The Chase: Doctor Who S2, Serial 8

The Doctor: First Doctor (William Hartnell)

The Companions: Vicki (Maureen O’Brien), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill), Ian (William Russell)

The plot: The Doctor and his companions are pursued through time and space by the Daleks. Whacky music plays.

Written By: Terry Nation

First aired: 22/05/1965-26/06/1965

Continuity: The Daleks consider the Doctor their greatest enemy
The Daleks now have time travel
Ian and Barbara leave the TARDIS
First introduction of new companion, Steven

Theme Song: Delia Derbyshire’s 1963 Radiophonic workshop, including the beautiful and haunting middle eight.

Season 2, Episodes 30-36 review

Our time machine will soon follow them. They will be exterminated! Exterminated! Exterminated!

The Daleks, on a common social goal

In its second season, Doctor Who was still riding high on Dalekmania and the producers commissioned not one but two Dalek serials. The two stories are radically different, however. The Chase has more in common with Nation’s season 1 anthology piece, The Keys of Marinus than with his colonialist allegory from earlier this season. It’s five different stories over six episodes, all linked together with a common theme: the TARDIS lands, the Daleks follow, hijinks ensue, the TARDIS leaves.

In The Chase, Nation shows that he’s more comfortable generally with shorter pieces of writing than with his longer form stories, which always end up having a lot of filler. He also draws on his earlier comedy writing rather than his earnest science fiction pieces on invasion, war and genocide. The Chase is at times quite funny, at other times extremely silly, and at all times lightweight. It is, in fact, complete nonsense almost from beginning to end.

For a show premised until now on the comforting fact that the Doctor and his companions can escape a situation simply by setting the TARDIS in flight, The Chase overturns this in a way that should be existentially terrifying. Instead it’s slapstick and japes, like some kind of Dalek sitcom with an excruciatingly bad soundtrack. For a serial that has had exceptional incidental music and a cracking theme song, the music in The Chase is at all times wrong. The score sounds like it was written for a completely different show. It’s quirky when it should be menacing, loud piano when it should be soft.

Whether The Chase is a bit of madcap fun or just supremely stupid is a matter of perspective. I imagine some viewers wedded to the notion of the Daleks as a menacing alien other might find their descent into farcical buffoons a bit jarring. Having started off as coldly, brilliantly, strategically focused, the Daleks in The Chase are little more than a punchline.

I’ve read some reviews of the serial that make a good argument as to why it is possibly a brilliant piece of metawriting that bends – if not outright breaks – the fourth wall. A kind of sly wink at an audience that has now been on this journey for two years, a new generation of TV watchers for whom Doctor Who is not serious art but a bit of fun on the telly before tea. It’s a surprisingly compelling argument and yet what can seem like genius in retrospect is often in the time an unconcern for continuity and coherence. And why would you concern yourself with any of those things in an era where television is as ephemeral as theatre?

There is another theory possible here and that is that Nation – and possibly Spooner as well – thought that Doctor Who was secretly ridiculous and wanted to write a story that emphasised that. There are certainly elements of the script – such as Nation’s dig at pools of goo always being acid and Barbara grumbling at once again having to sacrifice her cardigan – that are essentially audience in-jokes.

But really all we can conclude from The Chase is that Nation has an incredible imagination, a Benny Hill sense of humour – and everyone only wants him to write about Daleks.

TARDIS! TARDIS! TARDIS! TARDIS! TARDIS!

The Daleks, demonstrating their superior intellect

Following an opening scene where we establish that the Daleks now have a time machine and are absolutely wedded to the ‘extermination’ concept – but before you come to the conclusion this story may be anything other than slapstick nonsense – a whacky jazz piano plunks over the TARDIS in flight.

The message is clear: what follows is not to be taken in any way seriously and would possibly benefit from ear plugs. This message is reinforced by Ian declaring that the book he’s reading – called Monsters in Space – is good but ‘a bit far-fetched’.

Inside the time machine, The Doctor is fiddling with the Time and Space Visualiser he picked up from the inaccurately-named Space Museum, Barbara is being perpetually useful and Vicki is being a teenager. It’s comfortably domestic and a reminder that the First Doctor’s TARDIS was very much the home of a little found family.

