The Rescue always had a difficult job on its hands – it needed to introduce a new companion as a replacement for Susan, whilst only being two episodes long, not really allowing a great deal of detailed characterisation. Written by the outgoing script editor, David Whitaker, it introduces Vicki admirably, by keeping the plot tight and focussed in the 50-minute running time allowed, and with a minimal cast.
Whitaker is no stranger to the two-episode format, having written Season 1’s The Edge of Destruction. Here, though, there is very little action, but rather serves solely to introduce Maureen O’Brien to the cast of regulars – and it is done with wonderful panache. Vicki is clearly the sort of character which Susan should have been; rather than constantly whining or crying or spraining her ankles, she is dignified despite her loneliness, and seems equally alien and out-of-place compared with Barbara and Ian. Her dealing with Bennett, and her conversations with our regular crew, are magnificent – she fluctuates easily between pride and misery with a flair that Carole Ann Ford never could have handled.
When the episode starts inside the TARDIS, there is some wonderful comedic banter between the Doctor, Ian and Barbara – I love the scene in which she wakes the Doctor from his nap to tell him that the “shaking” has stopped, and his retort that he’s ever “so glad!” that she is coping emotionally. In stark contrast is a beautiful moment where he calls for Susan to open the doors before realising that she is no longer there. Jacqueline Hill’s tactile response, gently suggesting he teach her how to open the doors instead, is beautifully played. As a group, we have seen them bond and grow closer, a family unit of sorts, serial by serial – and just as they have lost the youngest member of the group, they are coping with it, delicately planning conversations to avoid unnecessary heartbreak.
Vicki, then, slots right into place – when she saves Barbara after her fall, the pair bond almost instantly, and the conversation flows freely and naturally. Barbara is equally careful with her, delicately traversing topics whilst Vicki fluctuates between delight and irritation that an outsider should claim to understand how she feels.
The only real drawback to this serial is the character of Koquillion himself – it is all-too evident that it is a man in a costume, rather than a believable alien creature. Indeed, that it turns out that it really was just a man in a costume all along – Bennett pretending to be a vicious alien being – is either quite a clever metatextual twist, with the crew being aware of just how crap the monster looks, or another example of budget restraints. If they made this serial today, no doubt the alien would be entirely CGI, with huge tentacles thrashing out, breathing fire or some other nonsense, until the reveal that it was a man in a suit done through some very clever editing. Here, they are doing all that they can within the budget restraints, and it isn’t too bad, considering. Having said that, it is confusing that Vicki isn’t in the least bit suspicious – when Koquillion enters Bennett’s room for a chat, she and Barbara continue their conversation – but then Bennett exits his room, saying that Koquillion has left, despite there being only one entrance and exit to the cabin that they are aware of. What is interesting about Koquillion is that it is the first example of a character being given a pseudonym to hide their true identity – something we will see far more of once the Master comes into series. That he is named after two members of the production team, Donald Wilson and Sydney Newman, is wonderful – people must have desperately wondered who this Sydney Wilson was! Ian’s rather flippant comment, meanwhile, is somewhat confusing. He meets Koquillion in the caves, threatened by a spanner coated in jewels, and then, after describing him to the Doctor, says he’d rather “take the Daleks anytime.”
Hartnell is on top form throughout this serial, between his giggling moments of realisation – “I wonder if I were to tell Ian that it was deliberate, whether he’d believe me or not?” – through to his touching moments with Vicki. The scene in episode 2 where he gestures for Ian and Barbara to leave him alone with the girl, and his grandfatherly way of explaining that Barbara was only looking after her interests, is fantastic, and again shows how much he has grown as a character. He never wanted others travelling with him, but as soon as his retinue is reduced, he is eager to bring it back up to three.
Despite the Doctor’s protestations that the natives of Dido are a peaceful bunch, the episode ends on a rather cliff-hanger involving Ian being pushed to the edge of a cliff by a booby trap involving ‘swords’ coming out of the wall. Below, the Sand Beast looks on, roaring hungrily.
Episode 2 of The Rescue allows Maureen O’Brien’s Vicki to show even more emotions, as Barbara shoots the Sand Beast with a flare gun – the creature had been adopted by Vicki as a pet, named Sandy, and she is utterly distraught. It’s a wonderful scene for a number of reasons – the look of distaste and loathing on Barbara’s face is entirely genuine – she’d had a nasty accident using the prop gun in a previous take, and so was genuinely distrustful of it. Vicki’s outburst – “I’ve been here a long time. I know what it’s like here. You’ve only just come and you’re trying to ruin things. It was all right before. It was. The rescue ship's coming and nobody asked you to come here. Nobody!” – further highlights that isolation and loneliness have set in, and the newcomers are threatening her ‘safe’ way of life. The sound effects used to show Sandy dying are terrifically haunting – actually reused Tristram Cary SFX made for The Daleks, they create a jarring, haunting and evocative soundtrack.
The Doctor’s unveiling of Bennett’s plan – he murdered everyone on board, as well as all of the indigenous locals of Dido, to keep the fact that he murdered a crew member a secret –is ludicrous, but also sensible in a bizarre way. Keeping Vicki alive gives him a witness, albeit a mislead one, to support his claims, and his masquerade as Koquillion supports his claim that the locals are dangerous. Fortunately, the Doctor has been to Dido before, and so knows that not only are the indigenous population humanoid, but also that the mask and cloak Bennett wears to scare Vicki is actually a formal robe used in ceremonies in the Hall of Judgement. The scene in which he reveals that he is aware of Bennett is magnificent – the set for the Hall is superb, and the bravery seen in Hartnell’s face as he beckons Koquillion without even turning around is wonderful. Fortunately for the Doctor, Bennett hadn’t been as successful as he thought, and two of the locals turn up to lead Bennett into falling into a ravine, interrupting the throttling the Doctor is being given.
The conclusion is mildly rushed – “Yes, Bennett’s dead. Bennett was Koquillion, you know.” – as the Doctor summarises the entire plan in a glib fashion, waving the entire affair away. But as the conclusion of The Dalek Invasion of Earth was rushed to get to the meat of the matter, and Susan’s farewell, here it is purposefully brushed away to highlight that Vicki is utterly alone now, with no family or friends, an intergalactic orphan. Despite the rescue ship on its way, Vicki accepts the offer of joining the TARDIS crew, promised adventure in “abundance”.