Companion: Vicki, Barbara, Ian
Written by: Terry Nation
Directed by: Richard Martin
Background & Significance: If I have a problem with Terry Nation, it's the fact that he is often very uninventive with his most-beloved creations and he rarely does anything new or interesting with them, choosing to let them become silly ineffectual things rather than the former, evil, cold-hearted, ruthless beings.
"The Chase" was commissioned as the third Dalek story soon after production of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". The premise is simple: The Daleks chase The Doctor and his companions through time and space and much fun is had and it's rompy and then Barbara and Ian leave (which, much like "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" is the hands down best part of the story). Unfortunately, you can see the effectiveness of The Daleks wearing thin because this is just a mindless runaround. The Daleks that appeared previously were various degrees of facist bastards (let's commit genocide against our blood brothers The Thals purely because we can). But here, the Daleks are morons. This only makes sense, of course. More than anything else, Nation was more interested in spinning The Daleks off into their own show and riding that gravy train into the ground. He also sought to recapture the magic of his original imagination by creating natural enemies for The Daleks (The Mechanoids) that The Daleks could find in this never-really-realized TV show, but they just come out as total hogwash and a waste of everyone's time.
It's because of stories like this that I perpetuate the theory that Terry Nation's writing in "Genesis of The Daleks" was way punched up by then-script editor Robert Holmes, because honestly? This story is a joke, a total disservice to The Daleks, and a stark contrast to the levels of quality Dalek stories that happen throughout the rest of the show's history.
So let's get to it!
“The Chase” is one of the stories (as I’m sure it is for a lot of people) that isn’t… looked upon very fondly. And while I totally understand the love that people can lavish upon this one, I find I’m not able to agree.
For one thing, there’s your typical Terry Nation staples in this (not the first to say it, but I’m saying it anyways). There’s random technology, big sci-fi ideas, weak dialogue, and of course Daleks. And it’s not like it’s done super phenomenal or anything. I mean, it’s fine. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s much like an extension of "The Space Museum". If “The Space Museum” is in fact a giant self-parody episode, then “The Chase” feels like a parody of a Dalek runaround, which is weird because there’s never been another Dalek runaround like this one before.
So we have that, which is fun and they’re relaxing and all that. It’s interesting to see the continued influence on the show being all about edutainment as it were (as well as being a fun thrill ride or what have you). I mean, how else do you explain that? Why not tune in for “Days of our Jawas” or something? Get outside of the boring ramp of history or whatever. Or maybe don’t spend so much time watching all the Daleks enter their time machine (which is funny because it’s basically the same three Daleks just traveling in a circle around the set. Love it).
To me, this gets away from what makes the characters so interesting. Barbara and Ian have settled comfortably into their lives in the TARDIS and are no longer begging The Doctor to get home. They’re literally along for the ride and around to be part of the TARDIS crew. This is annoying because I feel it’s away from the urgency that this show works so well with in all situations (fear not though because it’s about to get mad urgent mad quick), but at the same time it’s also more touching because… despite this comfortability they have, they still leap at the possibility of getting home in just a few episodes’ short time.
Terry Nation, though… Mad Man Terry Nation…
If I have a problem with Terry Nation, it’s that for a guy who has all manner of imagination in the stories he contributes to Doctor Who, and for a guy who created The Daleks, he honestly never could think of interesting things to do with them. I know that more of this is going to come later (starting in episode three) so I’ll talk about it more then, but my god. Dalek rising out of the sand? Turning your terrifying, epic creations into a coughing rising thing? Lame.
I mean, honestly, we have Barbara and The Doctor suntanning and Vicki and Ian running away.
Although I have to ask: Is this the far side of Tattooine or something? Because my god. Two suns. Sand covered planet. Weird aliens? Did we just get a Star Wars/Doctor Who crossover? Christ I hope so. How awesome would that be? Ian with a lightsaber. I JUST EXPLODED YOUR BRAIN. Whatever. Moving on. Plenty more opportunities for that.
Daleks’ Master Plan” is better.
