Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Dalek's Master Plan


The Dalek's Master Plan is a twelve part story that picks up from the events of Mission To The Unknown. It was written by Terry Nation (1-5 and 7) and Dennis Spooner (6, 8-12) and it is a tale of The Dalek's attempts to conquer the 'universe'.

The Daleks have gathered a gaggle of allies from both the Outer Galaxies (whose appearance isn't quite the same as those we see in Mission To The Unknown, which provides a puzzle for Doctor Who fans to solve. If they want to) and Mavic Chen (Kevin Stoney), the Guardian of the Solar System.

Their plan is to 'invade the Universe' using the forces of their allies and the Time Destructor, which is powered by Taranium. We learn almost nothing about what the Time Destructor does until the Doctor turns it on in Episode 12. We just know it needs a core of Taranium, the rarest element in the universe. It is found only on Uranus and Chen's role to provide the Taranium Core for the Daleks and bring it to Kembel.

Into this conspiracy stumble the Doctor, Katarina and Steven.

First of all they're almost shanghaied by Space Security Service agent Brett Vyon (Nicholas Courtney) and then once everyone realises they have enemies in common they start to work together. Stealing Mavic Chen's ship and the Taranium Core they attempt to make for Earth but find themselves diverted to the planet Desperus*, which is the prison planet of the Solar System.

It is whilst escaping from Desperus that Katarina dies. Kirksen (Douglas Sheldon) , a prisoner who snuck aboard the ship in an attempt to escape grabs Katarina and drags her into the airlock. He tries to use her as a hostage to bargain his way to freedom. It looks like he's going to get his way but Katarina opens the airlock and both she and Kirksen die.

The whole sequence is played with an intensity that makes the situation seem all the more real. Steven's desperate cry as Katarina dies is heart-breaking. It's difficult to be sure if Katarina meant to do what she did. It seems more heroic and hopeful to think that she did. The Doctor's heartfelt line about hoping she's found her place in paradise - which isn't the exact wording - is nicely played by Hartnell.

Hartnell's on top form throughout this story. His performance matches the pitch of the story. He's cunning, clever and angry. He's determined to stop the Daleks at any cost. It's almost as if this is the story where the Doctor becomes the Doctor proper. Interfering to defeat the Daleks because, to steal a line from his successor, there are corners of the Universe that have bred the most terrible things. They must be fought. And the Doctor is going to fight them.

Katarina is the first companion to die in Doctor Who. She won't be the last.

The Doctor, Steven and Brett manage to get to Earth, where Mavic Chen and his oily ally Karlton (Maurice Browning) have set them up. They've brief Space Security Service agent Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh) that the TARDIS team and Brett are traitors and that the Taranium is necessary for peace.

What that means is that Brett is the next to die. Shot down by Sara Kingdom. Who, as she is about to kill the Doctor and Steven, gets transported to the planet Mira as part of a weird experiment involving teleporting mice from Earth to Mira.

On Mira Sara is filled in on Chen's treachery and what the Daleks are up to. Steven is angrily lecturing her on - basically - 'only obeying orders'. It turns out Vyon is Kingdom's brother, which is a an unnecessary twist as it makes little difference to her story except to add to her guilt. And why no mention of it in the run up to his death. Why didn't Brett mention it? It almost seems like a throwaway thought of Nations.

The Daleks arrive on Mira and begin by exterminating the mice. Mira is also home to some large, aggressive and invisible beasties that help provide enough of a distraction to the Daleks that the Doctor, Sara and Steven can escape by stealing the Dalek's craft. At some point The Doctor builds a fake Taranium Core, which he manages to palm off on the Daleks after he gets back to Kembel and gets back to his TARDIS.

Are you still with me?

We have now reached Episode Seven aka The Feast of Steven. This episode went out on Christmas Day 1965 and so it is basically twenty-five minutes of comic faffing about. The TARDIS lands in an episode of a thinly disguised Z-Cars and then a silent film studio. The first bit is actually quite funny and well-played. The second less so. On the audio Peter Purves's narration plays up to the mood. Then the Doctor wishes everyone - including us at home - a very Merry Christmas.

Then we're back - a brief visit to a cricket match and Trafalgar Square on New Year's Eve aside. The next couple of episodes have a slightly different tone. It is reminiscent of The Chase as someone is following the Doctor's TARDIS. Everyone assumes that it is the Daleks but it turns out to be The Meddling Monk (Peter Butterworth) who has repaired his TARDIS and is looking for some petty revenge.

There's some diddling about on a newly formed planet where the Monk tries to stop the Doctor getting into his TARDIS but fails to take into account The Doctor's 'sonic' ring and then Ancient Egypt. Here the Daleks run riot in a building site - for the Great Pyramids - whilst the Monk also attempts to make things difficult for the Doctor and friends. The Doctor manages to escape but only at the cost of giving the Taranium Core back to the Daleks.

