TAKES PLACE AFTER THE NOVEL "THE PLOTTERS" AND IMMEDIATELY PRIOR TO THE TV STORY "THE TIME MEDDLER."
THE DALEKS III &
'THE SPACE MUSEUM / THE CHASE' DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD2809) RELEASED IN MARCH 2010.
WHEN THE DOCTOR AND HIS FRIENDS DISCOVER THAT A GROUP OF TIME-TRAVELLING DALEKS HAS ORDERS TO EXTERMINATE THEM, A CHASE ACROSS ALL OF TIME AND SPACE FOLLOWS.
TO ESCAPE, THE TARDIS MUST TRAVEL FROM THE DESERT PLANET ARIDIUS TO THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING, AND FROM A MYSTERIOUS SAILING SHIP TO A HAUNTED HOUSE. BUT THERE IS A GREATER DANGER WAITING FOR THE TIME TRAVELLERS ON THE PLANET MECHANUS...
22ND MAY 1965 - 26TH JUNE 1965
1. THE EXECUTIONERS 2. THE DEATH OF TIME
3. FLIGHT THROUGH ETERNITY 4. JOURNEY INTO TERROR
5. THE DEATH OF DOCTOR WHO 6. THE PLANET OF DECISION
After the first pioneering Dalek serial and its even better sequel, The Chase is often regarded as something of an embarrassment. A foolhardy foray into the daft world of Dalek humour, Terry Nation’s fourth script for the series is one of his most contentious, yet still not one that even the most ruthless of reviewers could destroy without pity.
Aptly named, this six-parter tells of a chase through time and space, as an execution squad of Daleks is despatched to pursue our four heroes across the universe. The production itself is beautiful to behold, as Nation’s affluent serial takes us to a number of differing alien vistas, the top of the Empire State Building, the decks of the Mary Celeste, a robotic theme park and even London’s White City. Sadly the storyline is far less glossy, not quite able to make up its mind whether it wants to be an outright comedy or a piece of serious drama. As a result, The Chase’s few moments of dramatic tension feel synthetic and incongruent, whilst its prevailing humour roams between asinine and absurd. Yet somehow, someway, this six-part adventure still manages to entertain... just not in the traditional Dalek way.
There are a lot of extraordinary elements to be found in this serial, some of which could be considered groundbreaking. The retro ‘Space-Time Visualiser’ is one such element; a charming little device that purportedly allows the Doctor and his companions to view any event in history. Nation uses this delightful contrivance to fulfil the programme’s educational remit by showing the audience selected historical events (Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address and William Shakespeare attending the Court of Queen Elizabeth I) whilst also setting up his plot by having the time travellers opportunely tune into the Daleks’ hatching their murderous plot. The Beatles even make a wanton, but nonetheless welcome, appearance on it, playing “Ticket to Ride” whilst Ian “dances like an embarrassing Dad” and Vicki voices her aversion to “classical music”, foreshadowing more recent episodes such as The End of the World and 42, in which the likes of Elvis Presley, Soft Cell and Britney Spears would all be tarred with the same “classical” brush.
The Chase also marks some momentous developments in the evolution of the Dalek race; perhaps more so than any other television serial, in fact. For the first time we meet Daleks who aren’t reliant on the metal floors of their Skaro city or cumbersome satellite dishes on their backs, but instead are powered by sleek solar panels around their midsections which would remain a mainstay of Dalek design right up to the time of writing.
“Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!”
Furthermore, though the Daleks running rampant about on board the Mary Celeste aren’t shown to levitate, their infiltration of more than one deck implies that they must have done, subtly quelling that old familiar (even back then) Dalek jibe “Daleks can’t climb stairs.” And most importantly of all, the Daleks of The Chase were the first (at least from the Doctor’s perspective) to demonstrate mastery of time corridor technology, allowing them to target any opponent and attack without fear. This was the first time in the series that anyone other than the Doctor boasted time travel capability, an idea so popular that it would be revisited not only in the next story, The Time Meddler, but repeatedly throughout the history of the show, culminating in the Time Wars fought just prior to the start of the revived series.
