We enjoy – if enjoy is the right word – a brief respite from the recons with an episode that actually exists in the archives. Whoopee-****ing-do. Of all the episodes that survive from this story, why did it have to be this one?
Sue: I’m not sure if the guy playing Chen is taking this seriously or not. The way he waves his fingers around, like he’s enjoying a dainty cup of tea, is a bit weird. And the way he rolls his eyes, it’s… I don’t know… a bit panto.
Me: It’s bloody entertaining, that’s what it is. He’s an oasis in a desert of mediocrity.
Sue likes Chen’s right-hand man, the bald (and even bolder) Kirksen, who couldn’t be more sinister if he tried. And believe me, he’s trying.
Sue: So Chen is Tony Blair and Duncan Goodhew is Peter Mandelson, the real power behind the throne. Chen is very naive, isn’t he?
When the episode gets its regulars to jump up and down on a trampoline, so they can show us what it looks like to be teleported through space, Sue is disappointed when Hartnell refuses to take part.
Sue: It’s a pity, but understandable, I suppose. If you make old people jump up and down like that, they wet themselves. It’s a well-known fact. Hartnell probably didn’t have his Kanga Pants on.
Our heroes are transported to an alien world.
Sue: Are we on Kembel again?
Me: No, we’re on the planet Mira.
Sue: All these jungles look the same to me. And what kind of name is Mira?
Me: Terry Nation usually names his planets after what they’re like. So, for example, Desperus is desperate, Aridius is Arid, Mechanus is mechanical, Marinus is boring… sorry, I mean wet.
Sue: Maybe Terry had an unhappy love affair with a woman named Myra? This is a shit hole.
Sue is agitated by the Doctor’s inability to get his spaceship back.
Sue: Why hasn’t the Doctor got a remote control for his TARDIS?
Me: He just doesn’t.
Sue: Matt Smith has one.
Me: They deal with the issue of remote-controlled TARDISes in the 1980s.
Sue: Good. I’ll look forward to that one.
I’ll remind her of this conversation when we get there. (NB. I didn’t.)
Sue: There’s some lovely direction here. Typical Camfield. He has this trademark move where he likes to track in slowly on a tight, layered, three-shot. He’s very good at it, too. He makes Hartnell look especially good.
She also enjoys the intense bickering between Steven and Sara (“Steven’s great when he’s angry. I like him when he’s angry”), but when Sara reveals that Brett Vyon was her brother, Sue isn’t very happy. It’s one shock too many and it makes Sara seem even more unlikable and unreasonable than she already is. But that’s nothing compared to the disdain she shows the Daleks who decide to murder some innocent mice. The idiots.
Sue: The poor things. What harm did the mice ever do to anyone? And how can the Daleks not know what mice are? They’ve invaded planets before – including Earth – and they still don’t know what a mouse is? Pull the other one, it’s got a sink plunger on it.
The Daleks compensate for their gross stupidity with lots of scary posturing.
Sue: That’s a pretty good cliffhanger. Steven and Sara are genuinely terrified when the Dalek captures them. I’m almost convinced.
Coronas of the Sun
She is, of course, reacting to Dennis Spooner’s writing credit, which has replaced Terry Nation’s. But then Terry’s name appears anyway.
Sue: No! That’s not fair!
Most of this episode is preoccupied with the Doctor’s attempts to cobble together a fake taranium core so he can bamboozle the Daleks with it.
Sue: Just take the label off a can of baked beans.
When Steven encloses himself in a force field, I manage to convince Sue he’s accidentally killed himself. What’s really telling here is she believes me completely. There’s nothing that Doctor Who wouldn’t do right now as far as she’s concerned. Except make the Daleks interesting, of course.
Sue: I can’t stand the Daleks.
Sue: They’re okay when they’re exterminating things – and I notice that they’ve starting to use that word a lot more – but when they’re gliding around and chatting, like they do every single time we meet them, they send me to sleep. Is there anything more boring than a room full of Daleks talking among themselves?
The monotony is relived by Mavic Chen.