The Time and Space Visualiser turns out to be a kind of Time Television that allows them to ‘tune in’ on moments in history. Ian asks for the Gettysburg Address, Barbara for a moment between Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth 1 and teen Vicki for a clip of the Beatles playing Top of the Pops in 1965 (which was history to her). Not shown on the Britbox version due, I guess, to rights issues at the time, it’s an iconic snippet since the clip was taken from a Top of the Pops that was wiped due to the BBC’s frustrating ‘archiving’ policy of the time.

The Visualiser turns out to be not as interesting as landing on a new planet so it’s left behind as the crew heads out to explore. It’s a desert planet with two suns and something lurking beneath the sand wastes. (They are in Tatooine! – Eazal).

Vicki goes barrelling off into the dunes, convinced a thriving civilisation or space station might be just over that rise. The Doctor gives Ian a TARDIS beacon so they can at least find their way back and he heads off after her, for once acting like the concerned teacher with an over-eager pupil that he’s supposed to be.

While Vicki has till this point been almost as annoying as Susan was, Maureen O’Brien is a superior actor and it feels like the production team has worked out who they want her to be. An orphaned child who lived for several months with intense psychological abuse, she has clung to the Doctor terrified of being abandoned. Now finally confident that she won’t be judged or rejected for her mistakes, she is prepared to make them.

It’s probably the first time a teen character on the show has actually behaved like a teenager. Nonetheless, her and Ian running off into the distance on a strange planet nearing nightfall and plunging their bare hands into random piles of alien goo doesn’t rate as the smartest behaviour.

The two follow a trail of what they think is blood and find a ring in the sand that opens a trapdoor. By this point it’s dark but for some reason they decide to head down into the Earth through the trapdoor. The opening then gets closed behind them by the tentacles of some big squishy blobby thing.

The Doctor and Barbara are sunbathing when they hear the Time Telly still on in the TARDIS. It’s showing the Daleks planning their pursuit of the TARDIS crew. The entire sequence plays out almost like a spoof episode, with the Daleks spinning around the set repeating catch phrases before trundling into their new time machine.

Black Dalek: Annihilate!
Dalek: Annihilate! Annihilate! Annihilate! Annihilate! Annihilate!
Black Dalek: The assassination group will embark at once in our time machine. They pursue the humans through all eternity. They must be destroyed! Exterminate them! Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!

To think – in 1965 you couldn’t just copy and paste

The Doctor and Barbara run off to find the others so they can leave before the Daleks arrive but get caught in a sandstorm. When it finally subsides, the TARDIS is buried and they’re lost on Dune with Shai-Hulud appearing from the Earth to consume them. Sorry, wrong story. It’s a Dalek.

Apropos of nothing, Dune was released in August 1965, only three months after this aired. It therefore has no bearing on this episode at all.

Whacky music plays.

Seriously, this soundtrack is quite quite terrible.

The Doctor and Barbara manage to dodge the Daleks and meet what the script describes as ‘reptile-like aliens’ called Aridians who take them to their decaying city for some tea and exposition. The Aridians are portrayed by men in latex with fishy bits glued on and are a dying ocean race facing climate change and invasive species. To contain the Mire Beast’s (big squishy blobby thing) infiltration of their cities, they have rigged the tunnels that Ian and Vicki are currently in to explode. They also take about ten seconds of contemplation before deciding to hand the group over to the Daleks in exchange for sparing their cities from ANNIHLATION.

The explosion in the tunnels manages to kill the Mire Beast threatening Ian and Vicki while not killing them. The two groups of the gang manage to elude the Aridians and are reunited. In the city’s tunnels they find the TARDIS, which the Daleks have been unsuccessfully trying to OBLITERATE! They manage to lure the guards away in a plan involving Ian, a hole, and Barbara’s cardigan (R.I.P. Cardigan 2.0).

As the TARDIS dematerialises, the Daleks discuss their complex and intricate plan to pursue and destroy them for… some reason.

DALEK 4: Eradicate!
DALEK 2: Obliterate!
DALEK 4: Annihilate!

