After a run of light-hearted episodes, there’s a sudden shift of mood in The Abandoned Planet. Things open normally enough – the Doctor has managed to land the TARDIS on Kembel, although initially he thought he’d failed and apologised to both Steven and Sara. But when he realised that he’d succeeded after all, he then rounded on Sara and told her to have more faith in him in the future!
This nice little character moment for Hartnell, as well as his inability to say “impulse compass”, is pretty much business as usual – but after this opening scene the Doctor strides off into the jungle and isn’t seen again. The slowly dawning realisation that the Doctor isn’t coming back is a perturbing one – not only for Steven and Sara, but also for the audience. The Doctor might not always know exactly what’s going on, but he usually manages to bluff his way through.
Steven and Sara should be more than capable to cope on their own (Steven is a pilot, Sara a space security agent) but without the Doctor to guide them they do seem a little adrift. But the good thing about his absence is that it forces them to take charge as well as offering Purves and Marsh a chance to move centre-stage for a change. What Steven and Sara discover is a mystery – Kembel seems abandoned.
The Dalek city is empty. The Doctor’s nowhere to be seen. Have the Daleks already left and taken the Doctor? It seems logical, but if so, where have they gone?
Earlier, we saw Mavic Chen return with the core. He was naturally jubilant and couldn’t resist rubbing the Black Dalek up the wrong way. “I hope that the Daleks will not suffer any more setbacks which could upset the plans for our conquest of the universe.” He doesn’t seem to have considered for a moment that now he’s delivered the core his usefulness will be pretty much at an end.
One of the Daleks raises this point, but the Black Dalek disagrees. “No. His arrogance and greed have a further use for us. Alert the council to attend their final conference.” The way that the Black Dalek says “final” shouldn’t leave you in any doubt that their fate is sealed ….
The conference is a hoot. All the other delegates are more than a little miffed at the way Chen seems to know more than they do. He misquotes a little Orwell at them. “Though we are all equal partners with the Daleks on this great conquest, some of us are more equal than others.” This doesn’t go down well at all.
His moment of triumph over the others is short-lived as the delegates suddenly find themselves trapped in the conference room. Chen, with his usual self-delusion turned up to eleven, doesn’t seem to realise this means they’re all now prisoners. The Daleks clearly now have no further use for them – which begs the question as to why they let Chen chair this last meeting. It served no purpose, so was it simply to humiliate him?
What happens next is slightly odd. The delegates are taken to a detention room and left there. Why didn’t the Daleks simply exterminate them? This allows Steven and Sara to release them and they all head home, promising to warn their respective planets about the imminent Dalek invasion. Their change of heart is a little hard to swallow, but then if they really thought they’d be equal partners with the Daleks, their judgement wasn’t at all sound to begin with.
Chen is now loopier than ever. He tells Steven and Sara that soon he’ll be master of the universe. At gunpoint he leads the two of them underground, where it seems the Daleks (and presumably the Doctor) will be found.