The Chase, along with The Daleks’ Master Plan, The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Tenth Planet, is a very important story in the history of Doctor Who, and one that stands very high in fan legend. I’ve had this preconceived idea that the BBC wiped all of these legendary episodes, but fortunately The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Chase survived. I watched The Dalek Invasion of Earth a while ago, but only recently realised that The Chase still existed, so I was quite excited at the opportunity to watch it.
During the height of dalekmania in the sixties, Terry Nation wrote his third Dalek story for Doctor Who. This one however, was very different from Terry Nation’s usual style, as it wasn’t set on Skaro, didn’t feature a resistance force and didn’t involve a deadly illness. He still couldn’t resist adding a forest however, but that can be forgiven. Another large difference is the fact that this is one of the few earlier Doctor Who stories to actually break the format of landing on a planet, helping in whatever problems people have, and then leaving in the Tardis. This time, large amounts of the story are set in The Tardis, as the crew run from the Daleks, who are chasing them through time and space. One other large difference is how the tone of the episodes is a lot lighter hearted than usual, which makes a welcome change, but did get a big wearing after a while.
The plot was, as mentioned previously, a change to the format for Doctor Who, a change that I feel worked very well. The first two episodes were very slow moving, and frankly a bit boring (besides the dalek rising from the sand… Daleks seem to have a knack for creating iconic images), but once they began running from the Daleks, it became more interesting. Unfortunately this wasn’t used as well as it could have been, as it went down more of a comedy route for these scenes. Not that the comedy scenes weren’t good – I completely loved the mad man from Alabama – and they were genuinely quite funny with amusing twists (I always knew The Daleks were behind the Mary Celeste!), but it could have made the Daleks much more frightening, as they were virtually closing in on the Tardis crew, but very little was made of that. Fortunately, towards the end the story picks up dramatically when the Tardis crew decide to make their last stand against The Daleks on the planet Mechanus. Not exactly a clever idea, as they’re only armed with one explosive device, but it’s nice to see them being proactive. It makes me understand how this small group of sightseers are capable of defying The Daleks, and why they are so intent on destroying them.
Later, in possible one of the best cliffhangers ever, they meet the Machanoids. I really like the Mechanoids – not so much from a design point of view, as they look a bit like enlarged cardboard models – but because they have an interesting story. They were brought to Mechanus by the humans, then the humans left to fight a war and they continued looking after the city all on their own.
They then meet Steven, a slightly deranged man that has been held captive for several years. As they attempt to escape, the Daleks converge into the city, which sets up one of the best scenes from the episode, as the Daleks and the Mechanoids make battle. However, I don’t think they needed to reuse clips of Daleks and Mechanoids exploding, as it gets boring after a while. Couldn’t they just admit that they only have 4 of each, and make as long and unique a battle that they can with those? The clips themselves are very good, but I found myself losing interest after watching the same Mechanoid melt for the 5th time.
I really like The Doctor in this episode. The first episode barely contains any plot, but it’s a very good chance to have the characters act like normal people for a change, which is always nice in the classic episodes. The Doctor is always acting like his normal self, so it’s fun to watch him interact with the humans. He still acts as his usual absent minded self, though I’m wondering how much of this was down to William Hartnell forgetting his lines, due to suffering from the early onset of his heart condition. Generally I think the character benefits from this, but when he makes some pretty bad errors (for example, “A burn cinder in Spain! – Spain? Er, Space!”) I think they could have benefited by doing a second take. We get to see an example of his fighting skills he so often brags about, but we never believe he has. Even though he is only fighting a robotic replicate of himself, the robot was no doubt designed to try and kill the Tardis crew, so the Doctor must have been a good fighter to fight it off. The robot replicate itself isn’t very believable at times, however, mainly because it’s often another actor with William Hartnell’s speech very badly dubbed over. I can understand this for the scenes where the Doctor and the robot have to fight, since their technology and time was very limited, but I don’t understand why another actor was used for scenes where the robot is alone with other characters, especially since William Hartnell then plays the robot in various other scenes. When Ian and Barbara decide to leave, a different side of The Doctor is seen. At first he is angry and argues with them, but it’s obvious that he just doesn’t want them to go. I think it’s quite touching to show him caring for them, and as he has only recently lost Susan, it’s clear that he doesn’t wish to lose any more friends.
I have to say that I never knew Vicki had just developed skills with a club, or that it sends her into a frenzy that makes her lose all sense of face recognition. When she wasn’t following the other members of the crew around or senselessly clubbing people, she was stowing away on the Dalek spaceship, which shows her initiative that she often has. She then manages to warn the crew of the robot Doctor, which is very helpful. However, I couldn’t help wondering how she managed to evade capture in the Dalek spaceship – haven’t the Daleks ever heard of CCTV cameras? Surely they could have picked a couple up from their invasion in 2164…
The Chase is a very important episode for Ian and Barbara. At the beginning, thanks to the Time-Space Visualiser, they get to see snippets of Earth, and it’s a good reminder of the fact that they are the representatives of the viewer, who notice things that the other characters don’t. It also adds to the feel this episode has at the beginning of the characters acting normal, with Ian dancing along to The Beatles. The majority of the episode is just standard procedure for them – Ian gets knocked out, they are split up, Ian gets knocked out again, they reunite, and they argue with The Doctor – but at the end, when they are given the chance to return home, we get to see a different side of them. They appear to have given up much hope of returning home, and are quite settled into life in the Tardis, but once Barbara realises they can use the Daleks’ time machine to go home, their joy is evident. It shows to me how they have always had a desire to go home, and it all spills out here. Once they are home, I think Ian and Barbara are much improved for the better after their travels in the Tardis. They definitely don’t seem to take anything for granted, and they seem far happier. They also share a bond, and in various spin-off media, I think they get married (although the actors and myself believe that they wouldn’t). It’s nice seeing The Doctor get so upset about them leaving, but I think they had gained as much as they could from the experience.
