After the epic scale of Dalek Invasion of Earth, the second series of Doctor Who continues with a smaller-scale adventure on the largely-deserted planet Dido, and in particular, within an Earth spaceship that has crashed there…
We see the crashed ship in a craggy alien environment, a decent model shot for this era of the show. A young girl, Vicki (Maureen O’Brien), enters the ship and tells an older man, Bennett (Ray Barrett), that their rescue ship has arrived to take them off Dido– but has it? Bennett is unconvinced despite Vicki’s evident enthusiasm to leave, warning her to ‘Watch out for Koquillion’, who will kill them both if he finds out about the rescue ship. This intriguing mention of an apparent bogeyman establishes The Rescue as a sort of mystery, and rather like the verbal build-up to the visual introduction of the Sensorites a few stories earlier, leads us to expect a formidable villain.
The Doctor, meanwhile, has been asleep through the TARDIS’s arrival on Dido: ‘Deep in the arms of Morpheus, my boy’. William Hartnell is in spry form here, clearly enjoying the Doctor’s contrariness as he insists to his companions that ‘materialised’ is a better term to use than ‘landed’. The humour turns briefly to a pang of sadness as he starts to call to Susan before realising she’s gone. He looks visibly struck by this realisation but Barbara softly offers to help him instead, showing what a close-knit crew the Doctor, Barbara and Ian are at this point, despite – or more likely, because of – the series’ first companion departure.
As they exit the TARDIS to take a look at Dido, the Doctor elects to go back inside for another nap. Barbara, sensing the real reason for the old man’s reluctance to explore, rightly points out to Ian that all the Doctor’s associations with Susan are still in the ship, so it’s normal for him to want to stay there. These characters’ understanding of each other is perfectly written and portrayed; they make a credible bunch of time-travelling companions.
Director Christopher Barry pulls out a plum – an eerie shot of Koquillion inspecting the TARDIS from the outside. Looking like something from an FW Murnau nightmare, Koquillion’s a walking poisoned thorn in a gown; even his claws appear horned. He is surely the series’ knobbliest monster ever and his bizarre appearance only serves to underline Bennett’s earlier talk of his deadliness. It’s a testament to the inventiveness of the series’ designers that they’ve come up with another memorable monster after the Daleks, Voords and Sensorites; Koquillion demonstrates that, while some of these creatures work better than others, their makers have certainly aimed to make them all as distinct as possible.
Sadly, his voice is less than impressive, verging on Neddy Seagoon territory as he menaces Ian and Barbara. (Later, the Doctor will recognise Ian’s physical description of Koquillion’s horns and claws, as the old man has been here before and knows the Didonians very well; however, this doesn’t add up when we see two hornless, clawless and very humanoid Didonians at the story’s conclusion.)
There follows a great deal of subterfuge between various characters. In fact, if there’s a theme to this story as a whole, it’s that appearances can be deceptive; it later transpires that Bennett isn’t who he seems, Koquillion isn’t who he seems and even Sandy the Sand Beast isn’t perhaps the ferocious predator he appears to be! (More on him later, Sandy fans.) We will also discover that the Didonians aren’t as dead as everyone suspects, while Bennett’s story – that the natives killed the rest of the humans when the spaceship crash-landed on Dido, and that he dragged himself back to Vicki aboard the ship but now can’t walk – turns out to be one huge deliberate deception.
The Rescue is about storytelling, with Koquillion as the monster your parents warned you you’d meet if you didn’t brush your teeth or eat your greens. It comes to light that Koquillion (or ‘Cocky-lickin’, as Ian bizarrely calls him at one point) is a threat precisely because Bennett tells Vicki he is, and that Bennett has his own reasons for keeping Vicki in check.
