“Chase? Yes, as a matter of fact, young man, that’s exactly what this is!” – The Doctor
In broadcast sequence, this is the first story that I really can’t stand and see little redeeming value in. It’s full of camp and silliness, nonsensical plot ideas, poor effects, and general mischaracterization and bad pacing. The first episode is little more than fun and games, seeming like a sitcom family, but at least doesn’t take itself too seriously. The second episode is a more straightforward—a devastated alien planet on which the TARDIS crew end up being captured and at least an attempt at some different kind of aliens. Not the greatest episode but it’s probably the best of the lot. (Though by all rights the Doctor should be more horrified at the thought of the Daleks having a transcendental time machine.)
Then we start ‘the chase’ in earnest and it really goes down hill—the crew end up meeting a hillbilly in New York, panicky sailors on ship, pass through a futuristic funhouse (in 1996!), and a planet of very unconvincing looking fungi. Of all things, the crew accidently leave Vicki behind (but at least they feel bad about it; bravo to them being willing to risk their lives to capture the Dalek ship to try and get her back). In the penultimate episode, the Daleks make a robot copy of the Doctor (with some very bad voice over trying to convince us that it’s an indistinguishable copy) and there’s the inevitable cliché face-off where nobody is sure who is who (and for some reason the Doctor can’t say the right things to show it’s him). The final episode introduces the Mechanioids, clunky robots with voices that you can barely understand, that they for some reason thought would be super-popular.
There are a few unimportant but interesting references back to old episodes. Finding strange formations on the planet Aridius, Ian makes the comment that at least they are not acid pools (referencing twice encountering those in previous stories) and when he asks Barbara for her sweater she says ‘not again’ (since he already destroyed one in the previous story.) Vicki also gets to mention about the history of the Dalek invasion again when talking about ‘Ancient New York’ being destroyed. I find it interesting how many of these oblique references there are in this one story since they were not so common a device back in the day as they are now.
Despite some silly plot points, it’s actually poor direction and misjudged playing that really ruin the episode. There are huge gaps of silence between lines and actions at times as well as editing jumps (like the detonations scene on Aridius) that mess up the flow. The characters many times go from being terrified one minute to sillily playing around the next with no thought for the shift in tone. They are also often written as missing the obvious or behaving unreasonably just in order to get the storyline where it’s wanted. There is also a heavy reliance on overly evident model shots. I could overlook any one of these things alone (as I am happy to do with many other episodes where the scripts, acting, or plots are good) but all of them combined kill any enjoyment of a story which is itself not very strong. Even the Daleks have some ridiculous dialogue. The only good parts in all of it is our first meeting with Steven and seeing the jubilant return home of Ian and Barbara.
Best unsettling moments:
The reveal of the sailing ship being the abandoned Mary Celeste, thereby explaining a hundreds of years old mystery, was admittedly a cool moment that I still remember from my first viewing. What I didn’t remember, and find hard to believe, is that they show quite unnecessarily—even gratuitously–a mother carrying a bundled baby in her arms leaping to her death in ocean!
I also have to say that I didn’t remember the cliffhanger of the Dalek rising from the sand and, though obviously a model shot, it is still a rather cool moment.
- Doctor double
- Other time machine
- Planet with multiple suns
- Possibly the first ancestor of a companion (It’s stretching it but maybe we can say that the identical Alabama yokel must be a forbearer of Steven?)
I am angry, literally angry, that they cut out a whole sequence in the first episode. It’s not critical to the show—a fun bit where they watch the Beatles on the space-time visualizer. Since I was a young fan, that scene stood out to me; it’s actually my strongest memory of the show from my first viewing. I clearly remember Ian and Barbara bopping along to it only to be a bit deflated when Vicki comments how she likes ‘classical music’ too. The BBC cites ‘licensing requirements’ for removing it but that’s apparently just a DVD rule—it was fine to have it for so many years on rebroadcasts when I was younger. It was a fun scene in a not great episode and I am so disappointed that it’s not there to enjoy again.