Doctor Doctor Who Guide

After the first groundbreaking Dalek story and its even better sequel, “The Chase” is widely regarded as something of an embarrassment by fans. Aptly named, this six-parter is literally a chase across time and space, an execution squad of Daleks hot on the heels of the four time travellers. A much more light-hearted affair than its predecessors, “The Chase” does still have many moments of dramatic tension, and in a way this is where the story falls down. “The Chase” is neither an out and out comedy nor a serious drama; the story just can’t make its mind up, and almost inevitably it flops. That said, I certainly do not dislike “The Chase.” Somehow, someway, this six-part adventure has its charm…

There are a lot of fantastic elements in the story, some of which are groundbreaking considering when it was produced. The retro-look ‘Space-Time Visualiser’ is one such example; a lovely little device that allows the Doctor and his companions to view any event in history. The Beatles even make an appearance on it where they play “Ticket To Ride” when Vicki tunes in to Top of the Pops! Terry Nation uses this device both to fulfil part of the programme’s education remit by showing certain historic events (the Gettysburg Address and the Court of Queen Elizabeth I, for example) and to set up his plot by having the time traveler's watch the Daleks’ hatching their dastardly plot. 

Interestingly, “The Chase” marks a significant development in the evolution of the Daleks. By this story, these Daleks no longer need the ‘satellite dishes’ attached to them when outside their city, and even more importantly they demonstrate that they have mastered time corridor technology, which the Doctor would later describe as “very crude and nasty.” This is the first time in the entire series that anyone other than the Doctor demonstrates time travel capability, and it is an idea that is revisited not only in the next story, “The Time Meddler,” but also throughout the history of the show, eventually culminating in the fabled ‘Time War’ just prior to the start of the new series.

The story itself gets bogged down on Aridius for what feels like an eternity before the proper ‘Chase’ begins. The Daleks then pursue our heroes to the top of the Empire State Building in the mid-1960’s, where Peter Purves makes his first Doctor Who appearance – not as Steven Taylor but as Morton Dill, a quite comical slack-jawed yokel. The TARDIS then lands on the Mary Celeste, whose crew leap into the sea at the sight of the Daleks! Next, the TARDIS lands in what seems to a haunted house full of the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. Nation really takes the opportunity to gently mock the series here, having the Doctor dramatically postulate that they have landed in a place outside time, somewhere inside the collective human unconsciousness where spectres and monsters and vampires live… In truth, they’ve just materialised in a robotic amusement park! These are the parts of “The Chase” that I found quite endearing; the parts of the story that are a no-excuses comedic romp across space and time, scored with what sounds like music from a Carry On film!

However, it isn’t long before “The Chase” starts to get a little bit heavier, and still played against the backdrop of a ludicrously jolly soundtrack it just doesn’t work well at all. Vicki is temporarily separated from the TARDIS crew when the TARDIS dematerialises, the Doctor having mistakenly thought that she was on board. Worse, the Daleks create the first (in the entire series) Dalek Duplicate. What could have been a fascinating plot development is ruined by sloppy production. I’m not having a dig at the general production standards of the time, which as everybody knows were notoriously dubious, yet still remarkable considering the time and the budget that they had available. Instead, I’m criticising the idea behind how the production team realised the two Doctors. For example, sometimes William Hartnell plays both the Doctor and the duplicate Doctor. At other times, Edmund Warwick instead plays the duplicate which quickly gets extremely confusing. In my book, Edmund Warwick should have either always played the duplicate (in which case the audience would know he was the duplicate) or they should have come up with a way to allow Bill Hartnell to play both parts. And why on earth was that episode called “The Death of Doctor Who”? The Doctor doesn’t die! It’s a complete no-brainer, unless the term ‘Doctor Who’ is being used as a reference to the ‘fictional’ duplicate much in the same way Steve Lyons uses the term in his novels to refer to the ‘fictional’ Doctor. Somehow I doubt it, though.

The final episode of “The Chase” is a tremendous improvement. The eponymous “Planet of Decision” is Mechanus, a wonderfully realised planet that was originally intended to be turned into a human colony world but was actually abandoned. The Mechanoids (custom-built robots who were sent there to prepare the world for the human settlers that never came) now rule the planet. Here the Doctor and his companions meet Steven Taylor (Peter Purves pulling a double-header) the survivor of a spaceship crash who has been a prisoner of the Mechanoids for years. As the Daleks and the Mechanoids destroy one another (kind of ironic considering the events of the much later Big Finish audio drama, “The Juggernauts”) the time travellers escape, Steven stowing away above the TARDIS whilst Ian and Barbara uses the Daleks’ abandoned time machine to return to their home time and place.

The departure of the last of the Doctor’s original companions is superbly handled by Nation. The Doctor is furious with them, ranting and raving, obviously not wanting them to leave his company. I particularly liked how the departure was handled almost as an afterthought; throughout the story there is no clue that they may be leaving (and if you think about it, why would there be?) and this makes it extremely effective as suddenly they seize their one chance to get home and leave their life of adventure behind. In the blink of an eye, they’re gone forever.

A cheesy montage featuring a jubilant Ian and Barbara in London rounds off one of the strangest, and ironically one of the most important, of the early Doctor Who serials. “The Chase” remains to this day an enjoyable story to watch, however it is one that could have been so, so much better were it not for its indecisive tone and a cardboard TARDIS!

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