The Doctor cannibalises the Monk's direction control and luckily manages to use it to get everyone back to Kembel in time for the final battle.

By this point Mavic Chen has gone completely mad. His character was always arrogant but now his arrogance has reached such levels that he believes himself to be the greatest power in the universe. He isn't helping the Daleks. They are serving him. He'd fit in perfectly on the Apprentice at this point. There's a lovely moment where he tells off a Dalek and bats its eye-stalk away. If he wasn't already doomed to extermination: he is now.

Episode Eleven puts Steven and Sara front and centre because the Doctor disappears. As have The Daleks apparently. Steven and Sara search the Dalek base but can't find the Doctor. Instead they find the imprisoned Dalek delegates, including Mavic Chen. The delegates flee returning to their 'galaxies' to try and get a force together against the Daleks (and I suspect to be punished for their treachery.) Chen, after a bit of a pointless bit of red herringy, decides to hand over Steven and Sara to the Daleks. He expects this will help him to be received with open arms.

In the final episode Chen goes right off the deep end. His attempt to shot the Supreme Dalek and get the Daleks to obey him goes as well as one would expect, i.e. he dies. At this point the Doctor reappears and starts the Time Destructor. He sends Sara and Steven back to the TARDIS for their own safety but Sara turns around to find him. This is the moment she is doomed.

The Time Destructor starts its work. It is destroying the Kembel jungle turning it to sand and wave after wave of Time Energy ages and weakens the Doctor and Sara. Sara dies. Aging to death and then blown away as dust on the wind. The Doctor survives pulled aboard the TARDIS by Steven.

The Daleks are defeated. But Steven and the Doctor are left to contemplate the cost: Katarina, Brett and Sara.

The Dalek's Master Plan is an epic Doctor Who story. It's tone is variable but it does prevent you getting too used to it and therefore too bored over the course of twelve weeks. The arrival of the Meddling Monk - with Butterworth on fine form again - helps freshen things up, even if he's brings with him tonal issues, especially whilst ancient Egyptians are being massacred by the Daleks.

It also feels epic too because the Doctor pays a price for his victory. Yes, none of those that die are long serving companions but Katarina's death is horribly real, Brett is gunned down by his sister and Sara's death is drawn out and horrible.

Douglas Camfield does an mighty job as director to keep everything together, especially through the various tonal shifts that The Dalek's Master Plan goes through. Nation's script isn't bad and a spoon full of Spooner definitely helps the medicine go down.

I've mentioned Hartnell's excellent performance but Peter Purves is also on good form throughout. Steven often seems like an angry young man but his response to both Katarina and Sara's deaths seem absolutely genuine. Adrienne Hill doesn't get much of a chance to show what she can do as Katarina ,who is lost from the moment she steps aboard the TARDIS. However she conveys a genuine innocence and acceptance of her circumstances from what one can tell based on surviving audio and footage.

It's odd seeing Nicholas Courtney in Doctor Who as anyone but the Brigadier. Vyon's is more ruthless than the Brigadier will be [most of the time] and suitably staunch. He's not a character with much depth but Courtney does what needs to be done.

Jean Marsh gives Sara Kingdom an initial ruthlessness too but her discovery of Chen's treachery and her gullibility changes her. It's funny how similar her performance is to Courtney's in terms of reactions. Alas she too is doomed.

I can't praise Kevin Stoney's performance as Mavic Chen enough.

It's slightly awkward that he appears to be 'blacked/yellowed-up' for reasons that I'm a bit baffled by. Chen's name does indicate Asian roots so now I suspect you'd cast an Asian actor in the part but it still doesn't explain the skin colour. For a modern television viewer it is uncomfortable but Stoney makes Chen genuinely disturbing. Chen's arrogance is obvious from the start but the ups and downs of this story distills that arrogance into a delusional belief in his own importance and power. He's always going to die.

The Daleks are fabulous in this, although I'm never quite sure why the Daleks bother with alliances when they always end up butchering their allies anyway. More importantly after the Daleks murder the first of the delegates I'm not quite sure why any of the other delegates think the Daleks aren't going to do the same to them.

There are no Daleks a-stumblin' and a-mumblin' as there are in The Chase. They're played straight. They are not dragged into The Feast of Steven so we have no scenes as awful as The Daleks meet Morton Dill thankfully.

That's because this story is meant to be big and dark. Go back to Episode One and see how bleak the death of Vyon's comrade, Gantry (Brian Cant) is. He dies terrified and on his knees. The Daleks feel like a genuine, large scale threat here. Even as the Doctor runs rings around them.

