The planet of Mechanus is a miserable looking place apparently inhabited only by shuffling mutant toadstools that are appropriately fleshy looking and nasty. Quite a lot of time is spent between various characters getting vigorously billowed at by these fungoids, but given that they don’t seem to do much beyond bobbing about, recoiling from light, and dying when shot by the Daleks, they’re not exactly a credible threat.
The main menace this week is the Dalek-Doctor. It’s a fairly stock, if workable idea, but there’s nothing interesting about the way it plays out. The Dalek-Doctor doesn’t really have chance to infiltrate the TARDIS crew because practically as soon as it turns up, Vicki is reunited with Ian and the actual Doctor, and can warn them of the danger. There’s then a very standard who’s who, the two Doctors have a fight, the real one seems on the verge of defeat but the Dalek-Doctor’s bloodthirsty urge to kill gives it away and it ends up having its plug pulled. And that’s the end of that.
As the robot, Hartnell does at least get one scene with Barbara where he plays a convincingly cold and not-quite-right version of the Doctor – all cold delivery and stillness compared to the Doctor’s habit of fiddling with his hands or his coat – but even that’s thrown away a couple of minutes later when it’s important for the two to be indistinguishable. And quite why the real Doctor would try to beat Ian with his stick is a complete mystery.
The real pleasure of the episode lies in a couple of character moments. The first is when Barbara discovers a weapon in the cave, and imagines herself like a sniper picking off the Daleks one by one (making ‘pew pew’ noises as she does). Deliberately or not, this recalls Ian’s behaviour in the Space Museum a few weeks ago and underlines the connection between them. The other is a scene between the Doctor and Ian when they sit at the entrance to the cave and reflect on their chances of making it out alive. The one consolation is that they’re all together again at the end – which is a beautiful, sad moment.
At the end of the episode, the TARDIS crew are astonished to discover that the last night’s events all played out in the shadow of a huge, elevated space city. It’s nice that at the end of their adventures, there are perhaps conscious echoes of Ian and Barbara’s very first: sheltering in a cave, and then finding a futuristic city beyond a forest.
Next episode: The Planet of Decision