Tag Archives: katarina

Epic, episodic and The Daleks’ Master Plan (1965/66)

masterplan

Here, have twelve random observations about The Daleks’ Master Plan on me.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. OK, I lied. It’s not twelve random observations, it’s only eleven. ‘Cause the other one is here.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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?
  12. 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.

Mystery, Speculation and The Myth Makers (1965)

myth makers

There are few stories more mysterious than The Myth Makers, the first Doctor’s tragi-comic excursion to ancient Troy. Long lost from the BBC’s archives, we have very little visual evidence left of it. A handful of photos and a few seconds of 8mm footage. We have the soundtrack of course, and it’s a terrifically engaging aural experience. But that audio is all we have, and of course, it will never be enough for fans. To really assess this story, we need the episodes and the day when those old film cans are found in some remote TV relay station in Asia Minor can’t come quickly enough.

But in the meantime, all we’ve got is speculation as to what these episodes looked like. It’s as much as we can manage, but thankfully, it’s fascinating in itself for a fan. And it starts with the very opening moments of this story, with Achilles and Hector fighting on location at Frencham Ponds. What shots did one-time-only Who director Michael Leeston-Smith choose? Was it cut with pace and vigour? Did one-time-only Who composer Humphrey Searle’s bold with brass score help or hinder it?  We have no other examples of these gentlemen’s work to help us guess how they handled Who.

In this opening scene, it seems there’s a interesting entrance for the TARDIS. According to the BBC audio release, Achilles and Hector are mid battle as we follow their fight, the TARDIS stands unnoticed in the background. If that’s right, it’s an unusally low key and beguiling start to a story, signalling to the audience that the story has begun without them. It sounds like there’s a clear visual cue that this is a story trying to play against the audience’s expectations.

Soon enough, the Doctor (crusty William Hartnell, reportedly injured and bereaved while making this story) intervenes in the battle and is mistaken by Achilles for Greek god Zeus. Mistaken identity is something of a recurring motif in 60s historicals, whether divine as in The Aztecs, comic as in The Romans, deliberate as in The Reign of Terror, or sinister as in The Massacre. Here, it gives Hartnell a chance to be haughty amongst the Greeks of ancient myth and strike up a verbal sparring match with Odysseus (Ivor Salter).

There are only one or two photos of Salter as Odysseus and no moving footage. But he is the story’s main protagonist and the Doctor’s rougish foil throughout. The soundtrack indicates a full blooded turn, more than matching up to the formidable Hartnell. He gets some great dialogue too. When hearing of Hector’s death, he takes pleasure in baiting Achilles.

ODYSSEUS: But what a year is this for plague. Even the strongest might fall. Prince Hector, ha, that he should come to this. You met him here, you say, as he lay dying?
ACHILLES: I met him, Odysseus, in single combat.
DOCTOR: Oh yes, it’s true.
ODYSSEUS: And raced him round the walls till down he fell exhausted. A famous victory.

Salter’s performance is hugely enjoyable on audio, but it makes me ponder a question I asked myself several times when listening to The Myth Makers: would this work as well if I could see the pictures? Because it’s a BIG performance. Would it be too big onscreen?  Would all that bluster detract rather than enhance?

It’s a similar story with Barrie Ingham’s portrayal of Paris, of whom I think not one photo is known to exist. Paris is written as cowardly, camp and ineffectual, and it sounds like Ingham has launched his performance from there. In the second episode, he’s creeping around whispering Achilles’ name when he’s meant to be shouting it out in challenge. When he defends his decision to drag the TARDIS into Troy, he splutters and stumbles in classic sitcom cadence. Again, too much or pitched just right? It’s comic sure, but is there any other way to play dialogue like this:

PARIS: And I will not tolerate interference from a fortune-teller of notorious unreliability!
CASSANDRA: How dare you! I am High Priestess of Troy!
PARIS: All right then, get back to your temple before you give us all galloping religious mania. Oh really, Father. I can’t tolerate another of her tedious tirades at the moment.

