Following a five-week holiday after “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” wrapped, Doctor Who’s second production block made an unpromising start with this strange little story, “The Rescue.” Normally I have a strong opinion either way about a Doctor Who story, but this two-parter really has me stumped. I’ve seen it two or three times now and I’ve gone from absolutely hating it, to finding it quite charming… and then all the way back again!
“The Rescue” has quite a bit going for it. To begin with, it has the brand new gimmick of introducing a new companion. The trouble is, she isn’t new. When Carole Ann Ford left at the end of the first recording block, Maureen O’Brien was contracted to play ‘Susan.’ Although her name may have changed, her character is so similar to her predecessor’s that it’s hard to get excited about her arrival. To be fair, in “The Rescue” Vicki is portrayed as quite a damaged young woman beset with grief, but she recovers from her ordeal surprisingly quickly and soon becomes the ‘teenage girl from the future’ that Susan was. However, I feel that David Whitaker should have explored the effects of Susan’s departure on the TARDIS crew more fully rather than focus so much on the new girl. Obviously a TV show has to look forwards, but even so Susan’s departure is barely mentioned let alone dealt with. Thankfully, Paul Leonard would later write the Missing Adventure “Venusian Lullaby” which would explore Susan’s sudden departure in a much more satisfying manner.
I liked a lot of the lighter moments in “The Rescue”; there is one scene I found particularly amusing where Barbara kills a horrific creature that turns out to be Vicki’s pet! Best of all though, I found it hilarious that the villain of the piece - Koquillion - is revealed to be Bennett, a human criminal in disguise. The production team actually have an excuse for providing a fake-looking monster as it’s supposed to be fake!
At the end of the day, “The Rescue” does its job well in introducing Vicki to the series, but under modern scrutiny, the way Susan’s departure is (not) dealt with is unforgivable. My advice would be either to enjoy this serial for what it is, a quaint little two-parter, or if you’re after the heavy stuff check out “Venusian Lullaby” instead.
As far as two-parters go, this one is definitely pretty high up on my list.
It's not a very complex story. Nor are the "stakes" in it all that particularly high. Which, in my opinion, is a good thing to do with the two parters back in the classic series. With the exception of "The Ultimate Foe" (believe it or not, my favourite of all the two-parters) - I've always enjoyed the two parters more when they don't try to give too massive of a scope to the story. Even "Edge Of Destruction" from the previous season suffers because it tries to be so dramatically intense throughout but isn't given much of a chance to "build up" because it's only two episodes long.
But "The Rescue" is an economical little tale that is mainly there to introduce Vicki and get her onboard the TARDIS. Yes, we have a bit of a mystery going on with some slight elements of suspense and intrigue. But they are, for the most part, largely inconsiquential to the overall thrust of the story. Fortunately, they're not too badly underplayed, either.
The "real plot" to the story is interesting enough. Two stranded earthlings being menaced by an alien is just enough storyline to fill the two parts. The twist at the end is quite nice too. Although, sadly, I had read in something, somewhere that Bennet was Koquillion and the surprise was ruined for me. But it seems to me that if I hadn't read the spoiler, I wouldn't have guessed the final outcome of the story. And that is a nice testament to the scriptwriting. Oftentimes, plot twists are not surprises because too many clues are given leading up to it. Not the case with The Rescue.
But the real emphasis of this tale is characterisation. This is laid out quite evidently in the opening scene with Vicki and Bennett as they give us a touch of expository dialogue to reveal their plight to the audience and, at the same time, create a certain degree of empathy too. Especially Vicki. She was always a very "bright" and energetic character without ever becoming annoying or tedious. Maureen O'Brien should be praised for her skills in crafting what was, essentially, "a new Susan". She made her radically different from her predecessor - even if the scripts didn't always serve her up that way.
But we see an even stronger example of characterisation in the next scene in the TARDIS interior. The Doctor is definitely shedding is anti-hero image here. Even the way they had him asleep as the ship materialised made him seem all the more vulnerable. And, therefore, likeable. One would normally expect his character to revert to some very crotchety behaviour as he regains consciousness. Particularly since he would be doing his best to conceal his sadness for saying goodbye to Susan. Instead, he's pleasant to his companions and even a bit tragic as he calls out for Susan and then remembers she isn't there. A really touching little scene that continues to set the real tone for this tale.
