Thursday, May 22, 2008

view from the panopticon- the chase

2-7-08 "The Chase"

The Doctor: "Where’s your sense of adventure?"
Ian: "It died a slow, horrible death when those bats came out of the rafters."

I’ve seen this before, but it’s been about five years. I was looking for an excuse to watch a First Doctor story, and after Doctor Who Magazine highlighted "The Chase" I couldn’t resist. DWM asserts that the whole doesn’t outweigh the sum of its parts, but I find it quite entertaining. For sheer breadth of ideas, I think you have to give Terry Nation credit.

I was struck how the beginning "teaser"—with the Daleks announcing they’re going to hunt the Doctor and the TARDIS down through space and time now that they’ve got a time machine—could easily fit into the "teasers" of today. It strikes me that "The Chase" might be considered a series of fan fiction ideas strung together or, in a less positive light, fan wank before there was fan wank. Despite this, I really like most of the ideas they come up with. The Time/Space Visualizer, though as pointed out makes no actual sense whatsoever, is designed quite well for 1965, and really is part of the fun that Doctor Who can be. I realize I wrote earlier that Susan had described the Beatles as "classical," but it’s actually Vicki. Well, watching this, I think they’re practically interchangeable. Their characters serve the same role, which isn’t a very interesting one at that. Maureen O’Brien is doing her best, but she’s wearing a sack and spends the first five minutes being annoying and trying to sexually harass Ian. (Okay. Not really.) Barbara, apparently, spends her down-time in the TARDIS making dresses!

When the T/SV starts working and makes a screeching noise, I thought it was the music! Although the score for "The Chase" is less strange and elevator-muzak-like than that for "The Invasion," is does seem quite jazzy and out of place. Ian’s choice—to see Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address—is surprisingly cosmopolitan. Shakespeare, I’m afraid, looks completely different from the Dean Lennox Kelly version, but I’m sure there’s an explanation for that. Er. The Beatles’ performance is charming, and I really am going to have to solve the mystery of how Ian knows the lyrics to "Ticket to Ride" when he’s been gone from Earth for two years.

Landing on Aridia with its twin suns and vast desert seems to anticipate Tatooine by ten years, which is rather impressive. I find it quite hilarious that the Doctor and Barbara decide to sun-bathe while Ian and Vicki go off to explore! (I guess the Doctor is even more British than we know, enjoying a sunning holiday!) Separation of the companions is inevitable, and while I guess Barbara and the Doctor had to suffer through a sandstorm, at the time it looked like a snowstorm and quite brutal. The Daleks, meanwhile, are suffering from Tourettes which they do throughout the story: "TARDIS! TARDIS! TARDIS! . . . Exterminate! Annihilate! Infiltrate and kill!" etc. (When getting blown up, one even screams, "Am exterminated! Am exterminated!") They do look rather scary when they rise out of the sand! The Maiar aren’t as bad as the monsters from "Dalek Invasion of Earth" but the fact Vicki just sort of stumbles into them is pathetic. The Aridians, meanwhile, are a pantomime race. They seem very ‘60s Star Trek to me, and any attempt to garner them sympathy when they tell the Doctor and Barbara their story is wasted when they decide to hand them over.

I was rather impressed that the Doctor told them, "I don’t want you or your people involved with this dangerous business"—it seems very Doctor-ish. "This isn’t a jumper sale!" the Doctor snaps, rather uncharacteristically (not the snapping part, the content of what he says!). Unfortunately in the escape from the Aridians with help from an unsuspecting Maiar, the editing looks like the film was thrown into a hat and put back together. They did their best, bless them. Vicki, Barbara, Ian, and the Doctor escape to the TARDIS, which is pursued through space by a toaster.

The music for once seems appropriate during the stock shots of New York; "Daleks in Manhattan" indeed. Though this section is quite brief, I still find it quite cute. From the woman with the impressive hat to the greaser with a camera around his neck, it’s a rather clever pastiche of Americana, an ambitious setting to be sure, and the Alabama hick is amusing to the point of being embarrassing. "You’re from Earth?" Barbara asks him. "No, ma’am, I’m from Alabama." On one hand I laugh, on the other I cringe. The Doctor picks up saying, "No, it ain’t," from our disingenuous Southerner ("what is it that he’s meant to have wrote? I mean—written?"). I wonder what happened to the poor guy—was he shipped off to some mental asylum to have a lobotomy? Indeed, he became Steven Taylor!

In the TARDIS the Doctor tries to make a Dalek-repellent machine and asks for use of "a large screwdriver" (we never see it so it could be the sonic screwdriver)! I love the section on the Mary Celeste. Like Barbara, "I love sailing ships." Somehow the claustrophobic setting works perfectly for the camera limitations of the time. I am a bit skeptical that just the sight of the Daleks would send sailors jumping overboard, but it makes as good an explanation as any (and sooo trumps Moffat’s S.S. Pompadour revelation). I can’t believe Vicki hit Ian on the head just after he’d recovered from a head wound on Aridia; I actually laughed out loud.

