‘Doctor Who and The Rescue’
Transmitted 2 and 9, January, 1965
Written by David Whitaker
On the far off planet Dido, the shattered remains of an Earth spacecraft lays by the opening of an ancient cave. The only two survivors of the crew, Bennet and Vicki, live under the constant threat of Koquilion, a savage and vicious creature who stalks the land, regarding them as possessions. When the TARDIS arrives, the Doctor and his traveling companions are drawn into a strange battle of wills with the life of ther fair Vicki hanging in the balance.
I adore The Rescue, always have. The two-part format suits this story very well, allowing ample opportunity for the relatively simple plot to unfold, traps sprung and resolutions delivered at the eleventh hour. It’s a wonderful slice of 1960′s Who. The main point of The Rescue was to introduce the new teenage companion who would replace Susan Foreman, Vicki. Actress Carole Ann Ford had grown frustrated with the limitations that her character was saddled with. Reportedly she was promised a strangely intelligent psychic character and instead found herself playing the part of the screamer week after week. Sure that there was a better role for her out there she left and the production team of Verity Lambert, Dennis Spooner and David Whitaker had a long hard think about what the next companion should be like.
A spritely young thing, Vicki is bubbling over with energy and exuberance. A child from the future, she is amused by the aged fossils Ian and Barbara who are so backwards that they identify the Beatles as Rock N Roll rather than Classical music. The success of Vicki is down to the actress herself, Maureen O’Brien. Along with her acting skills, O’Brien played the part of peace-keeper with the aged William Hartnell who famously lost his temper and grew irascible at the slightest provocation. Maureen O’Brien was just what the program needed.
After establishing the predicament of Bennet and Vicki, the story switches to the TARDIS. Having just seen Susan off to her future in a post-apocalyptic London (nice one, Doctor), the ship seems far too large for her loss. The Doctor suddenly appears to be the doddering old man that he resembles, even drifting off to sleep in transit. Concerned that the old boy has gone a bit off the rails, Ian and Barbara take to some exploring only to find themselves face to face with the porcupine-faced Koquillion.
A formidable foe, Koquillion is suitable menacing and deadly while not actually doing anything. His voice shoots daggers through the purrings of a cat played through a distorter. He’s a brilliant villain as so little is known about him but everything is assumed. Both Barbara and Ian assume that he is a native, for instance and therefore let down their guard even though their instincts scream to get clear.
When Ian leaves to get the Doctor, Barbara and Koquillion have a conflict, resulting in her apparent fall off of a steep cliff side. The sets are so wonderfully designed by Raymond Cusick, using the minimal resources at hand that they are strangely surreal and unsettling. It is easily apparent that the cave is a set, but the discomfort that Koquillion exudes is real enough.
Separated from the Doctor and Ian, Barbara finds her way to Vicki and the downed spacecraft. Exuberant that she must be rescue, Vicki welcomes the TARDIS crew member into her home only to find that instead of escape she has gained another inmate. Vicki tells the sad tale of the vicious slaughter of the crew, including her parents, and how the only brave survivor of massacre, Bennett, has taken care of her. Badly wounded, Bennet is bed-ridden and weak. The only other company is creepy Koquillion who stalks the plains and checks in on them now and again. Being a forthright woman, Barbara schemes an escape almost immediately and sets her survival skills high. Unfortunately, this results in the death of Vicki’s pet Sandy, when in a moment of confusion Barbara slaughters the beast with a flare gun. I don’t care who you are, that is hardcore.
Desperate to find Barbara (why’d Ian leave her with that creep at all?), Ian and the Doctor embark on a slow and delicate trip through the dark caverns, making their way carefully along narrow paths looking down a deep pit where growling fires up at them. The interplay between William Russell (Ian) and Hartnell is just outstanding and no doubt genuine. A straight-forward actor of stage and screen, Russell is suited to the part of intelligent action hero while Hartnell is almost a complete enigma. So deeply embedded in his character is Hartnell, that it often appears that he has forgotten his lines, lost his way or is completely senile. Only when he played the double act of the Abbot in the Massacre of St. Bartholemew’s Eve did it become apparent that it was a carefully constructed performance and one that he reveled in.
It’s treacherous and deadly (and realized on a 2 pence budget), but two death traps and a monstrous beast is just par for the course for the Doctor.
When the Doctor and Ian escape the clever traps and pitfalls of the caverns and find their way to the spacecraft, there is an awkward moment of happiness tinged by Vicki’s understandable outburst of anger at Barbara. In a moment of tenderness, the Doctor explains that Barbara only wanted to protect her from what she thought was a deadly beast and that twinkle in his eye comes back as she responds. It’s a testament to Hartnell’s acting ability that he conveys so much in these little scenes. He may often come off as gruff and mean, but deep down he’s a teddy bear. The Doctor needs a surrogate Susan of some kind and this relationship hits that mark almost immediately. If only the new series understood this dynamic.
The Doctor is of course decidedly suspicious of Bennett. Barging his way into the man’s private quarters, he finds an elaborate reel-to-reel system that plays back pre-recorded statements deluding anyone into thinking that someone was in the cabin when it was actually vacant. The Doctor also discovers a hidden hatch leading directly into the caves.
When the Doctor realized where he had landed, he describe the planet Dido as a peaceful, sparsely populated world. The behavior of Koquillion challenged that assessment, but after all the Doctor had been acting odd so perhaps he had gotten it wrong. When he comes face to face with Koquillion, he calls the bluff. This is no native of Dido at all, it is Bennett. A convict in transport to a far off prison on board the craft, Bennett murdered the crew and the small group of natives who greeted them on arrival. However, Vicki knew none of this and only thought of Bennett as the brave survivor who helped her get by and protected her from Koquillion. When the rescue craft finally does arrive, her testimony will release him from the punishment for his crimes.
Of course the Doctor had figured out Bennett’s ruse, but being clever and right doesn’t necessarily stop you from getting your head crushed. Mad with blood-thirst, Bennett strikes at the Doctor, throttling the old man bit is stopped by a pair of spectral figures. It’s never explained who the strange figures are, but Bennett seems to think that they are ghosts of the natives of Dido, killing him in revenge.
Written by the incomparable former script editor David Whitaker and directed by Christopher Barry, The Rescue has a lot going for it right off the bat. Brilliantly designed and written, this two parter was a massive success, garnering ratings that beat out the previous story, the Dalek Invasion of Earth! Utilizing the soundtrack by Tristram Cary (reused from The Daleks) is simply amazing and forever encapsulates my love affair with these black and white stories.
Following on the heels of the Dalek Invasion of Earth, a story that challenged the scope and capabilities of the program, The Rescue is a much smaller and simpler story, but a psychologically gripping one. An adventure rich in atmosphere, drama, The Rescue is a short but amazing story that serves as a high standard for the program.