Again, the shortness of this story keeps the action quite tight. We don't have to bother with a whole lot of slow build-up since everything's got to get finished in just two parts. The fact that we're facing a rock-fall and a forced seperation of the TARDIS crew within minutes is a nice change of pace from the stories of this era. And this keeps the story interesting.
But we still get a lot of slower moments for all these nice characterisations to set in too. But never at the expense of the story. Rather, these moments enhance it. And they foreshadow quite nicely that Vicki will be coming aboard the TARDIS as all the characters "take" to her in different ways. The Doctor, of course, being the one who forms the strongest bond since he sees her, immediately, as a substitute for the grandaughter he lost.
The final confrontation between Koquillion and the Doctor in the Judgement Hall is, in my humble opinion, executed to dramatic perfection. The Doctor sitting with his back to Bennett and claiming he knows who he really is was a great way to start the scene. Even the fight sequence looks pretty good. A pretty big surprise since physicalities are generally handled by Ian. It all comes to a very good ending as a few surviving "Didosians" appear and save the day. And we're able to feel sorry for them in the later scene as they smash the communications equipment on the ship. The Doctor's description of them earlier in the story sets up a great sense of sympathy for them in their final scene since we understand that violence is repugnant to them but that the wiping out of their species has changed them radically. It's all very poignant. Particularly since the two characters never say a word.
So, all in all, a very simple little tale that serves up its purpose quite nicely. In much the same way as "Black Orchid" would, nearly twenty years later. And this, I feel, is the best way to "do up" a two parter. Some nice character moments and a story that doesn't try to do too much in it since it's over almost as quickly as its begun.
In the old, old days when seasons were long and stories could be made in thirty seconds flat, when there was a certain requirement in the narrative such as the introduction of a new companion it was possible to throw away a couple of episodes and dedicate them to that cause. Whether this is good or bad is debateable as while it means the episodes don’t get bogged down trying to do too much in too short a time (such as Rose and The Long Game of the new series have), it means that they’re completely inconsequential in their own right apart from that one function to the overall programme that they perform. The Rescue is such a story, being far more important to Doctor Who in general than it is to its place in the canon of individual serials. “Inconsequential”, however, doesn’t necessarily mean “bad”.
It gets going pretty sharpish though, as it presents immediately the situation of the crashed spacecraft as opposed to a TARDIS scene linking back to the previous story, as was the norm at the time. The model work of the crashed spacecraft is wonderful (courtesy of that old miracle worker Raymond P. Cusick) and might have been one of the season’s most iconic images if this story was more memorable. The interior set of the spaceship is also good, being decorated enough to be interesting without being cluttered. It is harder to tell about the caves though as they are very darkly lit and it has to be said that the picture quality isn’t great (for future reference, at the time of writing this story has yet to be remastered for a DVD release).
Maureen O’Brien makes an excellent first impression as Vicki, elevating some lines which seem to be written for a clone of Susan, and as I said in my recent review of The Keeper Of Traken it’s high time her status was upgraded to “good” rather than “underrated”. Ray Barrett playing the laconic Bennett is also good. I know it’s no fault of the episode’s, but the planet Dido does get a laugh these days due to the singer of the same name, although it’s not as funny as the misprint in the episode guide in Adrian Rigelsford’s book The Doctors: Thirty Years Of Time Travel that reads “On the planet Dildo, the TARDIS crew split up…”
The TARDIS scene, when it comes, is very good due to some excellent lines (what do you expect from a David Whitaker script) being delivered by three immensely talented actors who all have an obvious respect and regard for each other. There are some funny moments, such as the sitcom-style cross-purposes when Barbara tells the Doctor that “the shaking’s stopped” which shows how much lighter the characterisation of the first Doctor became in the second season, possibly because Dennis Spooner took over as script editor from this story on. What is good is the moment where the Doctor forgets that Susan has left him; the ensuing uncomfortable silence tactfully broken by Barbara is a deeply poignant scene.
