Doctor Who: The Chase (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros are ring-side for the ultimate Dalek/Mechonoid smack-down
NOTE: THIS IS PART ONE OF A TWO-PART REVIEW
The Daleks are back, and this time are determined to put an end to their arch-enemy—the Doctor—with a wizard new machine that also travels across space and time! Get ready, because the game is afoot, and keep those hankies at the ready as more than one beloved companion’s days of travelling in the TARDIS are at an end. Ladies and gentlemen, The Chase is on!
It’s a colourful, black and white explosion of fun, squeezed into six episodes. Before pressing on with associated critique, as this from the earlier Hartnell era, each episode has the customary title to itself. There are times when this only highlights the disjointed, fractured nature when stories are lacking in connective tissue, and The Chase is probably the biggest culprit. To put the collective plots into a nutshell, we’ll give you a summary of each episode in order to fill you in on the story as a whole:
Episode 1: The Executioners
Once out of the Space Museum, the TARDIS crew are getting their time and space visualiser working. Once finished watching momentous events from Earth history, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki stop off on the desert planet Aridus, fending off attacks by the native Mire Beasts as the Daleks attempt to destroy their most hated foe.
Episode 2: The Death of Time
Pinned down by the Daleks, the Doctor and Barbara ingratiate themselves with the local Aridans and formulate a way to get rid of the Dalek sentry guarding the TARDIS. Under cover of a Mire Beast assault, the plan goes into action.
Episode 3: Flight Through Eternity
OK, this is the one everyone has heard of. Fleeing after successfully regaining control of the TARDIS, with the lethal cruet-sets in pursuit, the crew stop off at various points in Earth history, including the top of the Empire State building (where they meet possibly the dumbest redneck in creation) and uncover the mystery of the Marie Celeste…
Episode 4: Journey into Terror
With the Daleks getting dangerously close, and running out of time and space to hide in, the TARDIS takes refuge in a place it never has before: inside the human imagination. Dracula? Check. Frankenstein’s Monster? You’ve got it! Split up from the rest of the gang, Vicki sees her only chance is to stow away aboard the Dalek’s ship.
Episode 5: The Death of Doctor Who
A robotic double of the Doctor is out to kill our travellers in time and space on the jungle world of Mechanus. With the Daleks bogged down by the hostile terrain, the heroes chance upon an incredible city atop an arboreal canopy. Once there, they are greeted by the Mechonoids, terraforming builders of the city. With purely good intentions, our friends now have new allies.
Episode 6: The Planet of Decision
Back together again, the Tardis gang fight a pitched-battle against the Daleks in the city, with the Mechonoids proving worthy foes for the deadly dustbins. A human astronaut is freed from captivity, but will Steven Taylor’s fate be any different than from all the others fight into to survive the attack?
…and we’re back. Right. Even thought we haven’t directly mentioned it, this is the last outing for series regulars William Russell and Jacqueline Hill, and bringing the Daleks back is fitting for two characters who were there at the start of Dalekmania. For those who are unfamiliar with The Chase, there are a number of surprises written into the script, as though giving exiting characters Ian and Barbara the most wild send off possible.
The writing style seems to be in the same way that Tim Burton went about adapting Mars Attacks!, where he took all of his favourite Topps cards from the set, threw them in the air and picked out the ones which landed in the circle drawn on the floor. Here, the hallowed Terry Nation does pretty much the same thing, choosing to rip his favourite pages from the big book of sci-fi clichés instead. You can pick any hackneyed premise from pulp fantasy fiction and it’s in there.
Some of the music for The Chase comes across as a rather odd choice, almost on the fringes of what would fit with the show. The opening title card is accompanied by a piece of jazz-like composition strikingly similar to the theme to Parkinson. ‘Tonight, my special guests are the Daleks. I understand that you have a new plan to kill the Doctor. Now, tell us about the processes you go through when preparing for such a thing…’
There is a line right from the outset which defines the very problem with Vicki, which is ironically accompanied by her upsetting a tray and bringing discord to the previously happy group. ‘I am redundant around here,’ she moans. ‘I am a useless person’. This was meant to signify that Ian and Barbara were nearing the end of their time on the show, setting Vicki up to prove her worth aboard the TARDIS, but fans agree that this is an encapsulation of Maureen O’Brien’s character, which ultimately served little purpose and ranks only a few rungs above Mel in the pantheon of disliked companions.
