The time has come for us to tackle the Mount Kilimanjaro of Doctor Who stories…
The Nightmare Begins
This story has worried me for quite some time. Should I come clean and tell Sue it’s a 12-part epic, or do I postpone the inevitable and pretend it’s a two-parter? The second option will only get me so far (and a punch in the face to boot), and so I have decided to take the approach endorsed by a wonderful blog called TARDIS Eruditorum: A Psychochronography in Blue, where Philip Sandifer suggests that the best way to enjoy The Daleks’ Master Plan is not to treat it as a 12-part story at all (although he also suggests that we skip episodes 7-10, which, while extremely tempting, would be cheating). Anyway, it’s a brilliant blog and the perfect counterpoint to ours: he’s going through the series from the beginning too, although he has some really serious and fascinating points to make about how television was made and viewed back in the 1960s, while all we do is bicker about the length of Barbara’s skirts.
With Philip’s wisdom in mind, I have decided to divide The Daleks’ Master Plan into three manageable chunks (episodes 1-4, episodes 5-10 and episodes 11-12). It’s already working from a psychological point of view, if nothing else.
Sue: 12 episodes? 12?
Me: Yes, but the audience wouldn’t have known that. Let’s just take it one episode at a time. If it helps, try to imagine Matt Smith’s last season as a 13-part epic. It’s that sort of thing. A bit.
Sue: Does it have a story arc?
Me: Yes, that’s it. It has a story arc. A very long and very weird story arc.
Sue: What did you say? You’re mumbling under your breath again.
Me: Sorry, it was nothing. Anyway, let’s crack on.
I fire up the first recon…
Sue: Terry Nation! 12 episodes of Terry ****ing Nation! No ****ing way!
Me: Don’t panic, he doesn’t write all of them.
Sue: How many does he write?
Me: Half of them.
Sue: Oh, for god’s sake -
I manage to take her mind off Doctor Who‘s version of altitude sickness by asking her to identify the actors playing Brett Vyon and Kert Gantry.
Sue: That’s the Brigadier and that’s some bloke from Playschool.
For Sue, this is as good as it gets, and I eventually put her out of her misery regarding Gantry, just as he is put out of his misery by a Dalek.
Sue: He really is Brian Can’t now.
Gantry’s horrific death scene is presented with moving images, and from this brief glimpse of live action, she can tell that the director did a pretty good job.
Sue: That’s a nice low-angle death scene. Is this Douglas Camfield?
Incredible. Later, she’ll be outraged when the recon we have chosen to watch spells his name wrong (“Douglass!?”).
Anyway, this episode goes down well with Sue. She is happy to see the Kembel story back on the agenda again, she’s delighted at the concept of earth’s security being run by Right, Said Fred, and she’s intrigued when Mavic Chen appears to sell everyone out to the Daleks.
Sue: Is this is the equivalent of Kofi Annan or Ban Ki-moon making a secret deal with hostile alien invaders? Charming.
However, the cliffhanger, which involves a squadron of Daleks surrounding the TARDIS, infuriates her.
Sue: They’ve left the bloody doors open again! I hate it when they do that.
I’m not saying anything. But if I did, it would probably rhyme with “sing-song”.top
Day of Armageddon
This is our first “real” episode for what feels like an eternity. Even Sue, who has no problems with the recons (and has been known to prefer them), is relieved to see people’s mouths moving for more than sixty seconds at a time. It also provides us with our first decent look at Katarina.
Sue: She’s a lot older than I imagined from the voice and the stills. I don’t know how long they can keep up the blissful ignorance gimmick, though; it’s already starting to wear a bit thin. It’s bad enough when the companions have to ask the Doctor stupid questions so the audience can follow the plot, but if Katarina has to ask him what a bloody key is, we’ll never get anywhere!
Mavic Chen’s ethnicity is also a bone of contention for Sue.
Sue: Is he Polish?
Me: No, but his face is almost certainly covered in the stuff.
Sue: I thought he was an alien at first; he doesn’t look like any nationality that I recognise. He’s a pretty good actor, though. He does interesting things with his fingers.
Me: I just don’t see why a bloke who’s running a solar system would want to run a universe as well. It sounds like far too much responsibility and paperwork to me.
Sue: He’s also a flaming idiot if he doesn’t realise that the Daleks will kill him as soon as they’ve finished with him. What a berk. And this music is bloody awful! It’s a blessed relief when they finally turn it off. I can’t follow a damn thing when it’s whining in the background.
The alien delegation, who are our plotting the downfall of our solar system, don’t instil any fear in Sue.
Sue: Is this the best they could do? A scuba diver, a leper and a mime artist? And what’s with all the slow-motion dancing?
Me: I expect that he’s adapting to a different gravity.
Sue: He looks like he’s adapting to a pair of underpants that are two sizes too small.
When Zephon, an extremely bad-tempered shrub, starts ranting and raving everything suddenly falls into place for Sue.
Sue: OK, I get it. This lot are like the presidents of all the rogue nations getting together to kick the West’s butt. And the bloke with the twigs for arms is the craziest one of all, which makes him the Colonel Gaddafi of the group. Am I right?
When the Doctor infiltrates the evil doers’ meeting (“Do they have to go through the minutes of the last conquest?”), Sue is impressed with the Doctor’s proactive streak.