Only three episodes of this twelve part story exist in the archive - 2, 5 and 10 - so there's so much we don't see. I listened to the official BBC audio release with Peter Purves's narration for the rest of the story. There are clips too, including Katarina's death. So it is difficult to say how this story would stand up if it was all recovered.** I'd like to think its recovery would improve its reputation.

This is the second time I've listened/watched this story and I enjoyed it a lot more this time. It's entertaining for the most part, bleak and ambitious. It's the best Dalek story so far (and makes The Chase look even more terrible.) It helps that it is directed by Douglas Camfield who knows how to direct Doctor Who and how to direct Daleks.

I think it helped that I broke it up and watched it over the course of three days. The first time I think I force fed myself on it and got the television equivalent of indigestion.

So after all this waffling on I'd say if you've not listened/seen it I'd definitely recommend you do but take it slow. It'll reward you as a result.



* We should be thankful it wasn't the planet Prisonus based on Terry Nation's previous naming conventions.
**The Feast of Steven is probably the one episode of Doctor Who that will never be recovered. It wasn't sold abroad at all. So at best we'll get 11 of the 12 but that's fine. Every and any new Doctor Who episode is a glorious thing. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Vicki


Vicki, played by Maureen O'Brien, lasted 38 episodes. She made her first appearance in The Rescue and her final appearance in The Myth Makers.

The first actor to be asked to step in and replace a regular character following the departure of Carol Anne Ford's Susan it is obvious that O'Brien, like Ford, is a better actress than the character allows her to be.

Vicki is an orphan who, it turns out, has been surviving on the planet Dido with the murderer of her father. Once that little situation is sorted out in The Rescue she is all alone and takes the opportunity to flee with the TARDIS crew. And although she's initially just an obvious Susan replacement - for both the audience and the First Doctor - she gradually gets to carve out a character of her own. However the seeds for her departure are sown (accidentally, I'm sure) from the off.

She doesn't want to be treated like a child but alas that is exactly how the Doctor, Ian and Barbara treat her even as it becomes clear that she's intelligent and resourceful enough to look after herself. If anything it is Vicki that keeps The Doctor safe. She certainly keeps him calm, which is a task O'Brien found herself doing with William Hartnell too in the real world. The relationship between Vicki and the First Doctor is obviously a close one but he is not as affected by her decision to leave as he was by Susan, Ian and Barbara's choice. Perhaps he is already getting used to the fact that his fellow travellers will come and go.

Or the production team is getting used to the idea. After all Vicki's explanation of her departure happens off screen in The Myth Makers. The Doctor and she pop into the TARDIS for a chat and when they come out she's off to find Troilus. To be honest I don't think it is a particularly convincing reason to leave. Troilus is a bit wet and Vicki never struck me as the sort of character that would jump into the arms of the first man she felt for like a drowning woman clinging onto a lifebelt. Perhaps she's just grown up enough not to need a father/grandfather figure anymore? And with Steven aboard the TARDIS she won't be leaving the Doctor on his own. Still it never quite feels right to me (and Vicki won't be the last companions to be written out in a half-baked way.)

O'Brien's brilliant though in making Vicki more than just a cipher. She's got energy to burn. It is Vicki that effectively starts the revolution on Xeros by making sure that arms fall into Xeron hands. She's bored by all the sitting around and talking.

In modern Doctor Who O'Brien would have been allowed to keep her Liverpudlian* accent (which slips out in a nice throwaway line in The Crusades.) and I think with a tweak here and there should would have fitted right in.

Vicki's not often just a peril monkey. Usually she's teamed up with The Doctor, as in The Romans and The Web Planet and helping to keep him from harm. She's not a character without get up and go but there's probably not enough there to stop her from not being the most exciting part for an actor to play. In an interview from 1990 that I found here O'Brien makes it clear that Doctor Who "...was pretty unrewarding from an acting point of view...the scripts were so predictable." [Which is a bit harsh on some of the stories she worked on I think but perhaps not from her point of view.] I will take this opportunity to point you in the direction of a short interview with Maureen O'Brien done as part of Toby Hadoke's Who's Round, which can be downloaded from here

O'Brien has done a couple of Big Finish Companion Chronicles as Vicki, including the rather marvelous Frostfire, which is worth a listen if you get a chance.

Alas then Vicki is not a companion that will set Doctor Who alight, which isn't O'Brien's fault. She's very good and given the right scripts (and perhaps a little more freedom) Vicki could have been a great companion. Instead she is - like a lot of Hartnell's companions - lost in the mists of black and white history, which is a shame as she's likeable, well-played and (until the final story) having fun just having adventures with the Doctor.

Like us.



*There's a few Liverpudlians in Doctor Who who've lost - or toned down - their accents: O'Brien, Liz Sladen, Tom Baker and Paul McGann spring to mind. If every planet has a north it seems that this north isn't a Scouse one.