And so we come to a sad point in the running order of Doctor Who – the departure of Ian & Barbara.
While the likes of Billie Piper and Catherine Tate shared equal billing with David Tennant in more recent Dr Who, the characters were still – to an extent – supporting ones. There’s nothing wrong with that, because that’s the formula; you have the Doctor and his companion/s.
I’ve always looked upon Ian & Barbara differently. What made them unique was that they were treated as equal members of an ensemble cast. Yes, the show was called Dr. Who, but throughout their run – and in the first series especially – Ian & Barbara are as much the main characters as the Doctor, if not more-so.
That would never be repeated.
So yes, this is a key point in the history of the show in my opinion.
As for the story itself, The Chase is one which seems to get a lot of mixed reviews. Some people say it’s crap, others say it’s ‘silly’ and most criticise Richard Martin’s performance as director.
What’s my take on it all?
Doctor Who – The Chase Review: What’s This One About?
The Daleks decide to build a time machine and hunt down the TARDIS in a chase through time & space.
The Doctor & Company must try and stay a few steps ahead of the Daleks in an attempt to find somewhere to take them on and defeat them.
After landing on the top floor of the Empire State Building, on board the Marie Celeste and inside a Haunted House (all to ‘Hilarious Consequences’) they finally land on the planet Mechanus, where they decide to stay and fight.
Ultimately they don’t have to, as in their attempts to find the TARDIS crew the Daleks pick a fight with the inhabitants of the planet – the robotic Mechanoids – and are destroyed.
The story also introduces Peter Purves as Steven Taylor in the final episode, although he also famously played a different character – Morton Dill – in Episode 3.
The Daleks and The Way They are ‘Booked’
Some ‘purists’ claim the Daleks in this story are ridiculous and the worst example of their kind in the series’ history. This mainly stems from them doing things that could be considered ‘silly’ – like the way they react on board the Marie Celeste (desperately trying to get one of the sailors to stop so they can ask if they’ve seen the TARDIS), their conversation with Morton Dill, the way they too get spooked (pardon the pun) in the Haunted House and of course the fact there’s clearly a
bumbling ‘idiot’ Dalek among their ranks who stumbles over his words. But it also comes from the way the Doctor and his companions perhaps don’t react with the same level of fear towards the Daleks as they do in later stories.
I disagree. I fail to see how that’s not an entertaining use of the Daleks in what is supposed to be an entertainment show. They still have a menace about them – the way they treat the Aridians and the Mechanoids is testament to that – but the way they show fallibility gives them depth.
Remember as well that at this point, the Daleks aren’t written as the most evil and calculated force in the universe like we’re supposed to believe now. That comes in the next Dalek story, but only lasts for the subsequent two (Power & Evil) before they do a bland reunion tour under Pertwee and then just settle down as easily defeatable background muscle in ‘Davros Stories’.
The way the Daleks are written can be compared to the way ‘heels’ are presented in wrestling. The traditional way of making money from a match in wrestling is to bring in a new bad guy, have him appear utterly indestructible as he easily brushes aside every wrestler that stands in his way and position him to face the good-guy champion.
How on earth is the good guy going to defeat the bad guy when the bad guy appears to have no weaknesses? And so people pay money to see that match. There are various different scenarios of how this can play out; for example, the bad guy could lose to the current champion, or he could beat him but with the intention of losing to a brave new good guy somewhere down the line. But no matter what, the money is to be made by a good guy overcoming the odds to beat the bad guy.
That’s all well and good, but what happens to the bad guy? He’s no longer indestructible and so he’s lost his selling point. So in the old days of wrestling he would move on to another territory and start his act again.
Now let’s compare that to the Daleks.
The Daleks never win. They are written like the most deadly force in the universe, but only in the story ‘Dalek’ did they avoid defeat, and that was because the single Dalek went to a ‘non finish’ with the Doctor because it chose to kill itself. For new audiences, that was the best possible way to write for them, because the Daleks were positioned to be so invincible and so ruthless, new viewers believed that one Dalek could bring down an entire planet.
So when the Doctor comes up against a whole army of them, what’s he going to do? That’ll get viewing figures. People would tune in – and they did – to see how the Doctor could possibly get out of that one.
But once he’s defeated them, where is there left for them to go? And yet the Daleks are brought back time and time again, and each time we are fed the same line about how they are oh-so dangerous. The Doctor has convincingly defeated the Daleks so many times that they should hold no fear for the Doctor anymore. I’ve had this view for years, but my thunder is perhaps stolen here by Steven Moffat coming out and saying the same thing only a couple of weeks ago.
It’s the classic example of diminishing marginal returns.
We will eventually get to the point where there is a story called ‘Pudding of the Daleks’ – a story in which the Doctor and his companion go to the most famous restaurant in the universe, only to find the Daleks are running the kitchen.
So to bring it back to the Daleks in the Chase, I think it’s refreshing that we aren’t fed the usual ‘OMG the Dalekz r going 2 kill us all, yo, coz they iz sum seriously bad dudez’ stuff. The Daleks here are positioned as being clearly very fallible. We know they can be defeated by the Doctor, and he knows it too. He’s already defeated them twice. Yes, he knows they are dangerous, but they can be beaten. The point of the story is that the Daleks are chasing them and they have to find somewhere to fight them. That’s what it sets out to do, and it does it.
Still, with all of that in mind, even I have to criticise the stupidity of the Dalek who comes across Ian in episode 4 and asks him ‘Where are the time travellers’. Surely they’ve been shown pictures of the people they’ve gone to the trouble of building a time machine to track down?!