Sue: There’s some very witty banter here. I like the way Chen winds the Daleks up; they’re actually annoyed with him. It really is the blind leading the blind. When it comes to conquering the universe, they haven’t got a hope in hell.
As the Doctor and his companions escape in the TARDIS, leaving Chen and the Daleks holding a fake taranium core, Sue doesn’t understand why they can’t end the story right there.
Sue: The Daleks should realise it’s fake, they should kill Chen in a fit of pique, and then they should go back to the drawing board for several months. The End.
If only life were that simple.
The Feast of Steven
Well, this is it. The moment we’ve all been waiting for.
Sue: For ****’s sake, it’s Terry Nation again! You said we were finished with him!
Me: Sorry, I forgot.
Sue: So which shit-hole have they landed on this time?
Me: Liverpool, I think.
It takes a few minutes for Sue to work out what’s going on.
Sue: This is a Christmas special, isn’t it? The carol singing, the silly title, the pathetic attempts at comedy.
Me: You’ve got it in one.
Sue: So when do the Daleks turn up?
Me: Wait and see.
The scenes set in the police station are vaguely amusing – and it’s Tom Stoppard compared to what’s coming – but Sue believes this is just a diversion, and things will be back on track soon.
Sue: It’s fun for the whole family before the killing starts again.
We find ourselves on the set of a 1920s silent film, and it’s here her patience begins to be tested. Things are so bad, even Peter Purves sounds embarrassed as he delivers his narration on the soundtrack.
It doesn’t help that practically every scene includes a crowd of people squabbling loudly in the background (“Was that on the telly, or was the person who recorded it rowing with his family in the other room?”). The version we are watching/listening to is almost impossible to make out at times. It’s a chore, to be honest.
And then Hartnell utters one of his most famous lines, and, by some strange miracle, we actually hear it (“It’s a madhouse. It’s all full of Arabs.”).
Sue: Is this story classed as a historical?
Me: I think the term you’re looking for is ‘hysterical’.
When the Keystone Cops turn up, Sue snaps.
Sue: Please make it stop. Tell me the Daleks are going to show up and kill them all? Please?
Me: There are less than three minutes to go. Do you really think the Daleks are going to show up now?
Sue: Incredible. On Christmas Day, when the whole family are watching, and the kids are psyched up to see the Daleks, what everyone got instead was a below-par Carry On… with some Dixon of Dock Green thrown in for good measure. Merry Christmas, kids!
Me: We should be grateful they didn’t drag the Daleks into this mess. Imagine how much worse it could have been: Mavic Chen could have been mistaken for Charlie Chan, and the Daleks could have exterminated Harold Lloyd. We got off lightly.
The Doctor has a little chat with Bing Crosby, who’s having a bloody good moan about Charlie Chaplin (we think – the recon sounds terrible), and then the Pandorica Opens and the universe explodes. Or something.
Sue: What a complete waste of time.
Me: Shhhh. You need to pay attention to this last bit.
Sue: Why? Do the Daleks show up?
Sue: It isn’t that bad, love.
Me: They’ve taken it out! I don’t believe it! They’re so ashamed of it, they actually edited it out!
Sue: Edited what out? What are you going on about?
Me: Only one of the most controversial and infamous moments in Doctor Who’s 48-year history, that’s all!
Sue: Ooh, you’ve got me all excited now.
Me: It was supposed to jump out at you from left field, but now I’ve got to hunt down a version of it on YouTube. Damn it.
I eventually track down the moment where William Hartnell turns to the audience and wishes them all a Merry Christmas. And it’s been animated, too, which makes it even weirder.
Sue: What’s the big deal?
Me: What’s the big deal? William Hartnell broke the fourth wall! I know the sets in Doctor Who are supposed to be a bit flimsy but that is ridiculous. Isn’t it?
Sue: It doesn’t bother me. It’s obvious now that this episode was a comedy sketch. A not-very-funny comedy sketch, I grant you, but have you seen a Christmas edition of My Family? It’s just a silly one-off. You know, a bit like those mini-episodes that appear in the middle of Children in Need and Comic Relief. Nobody takes them seriously.
