Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Rescue written by David Whitaker and directed by Christopher Barry

This story in a nutshell: Introducing Vicki, the orphan girl who seems perfect to fit the Susan-shaped hole the series is now missing…

Hmm: The departure of Susan brings out a strong affection amongst the remaining TARDIS crew and completely alters the central dynamic of the show. Ian and Barbara are no long desperate to get away from him but willing travellers happy to welcome Vicki on board into their little family. This is the first instance in season two of the kinder portrayal that Hartnell displays for the rest of the year and he’s just a delight to watch. The Doctor is struggling to cope with the loss of his granddaughter and he doesn’t hide it behind bluster but instead responds warmly towards his friends and the result is a very welcoming atmosphere. In every respect (especially because we no longer have to listen to her wailing), Susan’s departure from the show is the best thing that could have possibly happened. ‘What is it? What is it?’ he twitters as he sleeps through a landing for the first time, yawning at the console and barely interested in their destination. Instead of an exploration, he’d rather have a nap! All the old associations with Susan are in the Ship as Barbara explains; this is as heartbreaking as any parent who has to let their child off into the world. His cheeky little monologue in the Ship when he realises that they have landed on Dido and he has the opportunity to tell Ian that he has deliberately managed to steer the TARDIS there never fails to make me smile – he’s such a naughty old get. I could watch the Doctor and Ian poking about in those caves for hours because they are just so much fun together (‘it’s a pity I didn’t get that degree!’). There’s an unspoken affection between the actors that is a joy to bask in. Especially funny is the moment when Sandy lets rip an almighty roar and Ian shines the light in the Doctor’s face to which responds angrily ‘Well it isn’t me, is it? Shine the light down there!’ Priceless. His gentle handling of Vicki melts the heart, he takes an immediate shine to her and their relationship proves to be one of the highpoints of the era. It has precisely the sort of warmth that the Doctor/Susan relationship should have had but there was always some distance and disagreement between them whereas Hartnell and O’Brien are clearly in love from the outset. He’s got a keen mind and only has to cast his eye over the situation to realise the truth of Bennett’s involvement. Sometimes it just takes a fresh pair of eyes.

Schoolteachers in Love: The moment where the Doctor calls out for Susan and Barbara steps in and asks for him to explain the checks to her is a very rewarding moment. This is just how I imagine Hill and Russell looked after Hartnell when Ford decided to depart from the show. Ian wobbling his hand to suggest the Doctor is past it always makes me chuckle. Vicki seems to think Barbara is some kind of psychopath that roams the universe slaughtering innocent creatures which prompts the Doctor’s glowing reference: ‘She’s nice, you know. You’ll like her!’ Things have definitely moved on since the pilot.

Alien Orphan: From the outset it is clear that Maureen O’Brien is a superior actress to Carole Ann Ford, despite being handed a less interesting character from the start. Vicki is much more your traditional screaming little girl than Susan’s unearthly child and it is entirely down to O’Brien’s believability and likeability that sets Vicki apart. The moment Vicki quietly recalls her father and holds back the tears my heart went out to her. It’s possibly the finest portrayal of grief that a companion would ever show (its certainly more subtle than anything Janet Fielding gave us). Her reaction to Sandy’s death might seem over the top but if the gentle creatures presence was the only moment of each day where she felt something other than fear then it begins to make a bit more sense. It’s the first time somebody new has stepped into the TARDIS since the pilot and look at the difference in reaction. Vicki’s momentary shock is replaced by excitement and a feeling of belonging. Not perhaps as realistic as Ian and Barbara’s culture shock but Vicki’s need of a new home has been set up well enough by this point.

Sparkling Dialogue: David Whitaker displays a gift for memorable dialogue that would flourish in his later stories The Crusade, Power and Evil of the Daleks.
‘Oh but Doctor the trembling’s stopped!’ ‘Oh my dear, I’m glad you’re feeling better.’
‘My dear boy if I press myself any harder against this thing I shall do myself an injury.’
‘You destroyed a whole planet to save your own skin. You’re insane.’ 
‘And if you like adventure, my dear, I can promise you an abundance of it!’

