Monday, 28 September 2015

Rescuing The Rescue (1965) from the scrapheap of inconsequentiality

By way of introduction, this piece was originally published online at the Doctor Who Ratings Guide on 25 June 2010 (oh, the nostalgia) and currently available here: in the book Outside In: 160 New Perspectives on 160 Classic Doctor Who Stories by 160 Writers, from ATB Publishing. Right now it's on sale at only $15.00, so why not give it a try?

Let's not beat about the bush: The Rescue is no one's favourite story. It's never going to blow you away, it features no impressive or memorable monsters and it has one of the most inconsequential plots in the history of the show. Actually the last one isn't quite true... but, despite all this, it is one of the better stories of the 1960s, filled with fun, adventure and drama, peppered with excellent dialogue and characterisation. There is a rather good twist and the acting is for the most part excellent.
I cannot for the life of me remember which DVD it is but there is one which contains a Coming Soon trailer for The Rescue/The Romans DVD release and its opening trail for this story involves playing some slightly magical music, with the shot of Vicki speaking excitedly into the intercom and the model shot of the crashed ship... this is the kind of thing that would fit into Moffat's current vision of the show: magical, expanding one's imagination, all about humanity's great frontier. It is slightly fairytale-esque, and it is enhanced by solid direction from Chris Barry (sadly not of Red Dwarf fame) and a reasonably good production.

The Bennett/Koquillion mystery plot might play second fiddle to the characterisation but it is engrossing stuff nonetheless; David Whitaker was a fine script editor and it shows in his writing, the way he unrolls the sense of unease surrounding both characters before revealing that they are one and the same is very intriguing and makes for interesting viewing. Koquillion as a creature is a decent enough effect although for once if the effects are laughably bad the production team can blame it on Bennett's DIY skills rather than the BBC's lack of budget. Ray Barrett gives a good performance as Bennett, too: slightly cantankerous and authoritative. There's someone we all know who is a bit like Bennett (before he is revealed to be insane, that is; although we might all know someone like that as well...)

It certainly is the characterisation on show that is the strong point here, however. Whitaker has spent longer in the works of the series than any other writer at this point and it is obvious: his treatment of the TARDIS team is nigh-on flawless. Barbara comes across as slightly out of her depth, whether she's just killed what was to Vicki something of a pet, or when she meets the eerie Koquillion for the first time. Ian is as genuinely likeable as ever, the adhesive holding the team together; the moment where he can scarcely repress his amusement at Vicki's less-than-flattering estimation of the travellers' age, while Barbara looks thoroughly indignant, is a winner.

The story is the very first to introduce a new companion into the fold (unless you count An Unearthly Child). Vicki is written rather well: young, resourceful, but a little idealistic and naive, rather different from Susan; one would imagine slightly less intelligent. Unfortunately, this interesting canvas is somewhat marred by Maureen O'Brien whose performance, while decent enough, is a little similar to Carole Ann Ford's and a bit melodramatic for my liking. Hartnell fares much better, giving one of his best performances as the Doctor; he is by turns mischievous and impish (I adore the scene where he plots to tell Ian that he landed on Dido on purpose, but his plans are squashed by the fact that he was asleep), adamant (in his continued insistence that the people of Dido are friendly), hypocritical (the "ledge is getting narrower" moment), wonderfully warm and grandfatherly (that marvellous little scene with Vicki where he convinces her to let him see Bennett), and suitably sombre (look at the dark expression on his face where he enters the hall). That final showdown with Koquillion is a marvellous moment for his Doctor, as he actually does something active for once, and has a one-to-one battle with the villain. Superb.

It might add almost nothing to the history of the show (well, Vicki) but The Rescue is charmingly written, well acted stuff. With only two episodes, it's almost gone before there is anything one can criticise.

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