Doctor Who – The Massacre. Part Four – Bell of Doom

History continues to proceed in an inexorable fashion, with Steven and the Doctor caught in its flow. To begin with though, Steven is convinced that the Doctor is dead – so his sudden reappearance comes as something of a shock.

He doesn’t explain where he’s been, only mentioning that he was unavoidably delayed. This is something of a plot-flaw – bad enough that the Doctor decided to head off on his own, but it’s even worse that he now swans back without a care in the world.

It’s only when he realises the date and the year that it suddenly becomes clear to him just how much trouble they’re in (and also for those at home with a decent knowledge of French history). Was it assumed that the audience watching in 1966 would have been easily able to put two and two together? If so it implies that the (largely) child viewership must have been very historically literate.

The Doctor is keen to pack Anne off as soon as possible, but the girl has nowhere to go.

DOCTOR:  Now, my dear, there must be somewhere you can stay in Paris.
ANNE:  No, there’s only my aunt’s place, and they’ll kill me there.
DOCTOR:  Oh, nonsense. Tonight, you will be quite safe. Now you go carefully through the streets, hmm?

And that’s the last we see of her. When Steven later learns that thousands of Hugenots were massacred that day he’s convinced that she too must have died and that the Doctor was culpable. “You just sent her back to her aunt’s house where the guards were waiting to catch her. I tell you this much, Doctor, wherever this machine of yours lands next I’m getting off. If your researches have so little regard for human life then I want no part.”

Could the Doctor have saved her? Of course and they could all have left in the TARDIS together. We’ve seen the Doctor pluck people from many different periods of history, so it’s hard to see why Anne would have been any different. Indeed, it’s possible to believe earlier in the story that she was being groomed as possible companion material, but the events of The Daleks Master Plan should have taught us to take nothing for granted ….

If Hartnell’s been taking it easy for the last few weeks, then this episode gives him one of his signature moments. After Steven storms out of the TARDIS, the Doctor is left all alone. “Even after all this time he cannot understand. I dare not change the course of history. Well, at least I taught him to take some precautions. He did remember to look at the scanner before he opened the doors. Now they’re all gone. All gone. None of them could understand. Not even my little Susan, or Vicki. Yes. And there’s Barbara and Chatterton… Chesterton! They were all too impatient to get back to their own time. And now Steven. Perhaps I should go home, back to my own planet. But I can’t. I can’t”

It’s a lovely moment, although given Hartnell’s reluctance to learn lengthy speeches it can’t have been easy for him. Interesting that the Doctor here still seems wedded to the S1 concept of not interfering in history. This ties in with Lucarotti’s previous stories (notably The Aztecs) but the series, notably under the influence of Dennis Spooner, had somewhat moved on since then.

What’s disappointing is the way that the power of this scene is negated by what happens next. A young girl, Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane) bursts into the TARDIS, followed by Steven, and the Doctor is forced to take off immediately. This therefore not only cancels out Steven’s anger with the Doctor, it also provides us with the most perfunctory introduction possible for Dodo, the new companion.

That the Doctor tries to pour oil on troubled waters by pointing out that Dodo’s surname is similar to Anne’s, which maybe suggests than Anne survived after all, feels like little more than an exercise in straw-clutching.

This whole section seems rather bolted on (and was surely contributed by Donald Tosh, rather than John Lucarotti). But even allowing for the way that The Massacre rather dribbles to a halt, the bulk of the story is so strong that this isn’t really an issue.

It might not always feel like Doctor Who, but it’s still excellent drama. Let’s close with a line from Tavannes, a chilling proclamation that sums up the serial perfectly. “Tomorrow this city will weep tears of blood.”

Doctor Who – The Massacre. Part Three – Priest of Death

As has often been observed, The Massacre doesn’t really feel like a Doctor Who story. The sidelining of the Doctor is one reason – but it could also have something to do with the way that Lucarotti’s script harks back to the style of earlier stories (like The Crusade). In The Crusade, the Doctor was content to be an impartial observer, unable (or unwilling) to influence events.

And even allowing for Hartnell’s turn as the Abbot and Purves’ increasingly frantic efforts to prove that the Abbot is the Doctor, all the real drama in Priest of Death comes from the interaction of the guest cast.

de Coligny and Tavannes continue to cross swords, but now they do so in the presence of the King (Barry Justice) and his mother, Catherine de Medici (Joan Young). These scenes crackle with a theatrical intensity, thanks to the fine playing, but you can’t help but feel they’d work equally well in a one-off non-Doctor Who drama.

Justice’s Charles IX is a capricious, easily distracted ruler. At one point he tells de Coligny that “war is so tedious” and shows a desire to move onto other, more frivolous matters. His love and respect for de Coligny is honest and unforced though, a far cry from both his mother and Tavannes, who are plotting to kill him.

Quick to rise to anger, Charles is shown to be easily manipulated (especially by his mother). He does attempt to emphasise his dominance, but the Queen Mother (a calm, restrained performance by Young) remains uncowed.

QUEEN MOTHER:  You summoned the council?
CHARLES IX:  I gave orders I was to be left alone.
QUEEN MOTHER:  Without my knowledge or consent?
CHARLES IX:  I asked to be left alone, mother.
QUEEN MOTHER:  The threat over your friend, the Admiral? You are the King.
CHARLES IX:  Yes, I am the King – and to be obeyed! Now keep out of my sight unless you care to end your days in a convent.
QUEEN MOTHER:  I would wish you have the courage, my son.
CHARLES IX:  I have but to give the order.
QUEEN MOTHER:  Summon your guards, have me arrested. But you had better have a good reason for the council- and for the people.
CHARLES IX:  The attempted assassination of my Admiral, by you and Tavannes. Do you deny it, Madame?
QUEEN MOTHER:  No.
CHARLES IX:  Have a care. I mean what I say. I shall send Tavannes to the block!
QUEEN MOTHER:  You would execute the Marshall of France for doing his duty?
CHARLES IX:  Duty? He’s an assassin!
QUEEN MOTHER:  He tried to rid you of a dangerous enemy.
CHARLES IX:  de Coligny is my friend. You, Madame, are my enemy.

And so we come to Hartnell’s appearance as the Abbot. Apart from a few words at the end of the first episode, it’s little more than a cameo (two scenes lasting only a few minutes). Hartnell doesn’t change his speech patterns (despite some fan claims to the contrary) which makes it easier for Steven to believe that it’s just the Doctor pretending.

The reluctance by Lucarotti to confirm or deny the true state of affairs leads us into a classic cliff-hanger. Steven finds the Abbot’s dead body (murdered on the orders of Tavannes) in the street and is still convinced that it’s the Doctor. Logic tells us that it can’t be him, but (if we could be see it) I’m sure it would be a striking image.

Doctor Who – The Massacre. Part Two – The Sea Beggar

The Sea Beggar offers Peter Purves further chances to flex his acting muscles as Steven –  and of course the audience – puzzles over the mystery of the Abbot of Amboise.  When Steven spies him out of a window, he immediately believes the man he can see is the Doctor (which isn’t a surprise as they look identical).

