Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Rescue

Chapter The 25th, wherein the Doctor visits an old destination and meets a new companion.

Still readjusting after the departure of Susan, the top TARDIS trio of the Doctor, Ian and Barbara arrive at a planet the Doctor has been to before. On his previous visit, the native population of Dido was small in number and peaceful in nature, but the one local the travellers meet this time, Koquillion, is anything but peaceful. What can have happened to change things?

A crash-landed Earth spaceship nearby contains the only two remaining members of its crew, the injured Bennett and an orphaned girl Vicki. It seems the Didonians lured the rest - including Vicki's father - to a gathering and blew them up. Koquillion claims he is keeping these last two humans safe from his people, but he has his own secret plan. The Doctor works it out and defeats Koquillion. Bennett is killed, leaving Vicki on her own. The Doctor invites her to join the crew of the TARDIS and promises her an abundance of adventure, which never remotely looked like it was desired given she has seemed on the verge of post-traumatic stress disorder throughout the two episodes. But she comes along anyway.

On the Sunday morning of a bank holiday weekend, the whole family watched both episodes on DVD, back to back. Middle child (boy of 6) complained as soon as the opening credits started that it was a "boring black and white one" but soon he, and the others (boy of 9, girl of 4) were watching rapt.  Unfortunately this only lasted until approximately 20 minutes in to each of the two 25 minute long episodes, whereupon they all got very restless. It was interesting though that they reset between episodes and started paying full attention again, still and silent. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but both episodes are very strong, but fall apart a bit at the end.

Episode 1, The Powerful Enemy, finishes with Ian getting caught by a traditional Saturday Morning Pictures peril creator, with blades pushing him towards the edge of a pit below inhabited by a nasty snarling creature. Given that no person pictured or referred to in the story has ever had motivation nor opportunity to build it, it does seem to have been plonked into the story as, well, a cliffhanger generator. The second part, Desperate Measures, is great while the surprises of the plot are revealed ("Saw it coming" said my elder son), but after that an ending turns up in a blinding burst of Deus Ex Machina to punish the bad, and free the good. Still, it's a good little story, and much better than the quota quickie to introduce the new girl that it could have been.

First-time round:
I saw this first when it came out on VHS in September 1994 in a double pack with subsequent story The Romans. I'd graduated from university earlier that year, had some fun in what I could still pretend was the long summer vac, but by September I was stuck back at home, temping and wondering what to do next with my life. I therefore had a bit of money to go and get this from Volume One on the day of release. My temp job was in town, but a little way out from Worthing's main shopping centre, and it would have been difficult to go and pick up a video in my lunch hour. I'd also have been a little shy bringing it back into the office for the second half of the day. So, I probably waited until the end of the day, or left it until the weekend.

I remember being surprised at how good The Rescue was on first viewing; it has a reputation as being somewhat disposable, and The Romans was the story selling the set. But the first few minutes in particular are superb with Hartnell's lovely moment as the Doctor forgets himself, starting to ask Susan to open the doors ("it's good, because he's sad" was elder son's verdict). Then there's the fun scene where the Doctor eavesdrops as Ian and Barbara muse on his potential senility.

If anything, it has improved further since that first watch. The story throws the audience in to proceedings when they are nicely bubbling away; the direction is good, with lots of nice close-ups of Maureen O'Brien as Vicki, and her performance is pretty good, running through lots of different emotional bits. The regulars are refreshed after the season break, and those early scenes still sparkle. There's something about a story where the  TARDIS arrives in some caves, and everyone goes off to explore, only to get split up, that fills me with joy. It's a little remiss, though, of Ian to leave Barbara on her own with Koquillion to get attacked.

The Rescue also finds time to innovate; it's the first story structured around the Doctor revisiting the setting of a prior unseen adventure, which has been reused many times since. The resolution of the plot, though it's probably a bit obvious, is still very successful. I can't remember whether it was ever a surprise to me; I think I'd been spoilered even before I first read the Target novelisation in the 80s, so I don't know if I'd have seen it coming.