I will never get tired of quoting this nonsense, it’s basically the whole script

The fate of the Aridians remains unknown but the Doctor seems to relish the idea that the Mire Beasts might currently be eating everything left in the TARDIS’ dust, Daleks and Aridians alike.

Seemingly safe in the TARDIS, the Doctor gloats for a moment before realising they’re being followed through the time stream. He tries to shake their pursuers but can’t. Also they will soon have to land.

Precisely why they soon have to land is not explained but I guess we just have to accept it. They have to land and they have to stay there for a certain period before leaving again – that time is precisely 12 minutes (but that at least gets an explanation – it takes that long for the computer to re-calibrate and gather power to dematerialise).

On the Dalek time machine, which looks like it was designed by an insane hypnotherapist, the Daleks calculate they are 15 minutes behind… and closing.

Episode 3 is by far the serial’s most gleeful parade of nonsense. The TARDIS lands on the Empire State Building where an Alabama hayseed played by Peter Purves provides an “Aw shucks” country-boy-in-the-big-city monologue to the time machines appearing, disgorging a number of people, and leaving.

“You’re from Earth?” asks Barbara.
“No, no, Ma’am,” he replies, “I’m from Alabama”.

That’s racist.

He compares the two groups coming out of their ships to silent movie scenes where dozens of police get out of small vehicles and dubs it a ‘chase’. And there’s definitely a silent film patina over the next sequence, in which exuberant 1920s film era music plays over an extended Dalek slapstick skit on the Mary Celeste.

The TARDIS lands on a ship in the middle of the ocean and after an altercation with the crew, they manage to leave before the Daleks arrive. The Daleks then materialise on board and chase the terrified crew around screeching, “WHERE ARE THE TIME TRAVELLERS?” and “ANSWER MY QUESTION” until everyone has thrown themselves overboard.

The camera pans to the ship name – Mary Celeste. Now sailing on, abandoned. The mystery explained!

As episode four opens, the time between the two ships is down to 8 minutes. For this reason, the Doctor decides they must look around their new location and see if there’s anything they can use to fight the Daleks. Considering that the time required is only 12 minutes and the TARDIS is impenetrable, I don’t see why the Doctor doesn’t just land somewhere and come up with a solution in the invulnerable time machine before taking off again. But I guess that episode is called The Siege.

Instead, the Doctor and his companions find themselves in a mysterious and eerie house where they encounter, in no particular order: vampire bats, ghosts, Frankenstein’s monster and Count Dracula. Despite the Doctor’s wildly unsupported conclusion that they are in some kind of collective unconscious nightmare realm – and that therefore the Daleks can’t land – they nonetheless manage to. But they end up fighting the denizens of the Nightmare Realm and so the TARDIS crew manage to escape. Or at least most of them do

And if you ever wanted to see the Daleks fight Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster then this serial is for you!

The Doctor, Ian and Barbara take off unaware that Vicki has been left behind. Seriously, it takes a ridiculous amount of time for them to realise that she isn’t aboard. The Doctor and Ian are too busy arguing about the Doctor’s ‘collective unconscious’ theory, which turns out to be incorrect. As the camera pans out, we see they were instead in some kind of futuristic (well, 1996) House of Horrors.

I am convinced that that house was neither time nor space. We were lodged for a period in an area of human thought.

The Doctor, being very very wrong

Realising they left Vicki behind, The Doctor, Barbara and Ian decide they only have one choice available to them if they want to go back and get her – to hijack the Daleks’ time machine and use it to return for her. With the TARDIS’ time mechanism broken, they can’t control where and when they land. But it’s something the Daleks’ machine can presumably do.

On the aforementioned Dalek ship, Vicki has managed to stowaway and overhears their plans to build a replica Doctor – and gets to see it when it trundles off the production line. The robot has one set of orders – to infiltrate and kill.

Pensive strings lament.

Such an improvement. My ears thank you.

The location for the showdown between the TARDIS crew and their Dalek pursuers is the planet, Mechanus, ruled over by robots and covered in a forest of giant fungal creatures that move and attack. The music until now has been almost jarring but the sound effects for the Fungoid Forest are quite good. It sounds squelchy and organic and dank even if the visuals are again a bit school play.