It’s clearly not meant to be played with great seriousness. Someone who is playing it seriously, though no less exuberantly, is Frances White as Cassandra. If she’s not shrieking, she’s spitting verbal venom and White never misses an opportunity to turn it up to 11. Photos of her have only come to light in recent years and show her as dressed quite simply, and looking rather mild mannered. This wasn’t how I pictured her at all. In my mind she was tall and fierce with banshee wild hair. How does the image match up with the vocal performance? Let’s hope we find out.

And this question – how did this story balance its audio and visual elements – echoes another: how did it balance the comedy and the tragedy?  The story is famous for its sudden u-turn in tone in its final episode. From the sounds of it, the deaths of funny old Priam, Paris and Cassandra, discovered when the audience see their corpses lying on the palace floor, are as stark as they are bleak. What on earth did audiences make of it? Did they stick with it, or turn off in confusion?

Then there’s the story’s unusually adult approach to talking about sex. It’s odd enough hearing Hartnell’s Doctor tell Agamemnon “your wife is unfaithful to you”. But then there’s Odysseus asking the Doctor to tell “a tale or two of Aphrodite” (“I refuse to enter into any kind of vulgar bawdry,” he retorts). Cassandra calls Vicki “some drab of Agamemnon’s” and probably the less said about the matter of fact way in which a 16 year old girl is left to marry a 17 year old soldier the better.

As the story goes on, it gets more and more ambitious. I can just about imagine what scenes set in Agamemnon’s tent or Priam’s palace or the Trojan dungeons looked like. But what about that horse being dragged into Troy? What did that look like? What about the inside of the horse itself, with the Doctor and Odysseus trading barbs like an old married couple? The audio release contains a line of explanatory dialogue which describes the Doctor’s exit from the horse as “the Doctor climbs awkwardly down the rope”. I bet he doesn’t though. I can’t imagine Hartnell climbing down any rope, no matter how awkwardly.

The sacking of Troy in the final episode, is particularly mysterious. It sounds like a grand affair, but I’m sure, knowing Doctor Who’s budget, it’s just hurriedly costumed extras fighting unconvincingly in studio sets. But, more hopefully perhaps we can imagine that it’s an exercise in being economic about what the story actually shows. After all The Myth Makers does a lot of this.

For instance, we never meet Helen, who, along with Paris indulged in the vulgar bawdry that was the catalyst for the war. Vicki is gushing about Troilus before he’s even seen on screen (as far as I can tell, despite being a pivotal character, we don’t see his face until the third episode). And her departure gives this story one last chance to wrongfoot the viewer.

When she’s finally reunited with the Doctor, amid the chaos of Troy falling, she bundles him into the TARDIS and sends new girl Katarina to get Steven. The next thing we know the Doctor is bidding Odysseus a not so fond farewell and the Ship dematerialises (this gives Odyssues a nice character note to end on as he wonders if Zeus really has walked amongst them), for all we know, with Vicki onboard as usual. It’s not until after the TARDIS leaves that we discover she has stayed behind in Troy, to be with her love, Troilus. It’s crafty misdirection, and like so much in The Myth Makers, unexpected.

Does it work? Were viewers fooled? Or was Vicki’s romance too clearly signposted, leaving no surprise? Or another possibility – does the whole thing leave us feeling shortchanged, with not even a farewell scene between Vicki and the Doctor?

Just another of The Myth Makers’ mysteries. And if the missing film prints turned up tomorrow, I’d be overjoyed. But we’d lose something too – with all our questions answered we’d have nothing left to speculate on. All this story’s mysteries solved, the way we view it changed forever.

Still, it’s a trade I’d make in an instant.

LINK to Smith and Jones. Both are new companion stories. And each has a slightly self-aware comic tone about them, which marks them as similar despite the decades that separate them.

NEXT TIME: The moment has been prepared for Logopolis.