydda and imposed his will. He desired my eldest daughter Maimuna, but I refused him.
BARBARA: So he took her?
HAROUN: Yes. When Safiya and I were away, he came and burned my house. My wife and son were put to the sword.

It’s a perfectly pitched and dignified performance by George Little. Whilst the character invites our sympathy, Little never overplays – instead he allows the script to do the work.

Equally good is Petra Markham as Safiya. Her father has never explained what happened to the rest of their family, but she has faith that all will be well. “It is a strange mystery. They’ve gone away and we must simply wait for their return. It is the will of Allah”.

Jacqueline Hill is also excellent these scenes – for example, the way Barbara listens in horror to Haroun’s story and later when nearly revealing the truth to Safiya about her missing family. Another key moment is when Haroun leaves Safiya in Barbara’s care. He leaves his knife behind and insists that she use it to kill Safiya and then herself if they’re discovered by El Akir’s men. Barbara is appalled (“No. Life is better than this.”) but Haroun is insistent. Again, Hill plays the scene very well, her performance helping to reinforce how cruel El Akir must be.

The spat between the Doctor and the Earl of Leicester (John Bay) is a very interesting one. It’s another of Whitaker’s lovely Shakespearian pastiches that Hartnell and Bay both deliver with aplomb.

Although the Doctor usually takes the moral high ground, he doesn’t really have it here. His dismissal of Leicester as having no brain doesn’t seem at all fair. Leicester is a soldier, trained to fight, and it’s difficult to argue with his statement that “armies settle everything”.

LEICESTER: Sire, with all the strength at my command I urge you, sire, to abandon this pretence of peace.
DOCTOR: Pretence, sir? Here’s an opportunity to save the lives of many men and you do naught but turn it down without any kind of thought. What do you think you are doing?
LEICESTER: I speak as a soldier. Why are we here in this foreign land if not to fight? The Devil’s horde, Saracen and Turk, posses Jerusalem and we will not wrest it from them with honeyed words.
DOCTOR: With swords, I suppose?
LEICESTER: Aye, with swords and lances, or the axe.
DOCTOR: You stupid butcher! Can you think of nothing else but killing, hmm?
LEICESTER: You’re a man for talk, I can see that. You like a table and a ring of men. A parley here, arrangements there, but when you men of eloquence have stunned each other with your words, we, we the soldiers, have to face it out. On some half-started morning while you speakers lie abed, armies settle everything, giving sweat, sinewed bodies, aye, and life itself.
DOCTOR: I admire bravery and loyalty, sir. You have both of these. But, unfortunately you haven’t any brain at all. I hate fools.

Saladin and Saphadin discuss the marriage proposal. Saladin is extremely cautious.

Have England, France and all the rest come here to cheer a man and woman and a love match? No, this is a last appeal for peace from a weary man. So you write your letter and I’ll alert the armies. Then on either day, the day of blissful union or the day of awful battle, we will be prepared.

And sadly that’s the last we see of Saladin and Saphadin as they, along with Joanna, don’t feature in the final episode. This does give The Warlords something of an anti-climatic feel, but we’ll discuss that in more detail next time.

When Joanna learns that Richard plans to marry her off to Saphadin, it’s fair to say that she’s not best pleased. The scene is a thrilling moment, as both Julian Glover and Jean Marsh attack it at full-throttle. It’s hard to find many examples of Doctor Who scenes pitched at such a level – which makes this one all the more special.

JOANNA: What’s this I hear? I can’t believe it’s true. Marriage to that heathenish man, that infidel?
RICHARD: We will give you reasons for it.
JOANNA: This unconsulted partner has no wish to marry. I am no sack of flour to be given in exchange.
RICHARD: It is expedient, the decision has been made.
JOANNA: Not by me, and never would be.
RICHARD: Joanna, please consider. The war is full of weary, wounded men. This marriage wants a little thought by you, that’s all, then you’ll see the right of it.
JOANNA: And how would you have me go to Saphadin? Bathed in oriental perfume, I suppose? Suppliant, tender and affectionate? Soft-eyed and trembling, eager with a thousand words of compliment and love? Well, I like a different way to meet the man I am to wed!
RICHARD: Well, if it’s a meeting you want.
JOANNA: I do not want! I will not have it!
RICHARD: Joanna!

As this is the last surviving episode of the story, it’s worth taking a moment to praise Douglas Camfield’s direction. He always had an eye for unusual camera angles, plus he isn’t afraid to place the actors in unusual configurations. This helps to make the frame more interesting than just having them stand in a line (something many other directors would have been content to do).

