Blurb: When the Doctor and his companions discover that a group of time-traveling Daleks have orders to exterminate them, a dangerous chase across time and space follows.
Format: Television drama transmitted from May 22, 1965 - June 26, 1965. This story was bundled with The Space Museum and released on DVD July 6, 2010.
Setting: (As a story with many locations this will be in the form of a list) The planet Skaro, date unknown. The similarity in technology to the Dalek time machine used in The Daleks Masterplan would seem to imply that this occurs sometime around the year 4000. As Mavic Chen believes that he is doing something unique in handing the taranium over to the Daleks then I suggest that this story happens after that one, when the Daleks have either found another source for it, raided more from Uranus, or created a synthetic version. Let's say circa 4100. The planet Aridius, time unknown. It is implied that at whatever point the Daleks left it was in the relative past to when the TARDIS is on Aridius as the Time/Space Visualizer can only pick up images from the past. However, that does not really help with dating the story. The planet Earth in New York City, 1966; The planet Earth on the sailing vessel, The Marie Celeste on November 25, 1872; The planet Earth in Ghana, 1996; The planet Mechanus, time unknown. I suggest a date of 2265 because Steven appears to be from the 23rd century and this keeps with the convention of the crew landing in years with the same ending as the date of production.
Continuity: The Daleks mention that the Doctor has "delayed" their conquest of Earth and Vicki refers to the fact that New York was destroyed during the dalek invasion. The robotic copy of the Doctor refers to Vicki as Susan as the Daleks were not aware that she had left the TARDIS in 2167 (see The Dalek Invasion of Earth). Ian asks Barbara for her cardigan and she says "not again" (see The Space Museum). There's reference to the fact that Ian and Barbara forced themselves into the TARDIS (see An Unearthly Child).
DVD: In addition to the normal commentary there are quite a few extras showing the original designer of the Daleks meeting with the designers for the new series. There's a documentary on the making of this story as well as one on Ian and Barbara and their importance to the series. There's a documentary on the Daleks and their popularity as well as one on Dalek merchandise. There's also one on the company that designed most of the models for Doctor Who in the 60's.
Discussion: "Now you've squashed my favorite beetles!" The Chase is another one of those stories that gets really mixed reactions with fandom. It's a story where the TARDIS is constantly on the move and therefore it has drawn comparison with another Terry Nation story, The Keys of Marinus. Yet, that element aside, this story isn't like Keys at all. In Keys there's no impetus to keep moving other than that they can't get away in the TARDIS until they've completed the quest. Here there's no reason to be moving about except that they're trying to evade the Daleks for the key conceit to this story is that the Daleks sick of the Doctor showing up and trouncing their plans have decided to build their own time machine and use it to hunt the Doctor down at an early point in his history and therefore reverse many of their defeats at his hands. It's a great idea but this is also one of the most troubled stories in the series' history, which is why fan reaction is so mixed. Yet it's my contention that there is a great deal to love about this story as well.
First, let's talk about the regulars. Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time knows how much of a fan I am of Ian and Barbra. I think that they're wonderful and they're some of the most believable companions that the series ever gives us. I love how this story, conscious of the fact that they'll soon be leaving us give us the almost homelike beginning in the TARDIS. Ian is busy reading the novel with the lurid 1950's picture of Monsters from Outer Space while Barbara is busy making a dress for Vicki. First of all, I just love the fact that the Doctor on his travels collected a book called Monsters from Outer Space that is so obviously a B.E.M. laden sci-fi romp. I also like just how homey these details are. Gone are the two schoolteachers that asked the Doctor if he had gotten them home yet every story. Now, Ian and Barbara have settled into traveling in the TARDIS to such a degree that they even wonder themselves at the end if they want to go home still. The whole story is littered with things like that. Ian just wants to run off and explore with Vicki. He tells everyone that they'll just go to the top of the rise but then they continue onward showing that he's become just as curious and has as much of a desire to explore as The Doctor. There's also a level of comfort between the two of them and the Doctor. Barbara talks about a noise from the ship, which the Doctor takes to have been a dig on his singing and she says "not that awful noise, the other one". Ian and the Doctor fighting over who goes down into the lab in the haunted house is another wonderful scene and I really love on Mechanus when Ian and Barbara pretend that they're ambushing Daleks with mock weapons. They are having a ball and it's really difficult not to enjoy yourself too while you're watching it. We also have that perfect ending sequence where Ian and Barbara have finally gotten home, are blissfully in love, and decide to frolic around London with wild abandon. To say that it's the perfect exit would be an understatement. Ian and Barbara deserved a happy ending and it is wonderful to enjoy it with them.
