Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Serial 11: The Rescue

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companion: Barbara, Ian, Vicki

Written by: David Whitaker
Directed by: Christopher Barry

Background & Significance: "The Rescue" is a bit of an odd entity. It's the second of the seven two-part-length stories in the Classic series' history. And because it doesn't really have a big giant mega monster or a big giant mega crisis for The Doctor and his crew to solve and/or experience, the story exists purely to introduce a new character into the TARDIS crew.

The serial itself starts almost immediately after "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", with everyone still kinda dealing with the loss of Susan (and oh such a tragic loss it is), so the time is ripe for the advent of the first ever "new companion" and because that's a new thing, they gave her her own story.

More than that, there's really not a lot to say. The story is written by outgoing story editor David Whitaker (who is perhaps most famous for being the first ever script editor for Doctor Who, thereby being the first person to really define the stories, characterizations, and inter-character dynamics seen on the TARDIS) and is really a whole lot more of an interlude/bridging-the-gap story than anything else. Sure, it has a really neat mystery (that is... fairly obvious, but hey. Mysteries are hard) and it goes to a pretty friggin dark place, but... Yeah. I can explain as we go.

It's also here that we see the first real paradigm shift in terms of Doctor Who stories. Because this is the last David Whitaker story under his reign (even though it is, technically, edited by new script editor David Spooner), this really becomes the last sort of legacy of the Lambert/Whitaker era, where it's a lot about the mystery and the majesty of the traveling through space crew, when it's all new and exciting and stuff. Not that the Spooner stuff isn't exciting or there isn't the presence/feeling of Verity Lambert in there, but it's VERY much more comedically driven (see "The Romans", "The Space Museum", "The Chase", or even "The Time Meddler") than the early stories, which (while still humourous) were focused a lot on the adventure and almost mythological realism of the story in question.

What I mean to say is, in a lot of ways, this story really brings the Lambert/Whitaker era full circle. They started with The Doctor getting his first ever companions and now they end it with The Doctor replacing the only family member we've [as far as we know] ever seen. Now The Doctor's journey is on for good and so begins the [seemingly endless but not unwelcome] cycle of introducing new companions who will replace those who have left The Doctor's side (even though this is just about as replacey a replacement as they come). It's kind of a gorgeeous little circle really and really helps to establish the future of the series, which is really what the David Whitaker stuff is all about.

So let's get to it!

Part 1:

So I haven’t mentioned this yet, but yeah. We did do a different two parter last week.

I know, I know. I suck. It wasn’t intentional, I assure you (seriously). But what it does do is present an opportunity to compare this two parter to the other two parters because I think this one is quite possibly the strongest of the two-parters in Classic Who history.

What makes this story incredibly strong, I think, is its scope. The entire thing requires only “six” people (The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, Vicki, Bennett, “and Koquillion”; also the voice of the space captain, so seven, but that’s hardly thing I’d harp on) and centers around “The Rescue” of Vicki (this title comes as hindsight, but whatever) from the clutches of Koquillion.

That alone is interesting, but there’s also a fair amount of mystery set up. Who is Koquillion? What’s up with his people? Why haven’t we seen anyone? Why is Koquillion such a dick if he’s so unlike his supposedly warlike and evil race?

All these questions, of course, are small enough that they can be answered relatively quickly and soon, especially considering the aforementioned “six” characters (why do I keep using quotes? I don’t want to spoil), meaning that we can have a quick little wrapup episode that ties all the strings together. Part of my problem with the other two part stories we’ve talked about is how they usually feel like the first part to larger stories (especially “Sontaran Experiment”, “The King’s Demons”, and “The Awakening”. This decidedly feels like an interlude and I’m not quite sure why. I think a lot of it has to do with the sense of almost claustrophobia. There’s caves and cliff faces and the cabins of the space ship. Nowhere in this is ever given much space to breathe. In fact, the only place that has any sense of expanse at all is The TARDIS.

I love that about this story. As I mentioned in the background, this story comes right after the departure of Susan and thusly sees The Doctor, Ian, and Barbara still kinda reeling from her departure. The Doctor, it seems, is taking it exceptionally hard.

And why wouldn’t he? One of the things I love about The Doctor is whenever he takes a moment to release a human emotion, especially those that are pathosy and such. You can hear the heartbreak and the almost physical recoil at The Doctor’s realization that Susan isn’t there to open the doors for him anymore. Now he has to teach Barbara how to do it, but even then, she’s just a replacement for the real thing, whom he might never see again. Hartnell really, truly excels here and is at some heartbreaking best, especially how he tricks Ian and Barbara to go outside under the pretense of exploring and then instantly rushes back inside to take a nap so he doesn’t have to deal with anyone and can just wallow in his pain.