However, it isn’t until the second episode of the serial that the Daleks make their presence felt in earnest, and even then the narrative gets rather bogged down on Aridius before the proper chase can begin. The Daleks pursue our heroes to the top of the Empire State Building in the mid-1960s, where Peter Purves makes his first Doctor Who appearance, not as dashing space pilot Steven Taylor, but as slack-jawed yokel Morton Dill. The TARDIS then lands on the Mary Celeste, whose crew leap into the sea at the sight of the Daleks, taking one Dalek grunt with them and splitting him open in the process, only to reveal his discordantly empty innards.
Next the TARDIS lands in what seems to a haunted house populated with the likes of Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. Nation takes the opportunity to gently mock the series here, having the Doctor dramatically postulate that they must have landed in a place outside space and time, somewhere inside the collective human unconsciousness where spectres and monsters reside. In truth, however, they’ve just materialised inside a futuristic version of an amusement park. I can’t help but wonder what the proposed Aaru movie adaptation of this serial would have been like - its plot seems much better to suited to the plasticky colour and spectacle of the two Peter Cushing movies than those of the first two Dalek serials did.
However, it isn’t long before The Chase starts to get a little heavier, but still played against the backdrop of a ludicrously jolly Carry On-style soundtrack it just doesn’t work well at all. Vicki is traumatically separated from the TARDIS crew when the ship dematerialises, the Doctor having mistakenly thought that she was on board. And of course, at this point in his lives, the Time Lord isn’t able to steer his TARDIS to go back. Such an alarming sequence should have been harrowing in the extreme, but instead it just feels fluffy.
Worse still is the Daleks creation of the series’ first Dalek duplicate. What could have been an engrossing development is ruined by the preposterous realisation of the two Doctors - sometimes William Hartnell plays both the Doctor and the duplicate Doctor, whilst at others Edmund Warwick plays the duplicate instead. This soon gets extremely baffling - no matter how many times I’ve seen The Chase, I still can’t work out when I’m supposed to be the looking at the duplicate and when I’m supposed to be looking at the real thing. Warwick should have either always played the duplicate (in which case the audience would have known that he was the fake all along, and thus revel in his exploits) or they should have come up with a way to allow Hartnell to play both parts (easier said than done, I know). The icing on the cake comes in the form of the episode title: “The Death of Doctor Who”. The Doctor isn’t called ‘Doctor Who’, nor does he die; it’s a flagrant misnomer. One could argue that Nation was using ‘Doctor Who’ to refer to the death-bound duplicate (much in the same way that Steve Lyons uses the term in his novel Head Games to differentiate his fictional Doctor from the real McCoy), but the duplicate is never given that handle on screen, nor is there any even vaguely credible reason posited why he would have been.
The final episode of The Chase is a marvellous improvement on the preceding five. The eponymous “Planet of Decision” is Mechanus, a planet that was originally intended to be turned into a human colony but was forsaken and left to the Mechanoids - the human-built robots that had been sent there to prepare the world for settlers that never came. Director Richard Martin does a magnificent job of realising the planet, its luminous citadel and its mechanical inhabitants. The film and inventive model work conspire to create a look that, whilst not really convincing by today’s standards, has a timeless splendour to it.
It is on Mechanus that the Doctor and his companions first meet Steven Taylor, Peter Purves having grown a beard to separate Steven from his yokel character that appeared earlier in the production. Steven is the survivor of a spaceship crash who has been a prisoner of the Mechanoids for years – a potentially rich back story that would remain woefully unexplored throughout Purves’s tenure. After some initial erratic behaviour, the stalwart space pilot would become a strong and dependable ally of the Doctor; the spectre of his tortured past scarcely mentioned on television, let alone explored satisfactorily.