Sue: It’s not meant for the fanboys, it’s for the whole family, many of whom probably aren’t familiar with Doctor Who. People don’t want to be thrust into the middle of a 12-part epic after their turkey dinner. This wasn’t a real episode of Doctor Who. Get over it, Neil.
Me: I think this is the only episode of Doctor Who that definitely doesn’t exist any more. The BBC never sold it abroad, which means no copies were ever made. Actually, I think they may have destroyed it on purpose.
Sue: Thank heavens for small mercies.
Me: Having said that, it’s still a better Christmas Special than The Next Doctor.
Sue: I’m almost relieved to be back with Mavic Chen and the Daleks after yesterday’s madness.
Me: They’re going to be mightily pissed-off when they find out that taranium core is a fake.
Sue: The script is quite witty. It’s obvious Dennis Spooner has taken over again. Why didn’t they let him do the Christmas special?
Chen’s wisecrack about Trantis finally getting his chance to contribute to the Time Destructor, just before the Daleks use him as a guinea pig, is very amusing, and when Chen pleads with the Daleks for clemency, claiming he mined the taranium from Uranus (pronounced the old school way), we can’t stop giggling.
However, when the Daleks announce their intention to chase the Doctor through time and space to get the real core back, Sue groans.
Sue: Haven’t we been here before? Is this why Terry Nation gets an ‘idea by’ credit on this? It’s exactly the same idea as the last Dalek story he wrote! The barefaced cheek of the man.
The TARDIS arrives slap bang in the middle of a cricket match.
Sue: Not another comedy interlude. Surely not?
Me: I’m afraid so. This is the New Year’s Day Special. No walls are broken, although credibility is stretched to breaking point.
Sue: I can’t wait for the TV schedules to get back to normal. This is weird.
The Daleks request a time and space machine from Skaro so they can give chase. Five minutes later, it arrives.
Sue: Why didn’t they programme it to arrive one second after they requested it? Why do you have to wait for it if it’s a ****ing time machine?
She’s even more disparaging when it turns out the Daleks’ time ship requires a lengthy countdown before it can take off.
Sue: What a wimpy sound effect. Their time machine is rubbish.
The Doctor arrives on the planet Tigus, and Sue is disappointed when I tell her that it isn’t run by super-intelligent tigers.
And then something rather remarkable happens.
Sue: Oh look, it’s that Monk fella! I like him. This could actually be interesting, now.
Sue enjoys the Monk’s stand-off with the Doctor, and it amuses her that his thirst for petty revenge has come at a really inconvenient moment when the Doctor is already in the middle of an adventure. In fact, the Doctor only manages to escape from the Monk’s trap with the help of his ring.
Sue: That was clever.
Me: Clever? It makes no sense at all!
Sue: The Doctor’s ring is basically his sonic screwdriver at this point. You don’t seem to have a problem with that.
Me: Well I do, actually. But let’s save that conversation for another time.
The Monk isn’t pleased when the Doctor rejoins our story already in progress, and Sue is tickled by what she regards as another insane interlude in a wider, ongoing narrative involving inept Daleks.
Sue: Does the Monk keep coming back throughout the series to get his own back on the Doctor? That would be funny.
Me: Who would you get to play him if the Monk came back today?
Sue: Ronnie Corbett.
Oh, how things have changed. There was a time when Sue would instigate our daily dose of Doctor Who, usually with a burst of cheery optimism and an open mind. Sure, she wobbled a bit on Vortis, and things got a little rough during ‘Galaxy Snore’, but they were a breeze compared to the mind-crushing tedium of The Daleks’ Master Plan.
Me: Come on, Sue, it’s time for Doctor Who.
Sue: Do we have to? Can’t we watch two episodes tomorrow instead?
Me: We have to watch two episodes tonight. We had yesterday off, remember?
Sue: Oh yeah. So we did.
Me: If we don’t watch it, we’ll have to watch three episodes tomorrow, and I don’t think I can handle that.
Sue: Will you rub my feet, then?
And there you go. It took until the ninth episode of The Daleks’ Master Plan for the horse-trading to begin. I am doomed from this point on.