But his innocent exclamation raises Nicholas’ suspicions, who decides that Steven must serve the Abbot and is therefore his enemy.  Steven later suggests that the Doctor is impersonating the Abbot, although Lucarotti is content to take his time before revealing the truth. But Steven’s theory seems have some weight after it’s revealed that Colbert only met the Abbot the day before (and nobody else in Paris knows him by sight).

Why would the Doctor be masquerading as the Abbot?  Who knows, but it’s exactly the sort of thing he would do and it would also explains his disappearance.  Everything seems to be chugging along to the conclusion that the Abbot is the Doctor, but we’ll have to wait for quite a while before Lucarotti reveals the truth ….

Popular fan-lore maintains that Hartnell’s performance as the Abbot was something of a tour-de-force, allowing the actor to show his versatility in a role that was poles apart from the Doctor.  The reality is a little different – the Abbot is a surprisingly minor character with only a handful of lines (and none of them in this episode). If the recon is to be believed then Hartnell was briefly glimpsed as the Abbot in this episode. Of course it’s always possible that he was absent during this recording and Steven only pretended to see him. That seems likely, as it would be odd to have Hartnell around just to act as a walk-on (unless his appearance was a pre-filmed insert).

The Sea Beggar sees the introduction of two heavyweight performers, André Morell as Marshal Gaspard de Saux-Tavannes and Leonard Sachs as Admiral de Coligny.  It’s very aggravating that the only Doctor Who story to feature Morell (a favourite actor of mine – if you haven’t seen it then you should certainly check out Quatermass and the Pit) was wiped, but it’s still possible to get a feel for the quality of his performance from the audio.  Sachs would later return in Arc of Infinity, but we can’t blame him for that.

These Catholics are terrible at keeping secrets. Steven learns that their target is code-named the Sea Beggar. Nobody knows who this might be, until de Coligny reveals that the King has given him this very nickname. Needless to say he’s totally unaware that this signifies he’s been marked for death ….

Doctor Who – The Massacre. Part One – War of God

John Wiles never made any secret of the fact that The Daleks Master Plan was rather imposed on him, which means that The Massacre offers us a much better chance to understand what his vision of Doctor Who was.  Bleak and uncompromising would seem to be the answer.

This serial presents the viewer with the first “straight” historical since The Crusade.  Following that story, lighter fare such as The Time Meddler had been the order of the day, but John Lucarotti’s third and final script for the series (albeit heavily rewritten by Donald Tosh) returns firmly to the themes of season one.

Most notably, the Doctor’s insistence that he’s unable to change history (also a key part of Lucarotti’s The Aztecs).  This was later blithely ignored on numerous occasions, so it’s tempting to wonder whether Lucarotti, who hadn’t contributed to the series for several years, was simply unaware of this.

Paris, 1572.  The Doctor is keen to meet Charles Preslin (Erik Chitty) and discuss the latest scientific developments.  For a story that’ll turn very dark, it’s a little odd that Hartnell’s in his default setting of hyperactive at the start of the episode, bumbling around with a very casual air.  Given that he must have been aware that this period in time was rather dangerous, it slightly beggars belief that he decides to go and meet Preslin alone, leaving Steven to kick his heels until his return.

In story terms it makes perfect sense, as Hartnell doesn’t return as the Doctor until episode four (in episodes two and three he plays the Abbot) so they had to be split up somehow – it’s just a pity it couldn’t have been done in a more subtle way.  But no matter – as it allows Peter Purves to play the leading man for the majority of the serial.  Purves remains something of an unsung hero of this era, probably because of the paucity of existing episodes, but he’s rock solid in whatever he’s given to do.

Here, he plays the innocent aboard.  Steven doesn’t arouse suspicion in those he meets because his story – an Englishman who’s only recently arrived in Paris – is the truth.  He also mentions he’s recently been to Egypt, but he wisely doesn’t add when!

Given the obscurity of this period of history, there’s an awful lot of info-dumping which has to take place – but it’s scripted well enough to not make this terribly obvious.  We’re introduced to Nicholas Muss (David Weston) and Gaston (Eric Thompson).  Both are Protestants (Huguenots) and are seen to clash with the ruling Catholics, represented by Simon Duval (John Tillinger).

Nicholas and Gaston are quickly defined as very different characters.  Nicholas refuses to rise to Duval’s bait and attempts to keep the peace, whilst Gaston delights in taunting his Catholic opponent at every opportunity.  At this early point it’s difficult to know which side is “good” or “bad” (both Gaston and Duval are as arrogant as each other) but Nicholas’ friendly manner (he spies that Steven is a stranger and is welcoming and hospitable) suggests that our sympathies should lie with the Huguenots.

The sudden arrival of a serving wench from the Abbot of Amboise’s kitchen with a strange tale throws Gaston and Nicholas into consternation.  She tells them that the Catholics are planning to crack down on the Huguenot problem – which leads Nicholas to believe that they intend to murder Henri of Navarre, the Protestant prince.   The girl, Anne Chaplet (Annette Robinson), immediately catches Steven’s sympathy, although Gaston – as befits his class and status – treats her with barely disguised contempt.  It’s a pity that Anne has a West County accent (did France have a West Country?!) but there you go.

So within the space of twenty five minutes Lucarotti has deftly established that the Huguenot minority are in danger from the Catholic majority.  The Doctor has, not for the first time, disappeared – but the major shock is reserved for the cliffhanger.  One of the Abbot’s staff, Roger Colbert (Christopher Tranchell) is nervously making his report to him.  Admitting that they have been unable to recapture Anne, the camera tracks up to reveal that the Abbot of Amboise is played by William Hartnell …..

Doctor Who – The Pirate Years

I’ve recently been rewatching the documentary Cheques, Lies and Videotape on the Revenge of the Cybermen DVD, which sparked off a few reminisces about my own dabblings in the Doctor Who pirate VHS era.

For those who weren’t there – until the mid nineties, watching old Doctor Who episodes in the UK was no easy task. There were very few repeats and only a small handful of stories had been commercially released on VHS. But virtually everything still in existence could be obtained on pirate tapes, provided you had a contact (and the patience to sit through nth generation copies which could be a trial on the eyes).

Throughout 1990 I quickly built up a collection of every existing episode from the sixties and seventies. Having been starved of access for so long, this meant I spent twelve months gorging myself silly on everything and anything I could get my hands on (yes, even The Mutants and Underworld).

With The Daleks having only recently come out on official VHS, I was keen for more Hartnell and so the first tape I asked for contained The Aztecs, The Rescue and The Tenth Planet 1-3. That was an exciting day ….

Pretty much all of the sixties episodes were sourced from copies of the telerecordings. These could sometimes be quite watchable (I only retired my pirate copy of the first three episodes of The Tenth Planet when it came out on official VHS many years later) but not always (I did sit all the way through a very muffled and blurry copy of The Gunfighters, but it wasn’t until the story showed up on UK Gold that I actually understood the plot).