There are certain missed opportunities when the Doctor and co are gazing into the past via the time and space visualiser. Why couldn’t they have seen footage of the Nazis, cementing the Daleks as a parallel to Hitler‘s hoards? What about extinction of the dinosaurs? For obvious reasons, there was one trick they missed being rather controversial:
’OK, keep pushing. That’s it push!!! It’s a boy!! What are you going to call him, Mary’.
‘Jesus Christ, that hurt’.
As mentioned earlier, this really is a send-off for William Russell, with a great chunk of the spotlight fixed directly on his throughout the story. The harsh landscapes of the second episode are as though it was written with the express purpose of bringing out the heroic qualities of the character. Ian ‘Chesterfield’ Chesterton evolved subtly but nicely as the show went on. From the scant number of Bill Hartnell stories played on the BBC during our formative years, Ian seemed to be a rather starched, stuffed-shirt, but later tales saw him loosen up and become very likeable, playing nicely off of Hartnell and propping him up where necessary. Here we see him clambering up rocks, rescuing his companions from certain doom whilst generally getting his hands dirty. Russell was the forerunner to Ian Marter, who was brought in to take care of the physical stuff should producers have opted for an older Doctor.
Some of the Dalek production design which graces their environment is almost a precursor to the funky, psychedelic aesthetics seen in The War Games, and this is all rather pleasing, as this artistry really helped propel Troughton’s final story into the upper echelons of our affections. One crucial element where the production fails the writing is the realisation of the Dalek’s vessel, which honestly looks like it was made by an eight-year old kid left alone in the workshop. While we’ve got the best knives out the drawer, the model of the Marie Celeste really isn’t very good. OK, it’s fine for long-shots, using it for close-ups make it look exactly what it is: a miniature. It’s the most questionable use of a model ship since Armando De Ossorio’s Ghost Galleon, where the Blind Dead wander around a boat in serious danger of being sunk by an angry duck.
The Chase is seriously disliked by a number of fans, with some of the most forgiving unable to get into the spirit of the piece. There are several leaps in both logic and science which have to be not merely straddled, but kicked down and walked over in order to have fun with it. OK, the time and space visualiser is one of the biggest, the ultimate McGuffin in order to facilitate the telling of a story. Such a miraculous device is never heard from again during the entire run, as it is too convenient for any decent scriptwriter to resort to. The other main problem is during the episode Journey into Terror, where everything degenerates into ‘funhouse’ mentality, where various characters are menaced by fictional creations in a bid to make The Chase a romp. Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster are wheeled out, providing cheap scares and nods to popular culture, as Hammer was in the thick of cranking out their respective series featuring the very same ghouls. This self-indulgent plot strand is explained away by the collective belief that they are real being so strong, the TARDIS is able to land the reality created by the human mind—or has it? Yes, quite.
One aspect of The Chase that many fans seem to agree on is that the Mechonoids are a wonderful creation and seemed robust enough to be able to convincingly take on the Daleks and possibly win. The spherical adversaries only appeared in this particular story and it’s a great shame that they weren’t brought back for a rematch with the barking pepper-pots—however, they did reappear now and again in some of the Who-related spin-offs, such as comic strips.
Oh, and contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t pirates, or ghostly tricks, nor was it down to a bowl of Weetabix, it was because of the Daleks that they found nobody on the Marie Celeste.
With Dennis Spooner in charge of editing scripts at this point, it comes as no surprise that a ‘wacky’ thread of comedy runs through it. There are a number of fans who dislike anything he had a hand in during his time of the show, and they don’t mind saying it. Aside from odd ideas, The Chase seems more like a mild stroll whilst in pursuit, all rather drawn out, and this probably has more to do with Nation being disinterested with his famous creations rather than the Spooner taking charge. In some ways, The Chase has the same problems which plagued The Keys of Marinus, also written by Nation, showcasing a number of different situations and environments loosely strung together by a central theme. Both have a premise unable to fully pad out the six-part length of their respective stories, but the pace of The Chase is considerably tighter than The Keys of Marinus, and easier to sit through.
