Home Featured TV Shows All TV Shows Movie Reviews Book Reviews Articles Frequently Asked Questions About Us

Doctor Who: The Chase

No room on the toyshelf, lads. So sorry.
The one with the Beatles in it! Except for Region 1, sorry.

Season Two, Story R

Starring William Hartnell as the Doctor

With William Russell (Ian), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara), Maureen O'Brien (Vicki) and introducing Peter Purves (Steven)

Written by Terry Nation
Directed by Richard Martin
Produced by Verity Lambert

Episode Titles and Broadcast Dates:
  1. The Executioners - 22 May 1965
  2. The Death of Time - 29 May 1965
  3. Flight Through Eternity - 5 June 1965
  4. Journey Into Terror - 12 June 1965
  5. The Death of Doctor Who - 19 June 1965
  6. The Planet of Decision - 26 June 1965

How To Watch: Available for streaming on demand with Britbox (subscription required). Occasionally in rotation on Pluto.tv (with commercials added), and also released on DVD (see eBay). Region 1 DVD release was edited to remove the clip of the Beatles performing "Ticket to Ride."

Synopsis

Our heroes are having fun using the Time/Space Visualizer to watch historical events, but forget to turn it off while exiting the TARDIS to relax and explore the desert planet Aridius. The Visualizer picks up a stray signal and our heroes learn that the Daleks have built their own time machine, a Dalek death squad is hell-bent on pursuing the TARDIS through eternity, and has already arrived on Aridius. Barely escaping, our heroes end up on the top of the Empire State Building, the Mary Celeste, and a haunted house; each time with the Dalek ship closing in on them, but ultimately end up on the jungle planet Mechanus. The Daleks create and release a murderous robot duplicate of the Doctor, but it is foiled when it refers to Vicki as "Susan." Our heroes escape to a city on stilts high over the planet's surface, where they encounter Steven Taylor, survivor of a crashed spaceship, effectively kept prisoner by the Mechanoids, large spherical robots sent ahead of a colonizing ship from Earth that never came. Our heroes are nearly caught in the crossfire between the Daleks and Mechanoids, but manage to escape the burning city. Ian and Barbara, much to the chagrin of the Doctor, opt to use the Daleks' now-abandoned time/space ship to get home, and re-adjust to life in London. The Doctor and Vicki leave in the TARDIS, assuming that Steven perished in the ruins of the city.

Analysis and Stuff

Oh dear.

So, even the most ardent fans will acknowledge that some Doctor Who stories are just... bad. Not everyone agrees what a bad story is, but I'll venture a definition suitable for everyone: a bad Doctor Who story can be defined as any story you deem not to be worth the time to watch. Maybe it doesn't match your aesthetic criteria. Maybe there's a story element that you find offensive. Maybe it's just dull as dishwater. Maybe it's – even by the standards of the era in which it was produced – incompetently executed.

"The Chase" is, by any objective measure, chock full of some of the most ridiculous incompetence ever thrown in front of the camera. Yet somehow, it's so dreadfully executed that it improbably winds up circling back around to being entertaining in spite of itself. The incompetence becomes, ultimately, its main selling point. The bugs ARE the features!

The first ridiculous element is writer Terry Nation's decision to send up the Daleks. After two stories that gripped the UK featuring the ruthless pepperpots, for some reason he decided to poke fun at them. One of the Daleks on the death squad is an utter buffoon. What's redneck tourist Morton Dill's first reaction on seeing a Dalek? He busts a gut laughing. And the concept of placing them in a haunted house where they're assaulted by Frankenstein and Dracula? Oh my.

The difficulty here is the jarring clashes in tone. Sure, the Daleks are a lot sillier than usual, but they slaughter the Aridians nonetheless, and in the same episode as the comic caper atop the Empire State Building they drive the crew of the Mary Celeste (including a woman with a swaddled infant) into such hysterical panic that they all jump overboard to their doom. And through it all, Dudley Simpson's incidental music... doesn't quite match the mood with his piano-and-celeste arrangements (for Americans of a certain age, it's very evocative of the children's show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood).

A few other minor details... what was the whole Ring in the Field monologue about other than story padding? When it was still a watery planet, did the inhabitants still call it Aridius, or did they rebrand once the oceans dried up? Poor Vicki being scared of heights and having to be lowered 1500 feet from the roof of the city to the jungle floor; I'd've died of fright. Amazing, too, how it takes like five minutes for everyone to escape. And to have an episode titled "The Death of Doctor Who" is just a bait-n-switch of the worst kind.

Frequently the attempt to create a sinister mood is undercut by incompetent direction, or at least multiple mishaps, or poor editing/mixing. Richard Martin, man, I hate to keep throwing you under the bus, but good gravy. Let's enumerate:

An Aridian extra drags Vicki into the room, who indignantly stomp on his foot. The actor seems to completely blank on what he's supposed to do next or where to go, and basically slinks awkwardly off camera.