Sue: I tell you what, every time Terry Nation’s name appears in the credits, you have to rub my feet. Okay?
Me: I’ll massage one foot – he only has a ‘story idea’ credit.
The Doctor is shocked when the Daleks turn up, en masse, in Egypt.
Sue: This is so drawn out, even the Doctor can’t believe he’s in the same story.
But even she’s gobsmacked when the Monk turns up shortly afterwards.
Sue: I thought he was a bit of one-off padding. I didn’t realise he was a major part of the plot. Not that I’m complaining.
The Monk’s TARDIS can change its appearance and at one point it turns into a motorcycle.
Sue: That isn’t very practical. How would you get in and out of it?
When Sara and Steven are arrested for being tomb raiders (and Sara certainly looks the part), Sue is convinced we’re about to get embroiled in a historical, like The Aztecs, only this time the Daleks will keep getting in the way of history running its course. So when the poor Egyptians are left to fend for themselves as the shit hits the fan, Sue is appalled by the Doctor’s lack of interest in the indigenous population. And when Sara and Steven escape via an elaborate fight scene, Peter Purves makes it sound especially gruesome.
Sue: Sara doesn’t muck about, does she? It’s very Avengers, this, isn’t it? We’ve never really seen a kick-ass quality in a female companion before. I like it.
The episode concludes with a cliffhanger which involves a mummy emerging from a tomb.
Sue: Please don’t tell me it’s another theme park ride.
We’re back in the realm of moving images again.
Sue: Now that we can see Camfield’s direction, I’m beginning to wonder if the rest of the episodes were actually rather good, and not incredibly boring after all.
She’s right. There’s a stunningly effective moment where Camfield dissolves from a shot of a dazzling sun to the reflection in the dome of a Dalek which leaves us both speechless, and you can’t translate something like that via a recon, no matter how hard Peter Purves tries.
Sue: Someone should release this episode as a recon, and then we’d know if it was just as boring as the rest of them. Because now that it’s moving again, I’m actually quite impressed.
Me: Mavic Chen finger action can liven up even the dullest scene.
Sue: Look at his hands-on-hip cockiness. He is so dead.
Chen is so cocky, he even slaps a Dalek’s eyestalk at one point, which is simply hilarious. In fact, Chen, as written by Dennis Spooner, is a delight. And when you put him in a room with Peter Butterworth, well, it’s comedy gold.
Sue: The Monk is far cleverer than the Doctor. He’s got a better costume for a start.
Sue: He can blend in easier. You could go anywhere in a robe like that, and nobody would ever bat an eyelid. The Doctor looks out of place everywhere he goes.
Something that comes in for particular praise in this episode (and it’s a detail that would have been completely lost in a recon), is just how skilled the Dalek operators are. At one point the Daleks have to enter through an incredibly narrow doorway, with less than half an inch of clearance on each side, and not only do they manage it, they turn around and go back through it again! Sue is on the edge of her seat by this point, and she actually cheered when the set didn’t wobble.
She’s even more surprised when the Doctor admits he’s given the real taranium core to the Daleks, and he didn’t have a plan beyond agreeing to their demands.
Sue: There was a time when I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Doctor had left Steven and Sara to their fate. But that seems unthinkable now.
Me: I can’t believe Chen hasn’t entertained the possibility he’s just been handed another fake core.
It’s anti-climatic, especially after everything we’ve been through. But there is an upside: the Doctor has nicked the Monk’s directional thingamajig, which means he can nip back to Kembel and stop the Daleks before they carry out their nefarious plans. Probably.
Sue: Finally! So now the Doctor can steer his TARDIS. It’s about bloody time!
The result of the Doctor’s meddling (geddit?) is that the Monk steps into the Doctor’s shoes as is left to wander aimlessly through time and space like a lost puppy dog.
Sue: I’d rather follow a series called The Monk at this point. It’d be a lot funnier. I hope he comes back soon.
And then Hartnell goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like ‘Magic Chen’.
Sue: What a shame. Then again, he is magic, our Chen.