Doctor Doctor Who Guide

In the old, old days when seasons were long and stories could be made in thirty seconds flat, when there was a certain requirement in the narrative such as the introduction of a new companion it was possible to throw away a couple of episodes and dedicate them to that cause. Whether this is good or bad is debateable as while it means the episodes don’t get bogged down trying to do too much in too short a time (such as Rose and The Long Game of the new series have), it means that they’re completely inconsequential in their own right apart from that one function to the overall programme that they perform. The Rescue is such a story, being far more important to Doctor Who in general than it is to its place in the canon of individual serials. “Inconsequential”, however, doesn’t necessarily mean “bad”.

It gets going pretty sharpish though, as it presents immediately the situation of the crashed spacecraft as opposed to a TARDIS scene linking back to the previous story, as was the norm at the time. The model work of the crashed spacecraft is wonderful (courtesy of that old miracle worker Raymond P. Cusick) and might have been one of the season’s most iconic images if this story was more memorable. The interior set of the spaceship is also good, being decorated enough to be interesting without being cluttered. It is harder to tell about the caves though as they are very darkly lit and it has to be said that the picture quality isn’t great (for future reference, at the time of writing this story has yet to be remastered for a DVD release).

Maureen O’Brien makes an excellent first impression as Vicki, elevating some lines which seem to be written for a clone of Susan, and as I said in my recent review of The Keeper Of Traken it’s high time her status was upgraded to “good” rather than “underrated”. Ray Barrett playing the laconic Bennett is also good. I know it’s no fault of the episode’s, but the planet Dido does get a laugh these days due to the singer of the same name, although it’s not as funny as the misprint in the episode guide in Adrian Rigelsford’s book The Doctors: Thirty Years Of Time Travel that reads “On the planet Dildo, the TARDIS crew split up…”

The TARDIS scene, when it comes, is very good due to some excellent lines (what do you expect from a David Whitaker script) being delivered by three immensely talented actors who all have an obvious respect and regard for each other. There are some funny moments, such as the sitcom-style cross-purposes when Barbara tells the Doctor that “the shaking’s stopped” which shows how much lighter the characterisation of the first Doctor became in the second season, possibly because Dennis Spooner took over as script editor from this story on. What is good is the moment where the Doctor forgets that Susan has left him; the ensuing uncomfortable silence tactfully broken by Barbara is a deeply poignant scene.

Koquillion is a good looking monster in the long shots; up close however, it does look very much like a costume. While this can be forgiven in other monsters like the Voord the fact that it eventually turns out to be a costume means that its obvious falseness undermines the twist ending somewhat. His voice is funny, as the sound of people yelling from behind masks often is, but the scene where he first meets Ian and Barbara comes in a scene showcasing some excellent special effects, with flawless split-screen showing the companions looking down upon the ship.

The Doctor’s comment that he didn’t get a medical degree turns out to be another contradiction, which is funny; over time, the Doctor claims to have gained a degree, failed a degree and had every variation between which suggests a shifty and mysterious character far more effectively than any self-conscious “Cartmel Masterplan” ever did. His musing of what could have happened to apparently change the Didonians into an aggressive race is a very dramatic moment.

Barbara’s meeting with Vicki is another pleasant enough scene (although it is never explained how Barbara survived what from the sound effect appeared to be a very long fall without any injury and keeping her hairdo in place); the emphasis on Vicki’s name not being a contraction of Victoria shows a series trying a bit too hard to be hip and modern, but Vicki’s monologue explaining the killing of the crew is absolutely fantastic and why it isn’t reproduced in all the various quotation compilations that are about I’ll never know.

Considering that this is such a short story the Doctor and Ian do spend a long time trapped behind a rock wall, although this does allow the Doctor to fill in details about the planet Dido that some much longer and more complex stories fail to include; The Rescue, it has to be said, is more narratively rounded than it’s given credit for even if that can’t be said in terms of the plot. The ledge-traversing scene shows the B-movie roots that the first few seasons had, even if nobody who was involved in the creation of the Daleks would admit it and even if it does show off some more excellent split-screen effects. The sand monster is utterly lame though: although to an extent I can forgive how fake it looks the inclusion of glowing pen-torch eyes shows that, unusually, Cusick is falling back on stock monster clichés of old. True to the spirit of the scene the cliffhanger is silly and its resolution the following episode is accordingly simplistic.

The death of “Sandy” is a curious mixture of the surprisingly sad and the completely ridiculous, and if it wasn’t interrupted by the arrival of the Doctor and Ian I’m not sure how it would have panned out. As it is it just about gets away with it, although Ian’s intentional mispronunciation of Koquillion as “cocky-lickin’” had my eyebrows raised so high I had to stand on a chair to get them back. This is the kind of thing that threatens to throw the whole thing into the realm of absurdity and is just about saved by the very sweet scene where the Doctor comforts the untrusting Vicki.

The resolution is on the horizon now and this is where the story comes apart at the seams a little bit. The Doctor knocks on Bennett’s door and is told that “you can’t come in”; his reaction? He grabs the heaviest metal object he can find and proceeds to batter the door in. Am I the only one who thinks that’s a trifle impolite? It’s such an unrealistic moment from a character point of view that it makes all subsequent plot developments that derive from it (which are all the important ones) hard to swallow, and in fact on the subject of illogical plot devices the story has some corkers left to come. The magnetic tape recorder is another moment that is retrospectively funny, and is a problem common to the era.

However, the confrontation scene between the Doctor and Bennett is very cool, as most scenes featuring William Hartnell are. The hall of judgement set is excellent and is heightened further by the use of Tristram Cary’s score from The Daleks; the story was too minor to have its own score presumably, so they made the right decision to use the programme’s best piece of music until The Invasion. Bennett is a great villain, of the old dastardly boo-hiss type, and is much underrated. That said, he doesn’t exactly require much persuasion to explain the whole plot and if it wasn’t for the fact that the plot was so simple I’d be criticising the exposition now. However, the appearance of the Didonians makes for a famously naff final resolution (featuring the story’s only death; the consequently surprisingly high mortality rate of 25% comes from the fact that the guest cast is so small) which in a larger story would be deeply disappointing. Also, why do the natives smash up the radio equipment? What is the rescue ship supposed to think now? This is a lazy attempt at tying up a loose end that only makes the problem worse.

The reason I love Verity Lambert’s time as producer is that it was a time where immense effort was being put into the show; there was no cynicism at all, simply an effort by all concerned to make a good, original programme. This means that even stories that don’t work so well command respect to a greater or lesser extent, and even stories as minor and essentially unambitious as this are entertaining and well-written. While because of that aforementioned inconsequentiality I can’t give this story more than an average rating, I feel that if the attitudes behind it had been carried over into all subsequent eras of the show then the final product would have been even better.

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