A Mire beast's tentacle is supposed to burst through a bricked up doorway and grab Barbara. Once it's clear that the tentacle can't quite make it through the hole, Jacqueline Hill, bless her heart, saves the scene by grabbing the tentacle and hurling herself into the wall, which falls apart sending the very obviously foam rubber bricks bouncing everywhere.

What's the first thing that happens in the haunted house? A bat on a string flaps around unconvincingly and then thuds against the railing of the staircase. That pretty much sets the tone for the whole episode. It seems like all the cameras are late, the cuts are all mistimed, the special effects are out of sync, the actor playing Dracula never quite mouths the voice-over lines right (and those teeth are just ludicrous). Nothing works! Though maybe that's why the haunted house was closed...

Not William Hartnell.
But the worst offense is the robot duplicate. I mean come on. Edmund Warrick with a white wig only got away with doubling for Hartnell in "Dalek Invasion of Earth" because he didn't have to DO anything other than collapse with his back to the camera. But here? For the robot duplicate scenes, there was the option to rely on pre-filmed inserts so Hartnell didn't have to dash back and forth from one set to the other, so I fail to understand why SO MANY TIMES the camera lingers on Warrick's face as he badly mouths pre-recorded Hartnell dialogue. Maybe there was no time for sufficient pre-filming, maybe the logistics didn't quite pan out. But then again, at one point they let Warrick speak, and he sounds nothing like Hartnell. And sometimes there were filmed inserts, but with Warrick, not Hartnell? I... did they... but... how... oh... sigh. I give up.

Then again there are some legitimate classic moments, mostly at the end. The showdown between the Mechanoids and Daleks is pretty epic. There's the quintessential Billy Fluff, "You'll both end up a couple of burnt cinders floating around in Spain! Uh, space!" But that line comes during a scene where Ian and Barbara have basically told him that, yes, there's a 50/50 chance they'll die horribly, but they nonetheless want to risk using the Daleks' time ship to go home instead of continuing to travel with him. Wouldn't you be a bit hurt? They were kidnapped at first, but they've bonded with the Doctor through their travels, even if it was because there was such a minuscule chance of the TARDIS ever being able to return to Earth. An opportunity arises, and they take it. And they make it! The sequence of them frolicking through London is one of the most joyous moments in all of Doctor Who. Even if they now have to explain to the Coal Hill headmaster where they've been for the past two years.

And even though it's never shown on screen, is anyone going to doubt that Ian and Barbara probably got married at the nearest registry office they could find and settled down for a lovely quiet life with two or three kids?

Tidbits

Peter Purves was only supposed to play the tourist Morton Dill, but apparently the production team were impressed enough to offer him the role of Steven. Which makes me wonder, did the production team invent the role of Steven for Peter, or did they have the character in mind but couldn't find anyone to play the role with less than a month to spare?

The Region 2 DVD release includes the episode one scene where Vicki uses the Time-Space Visualizer to dial up the Beatles performing "Ticket To Ride" on Top of the Pops (incidentally, this is the only surviving footage of this appearance). When released later in Region 1, the scene is cut. The Britbox version (in America at least) also omits the scene. Don't despair, Americans, if you can track down a VHS copy and have a player, you can still see the scene. It's re-created here with stills and dialogue (replacement music though).

Initially, the Mechanoids were supposed to be called Mechons. Apparently the Dalek voice-overs were recorded before the update.

Haven't I Seen You Somewhere In The Future?
  • Hugh Walters (Shakespeare) would return in the 70's as Runcible in "The Deadly Assassin" and in the 80's as Vogel in "Revelation of the Daleks"
  • Arne Gordon (Empire State Tour Guide) played a Menoptera in "The Web Planet"
  • Dennis Chinnery (Captain of the Mary Celeste) would return in the 70's as Gharman in "Genesis of the Daleks" and in the 80's as Sylvest in "The Twin Dilemma"

Sausage Fest Factor: 93.55% (2 credited females out of 31 total credited roles)

Rating: Two out of Four Burnt Cinders In Spain... Uh, Space
---
John Geoffrion is a semi-retired semi-professional thespian, a professional data guy, and a Dad. He usually falls asleep to the Classic Doctor Who channel on Pluto.tv

3 comments:

  1. I have so much affection for this story. I don't even know why. objectively I can't dispute any of the points you raise. But I just find this whole thing so damn cozy. I'll happily pop it in and watch it any time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Agreed, it's squarely in the 'Supremely Entertaining Because It's So Bad' category here. I'll never understand the logic behind Richard Martin's plotting of the Robot Duplicate sequence. I love the one bit where the Doctor and robot talking smack at each other, and it's pretty obvious that it's Hartnell being filmed from two different angles. Wish they did more stuff like that so we wouldn't be subjected to so many shots of Edmund Warrick advertising how much he didn't look or sound like Billy.

    ReplyDelete
  3. William Russell dancing to the Beatles though... :)

    ReplyDelete

We love comments! We actively monitor, and feed mean, nasty comments to our cats. It’s never too late to comment on an old show, but please don’t spoil future episodes for newbies.