Doctor Doctor Who Guide

After the Dalek-free 'The Myth Makers', the following story delivers on the promise of 'Mission to the Unknown', and does it with considerable success. 'The Daleks' Master Plan' is the series first and arguably greatest, true epic, mixing space opera with political intrigue, betrayal and even humour. Key to the success of the story is the Daleks themselves. 

If 'The Chase' showed the Daleks taking another technological step forward, but undermined this achievement by making them creatures of ridicule, then 'The Daleks' Master Plan' redresses the balance; the Daleks here are not stupid, or silly, they are a palpable threat to the entire galaxy. In 'The Chase', the Daleks made the leap to time travel, whereas here they go beyond that. Not only do they again time travel and pursue the TARDIS, but also they have built their ultimate weapon, the Time Destructor. The implication is obvious – the Daleks can conquer anything. We are constantly reminded throughout the story of just how dangerous the Daleks are, whether it is the Doctor asserting that with the Time Destructor they can conquer the entire universe, or Bret Vyon grimly making clear that the solar system is finished if they cannot stop the invasion force on Kembel. This is the first time that the Daleks feel like a threat on a galactic scale. Part of their menace lies not in their attitude towards their enemies however, but also their attitude towards their allies. The Daleks are more cunning and manipulative here than ever before; with the benefit of pre-knowledge, the viewer can easily guess that the Daleks will betray the representatives from the outer galaxies, but the shocked silence when Zephon and later Trantis are exterminated demonstrates that the Alliance members did not fully understand what they were letting themselves in for in their greed for power. Mavic Chen also serves to remind us of the true nature of the Daleks; when he discovers that the Doctor and Steven have been accidentally transmitted to Mira with the Taranium core, he is clearly on the verge of panic, knowing how they reward failure. Even before this, his conversations with Karlton let us know that he realises the danger of the game he is playing and that he does not underestimate the Daleks. Tellingly, it is only when he descends into madness in the final episodes that he loses his fear of the Daleks, which quickly results in his death. Far more convincingly than 'The Chase', 'The Daleks' Master Plan' makes it clear that there is no escape from the Daleks. When the Doctor and his friends flee Kembel in Chen's Spar, the Daleks force them to crash on Desperus from afar and send pursuit ships after them; when they escape to Earth, Chen and his co-conspirators are waiting for them; on Mira, the Daleks soon catch up with them, and when they flee in the Dalek ship the Daleks on Kembel ensnare them first by remote control of the vessel and then in a magnetic beam. Even when they escape in the TARDIS, the Daleks can follow them through time, and it is only by returning to Kembel and confronting the Daleks that the Doctor and Steven can be free of them. Even when the Daleks are defeated, the cost is high, for at various points during the Doctor's struggle to defeat them, Katarina, Bret Vyon and Sara Kingdom all pay the ultimate price. 

The length of 'The Daleks' Master Plan' is in some ways instrumental in its success. Wisely, having effectively had a build-up in the form of 'Mission to the Unknown', the story starts with incredible intensity from 'The Nightmare Begins'. During this episode, the TARDIS arrives on Kembel with the Doctor already under stress due his need to find help for Steven, who was wounded at the end of 'The Myth Makers'. Within the episode, Steven is recovered, but he, the Doctor and Katarina are separated from the TARDIS on a hostile planet infested with Daleks. Bret Vyon, whose partner has just been exterminated and who is equally stranded, joins them. Soon, they are driven out of the jungle by a fire started by the Daleks for that very purpose, the Doctor is forced into a desperate gambit to find out what the Daleks plans are and how to stop them, and this results in a relentless chase through space, as they struggle to stay alive and find a way to stop the Daleks for good. The first six episodes of 'The Daleks' Master Plan' are some of the most fraught and thrilling episodes in Doctor Who up to this point, with the Doctor under threat from the pursuing Daleks, the criminals of Desperus, Chen and his allies on Earth, and the vicious invisible Visians. Inevitably, the death of new companion Katarina in 'The Traitors' only adds to the oppressive, doom-laden feel, as indeed does the death of new friend Bret Vyon. In addition, the TARDIS remains on Kembel whilst the Doctor is in space or on other planets. Whilst he has frequently been separated from the TARDIS during the series up to this point, he has never been so isolated from his beloved ship. In '100,000 BC', 'Marco Polo', 'The Sensorites' and 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth', he was close to the TARDIS but prevented from getting in; in 'The Mutants' and 'The Web Planet', and 'The Space Museum', he had access to the TARDIS, but circumstances prevented his escape. Here, he is completely cut off from the TARDIS for the first half of the story, and this greatly emphasizes the feeling of danger for the Doctor. Wisely, after six episodes of unrelenting tension, there is a change of tone, with the out and out comedy of the much-maligned 'The Feast of Steven'. This doesn't work quite as well on audio as it probably did when first broadcast, but is nevertheless a welcome light-hearted interlude, and allows the viewer to get to know Katarina's successor Sara Kingdom without the threat of the Daleks immediately looming. The return of the Daleks in 'Volcano' reintroduces the main plot, but the tone remains lighter thanks to the welcome return of the Meddling Monk, out looking for revenge. The comic relief he provides allows episodes eight to ten to be lighter in tone that the first six episodes, without making the Daleks seem silly, as they did in 'The Chase'. Finally however, all distractions are dismissed once more, as the action returns to Kembel for 'The Abandoned Planet' and 'The Destruction of Time'. Once more, the tension of the first six episodes returns, as the Daleks' plans near completion. The revelation that the Daleks have secretly constructed an underground city without the knowledge of the Grand Alliance members again reminds us of the extent of their preparation. Ironically, it is perhaps this discovery that finally tips Chen over the edge; his megalomania is at its peak when he believes that he has been made leader of the council in episode eleven, and the resulting crushing humiliation when he discovers that the Daleks have locked him in the council chamber with the others undoubtedly takes its toll on his questionable sanity, but it is not until he discovers the hidden city and thus realises that the Daleks have been using him all along that he finally snaps, believing that the Daleks will obey him and seemingly oblivious to his own mortality. And it is also this which allows the Daleks to be finally defeated, since the distraction provided by Chen gives the Doctor his chance to seize the Time Destructor and activate it. The sound of the activated weapon provides an ominous backdrop to the final scenes, as the Doctor and his companions struggle to reach the TARDIS, with Sara aging to death in the attempt. After the epic scale of the story as a whole, the climax does not fail to disappoint, as the Daleks succumb to the effects of their own weapon and are destroyed, along with the hostile jungles of Kembel. 

