Doctor Who #77: The Planet of Decision

"Help yourself to a piece of eternity."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 6 of The Chase. First aired Jun.26 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Captured by Mechonoids, the TARDISeers meet Steven Taylor and leave him for dead as the Daleks and Mechonoids destroy the Mechanus city. Barbara and Ian return home in the Dalek time machine.

REVIEW: So much to say about this episode, so let's start with the Mechonoids. If you thought the Daleks were a bit impractical, these blobby robots look like Jack O'Lanterns with tiny fold-out arms, or giant Fabergé eggs perhaps, who talk mostly in machine code and whose English is near incomprehensible. The DVD's subtitles are helpful, though if you were to write transcripts based on what you hear, their dialog would be very different. They're silly, but all is forgiven once they start fighting the Daleks, with built-in flamethrowers no less. Richard Martin proves once again how much more adept (or interested) he is in using film by crafting an epic battle between what amounts to two races of bumper cars. Dutch angles, camera shakes, explosions, smoke, superimposed images. It's so effective and exciting, indeed ICONIC, that the TV Comic turned the Mechonoids into regular foes for the Daleks, ignoring their Earth-based background described here. It's hard to believe the sequence was put together by the same director who earlier had been doing paceless real time machine code greetings that lasted, like, FOREVER.

In this episode, we also meet future companion Steven Taylor, a prisoner of the Mechonoids for the last two years. He hasn't seen anyone since he crashed on Mechanus and it shows. Peter Purves is great here, filling his performance to the brim with enthusiasm that could rival Vicki's. He doesn't stop talking for a second, and then only to enjoy the moment when he hears his name spoken by a human voice (a woman's, perhaps it helps). His pent-up energy just rushed out of him, making him instantly likable. There's little doubt he used to have conversations with his stuffed panda Hi Fi because like a scene from Castaway, he goes back into a flaming inferno to get it back... and we don't hear from him again! He'll show up in the next episode, but people watching with no knowledge of the show's history will probably have thought he was another of those one-offs The Chase's structure has given us so many of.

Steven's joyful attitude is mirrored in other characters' as well, as this is essentially a celebration. Victory over the Daleks, and for viewers, the end of The Chase, but also the close of an arc for two of the original cast. So we have Vicki and Ian giving their impressions of the robot races, the girls bouncing on a hotel bed, and the Doctor giving Barbara a hug. You don't deserve that kind of high unless the jeopardy's been real, and in its final episode, The Chase does deliver. The wholesale destruction of the Mechonoid city goes a bit over the top with the stock footage of destruction, but it works. On a more personal level, we have Vicki's very human fear of heights, making her seem vulnerable almost for the first time. Admittedly, 1500 feet on a spool of rope, who wouldn't be scared? And Steven does drop her for a stuffed toy!

The episode's greatest success is Ian and Barbara's departure sequence (yes, not just a scene, a well-deserved SEQUENCE) which manages to be both joyful and poignant. There's that wonderful moment when they realize the Dalek time machine could take them home and it's a choice they make together, Barbara even taking Ian's hand. Shippers take note! The Doctor's reaction is to return to his former irascibility, and though using the machine is no doubt dangerous, it's clear that he just doesn't want to lose them. He only accepts it after Vicki confirms she won't leave with them, won't leave him alone. We're denied an actual farewell scene between the characters, which is very prim, proper and BRITISH, but it's the epilogue that makes this the best companion farewell scene of all time (sorry Rose). They get back to London, only two years off, and blow up the Dalek time machine (very well done - of course, it's on film) and then... then we're treated to a sequence of holiday snaps of their first day back, running through famous locations, having fun, a gag with a real police box, it's just wonderful and an exciting piece of visual style. A final scene on a bus, with the couple feeling gleeful and exhilarated, brings us full circle to the time and space visualizer, where the Doctor and Vicki put their minds at rest that their family members - because that's really the relationship here - made it home ok. The Doctor's final "I shall miss them", a fantastic piece of acting from William Hartnell, gets me every time. I just can't keep my emotions bottled up like the Doctor can. I shall miss them too, Doctor.

THEORIES: The Daleks order troops to the roof, an area apparently inaccessible except via Steven's makeshift stairs. While they don't make it up there because they're too busy with the Mechonoids, the inference is still that it wouldn't have been an impossibility for them. So... hover Daleks just offscreen? Or did they bring some of those flying platforms from TV Comic with them? Maybe they were just going to use the time machine, or think there's some other means of access.

What happened to Ian and Barbara? We'd have to wait 45 years for some canonical news. In Sarah Jane Adventures series 3's The Death of the Doctor (a title that sounds familiar to viewers of The Chase), Sarah Jane reveals that they're married and that they are rumored to have never aged. The first bit of news supports what extracanonical sources have already told us, but the rumor of immortality is contradicted by other sources, including Ian's framing introductions to The Crusade on the Lost in Time DVD set, which an older William Russell does in character. According to the aforementioned extracanonical stories, their excuse for having lost two years was an impromptu trip to Africa.

VERSIONS: The novelization has the Dalek time machine powered by a terranium core, Morton Dill ending up in a mental health care facility, and a Mary Celeste sequence more accurate to historical events. Overall, the book's plot is richer and more thematically coherent, expanding greatly the Aridius sequence, omitting Hi Fi the Panda Bear, and giving more details about Ian and Barbara's future life. A third Peter Cushing film was planned, based on The Chase, but was never made owing to the box office failure of the second Dalek film. Here's a fun fan-made trailer for it, under the title Daleks vs. Mechons!

REWATCHABILITY: High - An energetic introduction to a new companion, a poignant farewell to two of the original cast, and a pretty epic confrontation between the Daleks and Mechonoids. The Chase finally yields a winner!

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Low (with an exception) - "Cut to the chase" should here be revised to "Cut THROUGH the Chase". By all means, treat yourselves to the last episode to see Ian and Barbara's departure and Steven's arrival, but there's really no need for the limp plotless meanderings of the first five.


Elden said...

It's always good to see so much love for Barbara and Ian and their final sequence. Can't wait for the DWAITAS char sheets like Susan got. :D [and although it's quite a way off huegly anticipating seeing them in the card game's 2nd Ed... :D]

Siskoid said...

Barbara shall forever be near the top of my favorite companions list.

And you didn't have long to wait for the sheets, at least!

Randal said...

Oh that farewell is light years better than Rose's (I didn't like hers at all...I can't say I cared one whit for Rose overall, actually).


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