Most of the seventies episodes freely swopped were taken from off-air Australian recordings, as our Antipodean cousins were fortunate enough to have the Pertwee and Baker T episodes repeated on a seemingly endless loop. I was pretty lucky here, as a fair number of the stories I received must have been only one or two generations down, as they were very watchable.

They did have their odd quirks though – sometimes two episodes would be edited together and occasionally stories would receive the omnibus treatment so beloved of Margot Eavis. One such omnibus story I had was The Power of Kroll, which I did watch in a single sitting – but even though it was quite short (around 80 minutes) it isn’t something I’d recommend.

Some episodes were edited for content (Leela’s knife-throwing in The Invisible Enemy, for example, was trimmed down).

There were a number of Pertwee stories (such as The Silurians, Terror of the Autons and The Daemons) which I first experienced, via these bootleg tapes, in black and white. And every now and again I like to drop the colour down and view them again in monochrome. Hopefully I’m not the only one mad enough to do that.

The days of tape swapping came to an end with the launch of UK Gold’s in 1992.  With better quality versions of most of the series’ surviving episodes receiving regular television screenings, there was less need to refer back to the old pirate tapes.

For a new generation, these UK Gold repeats were their Doctor Who gateway. But that’s another story ….

Douglas Camfield’s greatest Doctor Who hits


Although the original incarnation of Doctor Who attracted a number of inventive directors, the work of Douglas Camfield has always stood out. From his earliest contribution (capturing the fight between Za and Kal in The Firemaker) it was clear that he worked exceptionally well with film.

Having said that, he was also at home in the television studio, coordinating multi-camera vt sessions with military precision (both The Crusade and The Time Meddler offer ample evidence of this).

What follows are five of my favourite Camfield Doctor Who moments. No doubt on another day I would have put them in a different order (or indeed selected something totally different – the Yeti attack in Covent Garden and the Zygon woodland hunt were both strong possibilities for a while). Maybe next year I’ll give it another go and see what I come up with then ….

The Wheel of Fortune

The Doctor crosses verbal swords with the Earl of Leicester and comes off second best.

It’s probably true that few directors could have gone wrong with The Crusade, as the starting point (David Whitaker’s script) was such a rich one (although you can grumble that the story simply peters out – central characters disappearing abruptly, for example).

That said, the finished product still zings – thanks to Camfield’s casting and the performances he was able to wring out of his assembled players. There’s some nice film sequences dotted throughout the serial but this selected scene has always impressed me.

You’re a man for talk, I can see that. You like a table and a ring of men. A parley here, arrangements there, but when you men of eloquence have stunned each other with your words, we, we the soldiers, have to face it out. On some half-started morning while you speakers lie abed, armies settle everything, giving sweat, sinewed bodies, aye, and life itself.

The Seeds of Doom – Part Four

It has to be said that The Seeds of Doom is more than a little bit nasty. Possibly it’s age creeping up on me, but when I look at it now I tend to concede that maybe Mrs Whitehouse had a point ….

On another day I might have plumped for Chase’s death by compost machine, today it’s the pitiful sight of Keeler in his midway state between man and Krynoid. Mark Jones is excellent as the doomed Keeler whilst Tony Beckley excels as Chase (easily in the top five of Who’s humanoid villains).

The Invasion – Part Six

Is it just a coincidence that three of the series’ best villains – Mavic Chen, Tobias Vaughan and Harrison Chase – appeared in Camfield directed stories? I think not.

Yes, The Invasion is a bit flabby (there’s a point where the Doctor spends far too much time staring into a microscope and pulling worried faces) but the longueurs are worth enduring as you know another good moment is just around the corner.

In part six that first occurs when Vaughan invites Professor Watkins to shoot him. There’s plenty to enjoy in this short scene – such as when Vaughan’s mask of polite affability slips to reveal something very nasty underneath and also the beat where Watkins (but not the audience) is privy to what happened when he eventually plucked up enough courage to pull the trigger.

Terror of the Zygons – Part Two

As good as many of the UNIT stories were, everything did become a little cosy at times. This late UNIT effort by Camfield shows that the option was always there to go darker. And there’s no darker moment than when Zygon Harry attacks Sarah with a pitchfork. Throughout the story everything is played dead straight (even the emergence of the Skarasen wasn’t cause for a giggle). That applies to this scene too – the sight of the dying Zygon looks faintly comic but everyone’s resisting the temptation today to wink at the audience.

The Invasion – Part Six

Top of the Camfield Pops is this iconic cliffhanger. Years before I got the chance to see the surviving episodes (via a wobbly pirate VHS) the moment when the Cybermen stroll past St Paul’s Cathedral was already very familiar to me thanks to spending hours staring at a handful of photographs (one in the Doctor Who Monster Book if memory serves). This is archetypical Who – not least for the way it has (with a very limited budget) to convince the audience that London is under attack.

With about half a dozen Cybermen and a handful of human extras, Douglas Camfield was more than up to the task. And that’s why I love this cliffhanger so much. Making something out of virtually nothing has always been the Doctor Who way.

All five clips can be watched below, via these Twitter posts.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Twelve – The Destruction of Time

The Destruction of Time is devastating.  Nothing in the story to date, indeed in the series so far, quite prepares you for the cataclysmic events that unfold during these twenty five minutes.  Even with only the soundtrack and a handful of photographs it’s incredibly powerful, so we can only guess what it would look like in motion.  But with Douglas Camfield directing it seems more than likely that the visuals would have been extremely striking.

Mavic Chen meets his well-deserved end.  Kevin Stoney once again sails merrily over the top, but that suits Chen’s character – who by now has lost his last lingering shreds of sanity.  What makes his demise particularly fascinating is the way he’s treated by the Daleks.  They simply ignore him.  This silent treatment is the ultimate humiliation, although he’s still able to rationalise it away by believing that the Daleks will continue to obey him.  Instead they take him out into the corridor and kill him.   For the self-proclaimed ruler of the universe it’s a squalid and ignominious end.

The Doctor suddenly pops up out of nowhere and tells Steven and Sara to return to the TARDIS.  While they’re doing this, he steals the time destructor and also heads back to the ship.  It goes without saying that the Daleks really need to strengthen their security …..

Whilst Steven makes it back to the TARDIS, Sara returns to help the Doctor.  The bitter irony is that there’s nothing at all she can do and her exposure to the time destructor has fatal results.  Although we’re denied any video record of this scene, the photographs we have help to sell the horror of the moment.  This is no quick, easy death but a long, lingering demise.

The Doctor’s also affected, although he manages to quickly rally round.  But when Steven comes to help, Hartnell barks at him in such an unearthly manner that it’s another moment that jars.  We rarely hear the Doctor under such pressure.

And then it’s over.  The time destructor is exhausted, Kembel is now a desert wilderness and Sara and all the Daleks are dead.  Once the Doctor recovers some of his equilibrium he can’t help but crow a little. “Well, my boy, we finally rid this planet of Daleks.”  It’s up to Steven to remind him of the human cost (“Bret, Katarina, Sara”) to which the Doctor belatedly agrees. “What a waste. What a terrible waste.”