Sue: The Doctor has some balls to walk into that meeting, although not as many as the alien who can’t walk properly.
The Daleks’ master plan is finally revealed to us and it involves a priceless taranium core, or, if you’re Sue, a can of baked beans. Sue is flabbergasted when everyone runs away, leaving such a valuable commodity behind for the Doctor to conveniently pinch.
Sue: Wimps. They scatter at the first sign of trouble, and yet we are supposed to believe they are the most fearsome and evil fighting force ever assembled. What a joke.
As all hell breaks loose, Brett Vyon decides that waiting for the Doctor to return isn’t in his best interests after all and so he prepares Mavic Chen’s ship (or spar – I don’t understand it either) for lift-off. The git.
Sue: It’s just as well that the Doctor doesn’t leave – his TARDIS is still there.top
With the Doctor safely on Chen’s ship/spar/jacuzzi, Sue probes me once again about the Doctor’s inability to pilot the TARDIS.
Sue: But isn’t it a bit stupid? I mean, why can’t he fly it properly? What’s the point?
Me: Because if he could fly it properly, you’d ask me every day: why doesn’t he just nip back in time a bit to sort out a problem, or why doesn’t he just land somewhere where everything is nice and peaceful? That’s why.
Sue: It’s still annoying, though. Matt Smith doesn’t have any trouble with his.
At one point, the good guys spend an inordinate amount of time playing Marc Corey’s recording from Mission to the Unknown, even though it doesn’t tell them anything they don’t already know.
Sue: What a complete waste of time. Terry ****ing Nation.
The Daleks then manage to make their sauna crash-land on the planet Desperus, a prison planet where things are, well, desperate.
Me: Do you think they put the prisoners there and then they named the planet Desperus? Or did they scout around the universe for a shit-hole with an appropriate name?
Sue: Cavemen? Again? Really?
Me: I suppose it’s a bit like the penal planet in Alien 3.
Sue: Oh, great! More rapists!
I can sense Sue’s attention beginning to drift as the episode progresses. Steven and Brett fiddle with the spar; the Daleks have a good old rant; the Doctor patronises Katarina; and some hairy prisoners shamble around a jungle that doesn’t look all that different from Kembel. Sue simply shrugs her shoulders and yawns.
There’s a brief interlude. where the Doctor electrifies the spar’s entrance so the prisoners can’t get through, but this turns out to be useless when one of them manages to stowaway and take Katarina hostage.
Sue barely raises an eyebrow.top
Sue: I’m starting to lose interest in this story. Nothing seems to happen. It’s just land on a planet, narrowly escape from the Daleks, land on another planet, and then repeat forever. It’s – ****ING HELL!
Katarina sacrifices herself. Well, I say sacrifice…
Sue: Did she do that on purpose or was it an accident because she didn’t know how the door worked?
Me: I think we’re supposed to go with noble sacrifice.
Sue: So, that’s it then? She’s dead? Really, really dead?
Me: Yep. Brutal. isn’t it?
Sue: Is Katarina a real companion or not?
Me: You tell me.
Sue: Well, I don’t know. Sort of, I guess. What do the fans say?
Me: Don’t pay any attention to them. But, yes, the consensus is Katarina is a companion. A dead companion.
Sue: I suppose she must be then. It’s difficult to get upset about it, though.
I tell her that Katarina was a replacement for Vicki when Maureen O’Brien and John Wiles had a falling out, and I ask her to imagine the scene ending with Vicki flying out of the airlock door instead.
Sue: That would have been horrific. I’m glad Vicki had a sweet love affair instead. No, that would have been terrible. And if that’s really true, Katarina isn’t a real companion after all. She was just a stand-in.
Me: But an audience wouldn’t have known that.
Sue: I don’t care. In fact, I would have been more upset if the Brigadier had died. I feel like we’ve spent more time with that character anyway. He’s rather dashing, actually. You can see why they asked him to come back.
As Katarina’s lifeless body drifts away in the cold, inky blackness of space (“No way!”) the Doctor cobbles together a vaguely touching, and seemingly heartfelt eulogy. But a few moments later he’s back to his old, chipper self.
Sue: He’s taking it rather well, don’t you think?
Me: Katarina is the first person to die under his care. It’s a big turning point for the series. But yes, I don’t see how they could have carried on like this if it had been Vicki’s corpse floating past the window like that. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
When Jean Marsh turns up as Sara Kingdom (no, she didn’t recognise her without prompting), Sue jumps to the obvious conclusion.
Sue: She’s the next companion -
Me: Well -
Sue: Shit! She’s just shot the Brigadier! What a cow!
Me: It’s worse than that, love, he’s dead.
Sue: This is turning into a bloodbath. Was he a real companion? The Doctor is getting through a lot of companions today. If I were Steven, I’d be worried by now.
As Sara Kingdom strides (in full motion!) after the Doctor, Sue draws the obvious comparison – “It’s Emma Peel in Space” – but she is appalled when Sara orders her men to shoot our heroes on sight. In the head, no less.
Sue: Bitch! She’s definitely not the next companion.top
The Score So Far
Me: You’re not supposed to mark it yet! We’re only a third of the way through.
Sue: Don’t remind me.
The experiment continues…