Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day Eighty-Three: The Planet of Decision (The Chase, Episode Six)
The Daleks are closing in on our heroes! Trapped in a cave with no means of escape, destined to be exterminated any second! But wait! What's that? A hidden door has swished open, and a strange, huge, metallic creature beacons the time travellers toward it in a barely comprehensible computer language.
As the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki crowd in around the robot, the door closes once more as the small space starts to ascend to the city high above them. It's a lift! It's more than that - it's an escape. Freedom, if only briefly, from the Daleks below. They rise higher and higher into the sky…
And all I can think about is how much I wish my Mechanoid toy had a little top bit that went up and down like the one on the screen! I love the Mechanoid toy for the same reason I think the creatures look great on screen here - it's massive. Compared to all the other figures on the shelf, it's a great big lump, and that makes it impressive.
Ten minutes after the episode had finished, while I way laying on my bed, recreating the fight between the Daleks and the Mechanoids (Oh, shush. We all do it), I suddenly noticed that the top bit of the figure does actually lift up and down! Weyhey! I've had this thing sat on the shelf for well over a year, now, and I've never noticed that it does that. How marvellous.
Anyway. Yes. The fight between the Daleks and the Mechanoids. There's a great piece of artwork on Disc Two of the DVD release for The Chase which depicts the battle between the creatures, and it's something of a Photoshop masterpiece. Both sides engulfed in flames, attacking each other. But, actually, it's fairly spot-on for what we get on screen here in 1965!
I often tell myself that I'm not really all that bothered by Doctor Who not being shot on film. I mean, sure, the ITC serials look lovely made that way, but on the whole I've never really noticed the difference all that much. But then we get that first shot here of a Mechanoid trundling into the battle arena, shot at an off-kilter angle, and I wish, Oh, I wish, that Doctor Who always looked this good. It continues for the rest of the battle scene, with close ups of the Dalek Guns, and fast cuts as the battle rages… Frankly, it's stunning. I think I even prefer it to the revolution scene from The Dalek Invasion of Earth.
Oh, but really, this episode belongs to Ian and Barbara. I commented the other day that I was starting to get a bit sick of them, and that I was about ready for them to leave. All of that's still true - I'm excited to be moving onto a new era post-schoolteachers, but that doesn't mean that I won't miss them. The latter third of this episode is a masterclass in how to handle the departure of companions from Doctor Who, and thinking it over, I'm not sure it's ever been bettered.
The way that the Doctor explodes at them when they suggest using the Dalek time capsule to get home is the thing that I've always remembered from watching this scene in the past, but it's so much deeper than that. When the Doctor and Vicki exit the ship, and we see it depart into time and space, Vicki turns back to watch as it goes, staring into the empty space that it's left behind.
But - and this is the best bit - the Doctor doesn't. He stops, looks away. We don't even get a close up of Hartnell here, because it's not needed. The whole point is that the Doctor is trying to not interact with the moment. To pretend it's not happening, because it's too painful to accept. The whole thing is beautiful. And then, following Ian and Barbara's return to Earth, the Doctor watches them on the Time-Space Visualiser, just to make sure that they've made it ok. I'd forgotten that bit, but it's lovely.
The one thing that I did find odd was the way that Steven was handled toward the end of the story. Having seen our heroes escape the city, we watch it destroyed as the Doctor explains that Steven likely hasn't made it out. There's no real moment to mourn him: he's just one of those casualties the TARDIS crew encounter on their travels. I thought this was an strange way to leave it, but then we see him running through the jungle looking for the Doctor - hooray! He did escape!
But that's it. I thought that we'd maybe see a shot of him discovering the TARDIS. Something, at least, to set up his return in the next episode. Ah well, I guess I'll see if it's resolved any better tomorrow…
Next Episode: The Watcher