The Daleks’ Master Plan

dmpWell, this is all incredibly complex.  It is really impossible to do this story justice within a single article and one day it probably needs looking at on an episode-by-episode basis (no promises!).  We have already looked at The Feast of Steven as part of our run of Christmas episode articles, and yes, it’s distinct from the rest of the story because the Daleks aren’t in it, but that doesn’t quite tell the whole tale because the episode which follows, Volcano, is what amounts to a New Year’s Special and does a lot of similar things.

This is where looking at the Hartnell era in terms of stories rather than episodes really starts to throw up a problem.  In some ways it was a problem from the start, with the first story really a one episode opener followed by a three-parter.  The frequent cliffhangers between stories make the Hartnell episodes something of a continuous narrative, and this is more in evidence here than ever before.  In fact, this is actually far more epic than a 12-parter, because it starts with Mission to the Unknown, and The Nightmare Begins picks up strongly from Horse of Destruction (the final episode of The Myth Makers) with the TARDIS crew already in a state of emergency.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a 17-parter that starts with Mission to the Unknown, but it wouldn’t be a million miles from the truth, and in many ways is just as flawed as talking about a 12-parter, which is a collection of 12 episodes with two different writers that doesn’t include the start of the story, within an ongoing narrative run of episodes, lacking an onscreen linking title.  So structurally what we have, if we want to look at how episodes link to form a larger story, is the following, and this is just one interpretation of several possible ones:

  • A single episode (Mission to the Unknown) where the story starts and the Doctor fails to turn up.  We see what happens when he doesn’t arrive and a Dalek story plays out without him.  The Daleks win, even with Spaceman Bond trying to fill the Doctor’s shoes.
  • Four episodes (The Myth Makers) where the Doctor arrives in the wrong place instead of showing up to fight the Daleks.  Facing a much less deadly enemy than the Daleks, he fails to have much positive impact.  We are right back to the idea of an historical story with the Doctor and his companions just trying to escape with their lives.  They barely manage to do that.  At the end of all this, Vicki has done a runner with another man, Steven is seriously injured and delirious, and new girl Katarina thinks she is in heaven and is completely out of her depth on board the TARDIS.
  • Six episodes of the main story with the Doctor and the Daleks interacting at last.  And the Daleks have upped the ante hugely since their previous appearances.  We have now seen the following progression:
    1. Daleks confined to their own city after a war on their own planet.
    2. Daleks as invading aliens, occupying Earth.
    3. Daleks who can time travel, chasing after the Doctor.
    4. Daleks trying to take over the universe, with a weapon that would allow them to do just that.

Just to interrupt that run-down of the structure of this “story” for a moment (if you’ve worked out what I’m doing here [nested stories {DMP is a maze of them} require some concentration, don’t they] then yes, it’s deliberate) these six episodes start with the Doctor completely out of his depth, and continue in the same manner, and it is not just the Daleks who throw him out of his comfort zone.

Just look what happens with Brett.  He is like nothing we have ever seen in Doctor Who before.  He is completely self-confident and the usual Doctorish tricks simply don’t work on him.  He gets into the TARDIS just by threatening to kill the Doctor, and then takes over a spaceship simply by wielding a gun. He executes his friend when he finds out that he has betrayed him.  He has so little respect for the Doctor (“what’s the matter with grandpa?”) that he reduces the Doctor to the level of a petulant child, with a very appropriate Billy-fluff:

“If the Daleks are doing something drastic then we have to stop the Daleks.”

And the Doctor’s response to all this is to basically roll over and accept a fanatical, ruthless killer as a companion.  In fact, he is more of a companion within the narrative than Katarina, who is so completely lost in this new baffling afterlife that she is unable to have any impact on the story at all until, after three episodes of merely managing to survive the lunacy of it all she gets killed.  And later in the same episode so does Brett.  The Doctor has never seemed so helpless.

He is so thrown by this that he accepts as his new travelling companion the woman he has just seen gun down his previous travelling companion, a Nazi in Space who just murdered her brother because she doesn’t question orders.

To return to the structure:

  • A Christmas Special, with the story paused while the Doctor and his companions go off and have a different adventure.  They did this already for four episodes, but they didn’t know that at the time.  Not content with everything we thought we knew about Doctor Who turning out to be wrong, and the Doctor facing loss after loss and death after death, this episode smashes down the fourth wall for good measure.
  • A New Year’s Special, which starts a run of three episodes that replay the plot of The Chase with the Daleks pursuing the Doctor across time and space.  The difference this time is that they have a good reason to do that other than because they really don’t like him very much.  Volcano doesn’t exactly rebuild the fourth wall, with the cricket scene played as a nod to the viewers about the unflappability of commentators and their blinkered focus on their sport, and then a scene set at the New Year celebrations in Trafalgar Square simply because it’s New Year for “all of you at home”.  The Doctor might just as well have raised a glass to us again at that point.

If all of you at home can forgive another interruption, it is worth mentioning here how much these four episodes feel like a completely different story, and not just because they are made up of as many leftovers (The Chase) as our Boxing Day dinner.  Because the Monk changes everything here.  We have moved from the most horrendous tragedy with the Doctor simply unable to cope, to a comedy encounter with the Monk, and this actually allows the Doctor to win for a change.  This is the moment the wind changes, and we start to be allowed to hope that maybe he is going to be capable of winning through in the end.  This also adds to the complexity, as it is the first time any character has returned to Doctor Who, and it feels like we are picking up threads from a few months back.  The Monk (who is not really called “the Monk” in the same way that the Doctor is called the Doctor – it’s just how he got labelled in his last story because he was disguising himself for the purposes of his scheme) is still dressed as a Monk, so presumably from his perspective this takes place immediately after the events of The Time Meddler.  Either that or he just likes the look.

