Friday, 30 June 2017
Inspirations - The Chase
The third Dalek story. First time, the Doctor and his companions went to them. Second time, the Daleks came to us. For the third outing, Terry Nation devises an episodic pursuit through Time and Space - allowing him to not really have to concentrate too much on strong plotting.
This is one of those occasions when naming a story after its first episode title actually works rather well - The Executioners - because this is all about the Daleks sending a Death Squad after the TARDIS in their own dimensionally transcendental time machine.
The idea of a story made up of smaller incidents was last used by Nation in his second script for the series - The Keys of Marinus.
Before we get to the pursuit, there is the small matter of the extraordinary gadget which the Doctor salvaged from the Morok Space Museum. This proves to be the Time Space Visualiser - a sort of time-telly. There's some nonsense about all light emissions floating around forever, and this machine can capture and show them on a screen - with added sound and camera moves.
To demonstrate the device, Ian is asked to select a moment from history. He picks President Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address, on Thursday 19th November, 1863. This speech was made at the inauguration of the Soldiers' National Cemetery at the site of the famous Civil War battle in Pennsylvania. The address ran to only around 250 words.
Barbara gets to go next, and she picks the court of Queen Elizabeth. She is in an audience with William Shakespeare, and Sir Francis Bacon is in attendance. ER wants Shakespeare to write a play about Falstaff in love (which he will do - The Merry Wives of Windsor). Bacon then suggests that he write a play on Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Will thinks not - not really his style - but then starts to have second thoughts...
It has been claimed that Elizabeth did ask for the Falstaff play to be written. The Queen is about to scold Shakespeare for basing Falstaff on Sir John Oldcastle. He was a friend of Henry V, and harboured what were regarded as heretical religious views. He was a supporter of Lollardy. His friendship with Henry saved him from prosecution, but eventually enough evidence was brought forward and he was sent to the Tower. He escaped, and started plotting open rebellion. He was captured in 1417 and hanged and burnt at St Giles's Fields in London.
Francis Bacon is one of those who is alleged to have been the true author of Shakespeare's plays. Of course, you and I know that Christopher Marlowe's death was faked, and it was he who wrote them.
Vicki goes next, and she picks a TV appearance by the Beatles. She seems disappointed, claiming she didn't know they played classical music. This is obviously a topical joke as they were at their height at this point. We had Dalekmania at the same time as Beatlemania. Vicki claims to have visited their memorial theatre in Liverpool, which begs the question as to how she could not have heard any of their music before now. Last story, she claimed to know all about the Daleks, yet hadn't seen what one looked like. Her education appears to be from text books with no pictures, and You Tube must have been scrapped sometime before the 25th Century.
Despite joining the TARDIS in 1963, Ian seems to know Ticket to Ride, and does some embarrassing dad dancing to the piece. Manager Brian Epstein had vetoed the group being specially filmed as old men, celebrating their 50th Anniversary. This is mainly due to them being pushed to finish the album Help!. A clip from Top of the Pops was then requested, only for the Doctor Who team to learn that the BBC did not keep these - each episode was taped over almost immediately. This is why BBC 4 only show stuff from Marc Bolan onwards on a Friday night. It was finally arranged for a performance at Riverside Studios to be taped and used.
Unfortunately, the Doctor doesn't select anything to view, so we don't get to see what he would most liked to have seen. Knowing Hartnell, it would probably have been the 3.30 from Lingfield.
Finally, after all these diversions, the Dalek story actually gets underway.
The TARDIS lands on the desert planet Aridius, which is scorched by twin suns. Very prescient of the amphibious natives to name their water world this, as if they knew that it would become a desert planet in a few million year's time. This is one of those Terry Nation conventions - naming planets after some aspect of their geography or nature. Skaro was scarred by nuclear war, Marinus had its acid ocean. Later, Desperus will be full of desperate criminals, and Mira will be covered in swamps.
Conveniently, the TSV picks up the Daleks on Skaro setting off to exterminate them.
The Daleks adopt their old Nazi-like behaviour - using the natives as slave labour, exterminating them once their usefulness is at an end, and issuing ultimata left, right and centre.
Ian decides to build a sand trap to ensnare a Dalek. He asks Barbara for her cardigan. Her "Not again..." refers to his having used the wool from her last one to guide them round the labyrinth of the Space Museum. Ian also uses the Doctor's coat - prompting Hartnell's wonderful "We're trying to defeat the Daleks, not start a jumble sale!" comment.
The TARDIS crew flee to the top of the Empire State Building in New York, in 1966. Completed in 1931, and named after a nickname for New York State, it was the tallest building in the world until the World Trade Centre was built. Present to see the arrivals and departures of both the TARDIS and the Daleks is tourist Morton Dill, who hails from Alabama, though his accent could hail from a number of states. He mentions being a fan of Cheyenne Bodie, and likens the time travellers emerging from small boxes to the Keystone Kops. Bodie was played by Clint Walker in the fifties Western TV series Cheyenne. In the Keystone Kops movies, their elongated car would often emerge from a tiny shed too small to have contained it.
It will later emerge that the Daleks themselves were instrumental in the construction of the Empire State Building.
Dill is played by Peter Purves, and he will get invited back to play another character later in this same story - new companion Steven Taylor.
