Thursday, March 25, 2010

Special Edition! Serial 21: The Daleks' Master Plan

Doctor: William Hartnell (1st Doctor)
Companions: Steven Taylor, Katarina, Sara Kingdom

Written by: Terry Nation and Dennis Spooner
Directed By: Douglas Camfield

Background/Significance: The Daleks need to be epic and to be written sparingly. They're like... The Joker (so's The Master, but kind of in a different way and also the same way) and they really lose their power if they appear too much or in a context that isn't... massive and epic. And you can only do massive and epic on occasion, not every week, or that power's lost too. (For more information, go watch the most recent series' "Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks" to see what I mean).

They're great villains and they deserve a great story. Which brings us to this one, "The Daleks' Master Plan." It's twelve episodes long (all but three of the episodes are lost), making it the longest single Doctor Who serial around (the next longest is Patrick Troughton's final serial: The War Games, which is ten episodes).

Fortunately for those who want them, this serial (as all those that are missing) has been released as an audio experience because (for whatever reason) all the audio survives and has been released.

Mavic Chen looks down on audio recordings; Zephon is confused.

The story was in Hartnell's third and "final" season (he did two serials in season four) and it's.... crazy long. I popped it on my iPod and experienced what was basically a five hour Doctor Who story, starring The Daleks as they chase The Doctor and his companions across time and space as they attempt to take over the Galaxy, starting with Earth.

So let's get to it.

(Also, as a note, because it's so long and because I experienced it in only audio, I'm going to try to just blast through it with minimal plot summary (because it's just so incredibly slow... and incredibly lengthy) and there's really only a few things I want to highlight).

Commentary!: We start with The Doctor, blood-poisoned-Companion Steven, and recently-picked-up-in-the-last-serial-and-is-thusly-very-clueless-Trojan-Companion Katarina landing on the planet Kembel, which is, unbeknownst to them, the base of the Daleks' current operations. The Doctor goes outside to look for help, and The TARDIS gets a space agent named "Vyon" (also played by Nicholas Courtney, later made famous by his role as "The Brigadier"!) is looking for a lost space agent . He mentally abuses Katarina (because she's from Ancient Troy and knows nothing) and is then restrained by The Doctor, who uses a "magnetic chair" to restrain him (I loved that). The Doctor leaves, there's some more things that happen, The Doctor comes back, and finds Daleks surrounding the TARDIS.

Also, there's this dude, Mavic Chen, who's the Guardian of the Solar System, and he arrives on Kembel. Spoilers! He's the bad guy (so are the Daleks, but he's like the Tobias Vaughan of this story... Also interesting to note: He's played by the guy who played Tobias Vaughan.... typecasting!), because he's sold out the solar system and has a buttload (a coffee mug sized thing) of Taranium (scifi babble talk), which is the key component to The Daleks' ultimate weapon, The Time Destructor(!) (other scifi babble talk).

Also, he had a tanning malfunction.

Vyon convinces Katarina to let him go and he heals Steven with a medkit (that was easy), and they go outside and meet up with The Doctor only to see that The Daleks are torching the forest (leading to Dalek Flamethrowers: awesome). Now that there's Daleks, they head into the city to see what they're up to in the hopes of stopping them.

So Chen is meeting with dude named Zephon and acts like a brat, saying "I will show up when I'm ready." (Seriously, dude. That takes some stones. Serious stones. Telling The Daleks that he works on his own schedule? This won't end well...). Zephon heads off and is knocked out by The Doctor and his companions. The Doctor puts on his robes and tells his Companions to get ready to steal Mavic Chen's spaceship and make a break for Earth to warn people or something.

So The Doctor shows up at this meeting of "The Daleks and Everyone" who want to take over Earth and the galaxy. But they're impatient because Zephon took forever to show up. He finally does, though, but it's The Doctor (in disguise). There's some exposition where the Daleks lay out their entire plan with some help from the megalomaniacal Mavic Chen and everyone bangs the table in approval (not metaphor. The galactic action of approval in the year 4,000 is table banging) and make a huge deal about the Taranium and how it's the entire lynchpin of the entire Dalek plan.

Then some mayhem happens...

There's a false cliffhanger where Vyon threatens to take off without The Doctor, but The Doctor makes it in time.

So then The Doctor and his Companions take off in Mavic Chen's ship, but are brought down by the Daleks on an isolated prison colony planet (like from Alien 3, but without a convenient furnace). The ship is boarded by cutthroats and knaves, but they're knocked out by a forcefield. Unfortunately, one survives and takes Katarina hostage. But she's a Trojan and won't be toyed with, so she blows herself out the airlock.

