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Doctor Who: The Rescue (TV Serial L)



Blurb: When the TARDIS lands on the planet Dido, the Doctor, Barbara, and Ian discover a crashed spaceship. The only survivors have been murdered by natives apart from a young orphaned girl and a paralyzed man. Who is the strange creature Koquillion that they fear and will they remain safe long enough to be rescued?

Format: Television drama transmitted from January 2, 1965 - January 9, 1965. Bundles with The Romans and released on DVD on July 7, 2009.

Setting: The Planet Dido in the Earth year 2493 (or possibly 2494. Vicki says that she left in 2493 but it's possible that enough time passed between the interstellar trip and everything that happened since the crash that they're in the next year).

Continuity: There's a lot of talk in the beginning about Susan having just left and Ian speculates that she's off milking cows (see The Dalek Invasion of Earth). The Doctor mentions that they haven't had a lot of luck with caves (see An Unearthly Child and Marco Polo).

DVD: In addition to the usual commentary there's a nice making of feature that includes memories from the surviving memories of the cast and crew. It's about right for a story of this length.

Discussion: The Rescue is an interesting story. It doesn't have the kinds of universal or even planetary implications that many other Doctor Who stories have. Instead it had the distinction of being the first story to introduce a new cast member to Doctor Who. This had never been done before. There was no telling if the audiences would accept a new character. Yet, at this point the production team were unwilling to experiment to much with the format. The original story outline called for a teenager to "get into trouble" so with Susan gone a new character needed to be created. The Rescue was the vehicle to do that. To me David Whitaker has always been one of the unsung heroes of his time period. He was the Bob Holmes of the 60's (although Holmes wrote a couple of stories for Who in the 1960's they're nowhere near as good as his later work) and always created gripping stories because they relied on strong characterization. We remember those stories because he makes us care about the characters. He's already helped to shape the characters of the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara by being the script editor during the first production block and now as a freelancer he was free to write more directly for the series. The reason why the Rescue doesn't have an epic plot is because it didn't need to. Whitaker had two episodes to make us care about new girl Vicki as much as we cared about Susan. She had to be the focus of the story, so he went with a story that had a minimal cast with only one other main character besides Vicki and the TARDIS crew. The result is a really tight drama that also has one of the biggest surprise moments in Doctor Who history.

Whether or not Whitaker succeeds with Vicki depends on who you ask. I have a really hard time taking her. Maureen O'Brien looks like a woman in her 20's yet plays the character as if she's around 12. For the longest time I assumed that she was supposed to be 16 like Susan so she always seemed very immature and somewhat annoying. However, the novel Byzantium! states that Vicki is 14. I've never seen this corroborated by any behind the scenes information but if the production team had intended for her to be 14 then I can at least see where the characterization is coming from. I don't think that O'Brien is really able to sell "14" though because she just looks far to old. Carole Ann Ford on the other hand looked like a 16 year old girl and it wasn't until much later that I learned that she was in her early 20's. Vicki hear seems very strange. It's just about believable if she's been stranded for a year that she'd go insanely manic when the radar picks up what she thinks to be the rescue ship. But then she also seems so insanely pleased with Barbara and seems to have no concept that you might want to be wary of strangers. Then she's all for taking on the whole planet Dido who she thinks is peopled with a warlike race, but is then easily put into despair by Bennett. Then she plays a "I don't need any grownups I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself" petulant game with Barbara that makes me think more of an 8 year old. Finally she freaks out when Barbara makes an understandable mistake with Sandy. Did she think that she was going to be able to take the thing with her on the rescue ship? But then she's giggling about it with her later so no permanent harm done. As a recent forum post that I read questions "Has Vicki's time on Dido driven her insane?" It seems strange that Susan was always told that she couldn't act "to alien" because she was who the viewers at home were supposed to identify with, so she got very few stories that allowed her to really stretch herself as an actress and was reduced to a screamer half the time. Yet Vicki is allowed to act far more alien as a "girl of the future" and is never really that identifiable to children. At least Susan was an alien that wanted to be a groovy 60's human and that's something that always endeared her to me. After two episodes of Vicki I want to trade her back for the older model, but she'll be with the show for a year. I do like that she comes in with a sense of excitement and adventure on entering the ship and the possibilities of adventuring in time and space. The Doctor is an explorer and while Ian and Barbara have been show to grow to like this life they still just want to get home. Vicki is the first character that wants to be in the TARDIS for the thrill of it and that's fairly refreshing.

