Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"The Daleks' Master Plan"

Aired Nov 13, 1965 – Jan 29, 1966

Episode 1: The Nightmare Begins
Episode 2: Day of Armageddon
Episode 3: Devil's Planet
Episode 4: The Traitors
Episode 5: Counter Plot
Episode 6: Coronas of the Sun
Episode 7: The Feast of Steven
Episode 8: Volcano
Episode 9: Golden Death
Episode 10: Escape Switch
Episode 11: The Abandoned Planet
Episode 12: Destruction of Time

Story 21

Written by Terry Nation & Dennis Spooner

Directed by Douglas Camfield


Six months after the events of Mission to the Unknown, the TARDIS materializes on the planet Kembel, where the Doctor and his friends meet Space Security Service agent Bret Vyon, there searching for Marc Cory. Together, they uncover the Daleks' plan to use the immensely powerful Time Destructor weapon. They attempt to notify Earth but Earth leader Mavic Chen, Guardian of the Solar System, is a traitor in league with the Daleks.  

The Doctor has managed to steal the taranium core of the Time Destructor, without which the device will not work. The Doctor, Steven, Katarina and Bret steal Mavic Chen's ship and escape Kembel, but are soon forced to land on the prison planet Desperus. There, a convict named Kirksen stows away aboard the ship as they take off again. Kirksen holds Katarina hostage in the ship's air lock, and attempts to take over the ship, but Katarina opens the outer door and they are both pulled into the vacuum of space to their deaths.

As the travellers try to avoid being captured while on their way to Earth, Mavic Chen orders Space Security Agent Sara Kingdom to hunt down the Doctor and his friends. Sara finds the Doctor's group, and does kill Bret (later revealed to be her own brother) before the Doctor and Steven can convince her of Chen's treachery. 

Now joined by Sara Kingdom, the Doctor and Steven go on the run once more, narrowly staying one step ahead of the Daleks and Chen. While hiding in ancient Egypt, the Doctor once again encounters his adversary the Monk, and also escapes the Daleks before rambling through different points in time and space before arriving back on Kembel once more to face off against Chen and the Daleks.

Once there, the Doctor manages to sabotage the Time Destructor, turning it against the Daleks. As the powerful weapon starts to engulf the planet, Sara ignores the Doctor's order to return to the TARDIS, and she is aged to death trying to help the Doctor reach safety. 
Kembel itself is reduced to a vast wasteland as the Destructor burns out completely and Steven and the Doctor are both horrified by the waste of life and the staggering destruction all around them.


This story is massive, a twelve part epic that moves through time and space and is the first time the series attempts to tell the ultimate Dalek story, though not the last. The fact it works at all is a miracle, let alone that it comes so close to being a masterpiece.

The initial six episodes are fantastic. Terry Nation's scripts evoke cold war fears of malevolent alliances and weapons of mass destruction, effectively establishing huge stakes and a grim tone. The so-called Master Plan may not make perfect  (or any) sense, but it makes about as much sense as any master plan by a super-villain. What matters is whether or not the scripts effectively convey the scale of the plan to generate the level of jeopardy necessary. And Nation's scripts certainly do that.

The Daleks themselves are brilliant here, represented best by the Dalek Supreme. He's an actual character, not just a "Dalek". He is cunning, manipulative and with a point of view. He doesn't simply rant orders, he is forced to deal with Chen and the other delegates, to plan and to have actual conflict that he doesn’t solve with simple extermination. There are many other wonderful Dalek moments throughout, including a personal favourite, when a Dalek actually whispers some dialogue. It's a tiny thing, but it gives that Dalek a smidgen of character that is immensely welcome.

Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh)
The serial boasts another superb villain; Mavic Chen as played by the incomparable Kevin Stoney. Chen is fascinating, a man consumed by greed and the desire for power. A man who clearly is beloved by the citizens he guards, and at some point may well have been a benevolent man. That's fairly standard stuff, but what makes Chen so compelling is his arrogant assumption that he can outsmart the Daleks, and his brilliant manoeuvring actually leads the viewer to think he can accomplish his goals. This gives the scenes with the Daleks, which could have been simply expository, a wonderful electricity. Stoney gives it all he's got, stealing almost every scene he's in with a wonderfully layered performance. His final descent into madness is great, as it reveals his fundamental weakness; he believes the Daleks motives similar to his own. He thinks they want power, but they don't want to rule over others, they want to obliterate the Other. They never regard him as an equal, despite Chen's desire to be their equal. It creates arguably the dominant conflict of the serial, perhaps more important than the central conflict of the plot.

Hartnell delivers one of his finest performances as the Doctor in this serial. He is fiercely determined to defeat the Daleks, and one gets the sense that this is a personal mission for him. By this point, Hartnell embodied the role effortlessly, so that even the occasional miscues and nonsensical asides seem part of the performance. He is more proactive throughout, taking chances and coming up with plans, and he doesn't overplay the more sombre moments. Similarly, Peter Purves gives his best performance to date as Steven. I've mentioned before that the character was ill-defined, but Purves has by this point filled in all the blanks to great effect. Steven is resourceful and compassionate, as a good companion should be, but he also challenges the Doctor far more directly than any other companion had to this point. He's a confident, deeply feeling man who is shattered by all the death he encounters in this story. 

The rest of the supporting cast does an equally superb job. Fan favourite Nicholas Courtney makes his series' debut here, playing Bret Vyon, and he delivers the goods as he always will. Adrienne Hill's Katarina is a sad figure, and I almost wonder if she is an object lesson on the exact people you shouldn't take traveling through time and space. She never truly understands what is happening to her, and she eventually sacrifices herself through a gesture we're not even sure she fully comprehends. It's immensely tragic. Jean Marsh's Sara Kingdom is even more of a shock, since she seems ideally suited to travel with the Doctor, but serving to illustrate that not everyone will come out of their association with the Doctor unscathed. Some pay the highest price.

But with all those positives, the serial does have a major drawback, which is its length and subsequent splitting of the writing duties. Nation writes the initial five episodes, then writes the seventh, which is a special Christmas comedy episode with no connection to the over-arching story. The remainder are written by Dennis Spooner. The second half abandons the tone so expertly established for a far more standard adventure involving ancient Egypt and the Monk. It's by no means bad, but its tone and flavour seem so different from the earlier set of episodes that it is jarring. This may be one of the drawbacks of experiencing the serial in one or two sittings, rather than a weekly broadcast, where such changes in tone would be more easily forgiven. But it does halt the impetus of the over-arching story, and it doesn't regain its earlier power until the final two episodes.

All of this was overseen by the great Douglas Camfield, one of the classic series' best directors. He mines the story for every stylistic touch and moment of suspense he can muster, and it all works to great effect. And yet, for all the action he injects, it's the cost of the harrowing adventure that lingers. It feels like an apocalyptic battle, one that isn't really won by our heroes but survived. The deaths of Katarina and Sara mar their victory, and even if they save the universe, it is certainly not without cost.

The Daleks' Master Plan is so close to being the masterpiece is desperately wants to be. If it falls short in any way, it's certainly not for lack of trying. For that alone, the production team must be congratulated, and the story should be counted amongst the best of the Hartnell era.

No comments:

Post a Comment