The Daleks are not the only success of 'The Daleks' Master Plan'; Mavic Chen is arguably one of the best villains of the era. Part of his success is due to the fact that he is not just a stock megalomaniac; he wants power yes, but he also has flaws and fears. As noted above, he is terrified when he realises that the fugitives and the Taranium have escaped him on Earth, and it is Karlton who shows him how to turn the situation to his advantage. In addition, whilst he is clearly after power, he wants it on his terms; he doesn't want the Daleks to conquer the galaxy, he wants to use the Time Destructor so that he can conquer the galaxy. Kevin Stoney is superb in the role and gives Chen a commanding presence throughout. This presence is enhanced by Chen's appearance in the two surviving episodes, since he is portrayed as a strange mixture of ethnic groups, which distinguishes him from the other human characters we see in the story. Interestingly, whilst he is an impressive and commanding villain, he is perhaps not the mastermind that he thinks he is; there are hints in episodes four and five that Karlton is in some ways the power behind the throne, though Chen does not realize it, and when confronted by the Dalek Supreme on at least two occasions, he loses his calm and starts shouting in near-panic. And of course, ultimately, when he realises that he has been out-maneuvered by the Daleks all-along, his descent into madness and death is swift. Compare this with, for example, Tegana, who remained stoic and focused throughout 'Marco Polo', even when his plans went wrong, and who ultimately faced death with dignity. For all that I like Tegana, the flawed Chen is the more interesting character. Of course, characterisation is nothing if the acting is not up to scratch, and Stoney is one of the great successes of 'The Daleks' Master Plan'. 

I've noted previously that watching the series in order has given me a perspective on stories that I haven't quite had before, and just as I wished that I didn't have foreknowledge about the episode three cliff-hanger to 'The Time Meddler', whilst watching 'The Daleks' Master Plan' I wished that I hadn't known that the Monk would turn up in 'Volcano'. I think he's a great character, and Peter Butterworth reprises his role to great effect here. The fact that the Monk's creator Dennis Spooner had pretty much taken over the writing chores from Terry Nation by this point undoubtedly enhances the success of his return, as the Monk becomes the first individual (as opposed to the Daleks) recurring Doctor Who villain. The Monk's air of childish glee on Tigus immediately recaptures the spirit of 'The Time Meddler', but what seems initially like it is going to be a reprise of the battle of wits between the Monk and the Doctor becomes something else due to the intervention of the Daleks. The Monk's reaction to the Daleks is priceless, and his constant attempted small shifts of allegiance from the Daleks and Chen to the Doctor to Steven and Sara as he tries to stay alive and make good his escape in light of unexpected complications makes the episodes in which he appears hugely entertaining. After the various time travelers finally leave ancient Egypt, Steven announces that he hopes the Monk escapes the Daleks and will be all right, and this pretty much sums up the viewer's attitude too. Even the Doctor seems to have a soft spot for him and it is a shame that Butterworth never reprised his role again. 

