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Daleks’ Master Plan – a long haul? I think not.

October 10, 2015

feast of steven

1965-1966.

Of course, you can’t actually see this anymore.  You can see three actual episodes and some reconstructions involving still photographs and the audio track.  Which doesn’t prevent you experiencing the plot and much of the acting.  Discounting The Trial of a Timelord – which has more than one production code and is arguably more than one adventure – the twelve-part adventure Daleks’ Master Plan – largely written by script editor Dennis Spooner to a set of “original ideas” by Terry Nation.  Not atypically, the extent of Nation’s writing contribution is hotly disputed.

There is bleak stuff  in Daleks’ Master Plan and some monumentally silly stuff.  This is not only the first adventure to kill off a companion, it’s the only adventure to kill off two companions.

Adrienne Hill is fascinating as Katarina, the Trojan handmaiden to Cassandra – who doesn’t even know what a key is – let alone a space ship – and is struggling to make this intergalactic space war conform to a Homeric cosmology.

William Hartnell is never better than grieving for Katarina. Katarina was, in a sense, the first “Impossible Girl” – a girl who never even knew she was alive, who assumed she was dead the whole time and on her way to the afterlife.  Who never really had a clue what was going on.  Hartnell’s elegy to Katarina deserves to be as well known as his “I’ll come back” goodbye to Susan. Katarina floats in deep space having opened the airlock to protect the rest of the crew.  It’s an eerie and unforgettable scene – one of the most memorably chilling moments of 1960s television ever conceived.

As for Sara Kingdom – Katarina’s replacemen…  well, she starts off by killing her own brother Brett (as played by Nicholas Courtney in his first venture into the universe).  Jean Marsh and Nicholas Courtney are reunited in the Seventh Doctor adventure Battlefield where they are again antagonists with a sense of unspoken “history”.  Kingdom rarely smiled during her brief time in the Tardis and is eventually aged to death as a result of too much exposure to the Time Destructor Device Thingy.  A horrible way to go.  Strong meat for Saturday teatime.

Apart from Daleks, the chief bad guy is one Mavic Chen, the deranged traitorous guardian of the Solar System who invites in the Daleks in order to help shed the constitutional limitations on his power.  The incomparable Kevin Stoney, who was later to do an equally foolish deal with the Cybermen in Invasion (1968) is a superlative quisling who thinks he can turn the tables on the Daleks, indeed, become their leader.   Stoney seems to be blacked up for the role, for reasons that elude me and anyone I’ve ever talked to.

Some adventures start silly and get more serious.  Others get sillier as the writers get lazier.  Daleks’ Master Plan starts off very serious (future Playaway presenter Brian Cant’s desperation is very poignant), until half way through when it gets very very silly indeed and then it gets very serious indeed at the end.

The infamous “Feast of Steven” episode feels more like a tea break in the middle of an adventure than an adventure in its own right.  It starts out as a  kind of “Z Cars” parody – which at least has the welcome effect of having the Doctor visit the NORTH of England for a blessed change.  (A Brian Blessed change?)  It is this episode that features the infamous shattering of the fourth wall as the Doctor suddenly notices that we are here and wishes us all a Happy Christmas.  You can follow the controversy surrounding these few seconds if you like, but you have to be very very bored first.  There is some capering about in a 1920s Hollywood silent movie studio that is almost fascinatingly unnecessary and incoherent,

A much funnier joke occurs in the next episode where the Tardis materialises in the middle of the Oval cricket ground – in the middle of the pitch no less – during the  middle of an England Australia game.  The calm assurance of the imperturbable commentators as they discuss the Tardis’ arrival and its likely effect on the match situation is a joy to behold.  Or rather hear.  They even attempt to do some stats and try to figure out how often mysterious objects have materialised and dematerialised in previous matches.

We’re sent to a volcanic planet.  We’re sent to Ancient Egypt.  The Meddling Monk shows up again played by Carry On stalwart Peter Butterworth.  A bronze age civilisation starts chucking spears at Daleks with little effect.

Eventually we’re back on the nightmare planet Kembel and Chen’s loopiness proves his undoing.  The allies of the Daleks escape to warn their planets about Daleks (dim delegates – dim planets) and eventually Steven and the Doctor achieve a kind of victory amid all the death and ruination.

Strong performances from Hartnell and Purves, along with some strong dialogue and a general sense of waste and despair make this creaky and uneven slice of television a worthwhile investment.  If it’s ever recovered in anything like it’s entirety it will make a lovely Christmas present. Something worth clinking a glass with William Hartnell to.

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