It's the first death of a Companion.

I like that, though. The first Companion death happens here. It's only fitting that it happens during a Dalek serial (an epic one at that), and even though she wasn't around for long, it still heightens the stakes and makes it kind of a big deal (even though The Doctor says "Oh, how I shall always remember her as one of the Daughters of the Gods.Yes, As one of the Daughters of the Gods.")

Uh huh.... Sure, Doctor.

The Daleks are having some political back and forth between Mavic Chen and Zephon, with everyone blaming each other for the stolen Taranium (meaning the plans are now worthless!). Chen heads back to the solar system to try to explain the situation with his own evil spin, explaining that Vyon has the Taranium and wants to sell it to the Daleks (or something. I don't know. NOT IMPORTANT) and order them shot on sight.

The Doctor and his companions (and Katarina's dead. Hahaha. What a waste...) land on Earth and try to meet up with one of Vyon's friends. But the friend's been alerted and tries to sell them out. Vyon gets angry and kills him and then some more wacky antics and running start, featuring Mavic Chen loyalist and security agent Sara Kingdom taking off after The Doctor and his companions (oh and she kills Vyon because he sacrifices himself to get The Doctor and Steven out).

The Doctor and Steven run through this factory and are caught in an experiment and transported to some planet with giant invisible creatures (leading to some humourous invisible sparring; oh, and they tell Sara Kingdom about the conspiracy and she joins them, now as a Companion) and are abducted by the Daleks (leading the Doctor to say "The Daleks have won") but then some other things happen (involving a fake Taranium core and some gravitic energy forcefield or something. I don't know. It's all very back and forth) that culminates in The Daleks and Mavic Chen getting a fake Taranium core from The Doctor (I guess Mavic Chen can't tell the difference because there's too much tanning stuff in his head) and The Doctor, Steven, and Sara Kingdom escaping in the TARDIS.

And that's the halfway point in this serial.

Now, really, not so crazy much has happened. The length to this point is about the length of an "average" Doctor Who serial during the Troughton/Pertwee eras (or a very long one with the Tom Baker years). I mean, yeah. Stuff's happened. But this easily could have been four episodes, not six...

But then this greatness happens...

See, the next episode (episode seven, the Feast of Steven) is a wacky antic episode that aired on Christmas Day and was the last written by Terry Nation in the serial (he wrote episodes 1-5 and 7, with Douglas Camfield writing episodes 6 and 8-12).

Now for those who don't know, Terry Nation created the Daleks (and Davros, but that's coming up in a couple weeks) and he's a bit of a nutter. He wrote the first episode I reviewed (The Daleks) and he's completely insane. Like.... Really decompressed stories, really wacky out there, but cool sci-fi ideas...  but overall easily not the best of writers on this show (but he created the Daleks, so massive props). That's not to say I hate his episodes, or even this one... I really like what the "Time Destructor" ends up doing and a "Prison planet" is always a cool thing. Even this council of Evil led by the Daleks is a neat idea, as is the Guardian of the Solar System.

I'm just saying that he might be a little batsh** crazy...

Which leads me to this episode.... and... what the frak happened? This episode is pretty much the only reason I'm reviewing this serial on here. Why? Because it's so crazy. SO crazy. And you must be told of it.

Basically it's set in two places: Christmas Day in 1960's England, where The Doctor pretends to be a hobo living in a Police Box. And a 1920's Silent Movie set in Hollywood.

Now, the first part is all well and good. As I was listening to this (my version had no linking narration), I was reading an episode synopsis online as I went, so I wasn't lost really at all. But then I got to the 1920's movie set when the complete insanity kicks in. Complete. And I had NO idea what was going on at all.... There was some running around and clattering, and I guess they set a movie in Aladdin times... Because at some point, the Doctor says, and I cannot make this up. Quote:

"We must get back to the TARDIS. This is a madhouse. It's all full of Arabs."

Wow, Doctor. Wow. He actually said that. And forever, Hartnell's Doctor has defined himself to me as "The Racist One" because my God. Wow. I can't believe he said that.

So some more wacky antics and running around ensue (including an appearance by young Bing Crosby. I am not kidding) and then they arrive back at the TARDIS, all exhausted, and then this happens (or something kinda like this. It's a cheap, strangely-animated reconstruction, but it gets the everything right, specifically the tone and what The Doctor does).