When picking out top Doctor/companion pairings, Hartnell and Purves probably wouldn’t be top of many people’s lists, which is a bit of a shame. Peter Purves always accepted that his role was to provide solid support for Hartnell (both on screen and off) and that’s something he always did very well. Maybe if a few more episodes existed then their era might have a higher profile. Are there are more out there? Time will tell I guess ….

The Daleks Master Plan might lurch from comedy to tragedy and all points inbetween, but it still works.  It shouldn’t by rights as it has all the hallmarks of being another (admittedly entertaining) debacle like The Chase.  But thanks to Douglas Camfield’s direction (the three episodes in existence, plus a handful of other clips more than hint at the overall visual quality) the story avoids that fate.  It’s quite a leap from the comic book thrills of the mid part of the story to the final ten minutes of destruction, but this final downbeat tone still packs a punch 55+ years on.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Eleven – The Abandoned Planet

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.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Ten – Escape Switch

It’s possibly not terribly surprising that the ruthless and deadly Sara Kingdom we saw in her first episode has been somewhat watered down as the serial has progressed (this explains the way she reacts in terror at the sight of a mummy rising from an Egyptian tomb).  Steven, of course, moves protectively in front of her.  It would have been an interesting wrinkle for Sara to be the protective one whilst Steven showed fear, but the series was a little way off such a role reversal.

There’s no need for any panic though, as the mysterious figure is only the Monk (who’s been trussed up in bandages by the Doctor!)  He’s a bit of an imp, this Doctor – it’s a far cry from his original characterisation as an unknowable patrician, but one that Hartnell’s very adept at playing.

The Daleks continue to bumble around.  They’re not as useless as the ones we saw in The Chase, but they’re not the greatest bunch of thinkers either.  We can’t be too harsh on them though, as it’s mostly Dennis Spooner’s fault (and maybe Terry Nation’s too – since Spooner was still apparently scripting from Nation’s original story outlines).

In this Egyptian interlude, the Daleks decide to recruit the Monk as their agent.  Eh?  Why wouldn’t the Monk have simply nipped off in his TARDIS at the first opportunity?  How could the Daleks have guaranteed his co-operation?  And why use him anyway, why didn’t they hunt the Doctor down themselves?  Their desire not to see the core destroyed is the motor that’s driven the story, but even if that happened it would only delay (by about fifty years) their plans, not derail them completely.

The Daleks, now extremely miffed at the way things have gone, finally decide to launch an all-out attack.  Chen’s not pleased about this and shows his displeasure by roughly shoving one of the Dalek’s eyestalks aside.  A scripted moment or something worked out in rehearsal?  Either way it’s a lovely little touch which illustrates just how reckless the Guardian has become.  Few people would dare to show such an open sign of contempt against the Daleks, since we’ve seen time and again how they “reward” such gestures.  It’s another small sign that Chen’s humiliation and fall from grace can’t be far away ….

Steven, Sara and the Monk set out to look for the Doctor.  Steven and Sara shout the Doctor’s name at the top of their voices, whilst the Monk also calls out – but sotto voce.  Possibly a nod back to a similar gag in The Myth Makers, it’s another opportunity for Butterworth add his inimitable comic touch.  When they’re surrounded by the Daleks, the Monk offers up Steven and Sara as hostages – it’s a good plan, as the Doctor would be sure to hand over the core in exchange for the safe of his friends.  A pity that neither Chen or the Daleks thought of it earlier then …..

It’s possible to wonder if Hartnell’s got the week off, as the Doctor’s been absent from proceedings so far.  But ten minutes in he does finally turn up, as the Doctor listens silently to Chen’s demands broadcast from the Dalek ship – hand over the core, or Steven and Sara will die.  Hartnell does little in this very brief scene – he doesn’t utter a word – but the way his eyes dart from side to side and the expression on his face tells an eloquent story.

It’s often been observed that Hartnell – using his years of experience as a film actor – was remarkably comfortable in front of the tv cameras.  During this era of television a great many actors had come to the small screen via the theatre, so their performances tended – initially at least – to be broader.  Hartnell, as befitted a wily old pro, always knew that less was more, and that just a look or a small gesture could speak volumes.  Numerous examples of this are dotted about his episodes and whilst it’s always fun to spot his fluffs and stumbles (and there’s a great one in this episode – “Magic, Mavic Chen”) it shouldn’t be forgotten just how skilled an actor he was.

There’s a classic Doctor/Dalek face-off, with the Doctor seemingly in full control.  The Daleks agree that the handover of the core will take place with just one Dalek present.  Chen later wonders they agreed so readily.  “One Dalek is capable of exterminating all!” is the chilling reply. Thanks to an ominous stab of Tristram Cary’s incidental music and the expression on Chen’s face this is a moment which helps to reemphasise the power of the Daleks.

The Doctor is forced to hand over the core to Chen, but all isn’t lost.  He’s stolen the directional unit from the Monk’s TARDIS, so they’ll be able to travel back to Kembel.  This is a small, but significant, moment.  For those brought up on the new series, it seems inconceivable that the Doctor wouldn’t be able to control the TARDIS, but in the early days every trip was a mystery one.  Personally I think that something was lost when the Doctor gained full control over the TARDIS, but what’s really interesting is that up until this point it’s never been clear whether the TARDIS’ erratic performances was due to the Doctor’s ineptitude or a fault with the ship itself.  Now it’s made clear – with the right components the Doctor can steer the TARDIS anywhere.

As the Doctor and the others set off, the Monk fades away from the story.  This hasn’t been such a good vehicle for Peter Butterworth as The Time Meddler, as the Monk was only a supporting character, not the centre of attention.  Even so, Butterworth was always worth watching and it’s a pity the Monk didn’t return for a third time.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Nine – Golden Death

The TARDIS turns up next in Ancient Egypt, but what we see is a far cry from the sober historicals of previous years. Here, the backdrop of the pyramids is simply that – a backdrop which provides the Doctor, the Monk, Chen and the Daleks a colourful location to do battle against.

Whilst the Doctor repairs the lock of the TARDIS, Steven and Sara set off to find the Monk – but run into Chen and the Daleks instead. The Daleks then tangle with the Egyptians (no surprises for guessing who comes out on top).

One of Douglas Camfield’s favourite actors, Walter Randall, turns up as Hyksos, whilst the presence of Derek Ware as Tuthmos implies that some action took place (although the lack of pictures makes it hard to know exactly how athletic the Egyptians’ deaths were).

To be honest, the Egyptians are rather pallidly portrayed. Even though they have a fair amount of screentime in this episode and the next, we never get much of a sense that they’re individuals. Instead they come across as little more than cannon-fodder for the Daleks (and it’s notable how the Doctor has zero interest in their fate).

