Doctor Who #11: The Rescue

"My truth is in the stars and yours is here."TECHNICAL SPECS: The episode is on disc 2 of The Beginning DVD boxed set as part 7 of The Daleks. First aired Feb.1 1964.

IN THIS ONE... The Daleks are defeated by the combined forces of the TARDIS crew and the Thals.

REVIEW: It's the final showdown! Though that's exciting, I'll be glad for the change of scriptwriters. Terry Nation really does get on my nerves with his old-fashioned, movie serial clichés and antiquated attitudes. It does feel like somebody fiddled around with the script at some point in the production, however, because in the last couple episodes, Barbara has come into her own as a strong, independent woman. Though she's given her share of jeopardy and almost gets cut in half by a Dalek sliding door, she's also more active than passive, throwing rocks at the Daleks (don't ask where they came from) and kissing Ganaton (an off-screen "romance" if there ever was one). But nothing could fix the script's overall structure, which makes a fatal mistake: By having Alydon's lost group rejoin Ian's inside the city, it takes away ANY advantage splitting up might have had! In other words, all the jeopardy of the last episode and a half (and two deaths) was for nothing except getting a check for an extra script or two.

Speaking of deaths, Antodus takes a dive down a ravine here, a noble sacrifice from an ignoble coward, saving Ian's life in the process. It's well done, leaving Ian with a case of the shakes. William Russell doesn't get enough credit for his acting, given that he's cast as the action man, but he's quite good here and elsewhere. The actresses usually get to emote, and the Doctor is an exotic character, but Russell has to find moments in between the action bits. I appreciate his presence immensely. The other William, Mr. Hartnell, is also quite good - as he often is at the tail end of stories, for some reason - as we get the sense that the senseless evil of the Daleks is inching him towards a more interventionist stance. And yet, he refuses to give the Thals advice in the farewell scene. He's not yet a conscious force for change (hard to breed out of Time Lords, presumably), but it looks like he'd make exceptions for monsters like the Daleks. It's the Thals who are kind of sappy and indistinct. Sure, Ganaton has a moment where he reverts to his usual cynicism after his brother's death, but that's about it. The script has nothing to offer them, not really. Just look at that last scene where everyone says goodbye to one another. And again. And again. Richard Martin's "real time" pacing, or the script counting time until the TARDIS dematerializes?

The effects are a mixed bag. There's the cool shot of Ian busting up a Dalek camera, Daleks successfully passing each other paper, Antodus' filmed demise, and the first on-camera TARDIS demat. But then, there's the grainy picture of electric turbines, the silly horseshoe magnets holding the Doctor and Susan, and terrible, almost obscene, way the Daleks die, with their eyestalks pointing up. Let's just say I'm glad it never happened again. The final battle is naturally hard to choreograph, so it's a bit of a mess, but it could really have done without the accidental laughs (Thals riding the backs of Daleks is equally amusing). What it COULD have used more of is music and pace. Still, the Daleks get what's coming to them, and in the nick of time too, with sufficient and warranted violence.

THEORIES: If you're tracking whether or not the Doctor already knew all about the Daleks and was playing dumb, there's an odd piece of dialog in the farewell scene that may serve as evidence. While the Thals are simultaneously enjoying the spoils of war and decrying their lost pacifism, the Doctor tells them not worry, that they'll no doubt have other wars to fight. What a strange thing to say, and it could just be one of the Doctor's distracted, tonally-misjudged comments. Or it could be that he knows about Dalek and Thal history. This might be his first encounter with either race, and it seems very early for both, but he knows they'll play a big role in the universe's history later. The comment certainly proves prophetic regardless.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization, "Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks", written by David Whitaker (the series' first script editor), is noteworthy because of its many differences with the televised story. For one thing, it acts as an introduction to the Doctor Who universe, and the companions climb aboard the TARDIS here for the first time, eschewing 100,000 B.C. completely. The story is told in the first person by Ian, who is a smoker(!) and doesn't know Susan English or her tutor Barbara at the start of the story. The book is also famous for depicting a Glass Dalek leader with a transparent casing (something similar would be seen 20 years later in Revelation of the Daleks). The book has gone through many editions, the most recent in 2011, so you should be able to find it. (Again, the film Doctor Who and the Daleks will be covered in its own article down the line.)

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - It's a fairly good climax, with enough excitement to cover up the script and production flaws. Of the main cast, only Susan lacks a strong moment in which to shine.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - Look, I can go on about the serial's flaws for a week (oh look, I just did), but it doesn't matter, does it? This'll still be the introduction of the Daleks and the moment Doctor Who became a pop culture icon. No getting around it. So embrace it and enjoy it. The Daleks are cool, the cast gets lots to do, and the effects and design are in general surprisingly good. The lack of depth, the cliffhanger padding and the sexism, you can chalk up to being from an older tradition.


snell said...

I always enjoyed William Russells' Ian. As you say, he was more than just the action man--Russell always managed to have Ian project a likeability, as a chap who you wouldn't mind quaffing a pint with at the pub (despite the rubbish stories he would tell of history and aliens and...)

Siskoid said...

I had an uncle like that. He said he would one day return to the stars. And one day, he up and left without a trace.

Well, I did see him on stage later in a play touring elementary schools. I guess he was chasing some kind of star.


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