As the Daleks and the Mechanoids destroy one another in a suitably blazing fire fight (which is really quite ironic, given the Mechanoids’ origins as explored in the later Big Finish audio drama, The Juggernauts) the time travellers escape, with Steven stowing away aboard the TARDIS while in a sudden twist, Ian and Barbara decide to use the Daleks’ abandoned time machine to return to their native time and place.
The departure of the last of the Doctor’s original travelling companions is sublimely handled by all concerned. The Doctor is furious with them; ranting and raving, obviously not wanting them to leave his company. William Hartnell’s performance is so very convincing both in its rage and its tenderness (“Silly old fusspots. I shall miss them…”) that one wonders just how much acting was required of him. In the DVD commentary, Ian actor William Russell certainly suggests that the Doctor’s reaction to Ian and Barbara’s hasty departure mirrored Hartnell’s to his and Jacqueline Hill’s quite exactingly.
I particularly like how the parting of ways is handled almost as an afterthought. Throughout the serial there is no clue that Ian and Barbara might be leaving (and if one thinks about it pragmatically, rather than dramatically, why would there be?), making their sudden, opportunistic impulse to return home extremely credible and exceedingly effective. The concluding montage of still photographs showing their mutual glee upon their return marks a stunning end to both the serial and indeed all their adventures in time and space.
Above: Author Simon Guerrier discusses Ian and Barbara’s significance
One of the DVD release’s finest special features takes a look at Ian and Barbara and their contribution to the series. The thirteen-minute Last Stop White City is a beautifully-produced little featurette that sees William Russell, Richard Martin, vision mixer Clive Doig and writer Simon Guerrier collectively critique the pair of school teachers’ contributions to their sixteen televised serials. Sandwiched between readings of poignant passages from his novel The Time Travellers, Guerrier’s observations are particularly incisive, especially when he points out that when Ian and Barbara depart, they don’t need replacing; their job is effectively done. When we first met the Doctor in An Unearthly Child, he was an itinerant with questionable morals, content to live without conscience, looking out only for himself and Susan. Ian and Babs changed all that, leaving us at the end of The Chase with a proactive and ethical Time Lord that doesn’t need constantly pushing and prompting. All he needs is a strapping young fellow to handle the inevitable physicality. Cue Steven Taylor…
However, the real highlight of the DVD’s bonus material is the two-part Dalek documentary. Daleks Conquer and Destroy looks at the interminable appeal of the Skarosian pepper pots, whilst Daleks Beyond the Screen goes one better and appraises almost fifty years’ worth of Dalek merchandise. The two twenty-minute programmes each feature input from huge names in the Dalek world old and new, as interviews with original designer Raymond Cusick and producer Verity Lambert are spliced with those of contemporary writers such as Robert Shearman and Nicholas Briggs, who is - of course - even more famous for being the modern voice of the Daleks than he is for his scribblings. Everything is covered from Dalek soap to Dalek Empire, excerpts from the seminal Big Finish audio series being presented through a blend of stunning CG animation and audio clips. Only the infamous Dalek porno is excluded, although on balance that’s probably for the best. There are some things you should never do with a sink-plunger.
Above: “Bill Strutton with the Zarbi, didn’t find Zarbi cubes…?”
In keeping with the spirit of The Chase, the Dalek documentaries have their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. Whilst Robert Shearman draws some rather droll inferences from Terry Nation and David Whitaker’s bizarre Dalek Pocketbook claim to have obtained their knowledge of the Daleks through their discovery of some “Dalek cubes” (“Bill Strutton with the Zarbi, didn’t find Zarbi cubes…?”), Nicholas Briggs can barely keep a straight face as he recites “the Dalekreed”, originally published in the popular 1960s Dalek annuals.
The ten-minute Thrill of the Chase is the closest that the DVD comes to a full-blown ‘making of’ documentary. In the absence of many of the original cast and production crew, surviving director Richard Martin takes us through his recollections of this serial’s production. Though Martin’s reminiscences are less dynamic than the comic and colourful documentaries that are referred to above, the serial’s director still has many an interesting anecdotes to share, including his last-minute acquisition of a few of Aaru’s movie Daleks, and William Hartnell’s indignation at Sydney Newman’s “faint praise”.