It’s not that Nation can’t write a story over four episodes and maintain interest, as most of his others have managed to do so. He had much better luck with the epic twelve-parter The Dalek’s Master Plan, which is a belter of a tale, but could have done without the comedy Christmas episode stuck in the middle. He does seem to take great delight in putting them in environment which you wouldn’t expect to see them, with the metal monsters coping rather well in the desert, but having a tough old time of it when faced with jungle conditions. It’s to Nation’s credit that he put some variation into the mix this time, but some restraint would have been welcome.
What’s more irascible than one Doctor? How about a perfect robotic duplicate of him! In one of the coolest elements of The Chase, an automaton of Hartnell is created to lead the companions into the arms of danger. Sure enough, Barbara is duped and nearly killed by the diabolical doppelganger, rescued just in the nick of before the two Doctors confront themselves. The showdown is nicely staged, managing to dupe audiences as to which one is the real McCoy, putting the other characters in danger when they realise they’re backing the wrong horse. Cynics would say that they should have waited for one of the Doctors to fluff a line to prove which was the genuine one. Once dispatched, Hartnell comes out with a witty retort you could easily imagine Connery’s Bond coming out with. Special mention must go to Hartnell’s magnificent pronunciation of the word ‘Robot’, managing to roll the ‘r’ in spectacular fashion.
The introduction of Steven Taylor is an unusual one, as new companions are usually brought in whilst others are still firmly entrenched, not coming in as others are just about to be written out—and certainly not in the same episode. This put us in mind of the brief scene at the end of Diana Rigg’s final episode of The Avengers, where she bumps into Linda Thorson long enough to impart a little wisdom about what she’s getting into. Granted, the Doctor likes a cup of char, but probably doesn’t insist on having it stirred anticlockwise as John Steed does.
Oh, and whilst we’re on the subject of Mr Purves, we couldn’t let this review omit the fact that in episode three, he is responsible for one of the worst attempts at an American accent in history. Whilst high up on the Empire State Building, hick from the sticks Morton Dill encounters the TARDIS crew and also sends shudders down the spines of adult members of the audience with a performance so ghastly and an accent so bad, that it could have been responsible for the deterioration of Anglo-American relations at the time. Perhaps the joke was in the writing—subtract the ‘t’ from his first name and you get ‘Moron’ and the word ‘Dill’ is Australasian slang for an idiot. Who knows? It’s still a toe-curling performance from the man who would come on to the show full-time just a couple of episodes later as Steven Taylor. Talk about redeeming yourself!
The model work in the story is elaborate, with some really nice designs, but it highlights that the teams working on it didn’t quite build large enough scale to give the desired size they were aiming for. Going hand-in-glove is that they didn’t really appreciate the full benefits of over-cranking the camera when filming miniatures to help achieve the illusion of scale.
It might just be us, but the Daleks come across as tired this time around. What with Dalekmania gripping the country, a successful movie starring the deadly dustbins in the cinema and the biggest sci-fi merchandising blitz only supplanted by Planet of the Apes a number of years later, they had become the cash-cows/ratings-winner for the BBC. The Chase gives fans a big, 500g slab of Dalek chocolate to chew on, and by the end, you feel completely gorged, verging on sick. It’s not even decent chocolate. The first adventure was decent, reliable Cadburys, giving you a warm, fuzzy feeling as you indulged on it. The Dalek Invasion of Earth was sinfully indulgent Green and Blacks‘, with rich, deep undertones. The Chase is akin to snacking on an entire advent calendar from Kinnerton. It’s plentiful, but poor quality and you know exactly how it’s going to turn out.