The first meeting between the Monk and the Daleks is amusing. “Good morning my son” says the Monk cheerily to the Daleks, before attempting to beat a hasty retreat. But he reluctantly finds himself forced to serve the Dalek cause.

Hartnell and Butterworth share another entertaining scene, which is one of the highlights of the episode. Although we’ll have to wait until the next episode to discover exactly what fate was meted out by the Doctor to his fellow time-traveller.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with Golden Death. It’s diverting enough, but ultimately it’s also a little forgettable as well as being a good example of twenty-five minutes of running on the spot.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Eight – Volcano

The delegates are back! And they’re giving Chen a hard time. One interesting revelation to come out of their discussion is Chen’s statement that the Daleks know the Doctor is a time-traveller. This presumably means this story carries on chronologically from The Chase, although if that’s the case why didn’t the Daleks identify the Doctor previously?

This also opens another can of worms – if these Daleks have access to time-travel technology then why don’t they simply nip ahead to Uranus fifty years in the future and collect another supply of taranium for the Time Destructor? It would have them saved ten episodes of running about ….

It doesn’t take long before the Daleks realise that the taranium core given to them by the Doctor is useless – which puts the pressure on Chen. They also continue to exterminate their former allies for no good reason, other than the fact it’s what they like to do. Spiky Trantis is the latest to bite the dust and the fact that it happens in front of Chen must be a clear signal to him that he’s on increasingly shaky ground.

The first eight minutes of the story have been pretty much business as usual, but when the TARDIS materialises in the middle of a cricket pitch (to the bemusement of the commentators) it’s obvious that the story is lurching into an off-beat mode. Eek! It’s become The Chase II 

The TARDIS then lands in an inhospitable, volcanic location. The last person you’d also expect to see there would be the Meddling Monk (Peter Butterworth) but there he is. Unexpected though the Monk’s appearance is, it’s also very welcome. Butterworth was excellent value during The Time Meddler and with Spooner now on scripting duties there promises to be more fun to come.

The Monk seems to have tracked down the Doctor purely in order to immobilise his TARDIS and strand him in one time and location (as the Doctor did to the Monk previously). But whatever the Monk did to the TARDIS’ lock, the Doctor – with his ring and the help of the sun! – still manages to get into the ship. Which makes this section of the story a little pointless really.

Never mind, as we’re soon off again – but this time the Doctor will be pursued by both the Monk and the Daleks. Once again the TARDIS heads back to present-day Britain (which is odd, since it’s the one place and time that the Doctor was rarely able to find for Ian and Barbara).

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Seven – The Feast of Steven

For many years it was a widely held fan-myth that Nation and Spooner had penned alternate episodes of DMP – each installment ending on a “now get out of that” cliffhanger for the other one to deal with.

The reality (Nation writing 1-5 and 7, Spooner 6 and 8-12) was a little different, although at the start of Coronas of the Sun Spooner did have to resolve Nation’s previous cliffhanger which saw the Doctor surrounded by Daleks and apparently defeated.

When Spooner ended Coronas of the Sun with the Doctor warning Steven and Sara not to go outside, since the atmosphere was deadly, was this a challenge for Nation or just a gag at the Doctor’s expense?

Because for once they’ve not landed on a jungle planet, but instead have arrived in Britain during the mid sixties. The TARDIS has materialised outside a police station, which causes the boys in blue some consternation. Were the cast of Z Cars really due to appear in this sequence, before someone decided that it maybe wasn’t a good idea? Possibly it’s one of those drawing board ideas which progressed no further than that.

The appearance of Reg Pritchard as a man who’s come to report the fact that someone keeps moving his house (his greenhouse that is) enables the Doctor to tell him that he’s seen him before, in a market in Jaffa. Any fan who knows his Jethrik from his Jablite will be aware that Pritchard played Ben Daheer in The Crusade. Today, an in-joke like that would be picked up instantly by a section of the audience, but back in 1965 Doctor Who fans like that didn’t exist (a sobering thought I know). So this gag seems to have been put in (either by Hartnell or possibly Camfield) as something to amuse the crew. It’s an early sign there’s an “anything goes” feel about this Christmas Day episode.

There’s one lovely scene though, with Hartnell on sparkling form.

DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR: I’ve heard of a housing shortage, but I never knew it was so bad you’d have to spend Christmas in a Police Box.
DOCTOR: Oh, Christmas! Oh, is it? Of course, yes, yes, yes, yes! That accounts for the holly in the hall.
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR: You mean you didn’t know?
DOCTOR: Well, of course I didn’t know! I travel about too much.
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR: And why is that?
DOCTOR: Well, a quest of knowledge, dear boy. I mean, you have a saying in this country, have you not, er… “travel broadens the mind”?
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR: You mean you’re not English?
DOCTOR: No, good gracious no!
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR: Scottish?
DOCTOR: No.
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR: Are you Welsh, then?
DOCTOR: Oh, you’ll have to think in a far bigger way than that! Your ideas are too narrow, too small, too crippled!
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR: All right, all right. What are you then?
DOCTOR: Well, I suppose you might say that I am a citizen of the universe…and a gentleman, to boot!

Peter Purves gets to put on a Scouse accent (another nod to Z Cars) which is also good fun. It’s when they leave for Hollywood in 1920’s that things really get odd ….

The lack of visuals makes it impossible to know exactly how effective the Doctor’s misadventures in the film studio were, but with Camfield directing it almost certainly looked good. The dramatic piano music and silent inter-titles (another unusual meta textual joke) sound amusing and there’s some decent lines. Sara complains that a strange man keeps telling her to take her clothes off, whilst the Doctor succinctly sums the whole situation up. “This is a madhouse. It’s all full of Arabs.”

The Daleks are conspicuous by their absence though. Presumably it was felt that their brand of exterminating mayhem would have been a bit of a downer on Christmas Day. So instead Feast of Steven works (or not, depending on your point of view) as a stand-alone episode that has no connection at all to the rest of the serial.

Oh, and Hartnell’s Doctor ends by breaking the fourth wall years before Tom Baker did it …..

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Six – Coronas of the Sun

The Black Dalek is having a bad day.  In an earlier episode we saw how he dealt with failure from some of his hapless Dalek subordinates (he permanently puts them out of his misery).  He’s still in a foul mood and Mavic Chen is now in his sights.

Chen’s not prepared to go down without a fight though and manages to turn the argument around by claiming he diverted the Doctor to Mira on purpose.  “You make your failure sound like an achievement” rasps the Black Dalek ironically.

Chen is unable to stifle a smile when he learns that the Doctor and his friends have stolen the Dalek ship on Mira.  Naturally, this sends the Black Dalek into another tizzy!

The Black Dalek in Coronas of the Sun is probably the most sharply drawn Dalek we’ve seen since their debut story.  He’s not content to simply bark out orders, there’s a touch of character and individuality about him.

Was this due to Dennis Spooner’s input? This was the first of his six scripts for DMP (although it was based on a Nation story outline).  Nation famously hated the way David Whitaker later wrote for the Daleks in Power and Evil (somewhat missing the point by believing that the Daleks in Power were too subservient) so that does make me lean towards the probability that Nation wouldn’t have made the Black Dalek so individual – he tended to depict the Daleks as much more of a homogeneous collective.