Above: Is the thrill in The Chase, or in the capture?
Director Richard Martin recalls the making of the serial
Many of Martin’s anecdotes also make it into the serial’s commentary, which he shares with performers Maureen O’Brien, William Russell and Peter Purves. As they did on the Space Museum commentary, the contemporaneous companions are fascinating to listen to, even if they are far less charitable towards their work than those of us still enjoying it today are. O’Brien and Purves’ candour proves particularly interesting once again, as O’Brien reveals her relief at being dropped from the series just a few serials post-Chase, and Peter Purves announces that he doesn’t really understand the popularity of the Daleks!
The release also features a short featurette entitled Cusick in Cardiff, which sees Dalek designer Raymond Cusick meet up with new series designers Edward Thomas and Peter McKinstry. It’s a bit of a bugger to find, as the DVD booklet lists it as being on the second disc when it’s actually on the first, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable little feature once you do. Besides, I shouldn’t complain too stridently – Doctor Who DVDs seem to be the only ones I buy these days that still come with any sort of insert booklet, never mind such a beautifully-presented and edifying one.
The final brace of substantive special features revolve around the work of Shawcraft Models, which I understand provided many props and models for the series in the early 1960s. The Original Monster Makers looks at the contributions that Shawcraft’s prolific workshop made before being priced out of the market by the BBC’s in-house departments, whilst Follow that Dalek presents some authentic 1960s cine film showing many of Shawcraft’s original props in colour. Both features make for interesting one-off watches, but they’re not something that I’m likely to visit again.
All in all, The Chase’s DVD release is as lush and extravagant as the serial that it clothes, albeit a little less contentious. The abundance and high quality of bonus material betrays the importance, if not the repute, of this landmark six-parter, which itself has never looked better. For all its flaws, The Chase isn’t a serial that you can eliminate without worry; its tone may be questionable, but its significance is not.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008, 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
You might think that I’m taking the piss, but I’m not: there are few Doctor Who stories that give me as much pleasure as The Chase. An infamous six-parter shining boldly at the end of Season 2, this serial contains so many moments of sheer delight that I always put it on whenever I’m feeling low. I cannot think of many Doctor Who stories that make as many fundamental mistakes as this one, yet struggle on regardless to become something so delightfully funny and entertaining. The actors are having a whale of a time and it rubs of on the viewer - by the time that the final credits have come up you’ve not only been laughing yourself stupid, but crying yourself at the loss of some very dear friends too. When I point out The Chase’s shortcomings, I only do so affectionately, as this is a story that I have enjoyed with so many different friends over the years. It’s not an obvious story to show to a non-fan, I agree, but I have enjoyed some of the best nights blissed-out on wine with friends, giggling ourselves into a stupor.
You know you’re in for a good time as the story opens to punchy jazz music and weird shots of the TARDIS wobbling its way over the kaleidoscopic time vortex. Only The Chase could devote an entire episode to farcical japes inside the TARDIS which have no relation to the plot, and as a result we get to see the crew as more of a family unit than ever. How delightful is it to wander around the ship to find Mum making clothes, Dad reading his book, Gramps tinkering with his latest gadget, and the kid petulantly kicking at the furniture because she’s so bored. I still can’t decide whether the Space-Time Visualiser is inspired or insipid, but it does give us a chance to glimpse at potential adventures with Abraham Lincoln, the Beatles and the Bard. What’s odd though is how much importance the device is given when it has no bearing on the plot - it’s just another joyful idea thrown into the mix! Cue hilarious scenes of Ian doing some embarrassing dad dancing.
“No not that awful noise, the other one!”
