Classic Doctor Who: The Chase

The Doctor and his trio of companions’ day is utterly ruined when they learn that the Daleks have developed time travel and, being the vindictive little pepper-shakers that they are, have decide to use that technology to hunt down and exterminate the Tardis team once and for all.  So, the Daleks chase the Tardis trough time and space in multiple half-hour episodes, each episode set in a new time, a new place, and usually dealing with a new problem on top of the spaceship full of angry screeching plunger-wielding vacuum cleaners.

If there is one thing I have to say that I don’t enjoy about Classic Doctor Who, it is the drawn out multi-part stories.  Yes, I understand that they were a result of a small budget and the television restraints at the time, but given that I didn’t grow up with that sort of thing, I often find them tedious and quite dull, especially when they use the same sets, same characters, and the plot barely moves.

“The Chase,” however, is a load of fun and it’s done rather brilliantly.  I’m not sure what the exact circumstances of the making of this episode was, but it almost seems like the writers of Doctor Who wandered the BBC studios to see what sets were available and then wrote the entire story around them.  As a result, we have a story that switches locations, switches genres, and every installment feels like something new as the glue of the story, the Daleks chasing the Tardis, is always present and a concern.

“The Executioners” and “The Death of Time” are both set on a sandy desert world and involve the Tardis Team learning that he Daleks are after them and getting caught up with the Aridans, a formerly aquatic race dealing not only with the oceans drying up, but also a herd of vicious creatures infecting their cities called Mire Beasts.   It’s a wonderful set up with some cheap-looking and yet, very effective and lovely costumes that make the aliens actually look alien, especially for the 1960s.  

The Daleks are sufficiently evil, forcing the peaceful Aridans to choose their own survival over that of the Tardis team, and the ground approach that the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vikki have to take to regain the Tardis is silly, but still fun to watch.

From there, we enter “Flight Through Eternity” which is probably my favorite of the lot and consists of two separate locations.  The first is the top of the Empire State Building.  It’s fun and silly, a segment that never takes itself seriously and I think it’s great if nothing more than to see the 1960’s stereotype of what he Brits thought an American was actually like.    Granted, the idea that the Daleks would not immediately exterminate the yokel American was a bit of a stretch, but I do think that, if they would have killed him, they would have killed the fun as well.

After leaving the Empire State Building, the Doctor and his friends end up on a sailing ship.   Although I think it’s annoying that most of the problems in this serials is caused simply by character wandering off for no reason other than wandering off, this is the part of this episode that I absolutely adored as I found the revelation that the ship was the Mary Celeste and that the famous disappearance of the crew was caused by a Dalek invasion of their boat.  It was unexpectedly haunting and more proof of how sophisticated the series was getting.

“Journey into Terror” is another episode that broke logic and was incredibly silly, yet the novelty and the fun was more than enough to make up for it.

The Tardis lands in what appears to be an old house where they keep running into ghosts, Frankenstein’s monster, and Dracula.   The Doctor seems convinced that they have landed literally in the human imagination and that the Daleks could never follow them there… but then the Daleks follow them there and we get an incredibly fun sequence where monsters fight Daleks and we learn that they were actually inside a futuristic haunted house, a fact that could have been known to them if they would have walked ten feet away and read a sign.   It’s so ridiculous, but it’s also never taken seriously and so it’s fine… it’s comedy.

It’s also rather silly that they just leave Vikki behind.   An accident?   Yeah, right… they wanted to get rid of her.

In “The Death of Doctor Who”, the Daleks construct a robot replica of the Doctor and sends it to infiltrate and kill the Tardis team.   First of all, I love that the Daleks make a big deal about this robot saying that he is visually indistinguishable from the Doctor, but even in the long shots you can painfully tell that the robot is being played by a stunt double.    1960’s TV… gotta love it.

I did enjoy how they made the robot just like the Doctor, personality wise, and yet still maintained that evil menace.   Hearing William Hartnell’s voice casually mention how he will infiltrate and kill was disturbing, actually.

We got the usual clichés when an episode has an evil duplicate, but it was made unintentionally hilarious when Vikki and Barbara are standing next to Hartnell’s stand in – a man who looks nothing like Hartnell – and can’t figure out he’s not the real Doctor.   I admit I know next to nothing about television production in the 1960’s and why they didn’t just use Hartnell in these shots.  I’m sure there was some technical reason they couldn’t do it, but it was just so funny looking.  Still, I wouldn’t say that this was a bad episode because it wasn’t.  I don’t consider any of the episodes in this arch bad… but it was sillier than usual. 

Finally, we come to “The Planet of Decision” where the Doctor and Team Tardis, reunited after leaving Vikki behind, are taken prisoners by the Mechanoids, another robot-based race of aliens who throw them into a zoo.   This is a very satisfying capper to the story as we not only get a Dalek vs. Mechanoid fight that is so cheesy, it’s not recommended for the lactose intolerant, but also got a very well-executed and happy send off for Ian and Barbara who left the show at the end of this episode.

But, wait… did they just leave Steven behind?   Does he never show up again?   Prick move, Doctor.

All in all, of all of the Classic Doctor Who stories I have watched, this one has to be my favorite.  It never got stale, it never got boring… yes, it got unimaginably silly and borderline stupid, but it was never boring.   I enjoyed the different settings and stories, I enjoyed the quiet character moments, and for the most part, Vikki wasn’t incredibly annoying as I was afraid she could become.   She was annoying… but not incredibly so.

So, yes, “The Chase” is a classic in every sense of the word.   I loved it… I’d watch it again.   Warts and all.

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