Back in the 1990’s I didn’t have a particularly high opinion of The Daleks’ Master Plan – which wasn’t really surprising as I only had access to the (then) two existing episodes (Counter Plot and Escape Switch) courtesy of Daleks – The Early Years on VHS.
Jumping into the story cold with Counter Plot is a strange experience, as the horror and tension of the previous episode, The Traitors, is completely absent. Counter Plot hits the reset switch by transmitting the Doctor, Steven and Sara to the jungle planet of Mira.
Oh good, another jungle! Following Kembel and Desperus we now end up on Mira, which looks spookily similar to the previous jungles. No surprises for guessing that since this was an extra long story they had to stretch the budget as far as possible – reusing the same sets was an obvious money-saving move.
The Doctor’s jaunt to Mira is another clumsy part of plotting. The Doctor and Steven just happen to stumble into a room where a time experiment is being carried out (and they enter at exactly the right time too, which stretches credibility even further). And then Sara (also somewhat randomly) joins them. There’s little time for any discussion though, as all three (plus some white mice!) are then transported far far away.
Cue various camera effects by Douglas Camfield to sell the illusion of matter transmission. Most entertainingly, this involves Peter Purves and Jean Marsh bouncing up and down on a (hidden) trampoline. It’s an eternal regret that William Hartnell also wasn’t present at Ealing for this filming, although it’s no real surprise that he wasn’t. Can you imagine the conversation? “Bill, we’d like you to get on this trampoline” Cue various expletives ….
There’s a wonderfully revealing scene between Karlton and Mavic Chen. Chen seems hesitant, unaware of how to proceed. Karlton suggests he tells the Daleks that they sent the Doctor and the Core to Mira on purpose (since it’s only a stone’s throw away from Kembel – gosh, another coincidence!). After a few seconds Chen sees the logic in this and launches into a highly dramatic monologue. “Without me, their plan cannot completely work. Without me, they are but nothing. Nothing! When I am next to the Daleks, only they stand between me and the highest position in the universe. Then will be the time for me to take complete control!”
As he raises his arms to take the applause of an imaginary crowd we cut to Karlton. He’s staring silently at Chen, giving the clear impression that he’s only just realised that his boss is completely mad. And Chen’s reaction to Karlton is also interesting, as he seems to acknowledge that he’s gone too far. It’s a telling few moments that, in non-verbal terms, speaks volumes and it again makes me regret that Karlton shortly fades away from the story.
I love the Doctor’s opening line to Sara. “Pull yourself together, madam. I want to ask you a few questions.” Sara might be under the mistaken apprehension that she’s in control but the Doctor soon puts her right! Although it’s another slight weakness that Sara changes so quickly from an icy killer to the Doctor’s friend (and why does she accept Steven’s story at face value?).
It’s a nice scene for Peter Purves nonetheless, with Hartnell popping up at the end to sadly confirm the truth. Also of interest during the Mira scenes is the moment when the Doctor tangles with the invisible Visians (like many Terry Nation creations, there’s a clue in their name!). Billy waves his walking stick around furiously in an attempt to beat them off. And despite the fact they’re apparently eight feet tall he succeeds. This moment, played dead seriously by Hartnell, never fails to raise a smile.
There’s a cracking cliffhanger too, as the Doctor, Steven and Sara find themselves surrounded by the Daleks. The Doctor tells them that “I’m afraid, my friends, the Daleks have won.”