Koquillion is a good looking monster in the long shots; up close however, it does look very much like a costume. While this can be forgiven in other monsters like the Voord the fact that it eventually turns out to be a costume means that its obvious falseness undermines the twist ending somewhat. His voice is funny, as the sound of people yelling from behind masks often is, but the scene where he first meets Ian and Barbara comes in a scene showcasing some excellent special effects, with flawless split-screen showing the companions looking down upon the ship.
The Doctor’s comment that he didn’t get a medical degree turns out to be another contradiction, which is funny; over time, the Doctor claims to have gained a degree, failed a degree and had every variation between which suggests a shifty and mysterious character far more effectively than any self-conscious “Cartmel Masterplan” ever did. His musing of what could have happened to apparently change the Didonians into an aggressive race is a very dramatic moment.
Barbara’s meeting with Vicki is another pleasant enough scene (although it is never explained how Barbara survived what from the sound effect appeared to be a very long fall without any injury and keeping her hairdo in place); the emphasis on Vicki’s name not being a contraction of Victoria shows a series trying a bit too hard to be hip and modern, but Vicki’s monologue explaining the killing of the crew is absolutely fantastic and why it isn’t reproduced in all the various quotation compilations that are about I’ll never know.
Considering that this is such a short story the Doctor and Ian do spend a long time trapped behind a rock wall, although this does allow the Doctor to fill in details about the planet Dido that some much longer and more complex stories fail to include; The Rescue, it has to be said, is more narratively rounded than it’s given credit for even if that can’t be said in terms of the plot. The ledge-traversing scene shows the B-movie roots that the first few seasons had, even if nobody who was involved in the creation of the Daleks would admit it and even if it does show off some more excellent split-screen effects. The sand monster is utterly lame though: although to an extent I can forgive how fake it looks the inclusion of glowing pen-torch eyes shows that, unusually, Cusick is falling back on stock monster clichés of old. True to the spirit of the scene the cliffhanger is silly and its resolution the following episode is accordingly simplistic.
The death of “Sandy” is a curious mixture of the surprisingly sad and the completely ridiculous, and if it wasn’t interrupted by the arrival of the Doctor and Ian I’m not sure how it would have panned out. As it is it just about gets away with it, although Ian’s intentional mispronunciation of Koquillion as “cocky-lickin’” had my eyebrows raised so high I had to stand on a chair to get them back. This is the kind of thing that threatens to throw the whole thing into the realm of absurdity and is just about saved by the very sweet scene where the Doctor comforts the untrusting Vicki.
The resolution is on the horizon now and this is where the story comes apart at the seams a little bit. The Doctor knocks on Bennett’s door and is told that “you can’t come in”; his reaction? He grabs the heaviest metal object he can find and proceeds to batter the door in. Am I the only one who thinks that’s a trifle impolite? It’s such an unrealistic moment from a character point of view that it makes all subsequent plot developments that derive from it (which are all the important ones) hard to swallow, and in fact on the subject of illogical plot devices the story has some corkers left to come. The magnetic tape recorder is another moment that is retrospectively funny, and is a problem common to the era.
However, the confrontation scene between the Doctor and Bennett is very cool, as most scenes featuring William Hartnell are. The hall of judgement set is excellent and is heightened further by the use of Tristram Cary’s score from The Daleks; the story was too minor to have its own score presumably, so they made the right decision to use the programme’s best piece of music until The Invasion. Bennett is a great villain, of the old dastardly boo-hiss type, and is much underrated. That said, he doesn’t exactly require much persuasion to explain the whole plot and if it wasn’t for the fact that the plot was so simple I’d be criticising the exposition now. However, the appearance of the Didonians makes for a famously naff final resolution (featuring the story’s only death; the consequently surprisingly high mortality rate of 25% comes from the fact that the guest cast is so small) which in a larger story would be deeply disappointing. Also, why do the natives smash up the radio equipment? What is the rescue ship supposed to think now? This is a lazy attempt at tying up a loose end that only makes the problem worse.
