Thursday, 4 October 2012

Story 21 - The Daleks' Master Plan

In which the TARDIS materialises on the hostile jungle planet of Kembel, in the year 4000 AD. Steven is seriously ill from blood poisoning, after being wounded during the fall of Troy. As Katarina looks after him, the Doctor sets off to look for medical aid. He is observed by Space Security Service agent Bret Vyon. He tricks his way into the ship, and is able to cure Steven with a pill he carries. The Doctor discovers that the planet is overrun by Daleks. He comes upon the corpse of SSS agent Marc Cory and finds the recording he had made. Back at the TARDIS, Bret is overpowered. The Doctor plays the recording and learns of the Dalek plan to attack the Solar System. Bret is released and agrees to help the travellers. They go to the Dalek base, where Bret is shocked to see the spaceship of his leader, Mavic Chen, arrive. Zephon, Master of the Fifth Galaxy, wears a cloak and hood. They attack him and steal the cloak so that the Doctor can infiltrate a meeting of the Dalek Alliance. He learns of a Time Destructor weapon, the final component of which - its Core of Tarranium - has been supplied by Chen. When Zephon breaks free and sets off the alarm, the Doctor steals the Core in the confusion. With the TARDIS surrounded by Daleks, they steal Chen's ship - the Spar 740. Tarranium is so rare that the Core is irreplaceable - so the Daleks order pursuit.

The Spar is forced to crash-land on the penal planet of Desperus. Some of the convicts try to seize the ship. On lift-off, one of them - Kirksen - succeeds in taking Katarina hostage in the air-lock. She elects to open the outer door - killing them both. The Doctor and Steven are heartbroken but they must set aside their feelings to get Bret back to Earth and warn the authorities of the Dalek threat - and Chen's treachery. On Earth, Bret is shot dead by fellow agent Sara Kingdom. She, the Doctor and Steven get caught up in a matter transmission experiment and are beamed to the distant planet Mira. Here, Sara reveals that Bret had been her own brother. The Daleks attack, but the planet has its own inhabitants - giant invisible creatures called Visians. The Doctor and his companions steal the Dalek ship and return to Kembel, where they retrieve the TARDIS. The Daleks employ their own space-time machine to pursue them.

The pursuit takes them to England on Christmas Day, 1965, a 1920's Hollywood film set, Trafalgar Square at New Year, and a cricket test match between England and Australia. On the volcanic planet of Tigus, the TARDIS lock is sabotaged by the Meddling Monk, who has been planning his revenge on the Doctor after their encounter in 1066 Northumbria. A temporary repair allows the Doctor to take them on to ancient Egypt, where the Great Pyramid is under construction. The Monk follows. He pretends to help the Daleks - as well as Steven and Sara. The Doctor is forced to hand over the Core to Chen, and they escape using the working directional control from the Monk's ship - allowing them to get to Kembel. The Monk is destined to wander aimlessly.
On Kembel, the Daleks have turned against their allies, as their usefulness is at an end. Chen, mad with a lust for power, tries to command the Daleks and they exterminate him. The other allies flee. The Time Destructor is activated. The Doctor has sabotaged it so that it will burn up quickly and only affect this world. The Daleks are destroyed, but Sara is caught up in its field and dies rapidly of old age. The Doctor and Steven travel on, saddened at the loss of their friends: Bret, Sara and, especially, Katarina.

This epic, twelve part adventure was written by Terry Nation and Dennis Spooner, and was broadcast between 13th November 1965 and 29th January 1966.
The story is significant for many things:

  • Its length - the longest story until 1985's Trial of a Time Lord.
  • The first death of a companion - and that of a "pseudo" companion.
  • The Monk becomes only the second returning character after the Daleks.
  • The first Christmas episode (and the only one of the classic series).
  • The first appearance in the programme of the late, great Nicholas Courtney, who plays Bret Vyon.
  • The breaking of the "fourth wall" when the Doctor wishes the viewers at home a Merry Christmas in the Dalek-free episode 7.
Producer John Wiles was horrified to be landed with this story, taking up a huge chunk of his first season. He had not commissioned it, and was eager to get his own ideas introduced. The story's genesis lies in a lift at BBC TV Centre. Head of the Corporation, Sir Huw Weldon, told Verity Lambert that his elderly mother loved the Daleks, and they should be on TV more often.  You don't argue with the boss, and so the massive 12 parter was born.
Terry Nation was busy working on more lucrative independent productions and did not have the time to write the whole story. He concentrated on the first half, whilst the latter episodes were picked up by ex-story editor Spooner - though some, like the final episode, were based on Nation's ideas. It's noticeable that there is an increased level of humour in Spooner's sections.
The director is Douglas Camfield. Design was split between Ray Cusick and Barry Newbery.
Only episodes 2, 5 and 10 still exist, along with the soundtrack to the missing parts.

Adrienne Hill's abrupt departure from the programme after only a handful of episodes was due to a re-evaluation of the character and its limitations. Having a character from such early history would mean her having to ask questions about things even the audience would already know. A more contemporary companion was needed, and so Katarina becomes the first companion to die - sucked out into space. Kirksen wants to take the Spar back to Kendal (sorry, Kembel) and she knows that this will stop the Doctor achieving his aim of saving humanity. She nobly elects to sacrifice herself.
After this shock, the viewers might have thought they were seeing the new female companion in Jean Marsh's Sara Kingdom. In episode 12, however, she bites the dust as well. She starts off as a cold-blooded killer but we warm to her and she fulfils the female companion role for the rest of the story.
Principal guest actor is the marvellous Kevin Stoney, who plays Mavic Chen. He's a suave but insecure villain who eventually descends into madness, but Stoney never takes the character over the top.

