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.