Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Rescue - "And if you like adventure, my dear, I can promise you an abundance of it. Apart from all that, well you’ll be amongst friends. Hmm?"

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Rescue - Details

Season 2, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #11) | Previous - Next | Index

Susan left at the end of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," and her absence is keenly felt here, at least by the Doctor. He naps through their landing on planet Dido, mistakenly calls for Susan to open the doors, then decides after a quick look outside that he'll go back to finish his nap while Ian and Barbara explore. This odd behavior prompts Ian, in rare moment of callousness, to tell Barbara he suspects that the Doctor might be going soft-headed -- doing so with a rather ungallant pantomime of a person suffering from dementia. The crew of the TARDIS seems out of sorts and are going to have to get it together if they're going to save Vicki ...

Somewhat surprisingly for an otherwise slight two-parter this story pulled in high viewership, higher than the Dalek epic it followed, and highest (according to the DVD extra feature "Mounting The Rescue") until the Tom Baker years. Ratings aren't something I'm normally interested in, but in this case it caught me off-guard and leads me to think this must have been an event in terms of the show's run, an event in the sense that people wanted to see how the show would handle the replacement of a regular even more than how the Daleks' invasion of our planet would be thwarted. It speaks, I suspect, to the show's place in the culture where change to the cast is bigger news than anything about the stories as they play out on screen. The Daleks may be the monster that made the show a hit, and captured the public imagination, but the ratings for this one suggest they were never bigger than the show itself. We're well used to changes of companions and Doctors by now, but it's worth remembering this was the first major change to the show's cast and that it worked so well showed that the series had legs. With the benefit of hindsight, we don't have to worry that the first regeneration and second regeneration didn't draw as many viewers, so maybe it suggests that once significant change was weathered, even the change from one Doctor to another wouldn't be so disruptive that it would draw eyes looking to see a train wreck.

Certainly the transparent mystery wasn't the pull here nor the Koquillion outfit Bennett wears, although it's a fine bit of design it's got nothing on the Daleks. (What does?) That this is a tightly-paced story may helped keep viewers from drifting away, and it certainly helps the present-day viewer sitting down to watch the DVD in one shot. None of the 'get captured, escape, get captured again, escape again ...' run around here. If Ian weren't a bit unlikable and Barbara a little too quick-on-the-trigger when she encounters Vicki's pet, I'd say this would be an ideal episode to introduce someone new to the Hartnell era to -- after "An Unearthly Child" but before asking them to sit through a seven-parter like "The Daleks".

One last thing to note about "The Rescue," it's another story where the Doctor is lucky to survive. Bennett has the better of him after being unmasked and looks like he's going to get it away it until it's suddenly revealed that a few of planet's natives survived the genocidal bombing Bennett perpetrated to conceal his earlier murder of one his crewmates. Those two Didoans show up just in time to save the Doctor from being throttled to death (or, regeneration) and deal with Bennett themselves. The Doctor did at least figure out on his own that Bennett was Koquillion, so he wasn't mentally incompetent (as Ian might have feared) before he was physically overpowered.

This story's brevity is a strength, Maureen O'Brien's Vicki is a strong addition to the crew, and we're set up well for future ... unfortunately the momentum this one could have delivered was sapped a bit by the odd follow-up, this story's production-mate, "The Romans".

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