It's great to see Peter Butterworth reprise his role as the Monk. As with his earlier appearance, there is a lot of humour to be had with the character. He lights up the two episodes he appears in.
Episode 7 is played purely for laughs, being the Christmas night one. There's the Doctor being arrested for squatting in a Police Box and a Keystone Kop chase in Hollywood.
There are quite a few aliens and monsters on show. Chief of these are the various alien alliance members. These include Malpha (played by Brian Mosley, rather than Robert Cartland who had the role in Mission to the Unknown), Trantis, Zephon, Celation, Warrius, Sentreal and Beaus.
The Visians are invisible, so we only see their clawed footprints as they walk about. On Desperus there are giant bat-like creatures called Screamers - whose shrieks drive the convicts insane.

Celation regrets buying that Tribble last week...
The Daleks are at the height of their powers in this - no sign of the silliness of The Chase. You really believe they are the masters of a great space empire. Zephon gets exterminated fairly early on for allowing the Doctor to break into their meeting and steal the Core. When the Daleks are given a fake Core by Steven, they decide to test it on Trantis, at Chen's behest - as he sees him as a rival. When the Destructor fails to work, they exterminate him anyway.
Episode endings are:

  1. The Nightmare Begins - The Doctor returns to the TARDIS to find it surrounded by Daleks.
  2. Day of Armageddon - Bret refuses to wait for the Doctor and decides to take off without him.
  3. Devil's Planet - Kirksen seizes Katarina as she enters the Spar.
  4. The Traitors - Sara has killed Bret, and orders that the Doctor and Steven be shot on sight.
  5. Counter Plot - Trapped in a cave on Mira, the Doctor declares that the Daleks have won.
  6. Coronas of the Sun - On landing the Doctor discovers that the atmosphere outside the TARDIS is highly toxic. (It's actually ye olde Englishe 1960's smog).
  7. The Feast of Steven - The Doctor makes us all canon by wishing us a Merry Christmas.
  8. Volcano - The Dalek space-time ship begins its pursuit.
  9. Golden Death - In the treasure chamber of an Egyptian tomb, Steven and Sara see a bandaged figure emerge from a sarcophagus.
  10. Escape Switch - The Doctor doesn't know if the Monk's directional control will be compatible with his ship. As he activates it there is a blast of light.
  11. The Abandoned Planet - Chen captures Steven and Sara and takes them into the Dalek base.
  12. Destruction of Time - Lamenting lost friends, the Doctor and Steven return to the TARDIS.

Overall, a brave effort. There is much to enjoy, though we could have done without some of the chase episodes. The audience of the day would have been quite confused. An episode with Daleks but no Doctor, followed by the Doctor with no Daleks, followed by a Dalek story whose duration they would have had no inkling of. Best to absorb the episodes over time, rather than try to digest all at once.
Things you might like to know:

  • Marc Cory's recorded message is different to the one we hear in Mission to the Unknown.
  • Most of the Alliance members change between the two stories as well.
  • After this, Terry Nation decided to try and launch the Daleks, sans Doctor, in the US. He would have used the Space Security Service as their protagonists - and resurrected Sara Kingdom.
  • Adrienne Hill's very first work on Doctor Who was actually her death scene - pre-filmed at Ealing before work on The Myth Makers had begun.
  • William Hartnell talked Nicholas Courtney into changing his theatrical agent - and he didn't work for the next 6 months.
  • There is a Spar supermarket at 740 Lordship Lane, Wood Green, London N22. What are the chances of that...?


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  5. This story was not commissioned in a lift. That was “Terror of the Vervoids.” “The Daleks’ Master Plan” was always set to appear in season 3, however, it was extended from 6 to 12 episodes when Head of Drama Sidney Newman, told the new Head of Serials, Gerald Savory, that the BBC's Managing Director Huw Wheldon thought there should be more Daleks in the programme (Wheldon's mother-in-law, Mrs L.G. Stroud, liked the Daleks, and Wheldon believed her opinions reflected those of the average viewer). This information was finally passed on to then Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert.

    1. I recall that it was Donald Tosh who made the comment about the story having its origins in a conversation in a lift. He was probably being a bit facetious - making the point that the story was prompted by Wheldon rather than coming about through the wants and needs of the production team, who would much rather have done something else.

    2. Hi GerryD

      Your article states "The story's genesis lies in a lift at BBC TV Centre. Head of the Corporation, Sir Huw Weldon, told Verity Lambert that his elderly mother loved the Daleks, and they should be on TV more often."

      Whatever Tosh may or may not have said, this did not happen. The idea of doing a six part Dalek story for season three took place following discussions with Nation, Spooner and Lambert sometime during February 1965. It wasn’t until late May that Savory instructed Lambert to make “Master Plan” twelve episodes long.

      Equally, Wheldon made his remark to Newman after being told that the first episode of the new Dalek serial "The Chase" had recieved 10 million viewers, which places this event sometime between 24th and 27th May 1965.

      Finally, Tosh didn't start work on Doctor Who until 14th May 1965, and has said that he didn't know about "Master Plan" until some time after this date, and only then from John Wiles who burt into his office one day and told him, "forget our schedule, forget our plans. We have an already commissioned serial. We have twelve weeks of fucking Daleks!”

      So, no matter what angle you look at it from, "Master Plan" did not come about following a discussion between Lambert and Wheldon in a lift.