One thing that this story does very right is establishing its locations. We land on Aridius with an impressive establishing shot as the camera pulls away from the TARDIS, lost amongst the sand dunes. The Daleks that follow don’t have the same poise, however - in fact, The Chase features the most excitable Daleks ever seen in the series, and they are introduced by way of their latest hit record, The TARDIS Song (it goes something like this: “TARDIS! TARDIS! TARDIS! TARDIS! TARDIS!”) and they get so worked up that they start spinning about. The interplay between the regulars is gorgeous here though (“Awful noise? That’s no way to talk about my singing!”) and the production team go to great lengths to try and terrify their audience, even to the point of having terrifying spectres looming over the distance of Aridius… or could that just be the actors’ shadows on the flat-looking backdrops? Comedy music plays over scenes of the man-in-a-duvet Bollock Monster (otherwise known as the Mire Beast) pulsating in the darkness, and this delightful introductory episode climaxes on another inexplicable moment, the Dalek rising from the sands... coughing its guts up. What the hell was it doing down there?
Contrary to popular belief, because they are portrayed so idiotically at times, the Daleks are gorgeously shot in this serial. Unlike their uncomfortable movement in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, these Daleks are mostly kept in the half dark, and their casings glow menacingly. They glide across the studios with more speed than previously, and are filmed threateningly from below and above. However, all this good camerawork is marred by the scene of them working on their next chart hit. It goes something like: “It must be uncovered before we can destroy it - Yes! We will take some Aridians prisoner - Yes! And use them to dig the ship free - Yes! Well see to it! -Yes!”
The above notwithstanding, everything about the planet smacks of thriftiness, from its ‘body stockings ’n’ rubber caps’ natives to the loosely-built wall of LEGO bricks that the Mire Beast tears through. Watching a pair of sweaty testicles swallow an amphibian has to be one of the most surreal moments in the canon. And whose idea was it to represent the digging up of the TARDIS by showing a few grains of sand being wiped from the bottom? And what’s with tearing up another one of Barbara’s cardigans to lure a Dalek into a trap? We’re trying to defeat the Daleks - not start a jumble sale!
How spectacular does the TARDIS look in Flight Through Eternity? The console room is sunk in shadows, and the lights make it glow and pulsate with life. The only competition the Daleks can offer is the magnificent and swirly 1960s wall panels spinning away. Whoever knew there was a Dalekian scale? Or that Daleks could be as dim as the one who goes “Errrr, ummmm, errrr….”
“Errrr, ummmm, errrr….”
Stylish shots of the Manhattan skyline introduce us to the wonderful Morton Dill. He’s such a ridiculous character with no purpose to serve but remind us how silly this story is. Imagine if they had decided that this was the character Peter Purves was to play in the series? About the only story he would suit would be The Gunfighters - I can just imagine him corpsing his way through Katarina’s death and The Massacre. However, the dialogue really sings during these scenes (“[Earth?] No ma’am, I’m from Alabama!”) and his reaction to the pepperpots is unthinkable: he starts laughing, grabs one of their sink plungers and declares “They just left!” before going on to inform the creature “Hey Mister, you’ve come all over in blue spots!” This is either spectacularly confident or a really bad idea - the director seems to be doing a good enough job highlighting Dalek deficiencies without the story’s characters pointing them out as well. Certainly the Daleks would be returned to their usual dramatic role in their next story, so we’ll just assume that Dalek High Command shoved this lot together because they were a bit rubbish, and sent them off on an impossible mission to kill the Doctor because they knew he’d wipe the out the lot of ’em.
The Mary Celeste segment is the only piece of the story that I feel could have been extended into something much more thoughtful and interesting. Certainly the split level wood-panelled sets are impressive, and the director went to the lengths of filming this at Ealing and having scenes of the ship’s crew jumping into real water. I could imagine a much longer historical tragedy centring around the disappearance of the Mary Celeste, something more akin to The Massacre. Instead we get chaotic scenes of Daleks miraculously finding their ways up stairs and then suicidally rolling into the sea.