The New York stopover is a brief one. The Daleks are starting to catch up when the TARDIS lands on the deck of a Victorian sailing ship. It is close to the Azores. The arrival of the Daleks prompts the crew to jump overboard. Turns out, this is the Mary Celeste... A contemporary newspaper report called it the Marie Celeste, and this misreporting has stuck. It was found adrift and abandoned on 5th December, 1872, off the Azores. All the evidence pointed towards the crew abandoning ship in a hurry. It remains one of the world's greatest mysteries. A recent theory points to the alcohol which it was carrying as cargo. The crew may have feared an explosion from the highly flammable fumes, and so disembarked, only to find themselves unable to get back on board. Mutiny, piracy, or insurance fraud have also been proposed - as well as attack by a giant squid, as you would. Now you know it was really the Daleks.
In 1885, the ship was deliberately run aground off Haiti as part of a failed insurance scam. No Daleks were involved this time.
If you think it's all been a bit bizarre up till now, just wait for the next bit, because the Doctor & Co are about to meet Count Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster. The TARDIS has arrived in a stereotypical haunted castle. There's bats in the rafters, skeletons dropping from the ceiling, and a ghostly grey lady. The Doctor and Ian find the Monster on the slab in a laboratory, and the Count appears to say hello to Barbara and Vicki.
It is to the Universal run of classic horror movies that Terry Nation and director Richard Martin look, rather than the more recent Hammer cycles. Despite being heavily copyrighted by Universal, the Baron's creation has the flat head and bolts through the neck, whilst Dracula dresses more like Lugosi than Lee (though Lugosi never once flashed any fangs).
The Doctor thinks that they have materialised within some dark corner of the human psyche. It's really all a bit more prosaic. They are in a funfair, and these are automatons. It is supposed to be the Festival of Ghana, in 1996 - an event which has been closed down by intervention from the Chinese.
This might seem odd, but China did have some influence in Africa in the 1960's, as some political leaders wanted to avoid favouring the US or the Soviet Union.
What is odd, however, is that robots designed to entertain tourists are so homicidal. Perhaps it's a good job China closed the Fair down when it did.
The Doctor, Ian and Barbara rush off, and then discover that they have left Vicki behind. She has stowed away on the Dalek vessel, where she witnesses them create an android copy of the Doctor. It will infiltrate and kill. Infiltrate and kill. Played by someone who once body-doubled for Hartnell, seen only from the back for a few seconds, the likeness is dreadful. As such, Hartnell has to occasionally play it as well as the Doctor for close-ups. This is the first of many doubles in the series. Sometimes they will be doubles of the Doctor, sometimes of his companions. Sometimes robots, and sometimes real people who just happen to look like them. Get used to it - it's going to happen a lot in future.
The TARDIS lands on the planet Mechanus. This isn't a world of metal. It's all jungle. But it is home to the Mechonoids, which is highly convenient for them. It is also home to mobile mushroom creatures, which Nation dubs "Fungoids". He likes the sound of that word, so will naturally use it again, come the 1970's. In his original scripts, these plant-forms were designated Gubbage Cones. Shame he changed the name. He will have an unhealthy obsession with hostile plant life from this point on.
I should mention at this point that some other locations were considered for the stop-off points in The Chase. One of these was ancient Egypt. This will not be forgotten, as it will be used in the next Dalek story.
The killer robot Doctor gives itself away by calling Vicki Susan. Considering the number of times Hartnell fluffs his lines, it is amazing that Ian and Barbara accept this faux pas as proof of which Who is Who.
The Mechonoids were designed with a view to generating even more merchandising income for Nation. They're based on geodesic dome designs, such as those by architect Buckminster Fuller. The props were far too big and so were never brought back into the series, though they did get an extended life in the Dalek comic strips of the period. On screen they are pretty much mindless drones - sent to prepare the planet for a colonisation that never too place, but in the comics they have a robotic empire which challenges the Daleks.
They capture the time travellers, and put them in a cell, which just happens to have an occupant already - astronaut Steven Taylor, who crashed here a couple of years ago. Which is where Peter Purves rejoins us.
Daleks and Mechonoids do battle with each other, and in the confusion the TARDIS crew escape. Steven goes missing in the jungle, after re-entering the burning city to fetch his panda toy mascot, which he never mentions again after the opening sequences of the following episode.
Here the series' first ever story arc comes to an end. Basically, since An Unearthly Child, the Doctor has been trying to get the two school teachers back home to London. The Dalek time machine is left intact, and Ian and Barbara realise they can use it to get home.
In a mirror to real life events, the Doctor is furious that they will risk their lives to leave him. Hartnell couldn't understand why William Russell and Jacqueline Hill would want to walk away from a successful series. He was also very insecure and hated change. He already knew that his producer, Verity Lambert, was also taking steps to leave the programme. Under the circumstances, we should forgive him what is one of his most famous fluffs - that Ian and Barbara will end up "floating like cinders in Spain! (Corrects himself)... in Space!".
The time-telly, which is never referred to again after this story, has one more role to play. We see Ian and Barbara safely back in London - though it is two years after they left it.
Next time, we find out what happened to Mr Purves, there's a right carry on with a monk, and we learn that the Doctor isn't the only one...