Written by Terry Nation
Directed by Richard Martin
The Doctor and his companions are imprisoned in the Mechanoid city and find fellow prisoner Steven Taylor. Cheated of their prize, The Daleks invade the city.
“To defy Daleks is death!”
I must admit that using the subtitles helped me discover what The Mechanoids were saying, but they still spoke in the manner that 1960s writers thought machines would speak, so there were many odd phrases filled with numbers. Truth be told, the Mechanoids are not terribly vocal. That isn’t their function, however. They arrived on Mechanus to try to terraform parts of the world to be suitable to human life. They are waiting for colonists. However, the colonists must have a specific pass-code, something The Doctor and the others don’t have. They, like their new friend Steven Taylor, are prisoners of The Mechanoids.
Steven Taylor is played by Peter Purves, who played the hick American a few episodes back. This performance is much better. What we have here is a chance to become a regular on the show, a part that requires more depth and attention. The previous role was a one-off, and didn’t require much more than comedy. Purves more than makes up for the portrayal of an American with Steven Taylor. Taylor has been imprisoned by The Mechanoids after his ship crashed on Mechanus. Being the only human on the planet for so long has made him just a bit mad. He even has a toy panda named Hi-Fi. It’s the mascot. He is thrilled to see The Doctor and the others. He is at first resigned to their fates in the city, but Ian and The Doctor devise a plan to lower themselves from the roof of the city, a mere 1500 foot drop. They will use the power cables they found on the roof. This plan appeals to everyone but Vicki, who is afraid of heights.
When the Dalek attack comes, the prisoners take their chance to escape. However, Steven rushes back into the city for Hi-Fi. At the end of the episode, his fate remains unknown, although we do see him staggering through the jungle.
The battle between The Daleks and The Mechanoids is the core of the episode. I have to admit that I was impressed. It is well done for the standards at the time, with large, bulky spheres shooting flames at slightly more maneuverable but equally bulky robots trying to destroy one another. Animated explosions are edited in, and flames are super-imposed over the action. We even see some Daleks and Mechanoids destroyed in the process. It is all very chaotic, and I think it works for the story.
Having escaped the carnage, The Doctor takes the opportunity to check out The Dalek time machine, something that he finds highly impressive. Ian and Barbara decide this is their chance to go home. Apparently Terry Nation stories take their tolls on people. First Susan, now Ian and Barbara. The Doctor is furious, so much so that he has difficulty communicating, warning Ian and Barbara that they will end up as embers floating around Spain if they go. Yes, I realize it was Hartnell fluffing his line. But the fluff works with The Doctor’s anger and hurt. We haven’t seen him this angry at Ian and Barbara since The Sensorites. It all feels very nostalgic already, recreating the original tension these characters once shared. In the end, it is Vicki that calms him down and convinces him to help them figure out the machine. All the characters enter the Dalek Time Machine, and we jump ahead to some time later. The Doctor and Vicki exit, and watch as the machine dematerializes. They don’t say a word to each other, and walk away in sadness. We don’t hear any farewell speeches this time. We don’t see any hugs or tears. But we do feel the sorrow, we feel the hurt.
Ian and Barbara arrive in London in 1965, two years after they had left. This will obviously take some explaining. However, they don’t care. They are home and we are treated to a photo-montage of them frolicking in places that we had last seen occupied by Daleks. Back on Mechanus, The Doctor and Vicki watch them on the Time and Space Visualizer, realizing that their two friends are home and happy.
“I shall miss them,” says The Doctor. “Yes, I shall miss them very much.” Hartnell’s deliver of this line reduces me to tears. Despite what the nay-sayers claim, William Hartnell could act.
With that, we see the departure of the final members of the original TARDIS crew. We still have The Doctor, yes, but he has changed a great deal in the last two years. He has ceased being the grumpy, self-centered mischief maker and started to become the self-sacrificing hero. Even in the previous episode he attempted to imitate his robot duplicate to throw off The Daleks. He did this while Ian and Barbara argued whether or not he should. He took on this action of his own free-will, without prompting. That is quite the change in character. Ian and Barbara helped The Doctor to grow. They helped him become a better person. How different from what we have in New Who, where it is The Doctor that makes people better, that prompts them to change and live better lives. Here, it is the companions that change The Doctor, to help him be more heroic, more gentle and kind. And the two people, the two humans, that initiated that change are gone. The Doctor is hurt.
So, what is next? We still have Vicki, who was originally a Susan-type character, but she has proven more strong-willed than Susan. Vicki is a very different character. The Doctor is free of all the opinions of him that came before. Vicki admires him and doesn’t see him as antagonistic. A bit moody, perhaps, but she hasn’t had the history with him that Ian and Barbara had. Yes, The Doctor is now free of any person that he owes anything to. He doesn’t need to protect Susan, and he doesn’t need to feel guilt or shame from his treatment of Ian and Barbara. He is free to be who he wants to be, traveling with someone who wants to be with him. We shall see where this takes us.