Thursday, 11 May 2017
Inspirations - The Rescue
As discussed last time, Susan was to be written out of the series with the Dalek invasion story, and initially her replacement was to have emerged from that adventure. First there was the young Anglo-Indian Saida, and then there was Jenny. The Dalek tale would also be seeing the departure as Story Editor of David Whitaker, to be replaced by Dennis Spooner. At some point it was decided that the new companion would be introduced in a new two part story, to be written by Whitaker. She would be an orphan, found on an alien planet, who would be adopted by the TARDIS crew.
The character had a number of names - including Tanni, Lukki, Millie and Valerie - before Vicki was decided upon.
David Whitaker often wrote space travel as though it was a terrestrial voyage across the oceans. The planet Dido is basically a desert island, on which Vicki and Bennett have become shipwrecked. The rescue ship can only find them if they send out a signal - the equivalent of setting light to a beacon on a hilltop. Whitaker won't be the only writer to think that spaceships wouldn't be able to locate whole planets any other way, but it is the first example of this kind of thing. Later, Ice Warriors won't be able to find the Moon from Mars.
Back when we looked at the very first episode - An Unearthly Child - we mentioned Shakespeare's The Tempest. The Doctor and Susan were cast adrift in the London of 1963, like Prospero and Miranda. The new unearthly child is another Miranda, but there is no Prospero. Rather, she is stuck on her own with Caliban, in the monstrous shape of Koquillion.
Vicki has one companion, Bennett. He is a cantankerous fellow, practically bed-ridden following the crash of their spaceship. Koquillion claims to be one of the natives, who has agreed to help protect them from the rest of his people. They have killed all of the other human survivors.
For the first time in the series, the TARDIS has arrived on a planet, other than Earth, which the Doctor has visited before - though in an earlier unseen story. The Doctor therefore knows who lives here, and what they are like. On hearing about Koquillion he knows something is amiss here, but we are not party to his suspicions. It comes as a bit of a surprise to the audience when it turns out that Bennett is sneaking out and pretending to be the alien, disguising himself in ceremonial robes and mask.
At only two episodes long, with the Doctor and Ian not even reaching the spaceship until act two, there just hasn't been time to develop this strand of the story. It is all delivered as an info-dump.
Bennett committed a murder on the spaceship, and to cover it up it is implied that he engineered the crash. To protect his secret further, he arranged for all the survivors and the local populace to be blown up during a party. Presumably the passengers and crew did not know that Bennett was a murderer - else why would Vicki's father leave his sick child in his care whilst he went off to enjoy himself.
The Doctor faces Bennett alone. In the very next story he'll show that he can handle himself well in a fist fight, but here it seems like he's made a big mistake - challenging a mass murderer on his own. He's saved by the appearance of two of the Dido people, all of whom were presumed to be dead. Bennett certainly thinks so, as their sudden, silent, appearance drives him to plunge into a ravine. Are they real people, or are they ghosts? We are reminded of Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, where the Martians live on non-corporeally after the race has been killed off - a mere memory of their former selves. That was inspired by the way that Western explorers discovered ancient civilisations, then caused them to be wiped out - either through warfare or through the spread of contagion.
The people of Dido do not benefit from their exposure to the people of Earth. No wonder then that the Didonian pair smash the radio system to prevent the rescue ship from landing. (So maybe not ghosts after all).
We also have the first instance of "don't judge by appearances" in the series. There will be a whole story next season where the monstrous looking aliens turn out to be the good guys, and the beautiful humanoids are the villains. Here, Barbara blasts Sandy the Sandbeast to death with a flare pistol. She's well-intentioned - thinking it is going to attack Vicki - but her year of TARDIS travelling hasn't taught her about prejudice. Sandy was a harmless herbivore, who had become Vicki's pet. We shouldn't judge Barbara too harshly. She has just been shoved off a cliff by a monstrous looking fellow who pretended to be friendly. Even the Doctor assumed the Sandbeast was hostile, when he and Ian were trapped on the ledge, and he's visited this planet before.
In the end, Vicki decides to go travelling with the Doctor, Ian and Barbara, rather than wait a few more hours for the rescue ship that will take her back to the Earth that she knows, or the planet Astra where she and her father were to have made a new life. The decision is left for her to make. That the Doctor doesn't even mention the waiting option - they could have waited with her - may be due to that appearance by the Didonians. Best to be gone and leave this planet alone.
Next time, back into Earth's history for a real historical event and a meeting with a real historical character again. A funny thing will happen on the way to the Forum...