Here, have twelve random observations about The Daleks’ Master Plan on me.
- Steven (Peter Purves) is injured and the Doctor (William Hartnell) arrives on the jungle planet Kembel, in desperate need of help. Unfortunately, the only help he has is Trojan waif Katarina (Adrienne Hill). Katarina’s limitations as a companion are evident immediately. Anything even slightly technical or contemporary needs to be explained to her. ‘Are these tablets?’ she has to ask at one stage, when administering medicine to Steven. Once the script points out her lack of modern nous, it’s hard to not to question everything she does. Would she really know to get Steven out of the TARDIS when it’s threatened by the Daleks? Would she even know how to operate the airlock switch which eventually dooms her? She’s not long for the Whoniverse and you can see why.
- Day of Armageddon, returned to us in 2004, is a precious little gap-filler – the only episode we’ve got that features Kembel and the Delegates and Katarina the permanently dazed. Years ago, long before it was returned, Andrew Pixley wrote about this episode in Doctor Who Magazine, speculating about the things we didn’t know about it and funnily enough, they are still things we don’t know about it even though the episode is back. For instance, we still don’t know when Steven changes from his Trojan outfit into his corduroy ensemble and we never get to see the futuristic playing cards promised in the script. And here’s another mystery… when the Doctor disguises himself in seaweedy Zephon’s (Julian Sherrier) robes, is it Hartnell dressed up? Or, as he has no lines to speak in those scenes, did they get someone else to do it and let him get to the pub early? Back to work, Pixley!
- In the third episode, we head to a Devil’s Planet. It’s an episode of not-very-much-happening, except it does give us the character of Kirksen (Douglas Sheldon) who hangs around to take Katarina to the end of her contract next episode. It’s set on a penal planet, probably writer Terry Nation’s stand-in for colonial Australia, albeit a few rungs further down civilisation’s ladder. There’s a particularly icky bit early in the episode where (according to the audio at least) seedy crims Garge (Geoffrey Cheshire) and Bors (Dallas Cavell) battle for control of a knife, and also for two women standing helplessly watching nearby. Not nice.
- On the other hand, there’s Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh) who’s certainly not helpless, nor nice at this early stage. She’s Katarina’s replacement and the chalk to her cheese. She’s a space special agent, so she’s ultra-capable and not flummoxed by complex concepts like pharmaceuticals or doorknobs. She can even fix the TARDIS’s “scanner eye” after being resident in the Ship for about 5 minutes. She only makes two mistakes while in the Doctor’s company, but unfortunately, they’re doozies. First, she kills her own brother, under the mistaken belief that he’s a traitor (luckily she gets over it after a few minutes). Then she hangs around the Daleks’ time destructor for too long and heads to the big Big Finish studio in the sky.
- For a couple of episodes we meet bald-headed conspirator Karlton (Maurice Browning). He’s a smooth talking, obsequious type with a baritone which must enrich the SSS’s light operetta society. When space dictator Mavic Chen (Kevin Stoney) starts to panic that the Daleks will turn on him for losing the Taranium Core to a doddery old man disguised as six foot of walking kelp, it’s Karlton who suggests a crafty lie about deliberately trapping him on marshy planet Mira. There’s a strong hint that Karlton is biding his time, waiting for the opportunity to supplant Chen. And then… he completely disappears from the story without explanation. Maybe he also fell out of an airlock.
- On Mira there are invisible monsters, the vicious Visians. Season three is fond of invisibility. There’s another set of invisible aliens in The Ark and Galaxy 4’s Rills, while visible, spend a lot of time off screen, represented only by a fruity, world-weary voice. Even the Doctor is afflicted with a touch of invisibility in The Celestial Toymaker. Lovely and cheap, invisibility. How the production team managed to show a posse of invisible Visians attacking the Daleks is another mystery which will stand until someone finds a copy of Coronas of the Sun. Unless they can’t because, you know… it’s invisible.
- OK, I lied. It’s not twelve random observations, it’s only eleven. ‘Cause the other one is here.
- So big deal, The Feast of Steven is the show’s first Christmas episode. No one ever mentions that Volcano is its first New Years’ Day episode. It even features a countdown at the end, as if to midnight. And it hasn’t entirely given up the jolly tone of the previous episode. It finds time for a jaunty trip to a cricket match mid-episode. This incident, and the funny business about the fate of two experimental mice in Counter Plot, are pretty good hints that a young Douglas Adams was influenced by the story. Both incidents are used in his Hitchhikers, as is the notion of a space ark harbouring the last of humanity (as seen in The Ark) and an all powerful computer which answers inane questions (as per The War Machines). Poor Season Three. It should have got a royalty.
- The Doctor is eventually forced to hand back the Taranium Core to the Daleks in a showdown in Ancient Egypt. Meanwhile our heroes and villains are being played off each other by the time meddling Monk (Peter Butterworth), making a return appearance here. It all sounds much more thrilling than it actually is. The Monk’s fun, but a distraction. He adds some comic spark to these later episodes, but Butterworth’s performance is so good and the character so enjoyable that you end up wishing for a second fully-fledged Monk story. Rather than one in which he’s used as local colour to enliven a double length version of The Chase.
- Meanwhile, Chen is busy going coco bananas. Like so many bad guys, he starts to believe his own hype, which eventually results in an epic level of delusion about his own infallibility. One of the benefits of having an eleven part story is that we can see this change happen gradually. How often in Doctor Who does the villain “go mad” in the final episode, usually between scenes, to allow him/her to burst into a room at the last minute, froth at the mouth a bit and die with a final evil cackle? Here, Stoney unhinges his character in small almost unnoticeable increments until by the final episodes, Chen’s trademark grandiose announcements of “I, Mavic Chen!” are a regular reminder that the bigger Chen’s ego, the more distant from sanity he becomes.
- Things go a bit awry in the penultimate episode, The Abandoned Planet, when the Doctor, without warning, abandons the planet. Our heroes return to Kembel, only for the Doctor to disappear about halfway through. He turns up again, without adequate explanation halfway through the next. Where does he go? Did he fall into an airlock? Meanwhile, the Daleks have turned on their allies from all around the galaxy and locked them all up. It was only here that I realised that the story never explains why the Daleks need them at all. Chen supplies the Taranium. What do the others do? And as their presence is presumably what makes all this a master plan (as opposed to your common or garden evil plan), surely they should have more importance to the plot than attending the odd meeting and occasionally getting bumped off?
- Appropriately, it ends where it began: on Kembel with the Doctor turning the time destructor on the Daleks (and Sara), leaving him and Steven the only survivors. It sounds like a great episode, galloping away at a very modern pace. It’s the Earthshock of its time, and not just because a companion dies at the end. Still, all this could have happened after Day of Armageddon. After all, the Doctor had stolen the Taranium, the time destructor itself is on Kembel, the pieces were all in place. In some alternative timeline there’s a perfectly serviceable three part version of The Daleks’ Master Plan. Sure, its episodic nature – a new planet and problem to solve every episode or two – is part of its charm. But when you finally reach the end of this mammoth story, there’s a real sense that most of it was mad, but glorious, padding.
LINK TO It Takes You Away: in both, the Doctor travels with family members (brother/sister, grandson/grandad). And they both feature talking frogs. No, they don’t because that would be mental.
NEXT TIME: Bipeds, reptilian, armed with some kind of sonic device. Let’s fly to the moon and plant The Seeds of Death.