Doctor Who Reviews: The Rescue

Scooby Doo: Forever a classic. An army of kids remember the scaredy-cat mutt and his terrified buddy Shaggy running away from a gaggle of ghostly deep sea divers, Kon-Tiki men, and disembodied blue heads in floating crystal balls.

But when it comes down to it, the ghosts are always men or women in masks. Even after 20-odd episodes, Scooby and Shaggy are always duped by the latest baddie of the week who, for whatever reason, chooses to dress up in a ghost costume to achieve his or her dastardly plan.

I only mention this because of the baddie in The Rescue, an oft-forgotten story of Doctor Who’s second season. The baddie is a creepy looking lizard thing called Koquillion – which turns out to be a nutbar in a costume. Sadly, it’s blatantly obvious that there’s only one man responsible – and that’s bed-ridden Barrett. Even a newborn baby could recognise that Barrett’s responsible for the whole thing since...

a) There are no other crewmembers present on the wrecked spaceship to terrorise panicky young urchin Vicki and

b) Koquillion and Barrett are never seen in the same room together. It’s too bad that Barrett doesn’t say a summing up line of “I woulda gotta away with it if it hadn’t been for you, you meddling Doctor” before plummeting to his doom.

The Rescue is a reasonable entry in Season Two, as the time travellers touch down on the planet Dido. Presumably, The Doctor’s thinking of doing a mystery tour of planets named after bland singer/songwriters that inexplicably sell vast quantities of albums. Maybe there are some lost scripts which saw The Doctor land on the planets Sheeran, Blunt and Morrison.

It’s a perfectly serviceable two-parter, which these days, would be melded into one 45-minute episode. It never feels padded, but there doesn’t seem to be enough drama to sustain the interest. Regrettably, there are hardly any characters – apart from the aforementioned Barrett, there are no guest characters apart from a couple of native Dido goons who manage to shock Barrett into backing away and falling off a ledge and over a sheer drop.

It’s difficult to keep the interest going without any real personalities, and even Barrett is hardly on the screen, which is a shame, since Ray Barrett plays him very well indeed. Despite this limitation, Christopher Barry does his best to inject some sort of life into proceedings. The set-pieces such as Ian’s death-defying chasm peril and The Doctor’s climatic showdown with Barrett are well done, all to the strains of that creepy musique-concrete score from Tristram Cary.

The Rescue’s chief function, though, is to introduce Susan’s replacement, or uncharitably, Susan Mark 2: Vicki. Vicki, regrettably, has not had a brilliant press. Admittedly, she doesn’t quite qualify for the rotten tomato category which boasts such visionary luminaries as Adric or Mel, but by the same token, she’s not exactly in the same league as Jo, Sarah Jane, Romana or Donna.

The main problem is that Vicki’s not really given her own identity by the production team. Alien as Susan was, she really only had two functions which were to ask what was going on and to scream. Not exactly rocket science, and you can see why Carole Ann Ford wanted to bail. Problem is, Susan at least, had some alien background, which was sometimes drawn on in her stories – unfortunately, Vicki has no such weapons in her armoury. Instead, she’s just a generic whiny cutout with a lumbering pet called Sandy. Poor old Sandy: First of all, you’re adopted by a screaming brat, and then you’re reduced to a smoking heap by a firework fired by a bouffant-haired schoolteacher. Why-y-y-y? Oh, Sandy.

Maureen O’Brien has a luckless task on her hands to bring any semblance of reality to the one-dimensional Vicki, and actually very nearly succeeds. In particular, O’Brien has a great rapport with William Hartnell. The Doctor and Vicki hit it off from the word go, as soon as The Doctor strolls onto the wreckage of the spaceship. Vicki takes to The Doctor like a duck to water, after failing to make friends with Barbara and Ian. Although if a complete stranger barged into your territory and killed your pet, you’d hardly be lining up to be best buddies. But Vicki instantly trusts The Doctor, and also likes him.

The Doctor actually seems to enjoy a far warmer relationship with Vicki in subsequent stories than with Susan – just look at their hi-jinks in The Romans or The Crusade, or their attempts to escape from the Animus in The Web Planet.

In fact, even though The Rescue is a pleasant enough but disposable filler 50 minutes, it’s a perfect showcase for the talents of William Hartnell. This is one of his best stories, and encapsulates all the best elements of his Doctor. At the beginning we see him far more vulnerable than he’s ever been before when he mistakenly calls out for an absent Susan and nearly loses his level composure. He is seen to be the perfect grandfather figure to Vicki.

But we also see that he hasn’t lost any of his fire, when he furiously confronts Bennett and holds him to ransom over his murderous actions at the story’s conclusion. We’re a long way from the grumpy old miser of An Unearthly Child, and all the better for it. The First Doctor has now been fully fleshed out into a three-dimensional character, partly due to some strong scripts, but mainly down to Hartnell’s commendable performances.

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