Right of the bat, the first thing I’d have to mention about this are the Aridians. They’re….. I dunno. I can’t say I like them too terribly much. They’re all weird looking and seem all useless. Standard Terry Nation fare. I honestly can’t think of anything they do in this except talk expressively and with hand motions and hang out underground. There’s some interesting thing that’s going on with them just like… with where they came from and stuff, but all of that is very superficial and plot based. There isn’t a huge crazy much lot of thought that’s put into these lizard fish aliens or whatever they are.
There is a really great thing in this, though. I mean, the Aridians help The Daleks (which makes sense because who besides The Doctor openly defies The Daleks?) to dig The Doctor’s TARDIS out. And there’s only two of them and they do it with trowels. Honestly. That’s amazing. You can’t say that the Aridians aren’t efficient workers. They totally did that and it was great. No. Wait. They got exterminated for it. Nevermind. The Daleks are apparently against workers’ rights. So that’s a lesson, I think. When working for the Daleks, make sure you unionize. Just make sure Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker isn’t around. He won’t be any help for you.
It’s actually not awful but it's not exactly very good either.. My issues with "The Chase" don’t start until the mindless runaround of the title starts. Here it’s fine. It’s just slow, I would say even for the era’s standards, but I’ve certainly seen worse episodes in this era (and we’re about to see more). I mean, it’s fine, there’s just not a lot to say about it. The Daleks just hang out. There’s some cold blooded murder, but other than that they’re just… here. Which is fine. Hopefully they don’t just be “here” for the rest of the piece.
On particularly good form here is Hartnell. Much like most Doctors’ second season, he’s really on his game. There’s something about the way he is where we feel like we know him but there’s also that quintessential Hartnell mystery that comes with the fact that we know next to nothing about his Doctor. But he’s… he’s really good here. He’s got that great quality where he’s just thinking constantly and being that delightful old grandfather he’s so good at being, especially when he and Ian trick The Daleks into falling through the hole.
See, Ian steals Barbara’s cardigan (cheeky) and The Doctor strips off his jacket (aw yeah) and then they trick one Dalek (single) into falling into a pit that’s been covered with cloaks and dirt? But… It’s not like they did a jungle trap or nothing. It just… It’s just happened? It’s weird and lame and probably not perfectly visualized. I mean, maybe it’s not how Terry Nation saw it in his head, but it… I dunno. It didn’t quite work for me. Although it is funny to see Hartnell try to wave down a Dalek and dodging gunfire (even if The Daleks are terrible awful shots).
But here, they’re terrible shots. Not that they’re not also menacing. They do out and out execute a couple of Aridians in true Dalek style, but… That last scene should tell us everything about what we’re about to see and it’s… I dunno. I like that Doctor Who is silly, but this silly really pushes it for me and I can’t say I’m the hugest fan. And now we’re about to get a couple episodes of straight Dalek silly.
Dear God help me.
Now, to get this out right off: I actually understand the rationale for this story. It’s the whole Dalekmania thing. Throw Daleks on the screen. See what happens. La la.
But I can’t help but wonder what the reaction was when this came out. People probably were going absolutely Dalek crazy and this was only the third time The Daleks had ever showed up. So they were clamoring for some and stuff. And then they throw out this. Which is… it’s slopped. Especially after the first two. This is just a Dalek runaround with next to no substance.
The New York bit I’ll discuss first because it’s… I dunno. It’s alright. It’s mostly useless. I mean, The Doctor, Barbara, Ian, and Vicki land and then they get talked to by the Texan tourist and then the Daleks land and they get mocked by the Texan tourist and then everyone moves on. And it’s very exciting or something. Although the Texan is played by Peter Purves who played Steven? So maybe he’s a plant from the future or something maybe?
So here’s the deal. I think these are… fun. BUT. There’s a problem with this being “just fun”. It’s all flash no substance. Is there a point to the New York? Is there a point to the Mary Celeste? No. Is there any character thing going on? No. Is there any Dalek coolness stuff going on? No. They’re just gliding around. “Is The Doctor here?” “No.” Move on.