Although Spooner takes over scripting duties for the remainder of the serial (with the exception of the next episode) there’s no sudden tonal shift.  That’ll happen next time with Nation’s bizarre Christmas episode before Spooner starts to have some fun over the next few episodes (and it’s fair to say that Spooner was a better comedy writer than Nation) before everything gets serious again for the final two installments.

As for the Doctor, he has some nice confrontational scenes with the Daleks on Mira (it’s pleasing that the Daleks still don’t know who he is – all that “Doctor Who is our greatest enemy” in The Chase was rather tiresome) and later somberly leads Steven and Sara out to meet the Daleks on Kembel.  It’s a pity we can’t see this scene as Hartnell is uncharacteristically subdued to begin with.

Thanks to the Doctor whipping up a fake core he’s able to get the TARDIS back.  There’s another whacking plot contrivance – Steven manages to inadvertently create a forcefield around himself (!) which means he can hand over the fake core and withstand being exterminated by the Daleks before nipping back into the TARDIS.

Although compared to the events of the next episode that seems quite sensible ….

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Five – Counter Plot

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.”

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Four – The Traitors

Katarina’s death is a bit of a shocker.  The last few episodes have suggested that she’s now firmly a regular, so her sudden demise (sucked out of the airlock with Kirksen) certainly helps to reinforce the impression that the stakes in this story are higher than usual (as we’ll see, other allies will also perish before we reach episode twelve).

But the nature of this type of adventure serial means that it’s impossible to dwell on her fate for too long.  Steven sounds upset and the Doctor delivers a nice little tribute (“She didn’t understand. She couldn’t understand. She wanted to save our lives and perhaps the lives of all the other beings of the Solar System. I hope she’s found her Perfection. Oh, how I shall always remember her as one of the Daughters of the Gods. Yes, as one of the Daughters of the Gods”) but once that’s done they press on and she’s only mentioned again at the end of the final episode as Steven counts the human cost of their victory.

Although the story seems set to be a re-run of The Chase (the Dalek pursuit ship wasn’t able to intercept the Doctor on Desperus, so you assume it’ll carry on following them) at present it takes a different tack.  The Black Dalek orders the pursuit ship to be destroyed as he doesn’t tolerate failure (another sign that the Daleks are back to their ruthless, single-minded best) and then contacts Chen – telling him that he’ll be the one to regain the core and exterminate the Doctor and his friends.  This is another sign that the Daleks are thinking – it would have been impossible for them to travel to Earth and not attract attention, so using their human agents is the logical course of action.

Every good megalomaniac needs a confidant and Chen has Karlton (Maurice Browning).  Browning is wonderfully smooth and his performance gives us the impression that Karlton is well aware of his worth.  It’s a pity that he doesn’t stick around longer as he would have served as a good sounding board for Chen’s various plots and dreams.

The Traitors has an increasing vice-like feel, as the Doctor, Steven and Bret (now back on Earth) find it difficult to know who they can trust.  Bret contacts Daxtar (Roger Avon) but he’s part of the conspiracy and Bret shoots him dead.  The Doctor is appalled by this, but as he was powerless to intercede it’s another sign that the Doctor isn’t in control – at present he’s being buffeted along by events whilst others (both enemies and allies) hold the upper hand.

This episode introduces us to Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh).  Chen initially refers to her by her surname and sums up her character.  “Ruthless, hard, efficient. And does exactly as ordered.”  This scene is another mis-direct, as no doubt the audience is supposed to be surprised when this top agent is revealed not to be a man but a woman.  Sara, like the troopers later seen in Blakes 7, is a product of her training.  Once she has her orders then she’ll carry them out without question.  It’s not difficult to imagine that Terry Nation was again drawing on his memories of WW2 when crafting this character.

If Katarina’s death at the start of this episode was a jolt, then so is Bret’s demise at the end.  He’s shot dead by Sara which spells trouble for the Doctor and Steven as she’ll now be gunning for them …..

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Three – Devil’s Planet

After being little more than comic relief during The Chase, it’s good to see the Daleks regaining their ruthless streak – highlighted when they question the hapless Zephon.

Zephon’s arrogance won’t permit him to admit he was in any way culpable for the Doctor’s theft of the taranium core (although you do have to agree with him that the Daleks’ security was rather lax).  When the Black Dalek tells him it’s been agreed that he’s guilty of negligence, it’s not clear who’s agreed this.  The Black Dalek by himself maybe?  This would seem to be the most likely option and if so it’s a clear demonstration to the other delegates that the Daleks can and will operate unilaterally.

Dalek technology is shown to be rather advanced, as they’re able to remote land Chen’s craft (carrying the Doctor, Steven, Katarina and Bret) onto the prison planet Desperus.  They then launch a pursuit craft to intercept them and regain the core – although you have to wonder why they didn’t launch the pursuit ship earlier (that way it could have maintained a watching brief a safe distance behind).

It may not surprise you to know that Desperus is an inhospitable prison planet.  There’s no guards and the prisoners are left to fend for themselves (echos of Cygnus Alpha from Blakes 7).  Alas we never find out if Desperus was named after it became a prison planet or if it always had that name and someone decided it sounded just the gloomy sort of place to establish a penal colony!

It’s another jungle planet, no doubt reusing the Kembel sets.  We’re quickly introduced to three very hairy convicts, Bors (Dallas Cavell), Garge (Geoffrey Cheshire) and Kirksen (Douglas Sheldon).  The pecking order is established during their first scene – Bors is leader, Garge wants to be the leader but Bors (at present) is too strong which leaves Kirksen as the third wheel.

Terry Nation seems to be deliberately wrong-footing us, since everything suggests that Bors will be the main threat.  But after the Doctor is able to repair the ship and they take off again, it’s Kirksen who sneaks aboard and grabs Katarina …..

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Two – Day of Armageddon

Moving pictures!  It’s nice to be able to watch Day of Armageddon for several reasons, not least because it gives us an opportunity to see Nicholas Courtney (Bret Vyon) and Adrienne Hill (Katarina) in action.

We open with the Doctor skulking around the jungle.  At one point he’s on his hands and knees, which is a tad unusual (and undignified) for this Doctor.  A little later he meets up with Steven, Katarina and Bret and is forced to admit that Bret is a decent sort after all.

The Doctor, naturally enough, takes control of the situation (or at least attempts to).  But both Steven and Bret also have their points of view and it’s fair to say that the exchanges between the three of them are frank.  Bret doesn’t hold back when attempting to bring the Doctor into line. “Sir! Will you shut up!” It’s a lovely scene which helps to strengthen Steven’s character (he’s had previous experience of the Daleks and so isn’t prepared to blindly follow the Doctor’s lead) as well as Bret’s.