The regulars are good here even though the plot doesn't give Ian much to do. He makes a joke about whether or not the Doctor has gone senile that could be taken as rather offensive, but the Doctor takes it in good humor. Otherwise he's just following the Doctor around a cave. Barbara gets a little more to do with bonding with Vicki. I do like the way that she asks the Doctor if he could show her how to operate the controls showing some real sensitivity by not acknowledging the Doctor's mistake but also wanting to help. This is really the Doctor's moment to shine. He's dealing with the aftermath of Susan leaving and he's obviously troubled, absentmindedly asking her to open the doors and then having this look of deep sorrow when he realizes that she isn't there. I really love how his first instinct when confronted with an obstacle is wanton destruction. When he can't get into Bennett's room he just takes a bit of a steel girder that appears to have broken off when the ship crashed and bashes Bennett's door down with it. That made me chuckle really hard. Then there's the moment of final confrontation with Bennett. It's notable that the Doctor doesn't tell the others about what he's discovered with Bennett but goes to confront him by himself. Even though he acts amused as he investigates Bennett's room and works out what's been going on it seems clear that he is feeling some righteous anger over what he has done to this girl that reminds him so much of Susan and he's going to settle things with this guy right away. It seems like we have shades of the old Doctor, as he goes to pick up the wrench looking demolition tool of the Dido people during the confrontation with Bennett? We're left wondering if he's really going to use it on the guy and I wonder if this whole situation has made him that angry as at this point in the show he's generally mellowed. Then again, genocide is a pretty serious thing and until the end we believe that the Dido People have all died.

Ray Barrett does a decent job with Bennett. We could pass him off as assertive and gruff but then when he's with the Doctor we see that this man is a true sociopath. He doesn't care how many people he kills as long as it'll keep him from getting punished. In a way the fake-out with Koquillion helps us to see something that we otherwise wouldn't, that the monster is really a man. I find that kind of thing a lot more disturbing then a lot of the other "monsters" that the show gives us. Certainly it makes him scarier than aliens like The Sensorites or Draconians who are often referred to as "monsters". I have to say that Barrett really shines as Koquillion though. He takes on this really creepy higher tone and really makes it sound like a different person. The costume helps but he just conveys menace and look at how he leers over Barbara once he's superated her from Ian.

The production values on this one are excellent as is the direction. Koquillion's costume is fantastic. It has an issue in that the mouth doesn't move so you're left thinking that it's a really awful TV costume of an alien monster. Then when you find out that it's just a ceremonial costume that Bennett has stolen it makes the whole thing make a lot more sense. It really is just a costume. Yet even with the static mouth the thing looks like a creepy lizard monster and it's one of the better "alien" costumes of the period. The model shots are great and the tricks that they use to match the model in the same shot with the characters in the studio really helps to give a sense of scale that we haven't had in other stories. It really looks like Ian and Barbara are looking down a mountain at the ship. The interior of the ship is also good and I like that the floor is slanted, really conveying a sense that things are out of kilter here and thankfully something that they're able to do now that they have some proper studio space. Then there's that final sequence when the Doctor confronts Bennett in this large temple set with smoke everywhere and explosions going off as they wrestle over the demolition tool. It's one of the best looking scenes that we've had to date and it's amazing how much the show has grown technically in only a year. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the music by Tristam Cary. It's the same stuff that he used for the Daleks but it works just as well here and is a perfect music for an unfamiliar, alien landscape and adds a lot of atmosphere to the story.

There are some things that don't make sense though. Who designed that trap? First of all, it's clear that there's plenty of floor behind Ian and the Doctor at the point of that final ring so there's no need for them to cling to the wall. Second, you have to pull the ring and hopefully have moved just the right amount to put yourself in the trap zone which is about six feet away by the time the trap pops out. That happens here but usually people design traps to attack you at the trigger point. Then there's the fact that the thing pushes you over a ledge of no more than about 10 feet into a pit where an herbivorous creature waits. Did these people really want a trap or was this some sort of game? The Doctor never considers that the Dido that he encountered may have been in the future even before he learns that Bennett has supposedly killed them all. What if Bennett's explosion is actually what had reduced the population of the planet to around 100 people as the Doctor says? Maybe they were all away when the explosion hits and only the two that we see have returned at this point. Why did the ship bound for Astra land on Dido? I guess that there must have been a fault before they crashed but it's left really unclear.

Final Rating: 8/10

Recommendation: It's a Whitaker script so it's going to be good. The story focuses on Vicki and the Doctor. At the end the new girl takes up a role very similar to Susan's yet Whitaker makes this something else. It's a character drama that merges the new character in with the existing format and also gives us a great vehicle for Hartnell to take the role of the Doctor one step closer to becoming a hero. I recommend giving this one a watch.

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