Another thing that the ‘purists’ attack this story for is the direction. I’d agree that it’s not great at times, but it’s not as bad as people make out. The main problems are in Episode 4 and 5. In the Haunted House, there’s a scene where the Doctor and Ian go down into Frankenstein laboratory, and you can clearly see a Dalek in the background, even though the Daleks are yet to arrive. Only when they go back to the lab later in the episode does the Dalek get used. Very sloppy.
Also, with the doppleganger Doctor, the way he keeps switching back and forth between William Hartnell & Edmund Warwick is both confusing and unnecessary.
The other things people criticise him for, such as the sets and some of the plant life on Mechanus aren’t his fault, even though he seems to beat himself up about it on the DVD.
Personally though, I would criticise him for the cliffhanger to Episode 1. When you look back at the cliffhanger to the first episode of The Space Museum, this is the polar opposite. It’s a story where we know the Daleks are in it, the Doctor & Barbara know it too and they’ve already appeared. So why is the Dalek coming up from under the sand a cliffhanger? It’s a surprise to nobody! It’s terrible, and a blatant copy of the end of episode 1 of the Daleks Invasion of Earth. Bad Richard
The Writing and Flow
There’s more to The Chase than just the Daleks or the Direction – the general story is also reasonably solid, even if there are plenty of ridiculous things that happen in it.
Much like the Keys of Marinus from Series 1, I like that the action shifts from place to place. You couldn’t do an entire story in a Haunted House like they do Episode 4, nor could you base entire stories around the set pieces of the Empire State Building or the Marie Celeste. The latter example is also quite clever I would say. We’ve seen the Doctor be responsible for the burning down of Rome and being present at points of historical significance, so it’s amusing to think that the Daleks might have been at the heart of the mystery of the Celeste.
And going back to the Haunted House, it might well be criticised for the direction, and it might be a little bit confusing, but for the key audience of the time – kids – it must have been
great. I watched it for the first time when I was 11 I think, and it’s my favourite part of the story by a distance. The idea that everyone – even the Daleks – are comically scared by what’s going on is amusing. Best of all is the bit where the Doctor – a man not exactly renowned for having fear – mocks Ian for not wanting to go down into the laboratory, and then when they find Frankenstein’s monster on the table, he bolts from the room, stumbling over his line by proclaiming “I say, I think we’d better check where Vicki and Barbara is”. Great stuff from Hartnell.
And then, just when everyone has decided that they must have been inside the human mind rather than in a real place, the reveal that it’s a closed down exhibit from the World’s Fair is a great punchline.
On the other hand though, how do the likes of Frankenstein’s monster & Dracula resist the Daleks’ weaponry? And why does the monster decide to destroy the Daleks?
Another small complaint is that the name ‘Aridious’ is classic lazy Terry Nation. It’s a planet without much water? Well it must get called something directly related to that!
- Even though they eventually manage to get back to 1965 in the Dalek Time Machine, Ian & Barbara must have been a little disappointed that the TARDIS finally managed to land on Earth in 1966 but in a place where they couldn’t stay. But what’s stupid about it is that they never even bother to mention the irony of it all, and the Doctor still uses the excuse that he can’t get them back to their own time in episode 6.
- The way there isn’t a ‘goodbye’ scene with the Doctor and Ian & Barbara could be considered a missed opportunity. In a way though, it’s quite poignant that in its place we get to see the Doctor watching them on the Time/Space Visualiser. And indeed, The Doctor’s reaction is very natural. He’s sad to see them go because Hartnell himself was sad to see them go.
- Speaking of the Time/Space Visualiser, all I’ll say is this; it’s ridiculous. Even in a show like Dr Who, it’s far fetched. I could write an entire article about how it doesn’t make sense.
- Anyone who risks their life to save a cuddly toy Panda (who incidentally never makes a reappearance in the show) is an idiot who deserves to burn alive.
- How did they manage to have enough rope to climb down 1500 ft? And how are the likes of Barbara or the Doctor strong enough to climb down that distance without the proper safety equipment?
- How could anyone think the Mechanoids had the mileage to be brought back again or become merchandise successes? Seriously?
- How is the tour guide in the Empire State Building doing a bang-on impression of Columbo four years before Peter Falk first played the role? Spooky!
- Barbara’s reaction to being told Ian has been killed by the fake Doctor is a little bit underwhelming, as is the real Doctor’s reaction when Ian mistakenly thinks he’s the robot and is about to cave his skull in with a rock. “What does it matter now” he says. Surely he could have made a more compelling case for the defence?
- What was that nonsense about ‘The Ring in the Field’ that Vicki was going on about? Is that what passes as character development?
Doctor Who – The Chase Review: Final Thoughts
I would agree with the people who say the story is a bit ‘silly’, but I’d sooner have that than almost any Dalek story between 1972 and 2005. Here the Daleks show vulnerability and – from the perspective of the viewer – likeability.
The story itself is fun. Things move at a reasonably pace and it flows well. The set pieces all work from a storyline point of view, if not from the point of view of the direction, and it ends with one of the key moments in the history of Doctor Who. All but one of the original cast have now left the show and from here on in it really has become a show about The Doctor.
If you go into The Chase with a view to be entertained and not to see major drama then you’ll enjoy it. If you’re a Fan-Wank Purist, you might not like it, because the Daleks are portrayed differently to any appearances before or since, but since everyone knows they are always defeated, I don’t see the problem.
So yes, I’d recommend it.