Craziest thing I've ever seen ever. Literally. I'm blown away by the complete insanity of this episode.

And what does it have to do with "The Daleks' Master Plan?" Not a thing. Not a god damned thing.

Anyways. Onto the rest of it.

The Daleks find out the Taranium core is fake and get all mad and kill some guy. Mavic Chen gets angry and demands a time machine so they can track down The Doctor. The Doctor (fresh off wishing everyone a Happy Christmas) lands on a Volcanic planet where he meets...

 The Meddling Monk.

Seriously. As if enough wasn't happening already... The Doctor's racist side coming out and wishing "all of you at home" a Happy Christmas and Daleks chasing people across space and now through time and some invisible lizard creatures and Dalek flamethrowers and bad spray tans and a Companion dying... Now The Meddling Monk shows up. Why? No real reason. He's just there.

For anyone not keen on The Monk, he was the main nemesis of the Hartnell serial "The Time Meddler" and he was a rogue Time Lord who went up against The Doctor a few times, perhaps most significant in that he was the first Time Lord who wasn't The Doctor [or Susan] to show up ever. (Also, this is before they decided that The Doctor was a Time Lord, so they just made vague reference

Basically he's kinda like The Master, but not nearly as cool or thought out (although he does dress like a Monk so that's a plus).

There's a false cliffhanger where they pretend he's a Mummy.

So then The Doctor (now being chased by The Monk, who has a TARDIS) lands in Ancient Egypt (is there anywhere they HAVEN'T gone to at this point? The year 4,000. A Volcano Planet. A Prison Planet. Christmas 1965 London. 1920's Hollywood. And now Ancient Egypt...) and tries to fix the damage The Monk did to the TARDIS. He lets Sara Kingdom and Steven go outside (for no real reason) and they find that The Daleks are here too.

The Daleks take The Monk, Sara Kingdom, and Steven hostage and demand the Doctor turn over the Taranium. The Doctor agrees to exchange the Taranium for his Companions and The Monk... And then this happens.The Egyptians want the Daleks gone!

Without time to create fake Taranium this time (random inability) he is forced to turn over the real Taranium. Rejoicing, Chen and the Daleks returns to Kembel with the Taranium. Also, The Doctor steals [the GPS] of The Monk's TARDIS, making him lost in time and space. Ha. Unfortunately, they've never brought him back (but he's kinda silly and comical and disappointing... But I wouldn't mind seeing him come back as a goofy Master sidekick or something... Or even something goofy...)

They race back to Kembel (there's a small TARDIS snafu, but hardly something worth mentioning) and find Kembel and head into the city deserted (also, The Doctor ninjas away as they walk through the burnt forest towards the city), leaving Sara Kingdom and Steven alone as they walk through.

The Daleks have betrayed their allies (WHAT?! No way!) and imprisoned them. Luckily Sara Kingdom and Steven release all the captives, who get away on their spaceships, except Mavic Chen, whose spaceship explodes. Sara Kingdom and Steven run around some more and find an entrance to a secret underground city, only to be captured by Mavic Chen (who was presumably saved from the explosion by the shield of his spray tan) and brought before the Daleks in the underground city.

So yeah. That's happening. Chen marches ceremoniously into the Daleks' new control room and all the Daleks get pissed and upset (they thought he was dead! But even they underestimated the power of the spray tan!) and say their alliance is over. Chen (his brain having been poisoned by his spray tan) says that's poppycock and declares himself leader of the Alliance and Master over the Daleks (Good lord this guy's a moron. And that's the lesson, kids. Don't over-spraytan... or declare yourself the Dalek Master (unless you're a cool Dalek, in which case by all means). He tries to assassinate the Dalek leader to prove his point, but the blast is ineffective against the Dalek leader's shield (wow he should have planned better). The leader (bored by now, I'm sure) orders Mavic Chen taken outside and shot.

Oh. And then Mavic Chen makes a run for it, declaring "I, Mavic Chen, first ruler of the universe, am immortal."

 Yeah, sure you are, dude. Talk about illusions of grandeur.

It's good to point out that at no point has there ever been any indication or hint or proof at the idea that Mavic Chen is immortal. Mavic Chen is just a complete and utter loon (like Tobias Vaugahn. TYPECASTING!). As the Daleks corner him, he cries out "You cannot kill me!"

But then they do.

(Thank God.)

