Thursday, June 16, 2011

"The Chase"

The Chase

Story 16
Aired: May 22 - Jun 26, 1965

Episode 1 – The Executioners
Episode 2 – The Death of Time
Episode 3 – The Flight Through Eternity
Episode 4 – Journey Into Terror
Episode 5 – The Death of Doctor Who
Episode 6 – The Planet of Decision
Written by Terry Nation
Directed by Richard Martin


The travelers are forced to flee in the TARDIS when they learn that a group of Daleks equipped with their own time machine are on their trail with orders to exterminate them.

The chase begins on the desert planet Aridius and takes in a number of stopping-off points including the observation gallery of New York's Empire State Building, the 19th Century sailing ship Mary Celeste (the Daleks' appearance causing all the crew and passengers to jump overboard) and a haunted house in a futuristic fun-fair. All the while the TARDIS crew remains only one step ahead of the relentless Daleks. 

Eventually both time machines arrive on the jungle planet Mechanus, where the Daleks try to infiltrate and kill the travelers through the use of a robot doppelganger of the Doctor. The travelers are taken prisoner by the Mechonoids, a group of robots sent some fifty years earlier to prepare landing sites for human colonists who never arrived. While in captivity they meet Steven Taylor, a stranded human astronaut who has been the Mechonoids' prisoner for the past two years.

The Daleks and the Mechonoids engage in a fierce battle which ultimately results in their mutual destruction, and the Doctor's party seizes this opportunity to escape.

Ian and Barbara realize that they can use the Daleks' now-abandoned time machine to return to 20th-century Earth and, once his initial objections have died down, the Doctor helps them to do so. The two friends are delighted to be home, although they quickly realize that they have arrived in 1965, two years after they left, leaving them with the difficulty of explaining their long absence.
Using the Time-Space Visualizer, the Doctor and Vicki watch their two friends return to their time and sadly set off for more adventures.


By this point, one could argue that the Daleks were a bigger phenomenon than the series on which they appeared. While Doctor Who was certainly a hit show, the Daleks inspired such a craze that the whole spectacle actually acquired its own pop culture identifier; Dalekmania. The Chase comes smack dab in the middle of Dalekmania, but it doesn't feel anything like the high point it wants to be.

The production team clearly had a mandate to bring back the Daleks as quickly as possible, and the lack of organic impetus to reprise the villains results in a crass affair. It's a story that seems to be purely going through the motions, with almost no moments of inspiration or instances where the story lifts off.

Frankly, it boils the entirety of the Dalek/Doctor conflict to its starkest representation; the Daleks try to kill the Doctor. The idea of  a chase through time and space to destroy their most implacable enemy could certainly make a good story, but such little effort is put into the story that there is almost never any thrills or suspense generated.

That laziness is not limited to the scripts, either. Richard Martin delivers a sloppy piece of work here, with BBC cameras on evidence, and cartoon flashes ham fistedly shoved into the proceedings to little effect. In short, it's clear that this was not a story the production team particularly wanted to do, and the result is a random unmotivated series of events that never cohere into anything approaching a successful story.

What makes this all the more disappointing is the fact that this is the story that sees the departure of William Russell and Jacqueline Hill. In many ways, Ian and Barbara were two of the most successful companions in the history of Doctor Who. They were smart, brave, funny and resourceful. They elevated absolutely every scene they were in, and never phoned a performance in, no matter what the state of the script. Their final scenes are the true bright spots of the whole story, and when Hartnell's Doctor says he will miss them, the entire audience certainly agrees.

The Chase is certainly among the worst First Doctor stories, and may be in the running for overall worst the series ever produced, but those final moments of grace almost make up for it.

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