The Doctor Who Restoration team have truly been able to produce a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, presenting a fairly duff story in such a dazzling fashion. There were numerous problems with most of the episodes, but they have used their technical skills to restore the show to as close to former glory as possible. Below is a comparison between the video release and the DVD edition. The materials used to get the captures are deeply and most profoundly crap, but the floor is cleaned with all previous copies.
There isn’t much more to say about the restoration of sixties Doctor Who that hasn’t been said numerous times before—it sounds as good as it’s going to get, and that really isn’t bad at all!
Audio Commentary: This is utterly enjoyable stuff. All of the participants are having a whale of a time reflecting on their time during the show, with a warmth that draws everybody else in. This is a surprise, given how both Peter Purves and Maureen O’Brien spent years refusing to talk about the programme for their respective reasons. William Russell is as stately as ever, and the standout section has to be when all concerned spin off their personal experiences of Hartnell fluffing his lines—there are fits of laughter, and you can almost imagine them wiping the tears from their eyes whilst rattling of their stories. We also find that Jacqueline Hill had great legs, and that O’Brien describes herself at around the time of her appearing on the show as ‘an ungrateful little beast’, being ignorant of the luxury of the constant work and good money it afforded an actor.
The Thrill of The Chase: Once again, 2|Entertain come up trumps with an insightful look at how this much maligned project was brought to the screen. Presented in the style of an episode of the show, the personable Richard Martin details how he was ordered to make the story a chase through time, in spite of his protests that they didn’t have the money to do it. William Hartnell’s rages in the bar over GandT’s, disappointment over Dalek destruction and the problems with writing are all covered. Martin seems most proud of the work with the Marie Celeste set, and rightly so, as the set was pretty impressive, but such a pity about the model work. He describes The Chase as ‘over-Dalek’d’, with their impact diluted, and wiser words have rarely been spoken. Very much worth watching.
Daleks Conquer and Destroy: This is a nice feature which covers the physical attributes Skaro’s finest, from their initial appearance, through the various colour-schemes down the decades to the current look in Nu-Who.
It’s always a treat to listen to Verity Lambert, and even more so through previously unseen interview footage, as she is clearly proud of her involvement on the show—her desire to jump into the Dalek costume when she first saw them clearly shows that she was one of us at heart.
It’s nice that the sheer awfulness of using actors walking around in the costumes to simulate them travelling over sand dunes in Destiny of the Daleks is brought up, as to admit the idiocy of the idea helps the more avid viewers put it behind them. The use of little tricks by director Richard Martin are also revealed which he employed to get some dynamism into the awkward, unwieldy enemies, like sweeping camera moves and shooting from extreme angles.
Possibly the coolest thing is when a rather flat voice during Dalek Invasion of Earth is put through a ring modulator, and the dramatic effect it has on the scene. Carole Ann ‘Evil’ Ford puts her oar in about their distinctive tones, intimating that a chunk of their success was due to kids being able to imitate them.
Daleks Beyond The Screen: Making a profit from license-payers’ money certainly isn’t a new thing, as this fun documentary proves. From tea-towels to horrible Dalek suits, we get a potted history of the highs and (many) lows of merchandising every kids’ favourite entropy-stricken monsters. Apart from the obvious toy depiction, the comics are also covered, which have quite a following due to them being depicted in greater depth than just evil bastards who want to exterminate. They had a class system, battled monsters far beyond the scope of a BBC budget, and one even developed a conscience, only to be hunted down by his cohorts. Nu-Who writer Robert Shearman points out that the strange markings on the Dalek dome depicted on their very own annual was actually something which was painted on the costume for the purposes of telling which Dalek was which during shooting, and accidentally reproduced from reference photographs - all in a rush to get products in the shops.
The perils of getting the design of them wrong in the stage play of The Ultimate Adventure is covered, but our favourite has to be how BBC director John Birt was forever labelled a Dalek when Dennis Potter called him just that. To prove the point, Nick Briggs reads out some of Birt’s baffling doctrine in the customary, electronic voice, and you would be hard-pushed to tell they come from two entirely different species. The whole piece is punctuated by very nice GCI animation based on the aforementioned comics, and sets it all off nicely. Another winner.
