Serial number 16, The Chase – also known as serial R – marks the second end of an era for the original run of Doctor Who. After almost two years of time travelling adventure, this Dalek story by Terry Nation marks the departure of Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, never to be mentioned again within the series’ lore until 2010′s Sarah Jane Adventures serial, Death of the Doctor.
William Russell and Jacqueline Hill are as crucial to the formative years of Doctor Who has the series star, William Hartnell, the producer Verity Lambert, the man at the top Sydney Newman and the various writers such as Nation, David Whitaker and Peter Newman. That we forget their contribution – accomplished acting, overcoming obvious budgetary shortcomings with conviction and of course playing the part of kidnapped teachers with such belief and warmth – would be a complete travesty, so thank goodness that although they successfully escaped to contemporary earth at the end of the serial, they did so intact.
They survived – even though we never saw them again.
(What is not commonly known among modern fans is that Ian Chesterton (William Russell) was once set to return to Doctor Who in the 1980s for the story that would eventually becoming Mawdryn Undead. While he never actually returned to the show (to date) let us not forget that Jacqueline Hill did appear in 1980′s Meglos as the fanatical Lexa.)
But what about the story itself? There is a lot going on in The Chase, dealing as it does with the Daleks’ attempt to deal with the Doctor once and for all (they’ve been tracking him since at least The Space Museum) by dispatching a time travelling troupe of pepperpots to exterminate their mortal enemy. The concept is sound, and provides a good framework for both the departure of the much-loved companions and the arrival of a new one.
However, there is a certain element to The Chase that sees Doctor Who – perhaps for the first time – veer into panto in a self-absorbed celebration of itself. There is a natural comedy to the Daleks that has been quite obvious since their first appearance, and writer Terry Nation (who at this time was probably looking back at his time as a scriptwriter for Tony Hancock with a sense of relief) makes light of these perhaps too often throughout. Throw in some ridiculous sci-fi concepts (desert planets called Aridius, for example) and you’ve got something that on the face of it can be dismissed as “another one watched” after an initial viewing.
Except… The Chase is a lot of fun (too much, in some places!) and more importantly this level of fun, cartoony action and adventure and a general joi de vivre (thanks to director Richard Martin and an uncredited Douglas Camfield in part 6) shapes a serial that celebrates Ian and Barbara’s part in the show from beginning to funky-freeze-framed end.
Kicking off with the revelation of the Daleks’ monitoring of the TARDIS thanks to the Space-Time Visualizer displaying (after some fun with Shakespeare and the Beatles) the Doctor’s sworn enemies in mid-plan (basically an early version of the monitor joke from The Curse of the Fatal Death), the travellers become aware of the Daleks’ attack while they holiday on the desert planet. It is here that the enemy make their first move – emerging from some deep cover (a sand dune) one Dalek is spotted by the Doctor and Barbara, who are then befriended by some amphibious humanoid Aridians (why they haven’t yet dried up is anyone’s guess). This friendship is well-timed – the Daleks have found the TARDIS, lost in a sandstorm. After meeting new monsters the Mire Beasts, the Doctor and Barbara are reunited with Ian and Vicki and the quartet head back to the TARDIS, avoiding Daleks and setting forth on a cat and mouse chase through time and space!
Via the Empire State Building (which as we later learned was built by the Daleks) and the Mary Celeste merchant ship, the Daleks chase the Doctor through time and space, intending to destroy the TARDIS and its occupants. Various mishaps and obstacles offer diversions to the Daleks and the TARDIS team; a seemingly pointless yokel called Morton Dill provides light relief in New York, although in truth Peter Purves’ early guest appearance features a better American accent than Andrew Garfield’s at the same location 42 years later (does that mean Spider-Man is the new Blue Peter…?). With a futuristic ghost house (and not, as the Doctor postulates, some dark recess of the human mind) offering Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster robots that easily dispatch their Dalek attackers, the action finally settles on the planet of Mechanus, and Terry Nation’s new
money spinners robot monsters, the Mechanoids!
As it turns out, however, these villains are less engaging than the Daleks (although they are fascinating in their own way) but offer a lucky resolution for the Doctor and his friends. The Daleks are drawn into battle with the Mechanoids, an event that effectively ends in a stalemate but also provides background for the Doctor, Vicki, Ian and Barbara to meet Steven Taylor, a space pilot who crashed on the planet several years earlier.
Taylor, played by Peter Purves, is essentially “Ian Chesterton in space”. He might not be as learned as his forerunner, but then as a pilot he has all of the knowledge and skills he needs. With Purves’ build, however, Taylor is a perfect physical foil for the Doctor, ideal for landing punches and watching out for the older man. But that is something we’ll see in future weeks.
Instead, The Chase allows us to sit back and cheer as the time travellers evade their Dalek foes, a robot Doctor duplicate (just in time for Hartnell’s week off), Vicki stowing away on the Dalek time ship and Ian and Barbara finally getting to go home again after all this time.
If you’ve been following the episodes as we reviewed them, then there really shouldn’t be a dry eye in the house. William Russell and Jacqueline Hill have been marvellous from start to finish and their character’s excitement at the prospect of a return to London in the sixties – just as they start to swing – is palpable.