I think we have landed. But the Doctor’s never slept through a landing before!
After an epic story in which the Doctor and his companions save Earth from the Daleks (for the first of many times), our stalwart travellers move on to a thin wisp of a story designed, seemingly, for one purpose only: to replace Susan, who stayed behind with the human resistance to help rebuild a Dalek-ravaged Earth. “The Rescue” (Production Code L) introduces us to Vicki, a young woman who is one of two survivors of a spaceship crashed on the planet Dido.
From the first, Maureen O’Brien portrays Vicki as optimistic and independent, uncowed by the fate that has left her an orphan on a strange planet. And the fact that she is an orphan is key here, for it allows her to become the next companion, unencumbered by any emotional ties to her twenty-fifth century Earth (notably, an Earth in which there is still a United Kingdom, as the wrecked spaceship bears the markings “UK 201”).
As always, the TARDIS lands somewhere strange, the party gets split up, Ian and the Doctor eventually find Barbara—who has managed to kill Vicki’s giant monster pet in the interim—and the Doctor unravels the central narrative mystery (why the peaceful Dido people have apparently killed all the other human survivors of the spaceship crash).
But to focus overly much on the plot of this two episode story is to miss the character development that takes place over the story’s forty-five minute length. Both Howe and Walker and Wood and Miles (whose About Time series of Doctor Who guides I’ve only recently discovered) point out that while the story is perhaps not gripping stuff, it establishes Doctor Who as a series where continuity matters. It’s not planet- and time period-of-the-week; it’s an ongoing story with characters who grow and change and remember what happened the week before.
The Doctor himself is portrayed several times during “The Rescue” as getting older. Barbara and Ian comment about his age, only to be reminded by the Doctor that he can hear what is said in the immediate vicinity of the TARDIS (though these microphones have not previously been utilized in the series). Even the Doctor comments on his aging, complaining about his handwriting being less than ideal. This sense of age, though, is explicitly tied to the recent loss of Susan. Once the Doctor encounters Vicki, William Hartnell portrays the Doctor with much more brightness and energy. Susan was, and Vicki becomes, the essential companion, the one who gives the Doctor a reason to go on.
Indeed, by the end of the story, the Doctor, who at the beginning needed help from Ian to walk along a ledge, has battered down a door, climbed through a hole in the floor of the spaceship, and attacked Koquilion (who is really the other human survivor, Bennett, who killed the Dido people and the crew of the spaceship to cover up a murder) with both a sword and what can only be deemed a “sonic spanner.” The Doctor is, alas, quickly overmatched by Bennett, and is only saved by the prompt intervention of the thought-dead Dido people. (Told you not to pay much attention to the plot.)
Ian and Barbara reveal a much fonder attitude towards one another. To this point, it’s been unclear precisely what kind of relationship exists between the time travelling teachers, but they get somewhat touchy-feely in “The Rescue,” with rather much touching of shoulders and a physical jocularity. When Ian jokes on Barbara for being, in Vicki’s words, “five hundred and fifty years old,” she responds with a prompt elbow to the ribs.
Barbara continues to exhibit an independent streak, which is good since she is quite frequently separated from the rest of the companions. She did not want to tell the Doctor about the discovery of the crashed spaceship or the nearby city, and when she perceived Vicki to be in danger, she shot Vicki’s “pet” with a flare gun. She is both protective and impulsive in this story.
The relationship between Ian and the Doctor revolves again around the brains/brawn axis, with Ian leading the way in the caves and the Doctor figuring out how to rescue Ian when he is caught in a trap. The two complement one another nicely, and Ian has stopped challenging the Doctor’s dominant role, instead filling in where needed—with the Doctor unconscious after his encounter with Bennett, Ian even opens up the TARDIS at the end of the story, helping himself to the Doctor’s TARDIS key. One expects he’ll get his own key soon.
Yet again, the companions are not referred to as such. It does not seem that the tendency to call the companions such derives much of its cultural traction in this recent set of stories.
The most important part of the story is the centrality of the Doctor’s prior knowledge. He has been to Dido before, having met the inhabitants and understanding their essential peacefulness. The Doctor’s “pre-history”—his experience prior to meeting Ian and Barbara—has been alluded to before in the series, but “The Rescue” marks the first time it has served as a focal plot point. In the years to come, this pre-history will serve the writers with an endless well of escape mechanisms and plot twists, but the practice gets its start here.
In terms of continuity, the Doctor also claims that he never actually received a degree in medicine (or at least human medicine). After effectively ordering Ian to stop whining about having a cave collapse on him and giving him a perfunctory once-over, the Doctor remarks, “It’s a pity I didn’t get that degree, isn’t it?”
So, we have a new companion, Vicki, who is offered the choice to tag along with the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara. She readily agrees, and off they go, back in time, starting “The Romans” with a veritable cliffhanger . . .
(Previous Episode: The Dalek Invasion of Earth)
(Next Episode: The Romans)
Post 11 of the Doctor Who Re-Watching Project