The regulars are at their best in 'The Daleks' Master Plan', with Hartnell on particularly fine form. The Doctor is particularly superb when he confronts the Daleks in episode twelve, holding the Time Destructor and clearly determined to end their threat, whatever the cost to himself, but he has many other wonderful moments. He is his usual cantankerous self on several occasions, especially when dealing with Bret, whose first concern is the safety of Earth rather than the safety of the Doctor's companions. He shows icy contempt when dealing with Chen, and exasperation when dealing with the Monk. Whatever the Doctor's mood, Hartnell never falters. He again gets to do comedy during 'The Feast of Steven' and when dealing with the Monk, but also excels at pathos after first Katarina and then Sara dies. And he gets one of my favourite first Doctor lines when he tells the police inspector, "I am a citizen of the universe, and a gentleman to boot!" Peter Purves again excels, proving that Steven really is one of the most underrated Doctor Who companions. One of the things that I like about Steven is that his character develops believably as his time with the Doctor continues. In 'The Chase', despite his long imprisonment by the Mechanoids, he is a fairly happy go lucky character and this attitude continues during 'The Time Meddler'. During 'Galaxy Four', he seems more jaded, as he is confronted with Maaga's callousness. After his wounding in 'The Myth Makers', he becomes attached to Katarina, who tends him whilst he is sick, and her death I think brings home to him the dangers of traveling with the Doctor, which Bret's and Sara's deaths only emphasize. My impression of Steven is that he looks for the good in people and forms friendships quickly and easily. Whereas the Doctor can look at the bigger picture, Steven is more affected by individual death, and by the end of 'The Daleks' Master Plan' he is, quite understandably, much more serious and less happy-go-lucky than he was in 'The Chase'. Katarina, only recently introduced, is killed off here, which doesn't allow for much character-development. This is a shame, since her wonder at the TARDIS and everything else she sees is rather endearing and is a refreshing contrast with the more assured Vicki. I can see why keeping Katarina on as a regular companion would have been difficult for the writers, but it would have been nice to see her last a bit longer. Her struggle to understand what is going on around her seems to bring out the Doctor's gentler side, and her death, whilst premature, is at least well handled, as she sacrifices herself to save her friends and let them help the people of Earth. Sara Kingdom is a very different character entirely, and is far more aggressive and capable than any other female companion seen thus far in Doctor Who. It is interesting that almost the first thing she does is kill her brother whilst obeying orders, which is not a common way for a companion to join the Doctor. After she realises her mistake and joins the Doctor and Steven, she quickly comes to respect the Doctor and shifts her loyalty from the treacherous Chen to the old man. For the rest of the story, she seethes with the desire to see Chen suffer for his betrayal of Earth and to see the Daleks defeated, and it is this commitment that results in her death, as she leaves Steven to return to the TARDIS and turns back to help the Doctor with the Time Destructor, despite his instructions for her to get to safety. This summarizes her relationship with him perfectly; she likes and respects him, but will let nothing and nobody stand in the way of justice. It is important to note that she is motivated by justice and not revenge, since she gets the opportunity to kill Chen in episode eleven, but allows him to leave on the condition that he goes to warn Earth of the Daleks' invasion plans. Whilst her shooting down of her brother without question is disturbing, it arises from loyalty to what she believes is right, rather than her being a gun-toting psychopath. 'The Feast of Steven', as well as being light relief from the main story, allows us to see Sara in a more humorous context, as she deals with the policemen and then various Hollywood production crewmembers. In these circumstances, she is as much out of her depth as Katarina was up until her death, and she reacts with bafflement, but not anger. Later, as the TARDIS makes numerous brief stops whilst being chased by the Monk, she almost gets caught up in the wonder of seeing new times and places, before the shadow of the Daleks falls once more. The final scene of 'The Feast of Steven' in the TARDIS, as the Doctor serves wine and toasts the viewer is often criticized for breaking the fourth wall, but it offers us the only real chance we get to see this short lived TARDIS crew relaxing and enjoying a brief respite from danger. 

There are many other things that make 'The Daleks' Master Plan' a classic. Based on surviving photographs and the two surviving episodes, Douglas Camfield's direction, and also the set-design and costumes are all first class. Mira is a far more convincing jungle set than Mechanus was, and the Egyptian sets are easily a match for those of any of the pure historicals. The future society from which Chen, Sara and Bret hail is well realized, thanks in part to the sets, which could so easily have been generic minimalist corridors of the future. Another strength of the story is the subtle use of minor characters to convey information, for example Lizan and Roald, who introduce us to the concept of the Guardian of the Solar System. Another good example is the cricket commentators; rather than seeing the next TARDIS landing in a chain of several from the Doctor, Steven and Sara's point of view, we get to see their brief landing from the perspective of, in effect, casual bystanders. This is a novel idea and one that has not been used before in the series. Every minor character shines, from the brutal inmates of Desperus to the ancient Egyptians who refuse to be cowed by the threat of the Daleks and are determined to guard their Pharaoh's tomb regardless of the obvious danger. Overall, 'The Daleks' Master Plan' is one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of the era, and one of the best Dalek stories ever. Whilst the missing ten episodes are a great loss, we can at least be grateful for the fact that it works surprisingly well on audio.

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