In this moment, Whitaker really cements himself as a strong, strong writer and one of my standout favourites from the Classic era. It’s sad how very few of them stand out to me as the truly excellent (especially in the first few seasons of Doctor stories), but Whitaker always stands as one of my favourites. From this, to "Edge of Destruction", to "Power" and "Evil of the Daleks", he really does an excellent job at writing strong inter-character moments and stories, and it’s something that the actors, I think, really respond to. William Russell and Jacqueline Wright both play it very delicate around The Doctor when they realize how much distress he’s in, and they make a real effort to console him while still giving him a little space.

Also strong is the character of Vicki. I know she’s not exactly one of the more popular companions, but I quite like her in this. Her reacting to the loss of not just her parents, but the entire crew of the space ship on which she was traveling is simply devastating to me and Maureen O’Brien does a good job of conveying this loss through her speech. And then she also goes onto the flip side and has the incredible and voracious energy of your standard high school girl. Even her intelligence starts to shine through, even though she doesn’t seem to ask too many questions of what exactly is going on in terms of this planet and the strange strange events on it.

And I REALLY like the relationship between Vicki and Bennett. Although I think I’ll wait a bit to harp on that. That’s really a stronger discussion for the second part. But needless to say: it’s quite quite good and quite strong on the part of Whitaker to create such strong, dramatically believable characters.

That leaves us only with Koquillion, whom, I might say straight off, is one of the strongest things about this story right off the bat. The most noticeable thing about him is his design, what with all the spikes and outbursts coming from him. He’s one of those monsters that looks so quintessentially strange, so much so that I’m never quite sure what it is I’m looking at when it comes to Koquillion. That’s a common thing, I find. Make a creature really cool to look at while still adding a little mystery to it. I still can’t exactly describe what it is the aliens from Attack the Block, Cloverfield, and Super 8 look like, and that makes them stronger. Same with Koquillion. He’s even more offputting because you never quite know what it is you’re looking at.
But even still his mannerisms are exceptional and twisted . Knowing what we know in hindsight about Koquillion in part two it makes what’s going on even more twisted and sick. The threats to Vicki, the looming presence, and the fear he induces is… sick. Really sick.

And then of course we’re left on a great cliffhanger of The Doctor and Ian moving through a cave and trying to get out. All these little set pieces are really great and this story does feel like a hearty meal even though not quite so much happens. The caves are totally exciting and interesting as are the inter-personals of all the characters bouncing off each other. Whitaker does a great job at making almost the entire episode a series of two-handers. Vicki and Barrett, then Ian and Barbara and The Doctor, then Ian and Barbara, then The Doctor and Ian, then Koquillion and Vicki, then Barbara and Vicki, then more of The Doctor and Ian…

It’s all just strong and really gets to the core of the characters without relying too much on window dressing and set pieces.

Not that I don’t love the window dressing and the set pieces (believe me, I do), I just really like seeing characters whom I find interesting bounce and play off each other. It feels really modern and strong to me. It’s something that’s lost in subsequent two parters. Too many set pieces and trying to get a scope that feels too massive for such a limited and small story. This nestles right in a sweet spot of good set pieces (the Koquillion stuff and the tomb stuff) while interspersing it with good character development.

Good, good stuff.

Part 2:

So Bennett is Koquillion, but they kinda give that away five minutes into this part. Regardless, I will save discussion of him for later.

This part is decidedly less exciting than the mysterious first part. Mostly I think that’s because they really have not very much time to set up and payoff all the things they need to setup and payoff. That’s not to say it’s rushed, because I don’t believe it is (no matter what I might have inferred to the contrary), I just think that they don’t have the space they had in the first part to let everything feel like it’s not quite so story serving. I mean, take the time that Barbara kills what’s-his-name (let’s call him Steve) the Lizard. According to Vicki, Steve the giant lizard is her friend and she was training him to be fed at a certain time. Basically Vicki’s totally awesome and spiny puppy. Who’s really also a lizard.

But when Barbara sees the thing coming towards Vicki, what does she do? She shoots it with the one and only flare in Vicki’s one and only flare gun.

Vicki, of course, freaks out. She loses her mind because Barbara just shot and killed her pet lizard and thusly goes into a place where she never wants to trust Barbara again because Barbara is evil or whatever. I don’t know. It’s a thing and it makes sense. But then The Doctor’s the one who wins Vicki over in the end through his charm and rationalization or whatever. That’s a nice character beat for The Doctor, but Vicki seems to let the whole situation go rather quickly. Isn’t there enough drama in the whole “I shouldn’t go somewhere with complete fucking strangers” without having to add the almost unforgiveable sin of Barbara executing the poor child’s pet rock?

I suppose, but it still feels false.