Best of all is Hartnell and the writer's continuing evolution of the character of the Doctor. There's some wonderful physicality and directness: when Hartnell's Doctor is presented with a locked door, he doesn't reach for a sonic screwdriver but instead picks up a girder and smashes it down. And the scene where he confronts the killer, beginning with Hartnell in the foreground, not looking around, giving it the full "Come in, I've been expecting you" is marvellous. The character has fully assumed the lead as well as the title role of the series.

This is also the setting for another bit of character development that wasn't followed up: Barbara as brutal murderer, gunning down Vicki's pet Sand Beast. Although, as the adult one in the cliffhanger booby trap is clearly supposed to be a man-eater, maybe Vicki was deluding herself that she'd trained hers to eat plants, and Barbara saved her from an inevitable 'Grizzly Man' scenario.

Both this story and Horror of Fang Rock feature crashed ships and flare guns.

Deeper Thoughts:  
Afternoons, Coffee Spoons and Spine Quotes. J. Alfred Prufrock  and the Crash Test Dummies were a bit silly measuring their time in coffee spoons; weeks and months are clearly much better; also, Weeklies and Monthlies. The 500th issue of Doctor Who Magazine has just come out, which is an opportunity for nostalgia from its makers, and its readers. Like many, I can measure my life out in DWMs; and, to help in this process, an additional supplement given away with the main mag this month shows every cover from number 1 to the present. Flicking through, I realise that a theme of my journey is - amongst other more positive feelings -  embarrassment.

That's okay, though; a strong emotion like embarrassment is great for tracking memories. This is why I can remember the first ever issue of DWM I ever saw. Nowhere near me stocked the magazine at the time, but on my family's annual half-term shopping trip to the Carrefour in Eastleigh (we knew how to spend our holidays back then) I saw issue 62 in a newsstand on my way to the loo. I was on my own, so couldn't pester anyone to buy it for me, so I just stared at my beloved Tegan who was there in a tiny inset photo, while most of the cover showed TV's Peter "Davidson" and him off of On The Buses.

Once I got to the toilet, I found that the cubicle didn't have a lock, and my legs wouldn't stretch far enough to bar the door. But I had spent too long gazing at Tegan, and I was past the point of no return. I wasn't however fast enough going, and someone opened the door, revealing me with my trousers down to all and sundry, hence the embarrassment, hence the strong recollection. And, thanks to obsessive cataloguing and the internet, I can date this event precisely to Tuesday 23rd February 1982, the day of transmission of episode 4 of the story depicted on the DWM cover, The Visitation. We got caught in traffic driving home, and I missed finding out how the cliffhanger was resolved. For once, it being half-term, I didn't have cubs and yet I still didn't get to see two full episodes in a week. I was miffed.

It took another eight months for a shop near me to catch up with the hypermarkets of Eastleigh, and the first copy I bought and owned was issue 70 (cover: slightly soft portrait of Peter D). I bought it sporadically over the next few years until issue 117 (Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant in oh-so showbiz boaters and canes pose) when I managed to persuade a grown-up to add it to our delivery order at the local newsagent. That lasted until issue 133 (Slyv and Richard Briers gurning at one another) when I was instructed - embarrassment again - that if I wanted to keep reading a child's comic, I had to fund it myself. That put paid to things for a few years, and the next issue I got was 160 (artwork of Pertwee and Ice Warriors) which I skimmed through in Smiths, realising that the content was much improved, and was covering the video releases that I was starting to collect.

I caught up on a lot of back issues by ordering them from John Fitton - a company also nostalgically remembered by Jonathan Morris in the current issue - but I still dipped in and out as income would allow until issue 236 (Paul McGann holding a paperweight) and from then on I have every issue and all the specials. Things came full circle embarrassment-wise with issue 318 (cross-dressing Sontaran); the intensity of the attractive girl behind the counter at Borders' amusement at the cover was matched only by the beetroot red colour I went. Since then, I have subscribed.

In Summary:
There's nowt wrong with a quickie every so often.

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