Monday, 19 December 2016

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: The Executioners

Spoiler warning for the recently released film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Also for the 51-year-old Doctor Who episode The Executioners.

The Executioners is the first part of The Chase by Terry Nation. It was made in 1965 and starred William Hartnell as the Doctor, William Russell as Ian, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara and Maureen O'Brien as Vicki.

I thought now would be a good time to review The Chase because it is the oldest Doctor Who TV story with Daleks as the baddys not to have been made into a film version starring Peter Cushing. For years I thought this would never happen because Peter Cushing stopped acting in the mid-1980s, but this year he has unexpectedly come out of retirement to appear in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (Maybe, like Harrison Ford, he needs the money.) So if I can create enough interest in The Chase now, maybe they will make it into a film and he can be Dr Who in it. That would be great!

The first scene of The Executioners is a very short teaser where the Daleks summarise their plan for this story to each other and, by extension, us:
"Our greatest enemies have left the planet Xeros. They are once again in time and space."
"They cannot escape! Our time machine will soon follow them. They will be exterminated! Exterminated! Exterminated!"

After this we get several minutes of the TARDIS crew watching space-time television, Terry Nation's latest attempt to disguise his padding out an episode. First they watch Abraham Lincoln give a speech, then Shakespeare meeting Queen Elizabeth i.

This is actually a clever meta-commentary on Doctor Who as a whole - normally we watch the Doctor and companions meet famous historical characters on TV, here they are also watching the historical characters on TV, while we are watching them watching TV. And while the science behind the way the Doctor's time-space TV works is so preposterous that the Monkeys With Badges were threatening revolution when they heard it (I didn't understand it myself), it is no more than a subversion of the fact that we do not know how the TARDIS gets the crew to their historical adventures either, except by the power of television.

Finally they watch the Beatles sing a song, and Ian dances to it. They stop watching TV because the TARDIS has arrived and it is time for them to have a proper adventure.

Ian and Vicki go off to explore, but the Doctor and Barbara stay behind to be lazy like cats. It is lucky they do so because the TV picks up a signal from the Daleks, giving them a warning that the Daleks have a time machine of their own and it is on its way to Chase them for five more episodes!

I wish our TV would warn us cats when Hoover is coming, mew!

Ian and Vicki discover a trapdoor that Ian then, foolishly disregarding some of the most sensible advice ever given, opens...

Suffice it to say, they go inside and are almost immediately trapped in there with a monster.

The Doctor and Barbara are looking for Ian and Vicki, but have only succeeded in losing the TARDIS. A Dalek slowly rises out of the sand near them, making for a confusing and unimpressive end to the episode as it is not clear if it even knows they are there. This is a rare misstep on the part of Terry Nation, who can usually be relied upon to create fantastic cliffhangers, and I think it would have been much better to end on the monster in the darkness - it is not, after all, a surprise twist that there are Daleks in this story.

Despite the lacklustre ending, The Executioners has its good moments, but with five parts of The Chase still to go it is clear this is really only a prologue, setting up the conflict that is to come later.

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