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

flight

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

death

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

executioners

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.