I’m sure the kids love it. And we know that Terry Nation is very much interested in the child perspective of the show (he felt uncomfortable with “Genesis of the Daleks” for the level of darkness and violence or what have you). So it only makes sense that his stories have a definite marketing appeal towards children and what have you. But this… I wonder exactly how much adults of this time would have loved it, especially because there… there really isn’t anything to this one, especially not for the adults. It’s just set pieces and no story, none at all because... God. What is happening? Nothing, really. And that's a huge bummer because who doesn't want a Dalek Chase through Time-and-Space, especially fun-loving, adult Doctor Who fans.
In the age of the internet, we all know that there must have been people who loved it and others who hated it? The truth is, it’s impossible to say. I mean, just putting Daleks in something goes a LONG way towards allowing people to forgive it or what have you. But at the same time… I think this story definitely pushes and tests the limit for what Dalekness you can and canot get away from and it really is the point at which people realized that it's not enough to have Daleks, but they gotta have a good story or what have you.
I mean, the Mary Celeste thing is fun, and I would youtube it but it’s honestly not worth the time. And it does have a Dalek going over the side of a ship and into the water, but that’s hardly worth an entire youtube. But honestly, does it serve a purpose? It doesn’t advance the story, it doesn’t accomplish anything… Why does Barbara get out of the TARDIS anyways if they’re going to disembark straight off?
Inherently, the concept is good, but Terry Nation is clearly more interested in the silly and putting his creations in exotic locales than telling a proper Doctor Who adventure (at least for this episode, anyways), which is a shame because, again, conceptually it’s quite good. It just suffers from the execution.
And the next episode is not very much better.
Thinking about it, I think “The Chase” is basically the Hartnell era’s version of Michael Bay’s Transformers.
No. Wait. Don’t go away. Lemme esplain.
See, Transformers is a bad movie. Let’s make no bones about that. And even if you don’t agree with me, the least you can do is acknowledge the fact that there are better movies, better action movies, better summer blockbusters… all that.
Granted, you have to really take your brain out to get through a lot of it (and even more so when the sequel comes around). It’s really not great and you can’t think about it too much but it is fun and enjoyable and rompy and there’s robots punching each other and fighting and all that awesome goodness or whatever and it’s a slam of ideas and blockbuster popcorning and there's not much of a story but sometimes you don't need one I guess (which is bullshit so whatever) all that and I’m probably making sense by this point so I’ll just stop and move and essplain some more.
The majority of this episode takes place in a Haunted House that’s… somewhere in 1996? I guess it says Ghana but whatever. Not really important. What is important is that they’re there and there’s a Frankenstein and Dracula and…… some screaming woman? Honestly, I have no idea who she is. Maybe she’s the Bride of Frankenstein or something. But I don’t recognize her without the lightning scarred beehive (I hope that visual makes sense). Oh, and there’s bats on wires and a staircase and all that excitement.
See, this is fun. Really, honestly it is. It’s totally moronic and stupid, but it’s just kid-fun. It’s fun to watch Dracula get gunned down by a Dalek and see it do nothing (which makes me wonder if a Dalek ray-gun would have any effect on vampires? Or does it not have any effect on Dracula here because he’s an animatronic? I mean, I know it’s the latter, but it’s an interesting quandary, isn’t it? I doubt Dalek laser blasts are laced with garlic or something. Although that would be cool, but I digress), and Frankenstein lifting and dropping a Dalek is kinda epic in its own way.
And this flies all in the face of the logic of the Transformers analogy, but you can apply the same reasoning to that movie. What is the point of this? Why do The Daleks want The Doctor? Why are they making a clone of him? Why are they chasing the TARDIS at all? What do they hope to accomplish? Why do The Doctor, Vicki, Ian, and Barbara get out of the TARDIS at all? What does that accomplish? Once you start applying those logic rules to this, the story really, really starts to fall apart and the fact that they’re just set pieces stands out all the more. At least when “Daleks’ Master Plan” devolves into being “The Chase” in its second half there’s a very clear reason for why The Doctor and co. are running from The Daleks and why The Daleks are chasing him.
But enough whining. What’s awesome about this?