Rather oddly, the Doctor tells Bret that the Daleks can be defeated if they look at their history books. “You must tell Earth to look back in the history of the year 2157, and that the Daleks are going to attack again. History will show how to deal with them.” Eh? Unless the Daleks plan to steal the Earth’s Core for a second time I’m not sure how that’s going to work.

Another plus point about having this episode back in the archives is that it’s a good showcase for Mavic Chen.  Douglas Camfield obviously knew a good actor when he saw one, as he later cast Kevin Stoney as the not totally dissimilar Tobias Vaughn in The Invasion.

Indeed, there’s not a lot to choose between the two characters – both ally themselves with one of the Doctor’s bitterest enemies and both fail to spot all the warning signs that they’re becoming surplus to requirements.  Also, both Chen and Vaughn have a mocking, sardonic sense of humour which marks them out from your run-of-the-mill villains.  Chen wears a lot more make-up than Vaughn though ….

We get a good insight into Chen’s character during his discussion with one of the delegates, Zephon (Julian Sherrier).  We’ve already seen the Daleks vow to dispose of all their allies as soon as their usefulness is at an end, but both Chen and Zephon obviously don’t believe this could happen to them.

When Chen suggests they join the meeting, Zephon retorts that “they will not start the meeting without me.” Chen’s insincere bowing and his amused attitude gives the very strong impression that he considers Zephon to be nothing more than a pawn in the game (Chen clearly views himself as something very different).  Let’s check back in about ten episodes time to see how that works out for him.

The Doctor suggests that Bret steals Chen’s ship – with it, they could make their way back to Earth and warn the authorities. But first the Doctor elects to take Zephon’s place in the meeting (luckily, Zephon wears a big cloak, so after knocking him out it’s a simple disguise).  All the delegates gather, but annoyingly we’re not told most of their names (which has been the cue for more than fifty years of debate!) Only one of them (apart from Chen) has a speaking role, Trantis (Roy Evans). It doesn’t seem right for Roy Evans not to be playing in a miner if he’s in Doctor Who ….

When the delegates arrive, each walks into the conference room in a very strange way – let’s be kind and say none of them were used to that level of gravity.  As they don’t speak, they have to show their approval by banging on the table – each has a different way of banging, which is rather sweet.  Chen has to be different of course, when the others are thumping the table he elects to clap his hands.  Another sign that he sets himself apart from the others.

Chen proudly displays the core of the Time Destructor.  It’s taken fifty years to mine enough taranium to make it work, so it’s precious beyond belief.  When Zephon manages to escape and sound the alarm it’s a little surprising that neither the Daleks or the delegates bother to pick the Time Destructor up.  Instead, all the delegates run around like headless chickens whilst the crafty old Doctor grabs it and makes his escape.  This is another clumsy piece of plotting – the Daleks’ scheme depends on a device which the Doctor has very fortunately managed to acquire.

As the episode draws to a close, Bret is keen to take off.  The Doctor hasn’t turned up, so Bret tells Steven and Katarina he’ll have to go without him.  Will the Doctor make it in time?  Hmm, I wonder.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part One – The Nightmare Begins

The Daleks’ Master Plan has often been described as a sprawling epic, which is a reasonable enough summation.  But in truth it’s not really one story – rather it’s several different ones bolted together.

The early episodes have a nice downbeat feel (at times it feels like Nation was writing Blakes 7 a decade early).  It then turns (god forbid) into The Chase II, although we can take comfort from the fact that Douglas Camfield is directing rather than Richard Martin.  But after the mid-story comedy high-jinks the tone once again turns dark – not least in the final few moments of part twelve.

Rewiding back to The Nightmare Begins, one moment which impresses me is the scene between Roald (Philip Anthony) and Lizan (Pamela Greer).  Their job is to monitor Kembel for news of Bret Vyon (Nicholas Courtney) and Kert Gantrey (Brian Cant), who are investigating Marc Cory’s disappearance  (viewers with fairly long memories will remember that he met rather a sticky fate).

What I especially like about this moment is the way Nation uses the pair to pass judgement on Mavic Chen (Kevin Stoney), the Guardian of the Solar System.  Some twenty years later we’d see Arak and Etta in Vengeance on Varos perform a similar function as they debated the merits of the Governor.  This aspect of Philip Martin’s script was applauded as rather post-modern and picked up some praise.  Alas, Terry Nation did pretty much the same thing twenty years earlier and it seemed to have gone unnoticed.  Possibly this was because it’s in an episode that’s missing, or maybe it’s just that you don’t expect post-modernism in a Terry Nation script …

Like the pair on Varos, Roald and Lizan have sharply opposing views about the man in charge – Lizan likes him, Roald doesn’t.  It’s slightly disturbing that they both decide to watch television rather than keep an eye out for Bret’s distress signal, but this seems to be another satirical Nation touch.  It also helps to make them more rounded as characters – in plot terms they’re not terribly important, but their interaction with each other lets the viewer quickly know what the man and woman on the street thinks about the Guardian of the Solar System.

Bret and Kert are in rather dire straights on Kembel.  Kert (an impressively bearded Cant) doesn’t last long as he loses his nerve, rushes off into the jungle and is exterminated by a Dalek (for once a Dalek appears well before the end of part one cliffhanger).  This sequence was shot on film and it’s one of a number of film clips to have been preserved.  It’s only short, but it shows how adept Camfield was at ramping up the tension.

Up until this point in the series’ history, most stories have been written from the Doctor’s viewpoint.  So part one would open with the TARDIS landing somewhere, the Doctor and his friends then leave the ship, explore and are drawn into the story.  The Nightmare Begins takes a different tack (one which be used time and again in the future).

The world-building begins before the Doctor becomes involved in the plot properly – we see Bret and Kert on Kembel, are introduced to Chen, etc.  One side-effect of this form of storytelling is that it inevitably diminishes the central role that up until now the Doctor has tended to enjoy.  When a story’s ticking over so nicely with the guest characters, if the writer isn’t careful then the Doctor can be rather sidelined (see Eric Saward’s scripts for some good examples of this).

Steven, still suffering from the injuries sustained at the end of the last story, needs urgent medical help.  Rather surprisingly, the Doctor has nothing aboard the TARDIS which will do the trick so he’s forced to seek help elsewhere.  And so he lands on Kembel.

Quite why he’d think that the dense jungle planet of Kembel would be the place to visit is a bit of a mystery (one look and most people would have tried somewhere else!)  In plot terms, Steven’s injuries are nothing more than an excuse to get the Doctor on Kembel at the same time as the Daleks and Mavic Chen.

This is an undeniably crude piece of plotting – the Doctor spots some Daleks, decides to follow them and overhears Mavic Chen and the Daleks eagerly planning to take over the Earth and the rest of the Solar System.  With twelve episodes to play with it would have been nice to integrate the Doctor into the plot a little more subtly.

The Nightmare Begins sees the Doctor Who debut of Nicholas Courtney, or at least it would if we could actually see him.  We can hear him though and despite the fact that Bret’s painted rather broadly here as a single-minded man of action, Courtney still manages to make him seem fairly likeable.