Nobody knows what to think about the haunted house sequences, and frankly nor do I. The first thing I noticed was how good the design (another expensive looking split level set) and atmospherics (thunder, flickering lights, real spectres and a screaming grey lady) were. The second thing I noticed was how disorganised it all was. The Doctor comes out with his most absurd theory ever, and oddly enough Ian buys it! I would hope that the darkest reaches of the human mind would be a little more horrifying than this pantomime. Regardless of Daleks duelling with Frankenstein and Dracula, Ian and the Doctor are both tremendous fun during this sequence - both of them are terrified but neither wants to show it. The end of the episode should have been much more frightening than it was though - what should have been scenes of Vicki trapped in the claustrophobic terror of the Dalek ship, instead becomes a directionless Maureen O’Brien grasping at knobs and overemoting.
The Chase also features some of the most melodramatic episode titles ever to grace the small screen. How exactly can you possibly live up to the expectation of The Death of Time or The Death of Doctor Who? The latter episode successfully makes the regulars look even dafter than they already do, as they spectacularly fail to notice that the Dalek duplicate of the Doctor looks nothing at all like him. Mind you, Barbara’s doing a pretty good job on her in her role as Warrior Queen when she grabs the light gun and goes “Pwar! Pwar! Pwar!” The fight between the two Doctors is quite effective too, if you squint at Edmund Warwick’s face.
As if it is a comment on how exciting the story is, all of the regulars fall asleep, waking up to be greeted by the Mechanoid City - a glorious piece of design that is blandly shot. Suddenly, and utterly inexplicably, the story really gains focus in its final episode as we are immersed in an interesting location and finally see the Daleks at their kick-arse best. The Mechanoids are fascinating; oddly cumbersome, but still tasty on the eye.
Welcome to the world of Doctor Who Steven Taylor, who will be with us now for quite some time. Peter Purves gives a much calmer performance this time around, his gritty ex-soldier coming across as a touch of much-needed realism in an otherwise outrageous story. For their part, the Daleks can’t wait to get up to the Mechanoid city and pick a fight with them (more stunning dialogue: “We attack! Attack! ATTACK!”) and the fight sequences filmed at Ealing are shockingly good; fast paced with some great camerawork. This is how good the story could have been with more time and money; it’s like a glimpse at a punchier, sharper version. Naughtier too, perhaps, as in the equivalent of Doctor Who pornography, the Doctor ties up and blindfolds Vicki; Ian grabs Barbara’s pants; and they all fall into a heap together groaning! What a climax, in every sense.
But then, without warning, William Russell and Jacqueline Hill are both called upon to act again as Ian and Barbara realise that they can return home in the Dalek time machine. The Doctor’s reaction mirrors that that William Hartnell had to Russell
and Hill choosing to leave: absolute fury. After the hijinx in The Chase, this sudden slap of character drama makes this story important. Losing Susan had a profound effect on the Doctor, but losing Ian and Barbara would have a huge impact on Doctor Who. They were our audience identification figures throughout the first two seasons, and it always felt as though with them around everything would be okay, but now we’re heading into much more dangerous territory. That’s for later though; for now, what better ending could we have than Ian and Babs larking about in London? Our last shot of them sees them holding each other and laughing. I think that the Doctor speaks for us all when he says that he will miss them. Like Sarah Jane, they were leaving at a point where their characters were still fondly remembered – any longer and they might have seemed a little tired. A fine ending for a wonderful pair of companions.
So how exactly can you sum up The Chase? It isn’t really very good, yet is one of few serials that transcends its faults and becomes something deliriously enjoyable, even addictive, the more that you watch it. It’s one last hurrah for Ian and Babs, and a testament to the ambition and imagination of the Doctor Who production team at the time. It makes its viewers laugh - intentionally or otherwise - and cry. It has some damn fine design work and lighting, and the Daleks - despite acting like sulky schoolboys - are often shot with real care. The Chase is all of these things and more, but to me it is a number of chilled-out evenings of laughter and companionship. For that it will always be one of my favourites.
Copyright © Joe Ford 2010
Joe Ford has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
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