The Daleks were, interestingly, used a lot for comedy in this episode, which is a move I’m not too sure was a good once. On one hand, it was actually quite funny watching Daleks converse with a manic American, but on the other, it really makes them seem a bit weak, and the Daleks from previous stories would have simply killed him. However, towards the end of the story they begin becoming scary again, helped by the new idea of creating a robot Doctor. Russell T. Davies said that the best way to keep Daleks scary is to give them new abilities every time they are seen, and this is a great example of that being correct. Their battle with the Mechanoids ends suitably with a victory for the Daleks, only for them to get blown up by The Doctor. I really think the Daleks aught to invest into better sensory equipment… or maybe more accurate lasers. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the Daleks were the only enemy at this point in Doctor Who’s history to follow the Doctor through time, this episode would have been a serious let down for any Dalek fans at the time. As it is, they’re moderately acceptable as the dominant force for evil in the Universe.
I have to say; there is quite a different story with the Aridians. If there was a list of the most pathetic Doctor Who aliens, they would be quite near the top (which is saying a lot, considering many of the other aliens in the Doctor Who Universe – yes, even worse than you, Mr and Mrs Blathereen…). My first reaction was curiosity at how a creature that lived in the water and survived assumably with gills, is coping just fine in the middle of a large desert. Ignoring that, they spend their lives in fear of the Mire Beasts, and wall of sections of their city to defend themselves, or explode structures to trap the Mire Beasts. I suppose it didn’t occur to them that they could use the explosives to kill the Mire Beasts. When the Daleks later arrive, the Aridians couldn’t have defected to them any faster. They turn The Doctor and Barbara over to them, despite earlier stating they would be safe. Betrayal isn’t uncommon in Doctor Who, but this particular instance really annoyed me. In the spin-off media, the Daleks later return to Aridius and kill all of the Aridians. If only that could be seen on TV…
Over the course of The Chase, quite a few settings are visited. The first is Aridius, a desert planet, which I was very impressed with looks-wise. Even though it’s clear some of the backgrounds are just painted walls, it really feels like they’re in a desert. And then there’s some other scenes, in particular with Ian and Vicki, where they run into the background across the desert, and just keep going! That must have been filmed from clever angles on a beach, but I think it really works.
The Aridian city is pretty average by Doctor Who standards. It’s good, but nothing special, and could easily have been recycled from other sets.
We get to see a new feature of The Tardis in this episode – the Time Space Visualiser! This is apparently in a new room too, and it’s great to be introduced to new parts of the Tardis, which I think is a large feature that the new series is lacking.
The brief visit in New York was fun. I doubt any of the accents were actually real, and some were very obviously better than others, but I think it worked. A shot of busy cars from the point of view of the Empire State Building is very nice, and is one of the rare times in the 60s that we see more familiar sites. Then they meet the Mad Man from Alabama, who ridiculously is amazingness personified. He does, however, steal some of the realism that the visit to New York had been building up, but I don’t mind too much, as he gives as much to the story as he takes.
The next location is the Marie Celeste, which was also done well. Doctor Who seems pretty good at creating sets for ships, and this doesn’t change here. The visit is short lived when the Daleks appear and begin chasing the crew around the ship, having forgotten their prime directive, despite it being a prime directive. The crew, in a humour scene, jump off the ship in fear. I was quite shocked to see a baby among the crew that abandoned the ship, which makes Children of Earth seem tranquil in comparison. The shot of the Dalek falling of the ship was well done. Despite it being clear that nothing was inside the Dalek, the sheer thrill of seeing a Dalek fall into water (how was that done? Was there a tank in the set?) makes that ignorable.
They then choose to have their final stand in yet another forest, on the planet of Mechanus, because the Daleks won’t be as good there, which to me doesn’t make sense. The Daleks have had more than enough practice with forests! The forest was realised well enough, but as with the Aridian city, is nothing special compared to other forests in Doctor Who.
The final, and possible best location, is the Mechanoid city. The interior is simply white walls and doors – nothing new there. But the exterior, if only a model, was breathtaking, especially for the time it was made. It reminded me of the Lothlorien in Lord Of The Rings, which brings me to my only criticism; I don’t believe human structures in the future would look like this. It’s almost disappointing to learn that this is only an abandoned human colony, as such a majestic building should have a much more impressive story. Still, the humans have a long future, so it’s possible they went through some artistic periods.
In conclusion, The Chase wasn’t what I expected it to be, but it was very good nonetheless. It was sad to see Ian and Barbara leave, but with the introduction of Steven, this story showed that even after 2 years Doctor Who was still as good as it had ever been, and still not afraid to try new ideas.