Well, haunted house aside (because while it is stupid, it is really awesome), we do get this really weird concept that Terry Nation wanted to throw at us, which is illustrated by The Doctor’s proclamation of “We’ve landed on a stray and passing thought.” And that’s… I dunno. I don’t buy that. It’s one of those things where Terry Nation has an imagination and I’m not sure that’s feasible so much. I mean… The TARDIS landing on a stray thought? I don’t think that’s for me so much.
But the best part of this episode is easily the Vicki situation.
Over the course of this episode, The Doctor, Barbara, and Ian are separated from Vicki and take off in the TARDIS without her aboard. It leads to some great character work as the grandfather and surrogate parent characters all deal with the fact that they left their child behind and they have no way of getting her back. Dramatic irony of the situation, we DO know that Vicki’s on board the Dalek time-ship and she’s totally following after them, but the reaction work on the TARDIS crew’s part is totally brilliant and wonderfully realized.
It’s for things like that that this story rocks. Unfortunately, this story for the most part isn’t about those or making sure it makes sense. It’s about a trollop of good time, which is cool. But no matter what Terry Nation says or thinks or does, it’s the characters, not the Daleks, who are the draw for this show. Perhaps if this story had more character work and less mindless set piecing it would be an honest to goodness good story. But alas it is not and what we are left with is more Transformers than Dark Knight and unfortunately for this story/Terry Nation I really love love love the latter and couldn’t really care less about the former.
Now I know there’s problems (which I’ll get to in a minute), but I subscribe to the theory of Robert Shearman (writer of “Dalek” among others) who in his recent book Running Through Corridors said: “'The Death of Doctor Who' is not a great episode. But it does have two versions of The Doctor fighting each other with walking sticks. That’s the sort of thing I like. You saw Edmund Warwick and William Hartnell? Pish and Tush to that.”
It’s interesting that the best parts of "The Chase" are the parts where the chase itself isn’t actually happening. It’s like an action sequence. They’re fun to watch, but they really honestly don’t accomplish anything, do they? They’re just set pieces and involve wacky antics and rarely progress a story or speak to a larger character arc or goal or any of that. They’re just action and are much of the visuals and lack accomplishment except by perhaps a choreographer or some special effects guys (see: Transformers analogy).
For one thing, this episode is all about The Doctor, Barbara, and Ian finally disembarking on the planet Mechanus and what happens when they do. We get some great stuff with them worried about Vicki and an intervention by the Doctor-dupe/Dalek robot (but more on him in a minute) and some great work on the part of all our principal actors, from Barbara’s dealing with Ian’s “death” to her realizing he’s not so much, to The Doctor taking up the mantle of action finally (more on THAT in a minute), to Vicki’s sheer terror at Robo-Doctor and then the entire crew’s perplexment and blindly following at the appearance of a Mechonoid while the Daleks glide around the forest… it’s just huge win.
I guess the biggest and most important thing to talk about is this Robo-Doctor duplicate thing. I’ll call him Robo-Doctor from now on and before I go any farther I just HAVE to show you some of it… so please to enjoy this youtube of The Doctor fighting his Robot doppleganger with walking sticks (and other sundries) and seeing the “lovely” Edmund Warwick who plays The Doctor’s doppleganger to… varying degrees of success or what have you. Although I will say that there a rather stunning moment of violence when the Robot Doctor assaults Barbara with his walking stick... which I actually enjoy because it really gives us stakes for the story (finally), but you'll see it in the youtube. Which you should watch because seriously? So much fun. Just watch it.
PLEASE TO ENJOY.
See what I mean? I mean, the Robot looks horrid and it doesn’t quite make the most of sense. But it is a ton of fun to watch that youtube, is it not?
That’s, really, where we should start talking about this thing. Because Edmund Warwick… Not so much. He’s taller than Hartnell, and while he wears the same clothes and such, his facial structure looks nothing like our beloved Doctor. And that’s… Fine, I guess? How close to someone can you actually get in terms of sheer looks? But that SHOULD matter, especially when you’re not hiring someone for their Hartnellicity. All of the Robot Doctor’s lines are dubbed over by Hartnell and played over the sound system in a voice over. So I question that…
I mean, seriously. It’s like director Richard Martin takes every single opportunity he can to use Warwick, which isn’t fooling anyone and the inconsistency of it… It doesn’t make any sense. Why use Hartnell sometimes and use Warwick others? Was Hartnell incapable of being in some of these shots? And if he was, why not just use Warwick all the time? Because using Warwick only in long shots is silly, especially because they do use Warwick to double for The Doctor at times (rather than just using him for Robo-Doctor).