But this story isn't just about Ian and Barbara. We've got Vicki and the Doctor too as well as new companion Steven Taylor, who comes in at the last episode. Vicki doesn't get the best material here. She gets hysterical on Aridius for seemingly no reason and again makes me question her age when you find out the reason for her hysterics. She knocks Ian out in a humorous moment. She does show the pluck to stow away on the Dalek time machine, which is a decently inventive move, but otherwise there isn't really much to write home about here. I do like Steven though, who comes in with such a natural reaction of a man seeing people for the first time in two years. People have said that it's rediculous when he goes into a burning building to save his stuffed bear, but those same people seem to forget that Steven's been marooned for two years with that stuffed animal as his only "friend". In real life people who are deprived of human contact for so long anthropomorphize inanimate objects. Steven isn't supposed to be quite right in the head here and so there is a sense to what he's doing even if it isn't what we'd consider the sensible thing to do. The Doctor also gets a chance to shine. The series knowing that Ian and Barbara are leaving is testing whether or not the Doctor can stand on his own. And the answer comes back that he can. We learn that the Doctor loves the Beetles and that he's worried that Ian and Barbara could end up as burnt cinders flying around in Spain. The Doctor is no longer just on the side of the kids. He's with it in a way that Ian isn't. Ian tries to understand the kids but his dancing shows you that he's just an old guy trying to be cool. The Doctor convinces with a simple line that he actually likes the Beetles, which is amazing and puts him right there with the kids. I also like the theory that the Doctor comes up with at the haunted house that somehow they're in a world of dreams. It's crazy yet at the same time it's the sort of imaginative thing that a child may come up with. We also have the Doctor's duel with his "double" where he shows that he can be the heroic man of action, a role that he's been occupying more and more over the course of the second season. Finally, his reaction to Ian and Barbara leaving is so amazingly touching, especially when you know that Hartnell actually had something of the same conversation with them as actors before recording this. He's hurt that they want to leave but covers it with bluster and concern over their safety. For once when he delivers an awful flub it is both hilarious because of what he says but at the same time so totally understandable because this is a man who is so upset that he can't even talk straight. This is a story about the characters and about endings and it does it all in a wonderful way.
As much as the story gets knocked it is very good conceptually. Every Dalek encounter up to this point has been an escalation. Last time they learned that the Daleks could leave their city and fly through space. Now the Daleks have their own time machine and can even pursue the TARDIS crew. This really raises the stakes as nowhere that they land ever again can be assuredly safe as the potential is always there for the Daleks to come after them. The Daleks can also makes duplicates of people with psychological data programmed in so that the duplicate behaves similarly to the original. Let's put aside the fact that the duplicate doesn't look all that much like the Doctor. This is another thing that makes the Daleks so much more of a threat as even individuals can no longer be trusted as they may not be who they appear. There's also the time/space visualizer, which is a neat idea although I can see why they didn't want to have a history infodump in every story from here on and it gets ignored. I have a hard time believing that you can just tell it a particular day in history and Pennsylvania and it knows to dial up the Gettysburg address, but beyond that it is kind of neat that you can watch history like it's a television. I also like the idea of the time/path indicator. In hindsight it makes sense that the Doctor would be worried about pursuit from Gallifrey and this would warn him about any TARDIS on his tracks. I even don't mind the Mechanoids. It seems silly that their planet is called Mechanus but it could have been named that after the robots were sent to it. The idea that they treat Steven civilly while awaiting instructions that he doesn't have works and thankfully in the format of this story it's not something that we have to dwell on for 6 episodes while it gets stale. That is the other triumph of The Chase. Much like Keys of Marinus before it, this is one of the pacier Hartnell stories and by keeping the characters on the move you keep the story fresh and keep them reacting to new and more interesting situations. Finally, getting back to that duplicate. So much flack has been given to this story that they actually hired a different actor to play the Doctor duplicate rather than getting Hartnell to do both roles, but remember that they were only allowed four cuts in those days. There would be no way for Hartnell to play both roles as he'd be in a different part of the studio while they were recording scenes on the Dalek timeship and then recording scenes on the TARDIS. Yet, even within the story this works. While I was watching I had an epiphany. To the Daleks we all look the same! That's why they can yell "paramount success" when their duplicate comes out. Yes, we can tell the difference but that isn't the point. It's still an old man with similar height and hair. Daleks are so racist that they can't even tell the difference between people and that is such a nice touch and gives the whole thing such verisimilitude that if you view it that way it really adds something to the story. Just don't ask me to explain why Barbara gets fooled by it. I also like the big spectacle of the Daleks vs the Mechanoids. It's nice for the show to try and do something on this scale and using real fire and explosions gives it the touch of realism that it needs. Unfortunately they also overlay cartoon explosions, which minimize its impact a little. If they'd just kept with what we see onscreen it would have been awesome but those animated explosions just make me think of 60's Batman.
