It was quite fun to see Hartnell in shirt sleeves for the last episode – but he’s found another coat for this one, just in time for a journey into the realms of Universal’s Old Dark House horror. Right from the off, the haunted house isn’t exactly pitched as the most terrifying environment – Ian quips about the Daleks not liking stairs, and despite the swooping bats, floating ghost and dancing skeleton, it’s all written more as Abbott and Costello Meet… than a real horror story.
While Barbara and Vicki wander round downstairs getting spooked by Dracula, the Doctor and Ian head upstairs to the lab for the episode’s best gag: a dismissive Doctor mocks Ian’s reluctance to see what’s on the slab – only to leg it at speed when Frankenstein’s Monster rises from under a shroud.
Almost as amusing is the Doctor’s confident assertion that they have landed in a world of dreams created by humanity’s collective unconscious turns out to be absolute piffle. It’s very funny given a month earlier he was expounding at equally baffling length about jumping a time track, and suggests that a large proportion of what he says is utter nonsense – as Ian rightly guesses. The only small downside is that this is another Tales of the Unexpected style twist after last week’s Marie Celeste reveal.
I love the chutzpah of the Daleks at their most Daleky (shouting, ‘I am a Dalek!’) being placed on the same plane as classic monsters of movieland. They absolutely belong alongside the giants of genre fiction, and it’s brilliant to see them battling Dracula and co.
Among all the mock horrors, though, the episode takes a genuinely disturbing turn when Vicki is left behind in the TARDIS’ rush to escape. It does at least prompt the Doctor to have a Jim Hacker-style Churchill moment as he declares, ‘Our next landing will be our battle ground and we shall fight. We shall fight to the death!’
Meanwhile, Vicki isn’t the type to wait around to be rescued and has stowed away aboard the Dalek timeship (here revealed in a nice high shot). The Daleks have come up with their own devious plan – and their own robot Doctor. Sadly, some sloppy direction lets down what should be an ace cliffhanger, as the Dalek-Doctor steps from its podium to declare, in Hartnell’s voice, ‘I am to infiltrate and kill!’. Sadly, some lingering mid shots show it to look very little like Hartnell, and so some of the impact is lost. But it’s still a promising end to a much stronger episode than last time.
Next episode: The Death of Doctor Who