Aired 22 May – 26 June 1965
‘The Chase’ is an odd Doctor Who serial, clearly an attempt to profit off of the Dalek craze of the time but also quite brilliant in its own way. Written by Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks, ‘The Chase’ in a way follows the format of his previous six-parter ‘The Keys of Marinus’ in which there are several near-standalone stories with an overall link. Here, the Daleks pursue the Doctor and his companions through time and space to several different locales, in the process encapsulating the fluid and experimental nature of early Doctor Who perfectly.
It’s quite easy to dismiss ‘The Chase’ as an overall pointless episode, especially since Terry Nation admitted that public demand rather than narrative need spurred the story making it to screens and since it falls into the easy pattern of the Doctor and his companions arrive somewhere, battle against the Daleks, and then leave. However, there are several small intricacies thrown in that make ‘The Chase’ a very worthwhile viewing whether one holds that viewpoint or not. The opening of the story is particularly important, not only because it finally shows that the TARDIS has become home to a true family as Ian reads and Barbara sews casually, but because it adds incredible weight to their departure at the end of the serial. At the same time, the Doctor introduces his time and space visualiser which allows him to watch any particular event throughout all of history, past, present, or future. He thus shows his companions a whirlwind of events that include the delivery of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a discussion between Queen Elizabeth and William Shakespeare, and even a performance of The Beatles before ultimately tuning in to the Daleks watching and plotting against the TARDIS crew.
Yet while the first episode plays out like a traditional Dalek story, the remaining episodes almost feel as if the Daleks are attacking not just the Doctor but the non-Dalek episodes of Doctor Who themselves. The second story is perhaps the best example of this as the TARDIS lands on a world populated by two fighting alien races. The concept of the conflict between the Aridians and the Mire Beasts is not one uncommon to Doctor Who, but events certainly take an unexpected turn as the Daleks once more show up to prevent a straightforward resolution. There is, of course, the fact that a full story is rushed and condensed into one episode, but it unquestionably a unique spin on a traditional formula.
Interestingly, when the TARDIS lands at the present-day Empire State Building, the actor Peter Purves is introduced as a rather unintelligent man who treats the entire encounter with the Doctor and the Daleks as an elaborate Hollywood production rather than real life. This may all seem quite light-hearted, but this appearance helped Purves land the role of companion Steven Taylor, a character to be introduced later in the same serial. The timing seems a bit off in retrospect, but it certainly speaks to the fluid nature of the programme at the time. Regardless, the sort of styling of the episodes that flirts with breaking the fourth wall continues as the TARDIS crew next emerges in a haunted house. The Doctor, realizing that he is trapped within a horror story, is able to avoid the typical traps of the genre while the Daleks quickly fall victim to the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster.
The fifth episode is entitled ‘The Death of Doctor Who,’ clearly referring to the character of the Doctor but also in a sense to the programme as a whole. The Daleks, becoming ever more forceful and antagonistic, have grown an ominous clone of the Doctor who is strikingly similar to the Doctor in ‘An Unearthly Child,’ calling Vicki Susan and even demanding that a rock be used for destruction. Of course the Daleks’ overly-complex plan fails, but having it fail because of the introduction of another trapped mechanical race in an otherwise-abandoned futuristic city is a clever spin on the Daleks’ own backstory. In a sense, the Mechanoids become the Daleks in a more classical sense for this portion of the story.
Again, it’s easy to dismiss ‘The Chase’ as a superfluous story, and undeniably one in which the Daleks are presented as simply a nuisance rather that as an outright menace at that. In a way, though, the Doctor reducing the Daleks to that level is partially at least partially why he is such an unexpectedly successful hero at this point. Most importantly, however, is that ‘The Chase’ does feature the end of Ian and Barbara’s tenure in the TARDIS. This somewhat reaffirms that the Doctor is truly the hero and vital component of the programme, especially since Ian and Barbara filled the heroic roles so reliably at the very beginning of their travels together. Still, the Doctor’s ability to survive the Daleks’ attack on his reality as the only remaining original crewmembers leave is a testament to both the character and the programme, a high point in what may not be a high point for the series overall.