The Chase

Written by:
Terry Nation
Directed by: Richard Martin
Starring: William Hartnell
Year: 1965
Video Availability: No longer available

I love The Chase, you know. You could give me a million and one reasons why it's one of Who's nadirs, and all of them would probably be quite correct. It's badly written. It sends up the series far too much. It's badly played. It's - the biggest one, perhaps - appallingly made, with atrocious continuity errors. But I still love it anyway. The Daleks, while still popular, were beginning to wane (While still getting average ratings of around 9.5 million, The Chase was nearly 2 ½ million viewers down on their last outing), and here they get the piss ripped out of them royally in the series they helped to make a phenomenal ratings success. Yet few Who stories have such a winning joie de vivre as The Chase (for more of this poncy phrase, then see also City of Death and Nightmare On Eden, and it's so wilfully idiotic it's hard to hate it.

Some of the postmodern elements (Ian reading a book called "Monsters From Outer Space") are so sledge-hammer subtle they make you wince, but it's a laugh, innit? I'd never realised before just how much the series was whoring itself in an attempt to be "down with the kids" by including The Beatles. Just imagine Davison tuning in to Adam Ant, or Tom playing Abba in the Tardis. Yet the series got it so right by picking a group that became universally respected and still popular today that it doesn't jar in the least. Helping this is Billy's alleged ad-lib of "You've squashed my favourite Beatles." It's all stupid, of course, the selection of periods of time just happening to highlight the most historically significant moments, and a contrived way for the Doctor to find the Daleks are after him. But contrivance is a Nation hallmark, and with Dennis Spooner script-editing like a madman all these unlikely plot developments are made funny. There's loads of padding here, though, with over ten minutes dedicated to… nothing. But, again, it's a nothing that I find greatly entertaining.

Richard Martin's direction is actually probably better than usual in this one, with Hartnell reaching camera-ward for the door control at one point, though with a backless Tardis and two-dimensional planet then production decisions are ill-judged. There's even a scene with Ian and Vicki so ramshackle that it appears to be partly improvised. Speaking of Vicki, while I've never understood why she's an unpopular companion, this is her worst showing in the role as the character is written here a giggling clumsy twit. Dudley Simpson's music is rubbish, but then you knew that anyway. Meanwhile, the cliffhanger with a coughing Dalek has to be one of the most bizarre sights ever seen in Doctor Who.
* * * *

I can see how this particular episode would be indefensible to some, as the story suddenly turns into a garish self-parody that's almost beyond redemption. Truly bizarre sights include Ian and Vicki insulting each other ("Little fool!"/"Nit!") following by Ian chucking a polystyrene rock at a rubber octopus. Then there are the natives of the arid planet… er…. Aridius (Terry Nation is pure class) and Hewell Bennett acting like he thinks he's in the Bristol Old Vic while his rubber headpiece flaps open at the back.

The Daleks glide around better than in the vast majority of their stories here, even on sand, though in terms of characterisation this would be their most moronic until the Pertwee era. Exterminate is the order of the day, while "Well, get to it!" is shouted at a procrastinating underling.

It's a proper fruity outing, with Barbara inexplicably misunderstanding what she has to "nip in", the Doctor complaining about jumble sales and the crew accusing Ian of being a transvestite. Daleks are called "Aunty" and the aforementioned rubber octopus crashes through a polystyrene rubber wall and kills people. This last scene in particular had me in stitches, but I was laughing with it… sort of.
* * * ½

More silliness at the start of this one, and again it's hard to tell whether the silly jokes and outbreaks of giggles are scripted or whether the cast are just pissed. This is where the story proper starts of course - the Tardis is now finally in flight, with the Daleks and their retro time machine in pursuit. There's even a thicko Dalek who can't count for good measure, while the Daleks continue to talk over the top of each other. Ian's unusually tactile in this one, almost as if he realised his macho antics in The Space Museum weren't getting him anywhere, but he's still got a pan handle in those slacks.

Dud-ley's music does threaten to overegg the humour here, but there's lots of vignettes to enjoy, including Peter Purves as a cod Hillbilly in a small part that won him the role of new companion Steven Taylor three episodes later. Actually, I didn't find this bit as amusing as I recalled, but more oddly disturbing. I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's just Purves's "American" accent being even worse than in The Gunfighters, or the odd sight of a Dalek actually being laughed at in its own series. This is the fabricated reality of Doctor Who stretched to breaking point, with the behind-the-scenes aspects seeping through. A third factor is that as Ian and Barbara's last story, Hill seems less applied, but Russell is playing it as Russell-playing-a-part. Thus, the apparent macho posturing between Russell and Purves (of which more in episode six) is played out on screen, a look of mild disassociation on Ian's face as Morton Dill does his "funny" lines. It's all these factors combined that really make you slack-jawed at what you're watching, an incredulous feeling that never quite leaves you throughout the whole of The Chase.

