Paul M. Cray (pmcray) wrote,
Paul M. Cray
pmcray

Doctor Who: "The Chase"

Terry's back to the portmanteau style of "The Keys of Marinus". I wonder whether people noticed or minded at the time. And here he gets to incorporate plenty of comic relief into the mix. Well. he did begin his writing career as a sketch writer for the likes of Tony Hancock. And I wonder  what people made of that. The Daleks were at the height of their popularity and Hugh Weldon for one was keen on seeing them back in the show as soon as possible. Nation clearly struggled to come up with plots that could sustain a story for much more than an episode or two ("The Daleks" is basically a three-parter welded on to a four-parter.). Amongst Who writers he wasn't alone in that, but those other writers made the effort to plough on for four or six episodes of a halfway coherent story as, indeed, Nation himself managed to do in his five 1970s stories (exactly how much help he got from the script editors then is a very interesting question). So what we get here is an episode of the TARDIS crew mostly messing around with the Spacetime Visualiser, some business on a desert planet inhabited by amphibians, comic scenes, for certain values of "comic", at the top of the Empire State Building (Peter Purves playing Morton Dill, a stereotypical Southern hick: oh, how they must have laughed), and on board the Mary Celeste, an episode set in haunted  house that is not all it seems and a finale involving a Dalek replicant of the Doctor (it wasn't an especially good idea then and it wasn't be a good idea now - I'm looking at you Stephen Moffat) and another attempt to create the new Daleks on a jungle planet.
 
Just three adventures with them in and already the Daleks are already declaring that the Doctor is their greatest enemy. That seems fast going even for the Doctor who didn't even seem to have heard of the Daleks less than two years ago in "The Daleks". Of course, the Daleks in "The Chase" might be Daleks from the future that have met and been defeated by many incarnations of the Doctor. I don't think that was what Nation was thinking, but then today we can't help from wondering why the Doctor conceals his knowledge of the Daleks from his companions in "The Daleks". Phil Sandifer in his rather wonderful TARDIS Eruditorium is keen on the idea that the Doctor's pre-"An Unearthly Child" career is brief. I'm not so sure. The Doctor lies. And he's a manipulative bastard, One every bit as much as Seven or Eleven. I find it more plausible that the Doctor lies about how much he knows about the Daleks than in his name-dropping from history. I don't see why he shouldn't have coached the Mountain Mauler of Montana. Three was keen on his martial arts, so why not One in his younger days? I'd much rather have a Doctor who is telling the truth about that kind of thing, even if he is not letting on everything he knows about a good many other things to his companions.

To the audience in 1965, there is no reason not to take everything they are presented with at face value: the Doctor has met and defeated the Daleks twice already, and that's enough within the narrative logic of Saturday evening teatime telly Today, with 47 years of continuity to wrestle with, we can't help speculating about untelevised adventures with he Daleks, both pre- and post-AUC. We might, for instance, wonder what kinds of things Susan was learning at the Academy, but perhaps the Time Lord education system works more on the principle of the gradual revelation of hermetically concealed truths. A bit like the Masons or the Mormons or the Scientologists. Or the British education system. How much does Romana know about Daleks in "Destiny of the Daleks"? But then she is a fresh graduate of the Academy whereas Susan has dropped out relatively early on when she absconds with her grandfather. Perhaps she never got to courses on the Daleks. It'll be years though before we start hearing about the Academy, much pondering what Susan might have doing there. For most viewers of the day, the Doctor had already done plenty enough to earn the Daleks' ire.  

As for the comic Daleks, we had Daleks on Skaro who turned out to be one of the scariest things ever followed by scary Daleks in an occupied Britain. So perhaps, in Nation's mind, doing funny Daleks was the logical way to go. No doubt there were plenty of Dalek jokes around then in the era of Dalekmania as now, so running with the gags might have made sense. It's noteworthy that the next Dalek story was co-written with Dennis Spooner and also has something of a portmanteau format and that when Nation comes back to the Daleks in 1973, it will be with a retread of "The Daleks" Nation only had so many ideas and it will be David Whittaker to take the Daleks to new heights. It's a pity that only one of his thirteen Dalek episodes survives.    

But, of course, it's not comic Daleks that are the real milestone in "The Chase", but the return to 1960s Earth and departure of Ian and Barbara. The scenes of the couple (and surely they are)  joyfully cavorting through are one of the highlights of the Hartnell era. They were shot (they are still photographs) by Douglas Camfield as part of the production of the next story. Ah, the simple pleasures of a trip by Routemaster through the streets of the C20th metropolis after sojourns on Skaro, the Sense-Sphere and Mechanus! This is one of the points at which Who could have ended. Ian and Barbara are the show's original heroes with the Doctor more as an antihero to start with. But that didn't last as the Doctor turned out to be not quite what he might at first have been. The Doctor will prefer to keep some young male muscle around for a while (if you include UNIT, until Season 13), but it's been clear for a while now exactly who is top dog in the TARDIS. The Doctor doesn't need Barbara and Ian any more, even if he hasn't quite realised that to himself yet, and neither does the show. Ian and Barbara are so good that's a shame they do leave, but it probably makes sense for this story arc to be completed in a way that is true to the goals of the characters. They might have a bit of explaining to do though about exactly where they have been for the last couple of years.  

Supposedly, had there been a third Who/Dalek film, it would have been have based (naturally enough) on "The Chase". It's a pity that it wasn't made and it would have slotted in well enough with the British sub-genre of portmanteau horror films and the forests of Mechanus and the Mechonoid city would have been quite something in garish colour. Who knows what US audiences would have made of it, no doubt even less than of the two films that did get made, but it would have livened up rainy afternoon in the mid-70s in the UK perhaps even more than the other two Cushing films did. Certainly out of its context within the unfolding text, it would, had the script anything like fidelity to the television version, have been a genuine curio.I wonder whether they would have played the comedy up or down. They could have got Jim Dale to play the Ian character and Barbara Windsor the Barbara character or, perhaps, a young relative of Doctor Who. And if Peter Cushing were unavailable to reprise his role, possibly they could have drafted in a comedy actor to had made such an impact as Doctor Fettle in Carry On Screaming...   

Now Write On...

Barbara and Ian crop up a fair amount in various deuterocanonical texts. We might reasonably hope that William Russell will get to be in the series proper again during its 50th anniversary year. They could do something really touching and invoke the memory of Jacqueline Hill.

There is probably much that could be done with the Space-Time Visualiser. For instance, why has the Doctor not got it out again? And there is something of a body of work about the Mechonoids (or, indeed, Mechanoids). With modern special effects including CGI, we could enjoy vast hordes of the terraforming dodecahedrons as they raise cities of the jungle, desert and tundra of planets through the galaxy in preparation for the arrival of the human colonists. Things might get interesting when the colonists do eventually arrive. Perhaps even a descendant of Morton Dill.
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