The next section, in the "haunted house," was just outstanding for me, too, since I guess for a Gothic Horror junkie like me it’s right up my alley. The set reminded me of the castle in "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers," an episode of Faerie Tale Theatre, but unless you’ve seen it, there’s no point in explaining why. Truly, the cast (even the Doctor—"I never stay where I’m not wanted") getting nervous amidst the ghouls and creatures was just fun to behold. I loved the Doctor’s explanation about it being a place in the human mind where all the potent nightmares were held—I would have believed it! The "real" explanation is a fun one, too. It’s highly satisfying to see Frankenstein’s monster ripping Daleks to shreds. A bit like the pterodactyl in Torchwood destroying the Cyberwoman. Though much better than that. Poor Vicki, getting left behind!
I have to comment on the sound on the planet Mechanus; the popping sound is just perfect for setting the mood. Even though it may not be as lush as "Planet of Evil," the sets are somehow more convincing than you would have thought they could be. The giant fungoid things look pretty good in black and white—the whole thing reminds me a bit of the Cretaceous sea exhibit where I used to volunteer at the Natural History Museum. I think the Doctor brings the fungoid attack on himself when he stabs at it with his cane! Vicki, separately, gets molested by the fungoid. The Doctor announces "like everything in the universe, there’s a reason for it"—an interesting assertion. Meanwhile Barbara mimes shooting Daleks!

It seems strange for the Daleks to unleash their Doctor robot at this stage, but doubles of the Doctor seem to show up a lot in the show ("Arc of Infinity," for one, and sort of in "Timelash," and sort of in "Revelation of the Daleks," and in "The Face of Evil," etc). Alas, the double for the Doctor here is less excusable than Richard Hurndall in "Five Doctors." "Robot, robot, hmmm?" the real Doctor snaps. The Doctor/robot fight is achieved with the same painful slowness as Ian and Ixta’s fight in "The Aztecs," but as with that, it’s the thought that counts. "I feel pretty exhausted after all that," the Doctor announces. What I would like to see him reflect on a bit more is kind of watching yourself die. Even Mickey did that!

The Mechonoid structure is beautifully conceived, but looks made of sugar icing—"Fantastic!" the Doctor announces; a fantastic model, maybe. The Mechonoids aren’t bad; I really like their way of speaking, although strangely again there seems to be a Moffat antecedent when the Doctor says "they’re programmed to do their own repairs." I found myself loving Steven Taylor. He’s impeccably groomed for having spent two years in solitude and doesn’t slaver over Vicki and Barbara (or Ian, for that matter!). Peter Purves’ acting, I feel, is spot-on. And Hi-Fi the panda! This sort of surrogate relationship rings true to me—think of Tom Hanks and Wilson in Castaway. "Help yourself to a piece of eternity," he tells the travelers. The escape from the roof could, of course, have been done better but overall it’s quite good. (I laughed out loud when Ian reached inside Barbara’s capris to keep her from falling off the wall!)

The rousing machine wars between the Mechonoids and the Daleks must have appealed to the kiddies, but I think it’s quite good. There are a lot of explosions and some Daleks catching on fire. I can’t believe the Doctor shows no remorse about burning up the exquisite city! I love the way the Doctor reacts to Barbara and Ian asking to be taken home. It’s been interesting watching the Doctor’s character here. He is ever the curious explorer, going into Frankenstein’s lab for the sake of inquisitiveness and wandering through the tunnels in Aridia seemingly less than concerned. He tries to fake out the Daleks by announcing he’s the robot. He’s easily irritated, says "hmm" and "my dear boy" more than I ever thought physically possible. He does treat Vicki like she’s a child to be taken care of, but I see him showing slightly more concern for Ian and Barbara than he did earlier on in the show. "Yes, HOME!" Barbara cries. When they accuse him of "aimless" wandering, I wonder how much it hurts the Doctor—he does seem to consider himself an exile. That they can go home and "belong" and he, seemingly, can’t. This really IS the same man who, in 2005 no less, will call up Rose Tyler and seduce her into getting back on board by telling her all the wonders in the universe she’s missing. "You’ve got to let them go, if they want to." He’s lonely, probably more so since Susan left. Poor Doctor.

The slideshow of Ian and Barbara in Trafalgar Square is great. They seem so happy and cuddly; it’s all natural, and the leads play it to a tee. I’ve always been a big believer that they DID get married and live happily ever after. As for the Doctor, it’s rather touching how he says, "I will miss them. Yes, I will miss them . . ."
Overall I enjoy this story probably more than I should. One thing you’ve got to say about 1960s Doctor Who, for all its technical limitations, the big ideas were always there, and they took risks in ways I don’t think we understand anymore. I’m so proud of this show.

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