The Doctor activates the Time Destructor, and he, Sara Kingdom, and Steven make a run for it. The Time Destructor's effects start to age them all rapidly as they race back to the TARDIS. Steven makes it back first and gets inside, but The Doctor and Sara Kingdom (now withery) collapse, Steven helps the Doctor inside, but Sara Kingdom becomes a skeleton and then dust (leading to the SECOND death of a Companion!).

It doesn't seem to affect the Daleks, but Steven reverses the Time Destructor, making time run backwards instead of forwards. Time reverses rapidly and The Daleks dissolve, reducing the planet to nothing but dust as the Time Destructor runs out of Taranium.

Eventually, it dies and so has the planet. The Doctor and Steven step outside of the TARDIS (it was saved because it is the TARDIS) and make a few closing remarks, talking about how they saved the day, but at the expense of several lives (including two companions), leading the Doctor to call it all 'Such a waste.'

What about the Doctor?: Coming in over two years after 'The Daleks', I can tell that Hartnell has really grown into the character, albeit in his own way. His speech and mannerisms remind me a lot of Yoda, with lots of not-necessarily-contemplative "Hmmms" and chuckling and giggling... But also strict and stern and rather mean and important sounding.

He also comes with energy. "The Daleks" was rather stoic and important and had him just kinda walking and observing and being sneaky little old man, but there's some fun running, good energy, and loud, powerful speech here when he deals with the Daleks. Speaking of, his reaction to The Daleks here (as this is the last of the four times Hartnell goes up against them) is much different from his reaction after first meeting them. You can tell that he's changed, and these three seasons of adventures has done a number on his character.

And then there's the racist bit. And let's be real here for a minute: That racist bit sealed Hartnell for me now and forever. He will always be the racist Doctor who simply didn't know any better. And that just makes him pop and gives him character. After this one, I really understood Hartnell as the semi-confused grandpa, and that makes me enjoy all of his later work that much more, even though he still won't ever be one of my favorite Doctors, the "racist" thing is huge props.

Next Time!: Jon Pertwee teams with Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell for a fangasm crossover! "The Three Doctors"! Coming this Tuesday!


  1. I disagree with you perspective of the First Doctor being racist. Seeing as the Arabs line isn't in the script, and the scene has nothing to do with arabs at all, Hartnell probably tried to improvise and say "full of Americans" but just said it wrong, which he did a lot. Regardless, while the line would not be acceptable today, it doesn't make the character racist. I remember the Red Indian line said by the Doctor in an unearthly child but it’s not nearly as bad as what they could have made him say. The First Doctor wasn’t hugely politically incorrect and I believe those comments are more representative of the environment of Britain in the 1960s than of the character as a whole.

    1. Right. The First Doctor wasn’t hugely politically incorrect; the character was created and written in the 60′s (largely overseen by the show’s only ever female head btw) and yes, casual sexism existed and yes once or twice it might have cropped up in scripts but not in the Doctor’s mouth and really compared to other shows of the time it really wasn’t anything terrible. Sexism was actively cut from early era scripts, there’s evidence of it, one by Hartnell himself because he hated a line about women cleaning! Along with other fans, I have watched most of Doctor Who and the First era is one I find the least worrying in terms of sexism. I am not pretending it doesn’t exist, for the most part it isn’t there and it certainly isn’t a Doctor proclaiming women are made of glass. If I think something’s sexist I'm aware of it and I have seen countless films and TV of the era that highlight this well. This era was much more progressive than its given credit for with extremely well rounded female characters and a complex Doctor who was not simply a walking talking sexist caricature.

      He did say to Susan about the smacked bottom but don’t know how you can say its the same. Susan caused a mess, is his granddaughter, and the whole point of that story is that he hasn’t realised she is a woman and not a child anymore. He says something silly that a grandparent might say to someone they still believe is a child. The Doctor didn’t go around telling Barbara or Sara or the astronaut Carol he was going to smack their bottoms.

      The character as written by David Whittaker, John Lucarotti, and Gerry Davis, wasn't either of these things, treating all people he met with respect, something the Second Doctor never did (that's why we love him though, because Two is such a boyish imp).

  2. Hartnell got along with Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert, both of whom were Jewish; he grew a huge fondness for Carole Ann Ford, who is also Jewish; he had a close friendship for Waris Hussein, who is Asian and gay; and Hartnell also had a fondness for African American singer Paul Robeson (in his Desert Island Discs interview, Hartnell stated that Paul Robeson was his hero and described him as having a voice like crushed velvet); William Hartnell appears remarkably ‘multicultural’ and ahead of his time.