The Sea Devils”. It’s possibly legendary, but because it’s so sloppy it’s… it fails a bit, I think.
Now this was said by either Shearman or Toby Hadoke in the aforementioned Running with Corridors, so I’ll give them all the credit that was due and make the point again for those here who haven’t read it…
The Doctor fighting his own Robot Duplicate and then the subsequent march out into the swamp land to pretend that he IS the duplicate (which The Daleks don’t see through, but that’s beside the point) is a hugely dramatic shift for The Doctor. See, this story is (regardless of quality) a huge major shift in the nature of Doctor Who as an institution. Not only is Verity Lambert just a few short stories away from departing, but so are Ian and Barbara, and with them go the main driving action adventure element of the show. They will be replaced by Steven in the next story, but the void will still be unfilled…
See, The Doctor NEVER would have done this in another story. Had he? Had he been a character/man of action? Had he gone and faced The Daleks directly? The answer is no he had not. But he does this, and he does it selflessly. He is no longer thinking about his own well-being. He is camping to prepare to fight the Daleks, he is marching right up to them and trying to fight them on his own, which is something Ian would have done back in the day. Ian would have picked up that walking stick. Ian would have fought.
And with just one more episode featuring Ian and Barbara, it only makes sense that this would happen now, and it shows that not only are they ready to move on, but so is The Doctor. If that doesn’t speak to the strength of that walking stick fight, I don’t know what will.
First the Mechanoids.
The Mechanoids are one of those Terry Nation ideas that, to me, prove that The Daleks are more fluke than anything, or, at least, he was incapable of recapturing the magic because The Mechanoids are… well… They’re kinda Daleky, aren’t they? They don’t look like your standard aliens, have bizarre appendages/weapons, and speak in a difficult to discern voice… But where the Daleks succeed in being scary and freaky and effective in their simplicity, I think the Mechanoids fail in going past that and trying to go more and showing how nicely the Daleks straddle a fine line of being JUST weird enough and JUST special enough to be freaky but not absurdistly abstract and unintelligible.
That’s not to say that there aren’t great things about this story. I mean… The Daleks and the Mechanoids do have a skirmish. And it’s epic.
Oh. And it’s youtubed!
See, I find that epic, but it’s clear that the Mechanoids and the Daleks are from the same sorta… production design mentality and they really only work (or don’t) because they are so similar or what have you.
That’s not to say there’s not great moments. I do quite like the Mechanoids actually doing the fighting against the Daleks and while people do complain about their voices, I quite like them as they are. Are they hard to understand? Yes. But at least they have a definite oeuvre and it does highlight the fact that the Mechanoids are robotic where the Daleks are aliens in outer shell casings. I like that, although I’m quite unsure as to what, exactly, the Mechanoids function are, as it’s buried under all the other stuff that happens in this story.
I love how he built a treehouse inside his cell and managed to build it so he could escape up to the roof and the Mechanoids couldn’t care less because the top of the structure is 1500 feet off the ground (that’s a lot of feet, taller even than the tippy top of the Empire State Building). And the plan is to detach a cable and lower it down to the ground and have everyone lowered down or maybe they climb down the rope?
Didn’t Ian and Barbara go through an entire adventure that focused on rope safety and how DANGEROUS that was? And the solution to this is they tie a rope around Vicki and lower her to the ground and Ian says “We’ll tie the cable around you and lower you to the ground. You’ll be quite safe.”
Sorry, Ian. But I don’t trust you in this situation, especially if it takes you and Barbara and The Doctor and Steven to lower Vicki safely to the ground. And you expect to climb down 1500 feet (that’s 125 stories) hand over hand to get to the ground? This hardly seems plausible or like a good idea, especially when you can’t even trust Steven to pay attention long enough to lower Vicki five feet (only 1495 to go!) before running off and then Ian is forced to grab onto Barbara by any means necessary, even if that does mean that he is forced to grab Barbara by her underwear so she doesn’t fall off that giant big ol’ ledge.