Next, it's the Mary Celeste, or an old toy boat and some stock footage. Add to this some dubious "comedy" with Ian getting accidentally knocked out (A gag that's at least thirty years old at this stage) and it's one of the lesser instalments, Russell's "f*** it, I'm leaving" all-out overplaying causing much consternation. Watching stories again always produces different results based on expectations: I remembered the first couple of episodes being slow and this one being charming; on this viewing the first two were far pacier than I recalled, while this one is just a little too silly. Oh, continuity point - the Daleks on different levels of the Celeste indicates they can climb up stairs, even as early in the series as this. A note of trivia is 23'56m in, where off-set noise can clearly be heard, and Jacqueline Hill appears to look over at it.
* * * ½

Though I've criticised Martin's direction in the past, a ramshackle story like this really seems to suit him well. Having said that, this is probably the most incompetent episode of the lot, with a Dalek infamously present on set (from 5'31m in) before they've even landed. Listen out too (10'10m in) for some off set coughing. One detail of trivia that I'd never really responded to before is that the episode title/writer credits don't actually appear until after a reprise on each episode. Well, it's not the sort of thing you really think about, is it?

Anyway, episode four - "Journey Into Terrible" - has the Earth of 1996 being able to build robots that can destroy Daleks, while Ian's "Daleks don't like stairs" is recorded in long shot so the smugness doesn't seep through. Hartnell seems to forget, if not fluff, half his lines, while pathetic rubber bats on string flap about.

While I love Ian and Barbara to bits and this story is a lot of fun, I have to concede that this is one of the worst showings for Jackie and particularly Russell. Their "we don't give a toss anymore" attitude fills every frame, a mise-en-scene of antipathy.

I once owned a copy of The Chase so poor that the robot "double" of Hartnell actually appeared to be the spitting image of him. Yes, it was a very bad copy. "It - is - imposs - ible - to - dis - tinguish - from - the - or - ig - inal." No it ain't, mate.
* * *

I really do like The Chase, but I have to admit this one's just complete shit from start to finish. The travellers land on a "planet" where the environment is made up of the studio floor and flats that don't even look remotely real. With bits of old board seemingly crayon-painted it's Three Doctors territory, while men in giant fungus suits shuffle around and Barbara has to make popgun noises for totally ill-advised comic affect. Worse is the Hartnell "double", with Edmund Warwick even using his own voice at one stage and being shot in close-up. There's seemingly a "Who" in-joke here (appropriate in a story so self-referential) where Billy declares "They know now who's Who." Except he doesn't, he starts off with "They name… they know…" in one of the story's better fluffs. The other fluffs? Let's tackle them next time…
* * ½

Okay then, let's chart my third favourite Billy fluff of all time. A pivotal moment as Bill erupts with full fury: "You'll end up as a couple of burnt cinders flying around in Spain - in space!" Another corker occurs in episode four, with "I am convinced that that house was neither tame - time, nor space." Finally, the fourth also has "I think we'd better check where Vicki and Barbara is" which is not so much a fluff, more bad grammar.

Mechonoids - are they called Mechonoids or Mechanoids? They get a different credit in both of the episodes in which they appear. Anyway, what of the Mechanoids? They're not utter rubbish, but a massive hexagon with tiny plastic arms and indecipherable voices are hardly credible rivals. I guess they have to go with creatures like the Movellans (who I do like) as Dalek enemies that never really took off. Their final battle with the Daleks sees loads of cartoon flashes placed over the top of the picture, which is a little embarrassing to say the least. Perhaps even less convincing is the regulars standing in a blank set and trying, through the power of dialogue, to convince us they're in a moving elevator: "We're going up." "Yes, it's a lift." "He's taking us up to the city obviously." No, he's not. The cash has run out and you're just standing still.

Anyway, I said earlier that I'd report on the William Russell/Peter Purves situation. Russell seems an amiable sort of bloke, but when he stands next to the bigger, younger and (presumably) stronger Purves - his replacement - there's so much macho crap on screen you can practically reach out and touch it. Okay, there's supposed to be - Ian is scripted as holding him back away from Barbara - but you can't help but feel there's something real there. Oh, and I nearly forgot the continuity point - this is, of course, the first Dalek story to feature their "slats" that aid their mobility.

While the actual episode isn't all that good, the coda is the most famous for the "Ian and Barbara back in London" scenes. It again breaks the reality of Who by breaking the picture down into snapshots, but after sixteen stories I guess you can forgive them a little indulgence. It's even quite touching in a way, though this "silly but I love it" story hasn't entertained as much as I expected it to, and Dudley's music really is rock bottom…
* * * ½

I should hate this, but I don't. Nevertheless, it has dropped a star since I last saw it…
* * *