The Rescue

Written by:
David Whitaker
Directed by: Christopher Barry
Starring: William Hartnell
Year: 1965
Video Availability: Try

Is this for real? I love to praise Hartnell and convince unbelievers that it's an underrated, innovative era. Sure, stories with the words "Terry" and "Nation" in close proximity are never very good, and fare like The Web Planet can most charitably be described as "experimental", but generally it never receives the recognition it deserves. Then along comes The Rescue. Two-parters are rarely any good anyway, the format too restrictive, but this really is the cranky, ramshackle 60s creeping in on us. It opens with a model shot of a rocket that looks as if it came from Fireball XL5 (Come to think of it, it probably did). Next we've got Maureen O'Brien leaping into a bit of old cardboard pretending to be a spaceship with a painted backdrop of some rocks and a palm tree to convince us that we're on another planet. We do get Bennett/Koquillion, who is kind of an intergalactic Norman Bates, and a rescue craft on the radio, which, as it's said to be "69 hours away", leads you to suspect that the whole of Who really is just a covert front for SF's answer to the Kama Sutra. Don't knock it, the next scene Billy's waking up from a deep sleep, informing Ian and Barbara that "I feel a bit sticky, I must go and have a wash." You dirty old bastard!

The Doctor even claims he can hear what Ian and Barbara are saying outside the Tardis, a suggestion that corrupts the illusion somewhat. After all, it might be an old crate on the outside, but Billy's not supposed to be in that, he's supposed to pass over a dimension. But such concerns are beyond a story that gives us an alien planet in BBC TV Centre and a caption slide for Ian and Barbara's POV. The planet turns out to be the planet Dido - oddly something never mentioned to the singer in interviews on MTV - which is, of course, just one letter away from a popular pastime.

Thankfully, Whitaker is a class writer, and the man who revolutionised the concept of the Daleks for the Troughton era. Even in this same season he would write The Crusades, and flashes of brilliance do shine through on rare occasions. Not only that but Vicki - identikit Susan replacement or not - is infinitely better than she's been accredited, and Maureen O'Brien always has superb rapport with Hartnell. Speaking of which, you might get the feeling that his acting is very much by numbers, but you can't help but be touched when he calls for Susan and she's not there. I do love the original crew to bits, and it's a good job because they're the only ones holding this together. Critics who say the Hartnell era is slow have plenty of ammunition here, with even just 26 minutes scraping its feet due to the thin plot. Considering this whole venture is merely there to introduce Vicki, then it's nice they bothered to add a few layers of story. But what layers they did add don't, sadly, add to much.
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With all the Hartnell episodes before The Savages having individual titles, then this one is the highly apt Desperate Measures. And believe me, it is f****** desperate! This is the one to really showcase Sandy The Sandbeast, though he did make a brief cameo in the previous week's. Sandy, is not just bad, but absolutely piss-your-pants funny bad. It's a bloke in a costume rolling around roaring, with... Well, just look at him (right)Sandy the Sandbeast It defies all credibility. Even more cred-defying is History Teacher Barbara getting drive-by on his ass and popping a cap into him. To see this ridiculous-looking thing smoking and Vicki crying is just the high peak of unintentional comedy. F*** me, it's absolutely hysterical, I tells ya! What makes matters worse is that Barbara (lovely woman, but you wouldn't want to meet her on her PMT week, would you?) has a go at Vicki over it. Some woman you hardly know with a bouffant that looks like a crash helmet sees your family pet and blows the mother away and then tells you off for being unreasonable!!! Worse, amiable science lecturer Ian even rubs it in by telling her that if Cocky Lickin' (!!) comes around "I've always got this!" and waves the gun in her face. The same gun that's just blown the guts out of her pet! God Almighty, it's a good job he's not a Relate counsellor, innit?

But away from all my mickey-taking, this one does have some pace and charm that the first lacked, and most importantly it has the confrontation scene. Hartnell has a good showing in this story, though it is only two episodes. Sure, we get a few "errs" in his monologue with Vicki, but the only fluff all story is here, with "There'll be no time to get - to open that, no, come on, let's go the obvious way." Anyway, the confrontation scene involves a showdown between Billy and Koquillion (cleverly credited as "Sydney Wilson" in the first episode to disguise his identity). What makes this sequence a work of total genius is Tristram Cary's score, reused from The Daleks. It's an oppressive, eerie, deeply unsettling score that wouldn't have sounded out of place in an 80s action horror, like The Terminator. Seriously. Hartnell is superb here, in full command. Again, when I say his acting is "by the numbers" I don't mean that he's phoning it in. Just that he has a carefully-planned repertoire of facial arrays, ready to call into effect when and as needed. The look of controlled fear on his face as he knows he's about to die is wxceptional. Sadly, the resolution - two extraneous characters enter the scene to resolve it for him - is a cop-out, but it gets by. Ultimately if I had to list the charms of this story I'd cite a top three: 1. Cary's temple score; 2. The chemistry of the regulars; and 3. The fact that Whitaker bothered to create a story at all. But really, if you asked me to list a fourth, I'd be hard pushed.
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Slim, dated and often embarrassing, this really isn't the Hartnell era at its best. Yet it does have a form of quaint appeal, and the temple sequence is outstanding.
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