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The Case for… The Rescue

The most influential episode ever? Guest contributor William Atkinson makes the case.

It’s a week from Christmas. The viewing public wait with anticipation for the new episode of “Doctor Who”- but this time there’s a twist. A brand new companion is being introduced, who promises to be unlike any other. Sound familiar? This isn’t “The Snowmen” though – you can tell that from the pictures and the title – this is “The Rescue”. “The Rescue” is often overlooked as short, simple and unimaginative. This is unfair. “The Rescue” is my favourite Hartnell story, and is definitely in my top ten. Why? Because it’s fun, fast and possibly the most influential episode of “Doctor Who” ever.

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Above: The Radio Times’ feature on the first change of companion

In the beginning of “Doctor Who”, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan were the show – the outsider that transports our heroes around, the sensible school teachers to inform us (sensibly) about science, history and cardigans, and the (slightly annoying) young girl who acts as an audience connection figure. This line up has always been a favourite of mine as, unlike some later ones, it just works. So when Carol Ann Ford wanted to leave, the producers had a problem. Continue on with the increasingly popular Hartnell, Ian and Barbara trio, but leave the audience isolated, or bring in a new character to replace Susan. Fortunately, they chose the latter.

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Unlike Susan, Vicki can connect with the viewers. Despite being from 500 years in the future, there is something so sixties about her. With “groovy” mini-skirts , “hip” hair-styles and (occasionally) “dodgy” acting, it’s no surprise to find out that the first thing she watched on the time-space visualiser was “The Beatles” (Maureen O’Brien was from Liverpool). As “The Rescue” was one of the first “Doctor Who” stories I watched, Vicki holds a certain place in my fan conscience.

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Turning to the story itself, I feel it’s unfairly maligned for being a “murder mystery with only one suspect”. I found this odd. For viewers watching at the time, I don’t think it would’ve occurred to them that Koquillian was a bloke in a costume (in story terms. All “Doctor Who” monsters are blokes in costumes), especially the younger members of the audience. For the time, I think the costume was quite good and would be quite scary for the kids ; his whispering voice would certainly have me scuttling behind the sofa. In addition to this, the fact that the Doctor says the Didoians (the story is set on the planet Dido, which the Doctor has visited before) are a peaceful people, makes Koquillian sound even worse.

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Also, the regulars are all given something to do. The Doctor and Ian go on a mini-quest as they traverse dark (and indeed wobbly) caves, Indiana Jones-style wall spikes and the terrifying sand beast, Barbara comforts the traumatised Vicki and does the washing up. They are all on fine form, especially Hartnell, who is at his most charming and kindly here, even pausing to have a nap. It’s no surprise that he shot straight to being my favourite Doctor after I watched this.

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Out of all the black and white episodes that survive today, this is one of the most watchable for modern audiences. Those used to 1000-pound monsters and extravagant CGI will be disappointed by the flashes and firework firing space-guns, but the plot is fast and compact and doesn’t drag like some other sixties stories. It almost drips with David Whitaker charm (I’ll write an anecdote about in the comments section) and is blessed with some excellent model-work. The picture quality is also excellent, a benefit of being shot entirely in studio.

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“Doctor Who never recovered from not being shot in black and white” – Douglas Adams

To conclude, this is a neglected gem of a story, and is still watchable for today’s more demanding audience, especially since a new companion is on the way.

Step back in time...

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