February 8: "The Planet of Decision" / "The Watcher"

(The Chase episode 6 & The Time Meddler episode 1)

And so the Mechonoid takes them up into that big city we saw last time, and it turns out there's another person already there: Steven Taylor, an astronaut who crashed two years earlier and was taken prisoner by the Mechonoids.  Yes, it turns out that the TARDIS crew has escaped the Daleks only to be held captive by the Mechonoids.  Steven Taylor is, of course, played by Peter Purves, the same actor who played Morton Dill three episodes ago, but here he portrays such a different character that, other than appearance, you'd have no reason to believe they were the same actor.  He does a good job behaving as someone who's been without human contact for two years, yet he doesn't overplay the moment.  But that doesn't last before they've worked out a way to escape, by climbing down off the roof.  Meanwhile, the Daleks invade and attack in what's quite a well-shot battle (though the inclusion of the cartoony explosion graphics is a tad much), and the city burns.

The Daleks prepare to attack the Mechonoids. ("The Planet
of Decision") ©BBC
This only takes about half the episode, leaving the remainder to deal with the almost unthinkable: Ian and Barbara's departure. It starts with an argument, when Ian and Barbara realize they can use the Daleks' time machine to get back home and the Doctor thinks it's too dangerous ("I will not aid and abet suicide!" he says angrily).  But this almost seems more bluster than genuine worry, and Vicki talks him around into helping them.  When they do make it back to London 1965, we're treated to a photo montage of Ian and Barbara frolicking around some of the landmarks and having a good time -- and then we pull back to see that the Doctor and Vicki have been watching them on the Time and Space Visualizer.  "They made it!" Vicki exclaims, and the Doctor agrees, but he looks so crestfallen: "I shall miss them.  Yes, I shall miss them, silly old fusspots," he says, and you're not sure if it's the Doctor speaking or William Hartnell, but either way I teared up a little -- and they say Doctor Who wasn't emotional until the 21st century.  What rubbish.

This concludes The Chase, and it's probably the best thing about it.  You get the impression that the production team don't really know what to do with the Daleks anymore, so they've gotten Terry Nation to do up The Keys of Marinus with Daleks in it and hired Richard Martin to shoot it because he always does Dalek stories, and let them turn it into a romp -- rather missing the point of having the Daleks, but there you go.  It has its moments here and there, but The Chase is ultimately somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

But the show is always moving on, and "The Watcher" is no different.  We get a very sweet opening scene, though, as the Doctor talks gently to Vicki in the wake of Ian and Barbara's departure: "Their decision certainly surprised me, although it shouldn't, I know.  But it was quite obvious they intended to take the first opportunity of going back home."  He then asks Vicki if she wants to go home too, but Vicki refuses -- and any further discussion is curtailed by a sound coming from the living quarters.  It's Steven Taylor, last seen wandering the jungle on Mechanus.  Apparently he made it on board the TARDIS but is still a little confused about where he is, and he doesn't really believe them when they tell him the TARDIS is a time machine.  "Look, Doctor," he says, "I've seen some spaceships in my time...admittedly nothing like this.  What does this do?"  "That," the Doctor replies wonderfully, "is the dematerialising control and that, over yonder, is the horizontal hold.  Up there is the scanner, those are the doors, that is a chair with a panda on it.  Sheer poetry, dear boy.  Now please stop bothering me."

Steven takes some convincing that they've arrived in the past, on what appears to be the coast of England in the 11th century, and Peter Purves does a great job of portraying skepticism.  The Doctor goes off on his own and works out that it's 1066, shortly before the Norman invasion.  But something's not quite right, as he hears the chanting from the monastery slow down, like a gramophone unwinding, before speeding back up to normal.  Meanwhile, Steven finds a wristwatch that definitely not from 1066: "You still say this is tenth century England?" he asks Vicki, holding the watch up.  There's a definite mystery going on, and it seems related to the monk who eavesdrops on the travellers and lives in the monastery, yet doesn't seem surprised by the TARDIS's arrival or its appearance.  The episode is set up quite skillfully, setting up an historical time period with a few pieces that don't fit, leaving the viewers wondering what's going on, and the performances of everyone involved help sell the mystery.  It's an intriguing episode, to be sure.