I frequently have cause to complain about people deciding to do absolutely nothing other than sit in of an afternoon and watch apparently endless repeat episodes of The Chase, the ITV quiz show. This afternoon, I decided to do absolutely nothing other than sit in and watch my DVD of The Chase, the William Hartnell/Dalek story.
Can I claim moral superiority? Well yes but only just.
The interesting thing about The Chase as a television programme is that it’s hard at times to make out which parts are intentionally weird and which parts are just weird by accident (or, if you want to single out the infamously ‘it’ll do’ director Richard Martin, sheer laziness). The story is littered with obvious examples known and cherished by fandom but I want to focus on this story’s odd approach to the sound.
I’ve been researching and listening to old Radiophonic Workshop output recently, but hadn’t expected much in the way of this in The Chase. Remembering that it had an early Dudley Simpson score I was perfectly ready to sit back and watch the story on its own visual and scripted merits. But I’d forgotten several weird aspects of the story’s soundtrack which now stood out as curiously, and at times abrasively, as anything from The Sea Devils.
Let’s take the conventional music score first. It comprises of a couple of cheerful rinkety-tink ditties played on piano. These mainly accompany shots of (a cardboard cut-out of) the Tardis being hotly (well slowly) pursued through the time vortex by the Dalek Ship (buggered if I’m going to call it the Dardis). For these linking shots a sense of urgency if not terror would be expected, so why on earth this jolly little piano tune? Dudley’s piano also dee-diddly-dees along with some ostensible ‘action’ scenes such as the Haunted House fight between the Daleks and the Universal Monsters, totally undercutting any suspense or danger that hasn’t already been ruined by the ham-fisted editing, or more accurately by the awkward positioning of the cameras. In fact the disjunction between the music and the visuals almost come across as if the director has raided the stock music library and grabbed a few tracks at random. If that had been the case (say for budget reasons) you could almost (almost!) forgive Richard Martin, but this was a specially composed score.
Also rubbing up against these sounds are some captivating, and completely electronic, sounds and noises provided by the Radiophonic Workshop. The Daleks’ time machine has its own materialisation sound-effect, a sort of reversed hypnotic pulse, and its interior has some extra sound effects on top of the familiar Control Room ‘throb’. Due to the repetition involved in this story, with the Daleks constantly appearing and disappearing one step behind the Tardis, these sound effects soon take on a pleasing familiarity, and more to the point they don’t intrude on the visuals the way the ‘proper’ music is.
Sound is also treated oddly in this story in terms of dialogue and the spoken word. On the ‘intentionally weird’ side of things we have the Mechanoids, whose utterly baffling computerised speech can only be fully comprehended with the benefit of the DVD subtitles but which at least sounds pleasingly strange and ‘alien’. On the ‘laziness’ side of things we have some dire dubbing-on of pre-recorded dialogue whenever the naff ‘duplicate Doctor’ (“completely indistinguishable from the original” my arse!) appears. This is further compounded by the director’s inability to decide when to show Edmund Warwick or Hartnell in close-ups.
But as I say the effect as a whole is interesting. If the sound, to say nothing of the visuals, comes across as a weird patchwork, it could perhaps be seen as intentional. It would reflect well, after all, on a story that is partly all ‘about’ zipping between completely different story environments (alien world, New York City, the Marie Celeste, a haunted house, etc). Any single soundscape might work for one of those environments but not all of them. But as we’re talking about a Richard Martin-directed story here we can only posit this as a ‘perhaps’. The chances are it’s just a hodge-podge because the man in charge couldn’t be arsed about cohesion.
And I haven’t even mentioned the ‘thick Dalek’, who “um”s and “er”s in ring-modulated idiocy. What were they thinking.....??