There is something intensely disconcerting about plants that move and hunt, even more than predacious animals. One of the Daleks even has a moment that can only be called panic as it finds itself suddenly under the mushroom-like canopy of one of the fungi.

I mentioned at the beginning of this piece that Nation really does have an incredible imagination and we already know he makes excellent contrasts and analogies. The fight on Mechanos contrasts between the robotic and the organic, between the sterile and the teeming, between the clinical and the emotional. And it places humans (and Timelords I guess) somewhere between these two extremes. On Mechanus, everything and everyone is trying to kill our heroes – robot and plant alike.

Not that I want to overstate anything about any aspect of The Chase, even if the final two episodes feel more like a standard episode than the Dalek Sitcom we’ve endured enjoyed until now. The serial remains mostly ridiculous. If you don’t believe me, here’s some Dalek poetry.

Advance and attack! Attack and destroy! Destroy and rejoice!

Pretty sure no Dalek ever ‘rejoiced’

Ducking Daleks and Triffids and a homicidal Doctor duplicate, the gang find their way to the soaring city of Mechanus above the forest when they’re taken prisoner of the robots sent to build it. And all power to the future colonisers of Earth for building their city without bulldozing the ecosystem below it. I guess we do learn something in the next hundred or so years.

The Doctor and his companions meet Steven Taylor (also played by Peter Purves) – a future astronaut who crash landed on Mechanus a few years ago and was made a prisoner of the Mechanoid Robots. He explains that the city was built by robots in anticipation of human settlers that never arrived from Earth, probably because of the outbreak of more interplanetary war. So I guess we didn’t learn something in the next hundred or years.

Not knowing the Mechanoid’s control codes and unable to crack them, he’s spent two years in a holding pen hoping the new colonists will arrive so he can return home. His only companion is a toy panda called HiFi.

My hazy memories of Steven Taylor (whose episodes are mostly lost) is of him being a square-jawed Alpha-type male brought in to hit things now that Ian’s hitting days are over.

But with excellent hair. I have to mention the hair. [I’m a hair woman – Eazal].

Seeing his introduction again, he comes across more as an exuberant lost puppy, clutching a stuffed toy like his Wilson and just so happy his parents are here to pick him up from the Doggie Hotel. He’s almost dorky and endearing and what I remember being macho posturing is more like voluble enthusiasm.

Alone for two years, he has built a scaffold that allows him out onto the roof of the city – 1500 feet above the forest. Ian finds a cable on the roof and decides that with everyone working together they can use it to climb down to the forest. They get their chance when the Daleks attack the Mechanoids to try to get to the TARDIS crew.

The Doctor, Vicki, Ian and Barbara make it down the cable but Steven, rather endearingly, goes back for HiFi. The city blows up and, believing him lost, the group scope out the now-abandoned Dalek time machine.

Realising they have a time machine that can definitely get them home, Ian and Barbara also realise they want to go. The Doctor is unsurprisingly upset about this. Ian and Barbara are the closest thing he has left to family, the first people he trusted after leaving (or possibly being exiled) from his planet. He pretends to be concerned for their safety but is mostly concerned with being left alone (rather understandably so). He assumes Vicki will also want to leave but she points out that she has little attachment to Earth in the 1960s. With Vicki staying, he finally relents and packs the two first companions into the Dalek machine.

The arrive back on Earth, London in 1965. Finally home!

And, to be clear, very definitely a couple.

The Chase has a surprisingly earnest conclusion for such a silly serial. Ian and Barbara, unlike future companions, were the lead characters of early Doctor Who as much as the Doctor was. The two characters leaving was a watershed moment for the series, especially as a natural end to the original concept of an educational show for children about history and science.

And with Barbara being a wonderful package of brains, guts and pragmatic decency, she in particular will be missed. It will be a long time before the show allows itself to have a female lead this intelligent, mature and so much an integral part of the show’s action. While Ian turned into a somewhat one-dimensional action man, Barbara was very much the heart of early Who. And knowing there will be no female character like her for a good long while, it is definitely sad to see her go.

She was, and remains, one of the Doctor’s best companions to this day.

Farewell you two! Hope you came up with a good story about disappearing for two years.


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