In ways this story is a new beginning for the series: it was the first story to be made as the second series (although it went out 3rd on transmission as the last two stories of the previous season were decided to be held back to open up the season for reasons I cannot recall, probably to gain time on the production front), we have a new story editor in the form of Dennis Spooner and we are introduced to a new companion. The biggest change though for me is that it changes the role of the Doctor and puts him squarely in the hero role and gives him the limelight, but more on this later.
The Rescue was written by the out going story editor David Whitaker and has somewhat often been dismissed as a story written purely to introduce the new companion Vicki and fills that job but is very slight and with a Scooby-Doo twist, also many critics dismiss Vicki who is played admirably by Maureen O’Brien as a water down Susan. Do any of these criticisms hold up? Well I would say that while it is mostly a story written to introduce Vicki, it does a lot more then that and the Scooby-Doo element well, those critics seem to miss the point in that we realise the secret of Koquillion exactly when we are supposed to, the reveal of the secret is narratively when the villain knows the game is up. The criticism of Vicki is not justified in the slightest, Vicki is quite ballsy but vulnerable at the same time and shows much more character in two episodes then Susan did in nine stories. Her angry and upset performance when Barbara unwittingly kills Vicki’s pet captures perfectly the shock one gets when discovering that the family cat or dog has been run over, she isn’t whiney for the sake of whiney. She frets about Koquillion finding out about the forthcoming rescue because she is living in fear for her life and she gets justifiably angry at sympathy put toward her by Barbara as being an orphan, she probably got a lot of condescending sympathy in the past.
So the story is fairly straight forward, Vicki and the injured Bennett are the two survivors of a crashed spaceship after the remaining crew were murdered in an explosion by the people of the planet Dido. They are jailed/protected from the population by the mysterious Koqullion who essentially is keeping them prisoner in the remains of the crashed spaceship. The TARDIS arrives and Koquillion imprisons the Doctor and Ian in a cave after seemingly having pushed Barbara to her death, however the Doctor and Ian find a way out the cave and Barbara managed to grab on to a branch which broke her fall and once reunited they plan to set a trap for Koquillion.
The story works quite well with the Doctor and Ian’s escape from the gave providing some good pacing and a rather good literal cliffhanger in which Ian and the Doctor unwittingly set off a booby trap set by Koquillion and spikes force Ian towards the edge of a path where we see a snarling lizard like creature waiting below and while the resolution is weak (lets put our thick coats over the blades so we can swing over and reset the trap) there is interesting pay off as after Barbara kills the creature thinking Vicki’s life is in danger it transpires it is a harmless creature that Vicki had trained to come for food.
Visually the story looks quite good for a 60s space story with some good but basic visual effects such as when we first see the crashed spaceship from the ledge and later when Ian and the Doctor look into the ravine at the sand beast. The beast itself looks quite good from the front, although the tail end is rather flat but the special effect with the ray gun is terrible, a firework in a gun prop which explodes in the gun (and caused actress Jacqueline Hill to burn her hands) looks cheap and pathetic, I imagine the idea was to have the firework fly out.
So we get to the crux, in this story we get the Doctor take centre stage, solve the problem and confront the villainous Koquillion in the Dido people’s hall of Justice. This scene is framed wonderfully with Bill Hartnell sitting in foreground with his back towards Koquillion showing the Doctor is in full command and he doesn’t turn to face Koquillion until he finishes his speech. And this is the so-called Scooby Doo moment, Koquillion is literally unmasked and it turns out he was Bennett in disguise having faked injury to fool Vicki. It is hardly Scooby Doo as following the Doctor we already have realised that it was Bennett and we get a powerful confrontation where Bennett reveals he killed a man on the ship but it hadn’t been reported to the authorities on Earth. The ship crashed and the people of Dido arranged a meeting with the crew and Bennett blew the hall up to avoid being done for murder, later finding Vicki was still on the ship due to ill health and was unaware he had been arrested. He committed genocide just to save his own skin, but to no avail as we get a brief struggling between the Doctor and Bennett before it is revealed that not all of the Dido people died in the explosion and they through Bennett off a cliff.
The story ends on a solemn note with the Doctor filling young Vicki of the course of events which pretty much leaves Vicki isolated and alone before the Doctor offers bring her aboard the TARDIS and travel with them.
Overall it is a nice little story which changes the series dynamic in many ways, the Doctor is no longer a passive hero but now the principal protagonist and it shows the series can survive a change in its leading cast. The first of many changes to come, but the big one was still a few years down the line.
The story was novelised by Ian Marter in the mid 1980s and published by Target Books with a cover by Andrew Skillier and it expands upon the screenplay significantly and as with most of Marter’s books, it is a lot more visceral then its TV counterpart. An audiobook reading by Maureen O’Brien is still currently available although the book is long out of print.
The Rescue was the eighth and final Target Novel to be written by Ian Marter as shortly after completing the manuscript Ian Marter died of a heart attack following complications with his diabetic condition, he was 41 years old and died on his birthday.