And then after that bit of funny business, we have:

  • Two episodes that bring us back to the same territory as we left back in Coronas of the Sun, and wrap things up.  One of them doesn’t have the Doctor in, so we don’t get much of an impression that anything is going to be fixed until he finally shows up in The Destruction of Time.

And finally the Doctor gets to win.  Yes, he does win, saving the universe and destroying the Daleks, but he has to pay the highest price he has ever paid.  Kembel is destroyed, and another companion bites the dust.  It is not just that the Doctor has to suffer the deaths of his companions, it is the ways that they die: (1) blasted out of an airlock, with a shot of her body floating in space; (2) shot and killed by his sister; (3) slowly, torturously aged to death.

The Doctor only just escapes with his life, and takes just one survivor with him.  After 17 weeks of the Doctor struggling to be the Doctor, the universe now feels like a much more dangerous place.     RP

The view from across the pond:

When Doctor Who came back to our screens in 2005, we were given 13 episodes per season.  At some point it dropped to 12 episodes, and now for Jodie Whittaker’s first season, there’s talk of only 10 episodes per season.  But back in 1966, during the 3rd season of the classic series, we had 10 stories.  And of those 10, most were 4 parts which would put us around 40 episodes for the year.  There was the 1 episode exception with Mission to the Unknown but there was also the epic, 12 part story, The Daleks’ Master Plan.  Translation: just one story was the length of a season now!  Let’s paint this picture clearly: that’s 45 weeks of Doctor Who on our screens.  When a year is 52 weeks, having Doctor Who for 45 of them is a far cry from the limited amount we get now.  This is why people pine for the “good old days!” 

Unfortunately, like its predecessor, this story is missing nine of its twelve parts, once again making any discussion fairly biased; we can only base it on what the story was about, descriptions, ideas, reminiscences but no visuals.  That said, the TARGET Novelizations (it needed two books to tell the story) was released in 1989 and they were incredibly fast-paced and exciting!   

This was another sampler, this time of the family size variety; an idea started by The Keys of Marinus and followed up with in The Chase.   We had 12 weeks of a single story that jumped around the universe, through time and space, appearing one week in ancient Egypt and on the planet Desperus another week.  Peter Butterworth returned as the “Meddling Monk”, the Doctor and company got caught up on a movie set with Charlie Chaplin; the Doctor was arrested and later utterly broke he fourth wall.  And audiences witnessed how low gravity was suspiciously like bouncing on trampolines.  Roger recently commented on ambition behind Doctor Who and this is no exception!   Contextually it might not make a lot of sense why, every so often the Daleks or some other race needs some ultra-rare mineral to do a thing on a galactic scale, but if we can suspend disbelief over a wooden box, bigger on the inside, traveling through the galaxy and through time… who are we to question the use of Taranium to power a time destructor? 

What actually makes this story such an historic one is something far more surprising than the length of the serial.  It is the unfortunate death of two companions: Katrina and Sara Kingdom.  This was the first time one of the Doctor’s companions died and the only instance where two are killed off in a single story.   Sara is aged to death, but considering she had only been around for the single story, it was less shocking that Katrina’s demise.  Katrina, who started in The Myth Makers, and was little more than a young girl following a man she believed was Zeus, was only around for one additional story but the manner of her death was horrifying.  Held hostage within an airlock, she chooses to open the airlock to the vacuum of space ejecting herself and her captor and allowing the Doctor to go on his way to save the universe from the Dalek’s Master Plan. 

There’s a lot to be said from the images and legends of this episode.  Mavic Chen, played by Kevin Stoney (aka Tobias Vaughn in the Patrick Troughton episode The Invasion) seemed to be a truly dangerous villain. The scope of the conference that joins with the Daleks gives this story added dimension; this truly seems to be a Master Plan, unlike so many of the Daleks’ other schemes.  If I had one complaint it’s that we never see any of those races again.  “Universe building” was not a thing in the 60s and is only becoming “fashionable” now for TV.

For such an immense story, there’s not a lot to say without more existing footage.  The Daleks’ Master Plan is a piece of television history that may be lost to time but still holds an important place in Doctor Who lore.  And if you can find the Target version of this one, it’s well worth the read!   ML

Read next in the Junkyard… The Feast of Steven
or jump straight to… The Massacre

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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2 Responses to The Daleks’ Master Plan

  1. Mike Basil says:

    For the last Dalek story of Hartnell’s era, it’s understandable why they wanted to make it seem epic with 12 episodes. Having seen The War Games (originally on VHS in my case) in 10 episodes, it’s enough to earn my appreciation for how flexible the classic Dr. Who afforded to be in the 60s. But upon entering the 70s, Dr. Who settled for half-a-year of weekly episodes like most other shows. I can generally enjoy most classic Dr. Who stories in syndication (particularly now on Twitch). For a classic Dr. Who story that may have went most with the flow for its time, and for a show that was a most uniquely go-with-the-flow SF/fantasy show and carries that tradition into its modern era, I can honestly say that should I ever get round to entirely viewing The Daleks’ Master Plan, maybe upon the imaginable-at-best animation-recon DVD should they give it a go, it should further revitalize my regard for Dr. Who as it did when I finally got round to viewing the 60s Whos after the classic Who met its finale.

    Thanks for your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

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