Barbara is back in El Akir’s clutches at the end of the episode (the second that’s ended with Barbara in peril). El Akir’s final words here are truly chilling, thanks to Walter Randall’s matter-of-fact delivery. If El Akir had been an eye-rolling villain then it would have been easier to discount his threats. It’s his calmness that’s somewhat disquieting.

The only pleasure left for you is death. And death is very far away.

crusade-09

Doctor Who – The Crusade. Part Two – The Knight of Jaffa

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Richard’s in something of a better temper at the start of this episode – in part due to the Doctor’s wily manoeuvrings. It’s interesting to note how the Doctor has easily lapsed into the speech patterns at Richard’s court, he’s started throwing “methinks” around quite casually!

RICHARD: There is a jest here, albeit a grim one with our friends dead. But Saladin must be just as much out of temper over this affair as we are.
DOCTOR: Your messenger might offer to exchange a hundred prisoners for the knight he holds.
RICHARD: We think we value Sir William highly. We do, but it would not be good to let Saladin know.
DOCTOR: He might think you undervalue his men. One hundred men to one of yours. Methinks a fair bargain, sire.
RICHARD: By my father’s name, you have wit, old man. Guard, call the Chamberlain. We recognise the service you have rendered us and will be pleased to see you in our court.

With the Doctor and his friends in Richard’s debt, this allows Ian (once he’s been knighted as Sir Ian, Knight of Jaffa) to begin his quest to find Barbara. This also handily removes William Russell from the main storyline (and he’s on holiday next week, so only appears briefly on film). When a story rich in plot-threads like The Crusade only lasts four episodes, it can be a problem finding things for everybody to do, so this simplifies matters – the Doctor and Vicki remain at court and Barbara finds herself in the clutches of El Akir.

As with first episode, David Whitaker’s dialogue (especially when spoken by actors as good as Julian Glover) is something to savour. Richard ponders the strange relationship he has with Saladin –

Saladin sends me presents of fruit and snow when I am sick, and now his brother decorates you with his jewels. Yet with our armies do we both lock in deadly combat, watering the land with a rain of blood, and the noise of thunder is drowned in the shouts of dying men.

The notion that Saladin’s brother, Saphadin, is captivated by Joanna (Jean Marsh), Richard’s sister, sets the King thinking. Could this be a way to bring the war to an end? He sets about drafting a proposal, although crucially he doesn’t think to speak to Joanna first.

And not only this kingdom, its towns and fortresses, shall be yours, but also the Frankish kingdom. Our sister, the Princess Joanna, whose beauty is already spoken of wherever men of judgement and discernment are, is a fit match for one who not only enjoys so grand. No, not grand, eminent. So eminent a brother as the Sultan Saladin but who also possesses an element of his own. Prince Saphadin, we beg you to prefer this match and thus make us your brother.

Richard is pleased with this and takes the Doctor and his friends into his confidence (which helps to bring them back into the main narrative). A story like this, focusing on the machinations of Kings, will inevitably tend to sideline the Doctor – although this isn’t something that David Whitaker necessarily had a problem with. He was of the opinion that when the Doctor travelled back in time he should be content to be merely an observer and not interfere.

Dennis Spooner (as can be seen in The Romans and The Time Meddler) had the opposite view, so this story (written by Whitaker, script-edited by Spooner) is something of an uneasy compromise between them.

But even if the Doctor is rather a passive figure at times, he does have some fun by bamboozling his adversaries. There’s another fine example in this episode, when we see the Doctor running rings around the unfortunate Chamberlain.

CHAMBERLAIN: This and this, stolen from me.
DAHEER: And stolen from me.
DOCTOR: Yes, now there really is a point there, isn’t there? If I stole from you, my lord Chamberlain, how could I steal from him?
DAHEER: You did. You did steal from me.
DOCTOR: Then how could I steal from him, eh, you blockhead?
CHAMBERLAIN: Please, please. Now, I had the clothes first.
DOCTOR: Oh, how nice for you.
DAHEER: And I had them second.
VICKI: Did you buy them?
DAHEER: Yes.
VICKI: From us?
DAHEER: No.
DOCTOR: Then whoever it was stole them from you must have sold them to you. Now, don’t you agree?
CHAMBERLAIN: Er, yes.

The episode ends with Barbara escaping from El Akir’s guards. She runs through the streets of Lydda, desperate for a hiding place. But will she find friend or foe?