One of the things I do love about this, though, is that both Vicki and the TARDIS crew are in a perfect situation for each other. I like to think that when The Doctor picks up a traveling companion he does it for the sake of himself and his own selfish reasons. Anything less than that is inorganic. It’s lonely being The Doctor, I think and (as proven in the post-Donna David Tennant stuff) something he needs is good people to help keep him grounded. That’s why Ian and Barbara are important: because they’re the first. And I can think of very few companions who feel organic who were forced upon The Doctor at inopportune times but I can tell you they’re always not as strong (Liz, Tegan, Adric…)

What’s most interesting to me is when The Doctor and the companion need each other to help grow in their lives. Vicki needs the TARDIS crew because her family (father) was killed by Koquillion/Bennett and Barbara/Ian/The Doctor then become surrogates: Aunt, Uncle, and Grandfather specifically.

That’s what makes this so good. Vicki joining the TARDIS crew feels natural and earned. Sure its telegraphed, but so what? They’re not trying to trick you. There’s a void felt by everyone in this story. Everyone’s missing someone, and now they get to fill that hole with people who won’t exactly fit perfect, but will do enough for them to continue on and keep moving forward with their lives. Someone like Todd from “Kinda” might have made a good companion, but she and The Doctor didn’t really need each other, did they? Vicki needs The Doctor because she’s growing up. The Doctor needs her because he’s still distraught over Susan.

And then there’s Koquillion, whom I rather like. There’s a lot that they leave on the table but he’s still plenty interesting and intimidating (but let’s be honest: how much of that is the mask?), but even more interesting in all this is the story of Mr. Bennett, who he is, what he did, and what he’s doing now.

I mentioned back in part one that there’s a definite sense of things being creepy or twisted with Bennett, and that’s absolutely true, but it goes further than just “He’s a bad guy who killed loads of people”. No. It’s more than that. In his final confrontation with The Doctor, Bennett reveals that he only needs to kill three more people, those people being The Doctor, Barbara, and Ian. Rationalize that, though and you realize that Bennett has absolutely no desire in the world to kill Vicki.


He murdered everyone on the entire planet and everyone on the spaceship, but he didn’t kill Vicki.


The answer, I think, is complex. Bennett has a tremendous amount of power over her, which he exerts through Koquillion as his avatar of evil or whatever. But he could kill her at any moment. Literally. He has no qualms about slaying an entire planet full of people so why not a little girl? Is it because he feels guilt? No. He has no reason to have guilt now. Is it because he gets lonely? Probably. Are his intentions much more sinister than that? Perhaps. We just don’t know.

And at the center is Vicki. She seems unaware of all this nastiness is going on. I’m sure she’d care. She just doesn’t…. I don’t know.

The point is that Bennett is a bad guy, but not one who is entirely one-dimensional, I think. Sure, he’s entirely selfish and sociopathic but there’s more than that because, well... “Why not Vicki”?

Just something to think about, I suppose. But it’s interesting that it’s The Doctor who comes to her rescue and not anyone else. You’d think that Ian would be the one to fight Koquillion to the death given that he’s so often the man of action, but no. it’s The Doctor who does it. That’s strong, I think, and it dials into the care and affection The Doctor will come to feel for Vicki moving forward. It’s a great leap for him, definitely, and one I can’t not find a bit heartening and charming because it propels The Doctor forward in his story.

See? The Doctor really does need his companions.

Final Thoughts?: For being a two part story it really is quite good.

Most of the elements present here are elements that I feel are rarely super present throughout Classic Who.

I don't think it's very often that they really take the time to give the Companion a full story to talk about the why and the development the character needs before they step into an awesome, amazing adventure in the TARDIS. Most of the time it's a scene or two or maybe three (if you're lucky) and then it's off to racing on a big adventure. But by keeping this story very small, simple, and contained, David Whitaker paints a good picture for this new young woman who will travel with The Doctor and his companions while still telling a completely interesting little mystery story that is (at the very least) somewhat intriguing.

It's a good story for the TARDIS crew. It's a bit of a breather between the absolute corker of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" and a mad runaround with a bunch of Romans, a chance for everyone to really pull themselves together and prepare for the next leg of whatever's happening next.

In the end, I just love it. I liked it when I first watched it. I like it just as much now. It's a quiet little gem in the Hartnell era and one that really shows off some great Hartnell (really great Hartnell) as well as some more Ian and Barbara, who are always nothing but lovely. It's a great introduction for Vicki and really establishes a vague character arc for her to go through while still giving her a great origin story and all that goodness. Koquillion is massively memorable (it's probably the spikes) and Bennett is just as interesting despite being seemingly two-dimensional (and I might be reading into that, but whatever). All that's left is the mythology of the planet, which... yeah. It's a bit weird. But whatever. That's all something I can just kinda whisk aside and explain away with thoughts I don't feel like articulating.

But no. I don't know what's up with those two random ghost guys.

Next Time!: 2nd Doctor! Jamie! ANOTHER COMPANION INTRODUCTION! Zoe is a robot! Robots? And maybe something really boring (but I'd probably blame Kit Pedler)! Cassandra's stepping in for a discussion of "The Wheel in Space!" Coming Next Tuesday!

No comments:

Post a Comment