Random Who – The Web of Fear

Recently I’ve been using the random number generator at random.org to select a number of Doctor Who stories to revisit. The latest choice of the randomiser was The Web of Fear ….

You have to say that the story is gossamer thin. Apart from puzzling over the Great Intelligence’s somewhat over complicated scheme to snare the Doctor, there’s no reason why they couldn’t have nabbed him at some point during the first few episodes (although this would have made for a very short tale). But since there’s six episodes to fill, a great deal of running on the spot has to be done.

Mind you, since Douglas Camfield is directing, this running on the spot is never less than very entertaining. For example, the Covent Garden battle in episode four adds absolutely nothing to the story, but it’s a wonderfully directed and edited sequence (for once, the Yeti – usually at their best lurking in the shadows – don’t look too bad in broad daylight either).

The guest cast are top notch. Well, there is one slightly annoying performance – can you guess who it is, boyo? Jack Watling gives a nice line in blustering comic relief, but otherwise Travers Snr doesn’t do a great deal. Indeed, things probably would have worked as well with just Travers Jnr (Tina Packer), who operates rather like a proto Liz. Anne does fade a little as the story progresses, regressing from an independent and practical young woman into more of a damsel in distress, but then some of the male characters do the same thing ….

One thing, I’ve never quite worked out is why (and when) she decides to change out of her miniskirt and into a trouser suit. With everyone facing multiple Yeti attacks, it seems an odd time to change your clothing.

The early episodes feature a selection of soldiers – such as Corporal Blake (Richardson Morgan), Corporal Lane (Rod Beacham) and Craftsman Weams (Stephen Whittaker) – who all bite the dust. But before each one is killed they’ve been invested with enough character to ensure their deaths mean something (they all seem a good deal more real than many of the faceless UNIT soldiers later mown down in the course of duty).

Jack Woolgar’s performance as the level-headed Staff Sgt. Arnold is an especially memorable one, which means his death comes as a particularly hard blow (although this part of the story makes little sense). We’re told that Arnold has been dead for some time and the Intelligence had reanimated his lifeless corpse (which is a horrifying concept). But since Arnold behaved so naturally throughout, it’s difficult to believe the Intelligence could have given quite so nuanced a performance (possibly Haisman and Lincoln, running out of time, simply closed their eyes and picked a traitor at random).

Elsewhere, Jon Rollason is suitably slimy as the David Frost-a-like Harold Chorley, whilst Ralph Watson impresses as the doomed Captain Knight. Poor Knight – treated with playful disdain by Anne and later clubbed down by a Yeti, he didn’t have much luck.

This six-parter, of course, also saw the debut of Nicholas Courtney as Lethbridge-Stewart. The character arrived pretty much fully formed, although he does have a fairly untrustworthy air at times (but only because the story had to keep suggesting that he might be the traitor).

There’s a fascinating scene where Lethbridge-Stewart issues Evans (Derek Pollitt) with a direct order, which Evans fails to obey. It’s impossible to imagine the Brig ever taking that sort of lip from one of his soldiers, but then Lethbridge-Stewart never had to face this type of scenario again – a mission where virtually all the men under his command are killed, leaving him as one of the few survivors (and a slightly hysterical one at that).

The Troughton era raised the Base Under Siege story concept to a high art form (which is fair enough as they had plenty of practice at it). Few stories have quite the same claustrophobic feel as The Web of Fear though – as the web slowly increases and people keep dying, there really does seem to be no way out.

After a number of episodes where the plot only advances a few inches, we reach episode six. The conclusion … isn’t great (which docks the story a point or two). Overall, The Web of Fear is a triumph of style over content – but what style. It’s one where you have to ignore the niggles and go with the flow.

Doctor Who – The Myth Makers. Part Four – Horse of Destruction

The massacre begins and the humour disappears. Probably one of the reasons why this feels especially jarring is the way the audience has been invited to feel comfortable in the presence of both Priam and Paris.

If the Greeks (Agamemnon, Odysseus, Achilles) have been depicted as single-minded warriors, then the Trojans were allowed a little more personality.  This makes their brutal demise all the more shocking.

Donald Cotton later concludes The Gunfighters in a similar orgy of violence, but since the Clantons were positioned throughout that story as “bad” and the likes of Earp, Holliday and Masterton were depicted as “good” it doesn’t have nearly the same impact.

There are some who view the sudden gear-change in Horse of Destruction from comedy to tragedy as a weakness, but to me it’s a clear strength – The Myth Makers shows us that there’s not always a “good” or “bad” side.

Similar themes had been explored in previous historicals, for example The Crusade.  David Whitaker’s script may have been much more straight-laced, but it had a similar sense of ambiguity about which side the viewer should support.

The use of comedy by Donald Cotton throughout this story is revealed in Horse of Destruction to be a dramatic device, designed to lure us into a false sense of security.  It’s a common trick, but not common in Doctor Who, which makes it noteworthy.

Another interesting aspect about the ending of The Myth Makers is just how downbeat it is.  This began a trend (although you could also say that it really started in Galaxy 4, with the Doctor leaving the Drahvins to their fate) which then continued in both The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Massacre.

Normally Doctor Who stories end on an optimistic note – although there’s often been a tremendous loss of life, it’s accepted that the ends justify the means.  Tyranny has been overthrown and the survivors can begin the task of rebuilding their world.

The Myth Makers offers no such comfort as destruction still rages. Steven is injured and Vicki elects to stay in this uncertain world with Trolius, the man she loves.  Possibly the relationship between Vicki and Trolius is the one positive thing we can take from the story (if they can somehow survive).

Vicki, like Susan before her and many companions to come, is shown to have completed a journey by the time she leaves the TARDIS.

When the girl joined the TARDIS crew in The Rescue, her awkwardness with people and her single-minded devotion to the Doctor meant that she spends the next few stories (The RomansThe Web PlanetThe Crusade) virtually glued to his side.

The Space Museum was key in the way that it showed a much more independent Vicki, happy to organise a planet-wide revolution!  After that she seemed much more comfortable by herself or outside of the Doctor’s orbit – which meant that, like Susan before her, she’s now made the transition from child to adult.

The Doctor and Vicki only share a single scene (apart from a few lines in episode one, it’s the only time they talk).  It’s noteworthy that it stops just at the point when Vicki’s preparing to tell the Doctor that she wishes to stay.

Given how both The Dalek Invasion of Earth and some later companion departures would milk the moment of leaving, it’s an odd choice which does leave the audience feeling slightly short-changed.

Whatever Vicki said, it must have been a powerful argument since the Doctor is happy for her to head off alone into the city to try and find Troilus.  This seems uncharacteristic in the extreme, but if writing out Maureen O’Brien was an eleventh hour decision then the options were limited.

An ailing Steven is back in the TARDIS, being tended by Cassandra’s handmaiden Katarina (Adrienne Hill).  The savvy viewer will know by now that as one door closes, another opens – so Katarina must be Vicki’s replacement …..