I don't have much to say from a production standpoint this time. I think that Dudley Simpson does a fine job with the music although I'm not a huge fan of the "time/space continuum theme" that plays at the beginning and end of the episodes as we see the TARDIS in flight. Yet that in itself is a kind of neat thing. It's the first time that we see the ship in flight and we get a swirly kaleidoscope image of what the time/space continuum looks like. I like it although it has its detractors. Yet, one of the main reasons why I think that this story is so lambasted by fandom is that the production values tend to be pretty poor here and there are some amazingly silly things that happen. In addition to what we've discussed we have things like the Ardians. It's silly enough that an ocean world was called Aridius and then dried up (what did they think would happen) but their costumes are basically just spandex bodysuits with a fin on the top. They try to give the race some characteristics but it comes off as a character with a Morok's charisma combined with an Menoptra's dexterity. It doesn't really work and they seem kind of sad and pathetic. Ian wears a prison shirt for the first couple of episodes with absolutely no explanation of why. Does he just like the style? When the mire beast breaks into the Aridian city and knocks the wall down the bricks fall all over Barbara but she's completely uninjured. Everyone on the Marie Celeste jumps overboard without the Daleks even having to kill anyone. It seems a bit over the top even for the vaunted superstition of sailors. It's also ridiculous that we're supposed to believe that the Daleks are these great, indestructible things when one simply falls apart by going into the water, and why it follows the Marie Celeste crew over the side of the deck no one explains and another gets destroyed by funhouse exhibitions. There's a Dalek already clearly visible behind the grate in Frankenstein's lab before the Dalek timeship arrives. Can anyone tell me who the "grey lady" in the haunted house is supposed to be. Is this some superstition/horror story that I've never been told about before? Also what is she saying? The subtitles say "unshriven" but the subtitles are notoriously bad on the 60's Doctor Who DVD's and that seems a very unlikely word, so I'm curious if anyone knows what that is that she's saying. The broken Frankenstein robot gets a coat by the time that it gets downstairs. Where did it find it and why did it put it on? They seriously expect us to think that the Daleks don't even leave a single guard on their time vessel? Anyone could sneak onboard on one of these planets. Ian seems surprised that the vegetation in a jungle is "alive". Well of course it would be, Ian. Vegetation in jungles tends to be...The one thing about the Doctor duplicate that doesn't work. They try to do a closeup and switch to Hartnell except unfortunately he's standing in a different part of the Dalek time machine then where the long shot shows the robot, so you see a completely wrong background. There doesn't appear to be any tension on the cable that lowers Vicki down to the jungle floor. Yet, even though there are a lot of nits, none of these are all that important which I think is pretty amazing for a story on this scale.
Final Rating: 9/10
Recommendation: To paraphrase a prominent fan, the Chase is one of the most flawed productions in Doctor Who's history. Yet it says something about the format of Doctor Who that something that has so many obvious warts is actually a wonderful and endearing story that we love. The Chase is great. It has good humor, it gives us the last strokes of the original TARDIS family, it transitions us to a new age of the story, it increases the stakes with the Daleks, and tells us some pretty interesting stories while keeping the pace up. Yes there are some major problems with the production. There are some goofy things about the story, but none of those are important. It's a fun story and it's one that I think that just about anyone would enjoy. I definitely recommend it.