Of course, the main remit of this two-parter is to fill the void left by the departing Susan with new companion Vicki, and in that respect it fulfils its function well. Maureen O’Brien captures the newcomer’s wide-eyed innocence perfectly, and shows genuine chemistry with old lags Hartnell, Hill and Russell. The small scale of the story helps, enabling her to become instantly familiar to the Doctor and co. From the moment the Doctor tells a distraught, Sandy-bereaved Vicki to blow her nose and wipe her face, we know she’s basically Susan-lite; a sulky, naïve young woman ready-shaped for the role of companion. An unkind critic would infer that she’s there to be patronised by the patriarchal Doctor. However, a lovely scene follows in which the Doctor charms her and shows real empathy for her and her situation; he even persuades her to forgive Barbara, who has accidentally killed her pet, Sandy.
Talking of whom… I love Sandy the Sand Beast. He’s ugly yet oddly adorable, and for many fans, he’s the real star of The Rescue, much like Pigbin Josh is the main attraction in Axos. His entrance in part one’s Moffatesque ‘tarty’ cliffhanger may well provoke hoots of derision rather than gasps of fear, but there’s no denying he adds an extra, kitsch dimension to the story. He really doesn’t deserve his flaming, screeching death at the hands of a gun-toting Barbara. I like to imagine an alt-universe in which Sandy never died but was taken aboard the TARDIS for ostensibly Vicki’s –but really the Doctor’s – amusement. ‘Mm, yes, he’s – er – hungry, my boy. Throw him another Morok, mm, Chesterton?’ Of course, Vicki would outgrow him in the same way my sister outgrew Donny Osmond, but the Doctor never would. ‘Tears, Sandy?’ I could go on.
Part two, Desperate Measures, contains arguably the best scene in the serial, courtesy of some clever writing by David Whitaker and some splendid ensemble acting by the regular cast. Aboard the crashed ship, after Vicki forgives Barbara, Whitaker wisely sets her up for her TARDIS travels by having Ian and Barbara tell her about their ship’s time-travelling capabilities; there’s humour here too as she surmises that, judging by the year they say they left Earth, Ian and Barbara must be around 550 years old!
The Doctor breaks into Bennett’s room and discovers that the man’s voice, heard through the door by everyone else in the story, has just been an audio recording all along. He uses the audio device to overhear Ian, Barbara and Vicki’s conversation in the other part of the ship, and it’s wonderful to see him beaming with delight at Vicki’s summation of him: ‘It’s funny, but as soon as he walked in, I felt that you could trust him. But why does he wear those funny clothes? And that long white hair?’ He laughs at her disbelief regarding his time-travelling abilities, before the other three enter Bennett’s room to find the Doctor gone. It’s a scene that shifts adroitly from sadness to laughter to mystery, all the while paving the way for Vicki to join the TARDIS crew and moving the plot along to the denouement.
The Doctor confronts Koquillion underground in an ancient Didonian temple, where an unmasking takes place; rather like The Sensorites, the true nature of villainy is revealed to be human rather than alien. The temple is dark, moody and misty, atmospherically lit, designed and directed by Howard King, Raymond P Cusick and Christopher Barry respectively. The Doctor uses Koquillion’s ‘spanner’ to distract him before two restless (and disappointingly human-looking) natives appear to finish the villain off.
It’s not too much of a stretch to view this as a tale of ‘Good Dad vs Bad Dad’, as Bennett’s manipulative lies to Vicki are found out and the Doctor takes her under his wing. Her real father was murdered; she won’t be the last TARDIS companion to be an orphan, but unlike some others, it’s clear that the rest of the crew actually like her and want her aboard. ‘I can see we’ve all reached the same decision,’ says the Doctor. Hartnell is rarely better or twinklier than he is here.
In the final, somehow disturbing moment, the two Didonians enter the abandoned, crashed ship and destroy its communications unit as the rescue ship tries to get through. Despite their humanoid ordinariness, they’re silent, impassive and therefore threateningly inscrutable. If that ship lands, we can only anticipate a nasty fate for its crewmembers.
With its confined setting and small cast of characters, The Rescue is the Who story, aside from Midnight and Edge of Destruction, that you can most readily imagine watching in a theatre. It may be more filler than killer for many fans, but at least we’ll always have Ian Chesterton’s ‘Cocky-lickin’.