Doctor Who (Classic): S02E08 “The Chase”

Season 2
Directed by Richard Martin
Written by Terry Nation

After all the teasing in “The Space Museum” and of course that great cliffhanger, The Daleks return this time after only being gone for the better part of 5 serials and for the third time overall (still the only repeat villains unless you count humans as a species). When give a breakout character or in this case breakout alien race, the issue of how much to use them immediately arises. Viewers understandably want to see more but there’s always the fear that you will overuse them which will wear out their welcome and in the case of a popular enemy reduce their effectiveness as a villain. The Daleks initial popularity was largely predicated on being terrifying (which hasn’t exactly held up over time), but by now The Doctor has already defeated them twice and it is getting harder each time to make them convincingly difficult to beat. This leaves the two option of either making them stronger (which the writers did in the last serial) or start playing them for comedy. The choice here is to take a little from Column A and a little from Column B.

It is also the first time The Daleks’ first appearance isn’t as a cliffhanger in the first episode with the cliffhanger to last week serving as the first scene and they show up again mid first episode thanks to the Time-Space Visualizer looted at the end of “The Space Museum”. They still pull the same trick (this time instead of water it is sand which a Dalek emerges from) and it is starting to get a bit silly. We already know they are showing up this episode and they’ve pulled the same gimmick twice before so it’s hardly effective as a shock.

This story marks a return to the short story format of “The Keys of Marinus” with an overarching story but the serial itself is broken up into smaller bits. Unlike that serial though, the bits here (at least in the middle) feel less like complete short stories and more like comic vignettes. Starting with the second episode there is the story of the dying world of the Aridians which was once covered in water but is now one giant desert as a result of the changing position of the suns. The Aridians themselves are pretty standard Doctor Who aliens being menaced (aren’t they all) by the absolutely laughable Mire Beasts who may be the worst looking Doctor Who aliens since the Sensorites. They go for an octopus look but when shown in full, it looks like a toad incapable of even maintaining its shape. From here the story becomes a chase (hey, that’s the title of the serial) through time and space as the Daleks pursue the Tardis.

The third episode makes sure to introduce New York of 1966 and a drunk(?) Alabama stereotype (played Peter Purves who also played the very near future companion Steven Taylor) who is just acts as a giant buffoon and fails miserably as comedic relief. Both groups interactions basically consist of asking him where they are and/or where the TARDIS is, but this gets dragged out to half an episode worth of jokes about how weird they all are and give the Alabaman a chance to ham it up at the strangers who keep appearing and disappearing before he can take a picture of them. The second half of the episode deals with the story of the Mary Celeste which in the show’s continuity the disappearance of the crew is explained by everyone jumping overboard at the sight of The Daleks. This story on the other hand could have made for a longer stay as it combines a historical mystery with an actual threat to The Doctor and his companions. Instead it is just played for a quick bit of not entirely effective comedy.

The fourth episode is far superior taking place in a haunted house which The Doctor takes to be a world existing outside of time and space existing in the land of dreams. Of course it is later revealed to be merely a future (1996) haunted house attraction populated by robots, but no one actually figures that out on the show making the conceit far more effective. It does wind up making the Daleks look like a joke since they get their butts kicked by a bunch of robots who lack even basic thought.

The fifth episode and sixth episode however are more closely entwined set on the planet Mechanus. The Fungoids and Mechanoids both look fine enough with the latter essentially being larger, round Daleks who they wind up battling in the end to uncertain final result (though both were in the building when in exploded and collapsed and The Doctor despite minimal effort on his part is given credit for defeating the Daleks). Neither one is going to make a list of great villains, but they serve well enough for the minor support villains they are. There’s also a mechanical copy of The Doctor unleashed by the Daleks who doesn’t do much interesting before being beaten in combat by The Doctor himself.

There is one minor bit of plot to discuss and that is the departure of Ian and Barbara. The last Dalek serial saw the departure of Susan and this one sees the departure of the remaining two original companions. Unlike Susan however, Ian and Barbara were enjoyable on the show with Barbara in particular being a great companion. Their relationship with The Doctor developed so much from their frequent arguments with him resulting from their kidnapping into one built on more mutual respect. It’s telling how reluctant The Doctor is to part with them and their growing interest at exploring (and declining talk about returning home until now). Still, their ultimate desire to return home hung over the show as did the knowledge that unlike Vicki, they weren’t traveling about by their own free will. Their loss leaves a bigger hole than Susan’s both in the loss of two versus one character and how fleshed out they were. By this point, the tradition of cycling companions has already been established and having come to the show from NuWho I had long since come to grips with it, but it’s still the biggest change yet on the show.

“The Chase” can’t really figure out its tone (between broad comedy and much more serious moments) or pacing (two long segments bookend a few shorter ones) and never fully utilize their best aliens but I have to give it credit for the general premise of the Doctor being pursued through time, some moments here and there, and that end. A good ending can go a long way to erasing the memory of earlier complaints.

Grade: C+

Stray Observations

– Originally this was to be made into the third Doctor Who film but the project was cancelled after the failure of the previous one.
– This is another serial showing multiple rooms of the TARDIS and possibly the most extensive look yet.
– Vicki is strangely portrayed as a bit bumbling at the outset but despite it never having come up before unless you count the dropped glass from “The Space Museum”.
– The Time-Space Visualizer makes for a heck of time killer as we listen to the Gettysburg Address, Queen Elizabeth and Francis Bacon inspiring Shakespeare in his writings, and beloved pedophile Jimmy Saville introducing the classical music styling of The Beatles performing “Ticket to Ride”.
– Oddly enough I doubt the show could afford the rights to use “Ticket to Ride” now.
– Ian dancing to The Beatles is downright hilarious as he has zero sense of rhythm.
– The funniest bit of comedy in the third episode involves the Daleks struggling and failing to get someone to talk to them with everyone just jumping overboard instead. You can almost hear the sighs of disappointment in them each time someone runs away and they never even do anything to suggest they intend to harm anyone.
– The fifth episode is called “The Death of Doctor Who” which along with the end of episode credits it a reminder that The Doctor was generally considered to be Doctor Who by the show itself for a long period of time.
– Probably the closest Vicki has ever been to Susan happens here while she is being menaced by the barely moving Fungoids and insists on repeatedly screaming and ultimately fainting. Her fear of heights seems much more reasonable.
– The final episode steals the twist from the Twilight Zone episode “People are Alike All Over” with the human zoo, but thankfully it is sort of minimized here.
– I know the show is fairly literal with most of its alien species names, but they were just really lazy this time. I mean seriously look at the ones listed above. I guess that’s what happens on a quick writing schedule when you need names for a bunch of minor alien races.
– Barbara and Ian also get a better and satisfying send-off than Susan being returned to their home time (well two years later) and place at their insistence instead of being basically abandoned on a ruined Earth.
– I do want to know how they will explain disappearing for two years at the same time as one of their students who is still missing.
– We will have plenty of time to discuss their replacement Steven Taylor who is also introduced in the final episode, but he gets far more natural an introduction than Vicki.
– Well, not completely natural because he almost kills Vicki in an attempt to go save a stuffed animal and is almost abandoned as a result.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: None explicitly but we are never told what exactly happened to Steven who is quite clearly shown alive.

Next Up: Season 2 comes to an end with “The Time Meddler” on Monday.