The reason I love Verity Lambert’s time as producer is that it was a time where immense effort was being put into the show; there was no cynicism at all, simply an effort by all concerned to make a good, original programme. This means that even stories that don’t work so well command respect to a greater or lesser extent, and even stories as minor and essentially unambitious as this are entertaining and well-written. While because of that aforementioned inconsequentiality I can’t give this story more than an average rating, I feel that if the attitudes behind it had been carried over into all subsequent eras of the show then the final product would have been even better.
'The Rescue' is unusual in that it serves almost exclusively as an introduction for Vicki; this is unusual for the series, since in future new companions are generally introduced as characters playing some role in the overall plot who join the TARDIS at the end of the story, rather than being the primary focus of the plot. However, this is of course the first time that a new companion joins the TARDIS crew since the start of the series.
Although Susan departed in the previous story, the actual dynamic of the crew does not yet change, since Vicki fills her role almost perfectly. True, she is more independent and headstrong than Susan, probably as a result of the death of her parents and her near solitude on Dido, and O'Brien is a better actress than Ford, but Vicki almost immediately replaces Susan in the Doctor's affections, obviously reminding him of his granddaughter from the start. Her immediate idolization of him completes the effect. Nevertheless, she is less annoying than Susan, which can only be a good thing, and generally seems more fun. She deserves extra sympathy points for her background as well, since losing her family and being stranded on a strange planet with (apparently) a hostile alien must be traumatic to say the least. As an introduction for Vicki then, 'The Rescue' works perfectly.
At only two twenty-five episodes in length, 'The Rescue' has little time for development of the other regulars, but Whitaker's grasp of characterisation, previously seen in 'Inside the Spaceship', stands him in good stead. The Doctor is obviously affected by Susan's departure, falling asleep and missing materialization, and just seeming generally vulnerable in the first TARDIS scene. His transformation into purposeful guardian after meeting Vicki is wholly believable and he quickly becomes his usual indomitable self when dealing with Bennett. Ian is pretty much sidelined, but Barbara gets something to do even if that something is slaying Vicki's pet, Sandy. Although this is clearly not her finest moment, it is presented in such a way as to make it understandable, since she reacts instinctively to protect Vicki and the Doctor is quick to defend this, noting that he would have probably acted the same way in Barbara's position. At the end of the day, Barbara's reaction is a believable one; most people confronted with a large fanged, snarling alien monster would probably have shot it on sight if they had a weapon to hand.
The Bennett/Koquillion plot is sparse, but again functional, since it provides a token threat to frame Vicki's introduction. Admittedly Bennett is not a very memorable villain, but he serves his purpose and is competently acted, never quite becoming the frothing madman that lesser writers might have made him and instead coming across as a calculating murderer, which is always more believable. 'The Rescue' is mocked in The Completely Useless Encyclopedia for being a murder mystery with only one suspect, but in all fairness Vicki is unlikely to doubt the story presented by her brusque "mentor", since she is naturally more likely to believe the story of someone she knows, especially with an alien race she knows nothing about on hand as potentially more likely suspects; in effect, Bennett exploits fear of the unknown. Besides, once the Doctor meets Vicki, he almost immediately discovers Bennett's guilt anyway.
There are two aspects of 'The Rescue', which are IMO a failure – the Didoi, when we briefly see them, instantly vie with the Thals for the title of Doctor Who's most boring alien race so far, appearing as they do as humans in silly costumes. Admittedly, there isn't much time to develop them further, but at least if they had actually looked like Koquillion (whose costume, face and claws included, turns out to be ceremonial robes stolen by Bennett) they would have been marginally more interesting. The second failed aspect is the cliffhanger, which is rubbish – the Didoi are supposedly a peaceful race, yet have a clichéd death trap outside their hall of justice, which clearly exists only to threaten Ian at the end of episode one. This might be more forgivable if the trap was less convincing; as it is, the blades that supposedly push Ian towards the edge of the chasm are visibly far apart enough to allow him to simply stand between them until they retract without being scratched. Sandy at least is used as more than a potential threat waiting in the chasm, since he turns out to be Vicki's pet and is killed by Barbara, as mentioned above.
So in summary, 'The Rescue' is a flawed but functional introduction for Vicki. It may not be memorable for much else, but it isn't pleasant enough and its length makes it a welcome respite from the usual four- or six-parters.