But I do like Steven. It’s interesting to see him show up here especially because he’s about to join the TARDIS crew for a season and to watch him interact with Ian and Barbara who are, essentially, the lame ducks of the whole thing. It makes me wish I could watch through the whole series with no spoilers or what have you because it really gives a whole… passing the baton feeling to what’s going on despite the fact that we won’t actually see Steven join the TARDIS crew until the opening minutes of the next episode/story.
Good god I love Ian and Barbara. Seriously. They work so well together and their departure is just… it’s so satisfying. It’s telling that Barbara’s the one who leaps at the opportunity and when she asks Ian his first response is to ask her if she wants to go and the strength with which she musters the resolve to realize that they need to take this opportunity is profound, and it’s a mark of the strength of Ian that he selflessly puts her own interests ahead of his. Not that he didn’t want to leave and go home, but he wants it to be when she’s ready as well so that they can go home together.
There’s a lot to love about the actual leaving scene. For one thing, it’s done with definite flair and excitement. It’s also interesting to realize that this is only the second companion departure the series ever saw, so how to do it was still up in the air. And it’s interesting that The Doctor really fights for Ian and Barbara to stay with him on the crew and to not go and leave him alone (more on that in a minute). Who else did The Doctor fight for? I mean… he fought for Tegan, but that was because he didn’t want their relationship to end on such a sour note. You could also probably argue that he fought for Victoria, but I haven’t seen that one yet, so I can’t speak to that.
Finally, there’s something that should be said about the way The Doctor fixes the Dalek time ship and sends Barbara and Ian away and we never get to see the parting words between all of them. It leaves a sort of moment of intimacy, something that we’ll never know which is both heartbreaking and inspiring. It leaves it up to us what they last said to each other, because as far as we know The Doctor never said another word to Barbara and Ian for as long as the two of them ever lived and they managed to live happily ever after.
And according to this youtube, they most certainly did.
Final Thoughts?: Overall, I think "The Chase" is "saved" by a few good parts, but those things more save it from complete and total damnation than convert it into what could be called a "good serial."
Lemme rephrase that.
See, I think that this story does have, at the very least, an interesting premise. Tell someone, anyone that "The Chase" is about The Daleks chasing The Doctor and his companions across time and space and I can't think of a single person who [assuming they love Daleks] wouldn't be on board with that premise. It's a sweet, awesome premise and one that would of course be fairly appealing across wide ranges of people, but because it lives up to exactly that promise and no more, not even with the thinnest of stories to keep us running through (not even hinting that it's the last adventure of Barbara & Ian except MAYBE in the first part when TARDIS life has gotten monotonous and boring), it comes out as subpar.
It's this that really does lead me to want other writers to tackle The Daleks, and we know that they would. But Terry Nation clearly has run out of ideas. Even the second half of "Daleks' Master Plan" was a rehash of this (albeit with more stakes and story), and it makes me wonder if Nation is the best vehicle through which to channel his creations, because there have certainly been better Dalek stories over the five decades of Dalek history, and Terry Nation really did have more misses than hits with The Daleks (or maybe it's 50/50, I don't know).
For one thing, the set pieces are, at the very least, fun, and that's what they're meant to accomplish, so good on them for that. And the Robot copy of The Doctor is (likewise) very cool and it does lead to an awesome bit where The Doctor gets to fight another version of himself and with walking sticks. I mean... Throw in Frankenstein drop smashing a Dalek and you're into some awesome stuff that is... well... yeah. It's the stuff that I like and is totally one of those reasons to watch and love Doctor Who.
"I will miss them," The Doctor said. Yes. Yes, I think we all shall. They were wonderful, excellent companions and they totally set a high standard that probably won't be beaten till Jamie... And that's really saying something.
Next Time!: 7th Doctor! A Pink TARDIS! The Kandyman! Some grizzly deaths! A dystopia! "The Happiness Patrol"! Coming Next Tuesday!