The Good: Talk about an immediately arresting opening scenario; some lovely model work detailing a spaceship that has crashed into the mountains of an alien world and a crew of two, desperately afraid for their lives of the homicidal population. All this is set up in a couple of minutes with absolutely no help from the regulars at all. It’s the first time a story has opened and not been told from the regulars point of view, hinting at Vicki’s continued presence. I wouldn’t call The Rescue a whodunnit with its suspect list of one (or two if you include Vicki experiencing extreme multi-personality syndrome) but once the twist has been revealed Bennett’s actions can be considered some of the most chilling any Doctor Who villain has performed. He willingly sabotages a ship and brings it down on an alien world (its never stated that Bennett is responsible for the crash but I like to think that he is) and then commits mass murder, wiping out both his own people and the populace of the Dido and then terrorizes a young girl who has recently lost her father into thinking that the people of this world are all monsters who are only keeping them alive for kicks. It’s just sick, isn’t it? He must have had a particularly disturbed childhood to consider this extreme reaction the only way to escape a murder sentence. Logically, it makes perfect sense but psychologically it is utterly destabilising to think that one human being could willingly perform such devastating acts of murder to walk away a hero. The difference between Christopher Barry’s direction and Richard Martin’s (from the previous story) is acres apart – just watch as the camera swoops in as the travellers depart the Ship which is all that is lighting up the cave they have materialised in. It is effortlessly atmospheric. The Koquillion costume has been expertly put together to repulse, there is something else quite like in the next 49 years of Doctor Who. What I love is that like most Doctor Who monsters it is quite clearly a costume (albeit an exotic and frightening one) but the twist that this genuinely is a costume predates a similar touch of smartness in Power of Kroll by a decade. Barry loves his shots of actors overlaid on effects in the distance and Ian and Barbara discovering the rocket ship is very ambitious for the time. The audience must have been amazed. Bennett is such a bastard that as soon as Ian is out of sight he tosses Barbara off a cliff without a second thought! Aside from the Earth, this is the first instance of the Doctor landing back on a planet he has already visited. In a fantastic moment Vicki reveals that Barbara has survived the culling of the TARDIS crew to Bennett, not realising that he is the one responsible for their predicament. Sandy isn’t the best piece of monster magic to step from the Hartnell era, nor the worst (that honour belongs to the Slyther) but since she is supposed to be a benevolent creature and not a monstrous one I can kind of forgive her anything. Plus its hard not to moved when Barbara sets at her with a flare gun. What a cow. The smoky, ornate, spacious Hall of Justice set is marvellously designed and Christopher Barry shoots it with real care. The TARDIS going over a cliff – bloody marvellous!

The Bad: Check out the far cave wall that is visible through the TARDIS doors. Rather wonderfully the Doctor dashes out of the Ship to see what all the commotion with the explosion is all about and but ducks in because the cave is supposedly full of smoke to get a light. Unfortunately whoever was responsible for filling the cave with dust is clearly on a coffee break and it doesn’t actually appear until the Doctor returns with a lamp. There is a big flaw in Bennett’s ‘you can’t come in’ trick with the door. He’s supposedly disabled so how is he on the other side of the door preventing Koquillion’s entrance? As nicely realised as the knifes springing from the wall to push Ian towards the cliff face and into the clutches of Sandy are, you have to question the logic of such a friendly people devising such a devious and murderous trap. It’s Saturday morning cinema jeopardy and I couldn’t fail but see Batman and Robin caught in a similar hazard. The term deus ex machina is bandied around an awful lot but The Rescue features one of the most blatant examples as two previously unseen Dido inhabitants (supposedly wiped out) turn up at the climax to deal with Bennett. How precisely are this pair of fellas going to perpetuate a new race?

Result: No it isn’t as incident packed as some of the epics that make up season two but in many ways the realisation and character work in The Rescue are far superior to the more highly regarded stories of the year. Never mind that Vicki is a custom made Doctor Who companion or that this is a whodunnit with a suspect list of one because the scenario is so atmospherically conjured up, the performances are a delight and Bennett’s ultimate unmasking reveals what a psychotic the bastard really is. I love the moment of silence when the Doctor and Ian (and Barbara who was already present) come face to face with Vicki for the first time and the whole purpose of this exercise is revealed without saying a word. There’s a warmth between the actors that is a joy to experience and Hartnell in particular seems to come alive like never before since the Doctor dumped Susan on the Earth. That’s not to say that the story has no merit whatsoever but it is a little too slight to examine in any great detail. At only two episodes its basically just set up and reveal without the stages of investigation in the middle. However it’s very good set up and an even better reveal – the climax with the Doctor standing up to Bennett and laying his crimes bare is a fine performance piece for Hartnell. If you ever need a quick burst of atmospheric sixties Who with some delightful character work, slip The Rescue from your shelf. It fulfils its purpose admirably but manages to be a tight little story in its own right: 8/10

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