Shawcraft - The Original Monster Makers: The creators of many a nightmare and subsequent wet beds are the focus here, and there are many fans who would argue that this was a long time coming. The work of the black and white era props and costume department is relived by Spencer Chapman, Raymond Cusick, Barry Newbery and John Wood. The company’s fortunes are followed, from the humble origins in a garden garage in 1947 to their final premises in Uxbridge. The participants speak fondly of their time there, with very kind words for owner Bill Roberts. It’s amazing to think that the days of being picked up for work in TV and film purely by word-of mouth are over, but Shawcraft came to the media attention by just that, and specialising in working to very tight deadlines.
Roberts is represented by daughter Annette Basford, who comes across as proud of her father’s achievements—and a welcome relief to have some totty around in documentary about boys and their toys. The crown jewel comes in the form of footage shot around the factory during the Troughton years. We all know that footage of the Macra is scarce, but here we get to see one of the damn things in colour, along with a number of other previously monochrome monsters! A friend of ours is creaming his jeans at the prospect, and had to almost reach for the sedatives when we showed him the uber-crabs complete with original hue. He argues that the retrospective on Shawcraft should have been held back for a Second Doctor release, and we grudgingly agree. In any case, this is a really engaging featurette, and have to say that it was indeed a long time coming.
Last Stop White City: Those brave thesps who played the original ‘accidental’ companions are profiled here, and it’s a profile very much deserved. William Russell is his usual personable self, and Jacqueline Hill is represented by many well-wishers, as we learn of the covering up when Bill Hartnell was fluffing his lines (along with some choice clips) and how they both suffered from itchy-feet syndrome, causing them to leave the series. It’s short, but a nice way to spent quarter of an hour.
Follow That Dalek: This is the unedited version of the film shot in and around Shawcraft Models, and it’s a treat. You get to see many things you would never through possible to see in colour, and is recommended for any fan. Other pieces by the company are shown under construction, including a portion devoted to the building of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s a delight, and comes with an option to view it with a fact-track, and we regard this as essential, guiding you through the various sights in this wonderful time-capsule.
Give-a-Show Slides: As shown on The Web Planet (story included here) we get some more of the best way to relive the visual Doctor Who experience, for families not flush enough to afford cine-cameras. The garish colours are in danger of searing the retinas, but it’s still fun stuff. Our favourite has to be the unfortunate dinosaur who wanders into the TARDIS, only to degenerate into a puddle as in becomes extinct as the ship travels into the future.
Photo Gallery: A nice bunch of pictures are presented for your viewing pleasure, with the obvious ones of Daleks on the set balanced out by some nice portrait shots of some of the main cast—particularly a few of Maureen O’Brien, which highlight what are rather good looking woman she was/is. It’s always a surprise to see colour photos from bandw stories, and although there are only a couple this time around, their inclusion is greatly appreciated.
Cusick in Cardiff: Original Dalek creator Raymond Cusick is taken on a tour of the production studios of Nu-Who, who is a delight as he runs through his inspirations when designing them, and the misnomers which have sprung up over the years. Only a man as personable as Cusick could get away with describing the new TARDIS console as ‘a dogs’ breakfast’ in front of the guys who made it. Lovely stuff.
PDF Materials: Couldn’t get the bloody thing to work. Apparently, it’s the Radio Times listings.
The Chase is rather like eating an entire bag of Skittles, followed by a stick of Chewits and a whole bottle of Cresta. All the elements are lovely, you get a rush when each component of the feast is experienced, but in the end, it’s just an explosion of colours vomited up into your lap. We still recommend it, as it’s the final surviving 60s Dalek story to be released on DVD and the extras are just fabulous.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 1st March 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Cuisick in Cardiff, The Thrill of the Chase, Last Stop White City, Daleks Conquer and Destroy, Daleks Beyond the Screen, Shawcraft - the Original Monster Makers, Follow That Dalek, Give-A-Show slides, Photo Gallery, Production Subtitles, PDF Materials, Coming Soon Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Richard Martin
Cast: William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill
Length: 146 minutes
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