Four recons, some mice, a Christmas Special, a malfunctioning fourth wall, and a surprise visit from an old adversary. What could possibly go wrong?
We enjoy – if enjoy is the right word – a brief respite from the recons with an episode that still exists in the archives. Whoopee-****ing-do. Of all the episodes to survive from The Daleks’ Master Plan, why did it have to be this one?
Sue: I’m not sure if the guy playing Chen is taking this seriously. 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, a man 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 a bit 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 must look like to be teleported through space, Sue is crestfallen when Hartnell fails to take part.
Sue: It’s a pity but it’s understandable: if you make old people jump up and down like that, they’ll wet themselves. It’s a well-known fact. Hartnell probably didn’t have his Kanga Pants on.
And then our heroes arrive – with some experimental mice in tow – on 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 are supposed to be like. So, for example, Desperus is desperate, Aridius is Arid, Mechanus is mechanical, Marinus is boring, sorry, I meant wet -
Sue: Maybe Terry had an unhappy love affair with a woman named Myra? This really is a shit hole.
Sue suddenly becomes 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: I’m sure Matt Smith has one.
Me: They deal with the issue of remote-controlled TARDISes in the mid-80s.
Sue: Good. I’ll look forward to that one.
I’ll remind her of this conversation when – sorry, if – we get there.
Sue: There’s some lovely direction here. It’s 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 and he makes Hartnell look especially good.
Sue enjoys the intense bickering between Steven and Sara Kingdom (“Steven is great when he’s angry. I like him when he’s angry”), but when Sara reveals that Brett Vyon was her brother all along, she isn’t impressed. It’s one shock too many and it makes Sara seem even more unlikable and unreasonable. But that’s nothing compared to Sue’s disdain when the Daleks decide to murder some innocent mice. The idiots.
Sue: The poor things. What harm did they do to anyone? And how can the Daleks not know what mice are? They’ve invaded planets – including Earth – and yet they don’t know what a mouse is? Pull the other one, it’s got a sink plunger on it.
Luckily, the Daleks make up for this act of gross stupidity with lots of scary posturing.
Sue: That’s a pretty good cliffhanger. Steven and Sara look genuinely terrified when the Dalek captures them. I’m almost convinced.top
Coronas of the Sun
Sue 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!
Much of this episode is preoccupied with the Doctor’s attempts to cobble some fake taranium together so they can bamboozle the Daleks with it.
Sue: Just take the label off another can of baked beans.
When Steven manages to enclose himself in a force field (like you do), I manage to convince Sue that he’s accidentally killed himself. What’s really telling here is that she believes me completely. There’s nothing Doctor Who wouldn’t do as far as she is concerned. Except make the Daleks interesting, of course.
Sue: I can’t stand the Daleks.
Sue: They’re OK when they’re exterminating things – and I notice they’ve starting using that particular word a lot more – but when they’re gliding around 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?
Luckily for us, the monotomy is relived by the presence of Mavic Chen, and it’s here that Sue detects the hand of Dennis Spooner once more.
Sue: There’s some witty banter here. I like the way Chen winds-up the Daleks and they get 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.
When the Doctor and his companions manage to 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 a 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…top
The Feast of Steven
Well, this is it. The moment you’ve all been waiting for.
Sue: For ****’s sake, it’s Terry Nation again! You told me 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 about five minutes for Sue to work out what is 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 honestly believes that this is just a small diversion, and things will be back on track in a few minutes.
Sue: It’s fun for the whole family before the killing starts again.
And then we find ourselves on the set of a 1920s silent film, and it’s here that our patience begins to be tested. Things are so bad, even Peter Purves sounds embarrassed as he delivers the narration on the soundtrack.
It doesn’t help that practically every scene includes a crowd of people squabbling very loudly in the background (“Was that on the telly or was the person who recorded it having a row 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. I could search for a better version but we’ve come too far to start fiddling about now.
And then Hartnell utters one of his most famous ad-libs, and, by some miracle, we hear it.
Sue: Is this classed as a historical?
Me: I think the term is ‘hysterical’.
And then the Keystone Cops turn up. And then 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 all the family are watching and the kids are all psyched up to see the Daleks, what they got instead was a below-par Carry On… film with a bit of 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 might have exterminated Harold Lloyd. We got off lightly.
The Doctor then has a chat with Bing Crosby, who’s having a moan about Charlie Chaplin (we think – this sounds bloody 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’s not that bad, love.
Me: They’ve taken it out! I don’t believe it! They are 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: Oh, 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. Blast it, this will have to do, it’s been animated, which will just make it seem even more odd than it already is.
Me: Hang on, try this one instead…
Sue: So what’s the big deal?
Me: What’s the big deal? He broke the fourth wall! I know the sets in Doctor Who are supposed to be a bit flimsy but that’s ridiculous. Isn’t it?
Sue: It doesn’t really bother me. It’s obvious that this is just an extended comedy sketch. A not-very-funny comedy sketch, I grant you, but have you ever 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 and Need and Comic Relief. No one takes them seriously.
Me: Well -
Sue: It’s not 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.
Me: I believe this is the only episode that definitely doesn’t exist. The BBC never sold it abroad, no copies were ever made and I think they destroyed it on purpose.
Sue: Thank heavens for small mercies.
Me: Having said all that, it’s still a better Christmas Special than The Next Doctor…top
Sue: I’m almost relieved to be back with Mavic Chen and the Daleks after the madness of yesterday.
Me: They are going to be pissed-off when they finally figure out that the taranium core is a fake.
Sue: The script is quite witty. It’s obvious that 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 tarranium from Uranus, 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.
And then 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 Eve 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 too weird.
The Daleks ask for 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 at all when you have a time machine?
Sue is even less impressed when the Daleks’ time ship requires a lengthy countdown before it can take off.
Sue: What a wimpy sound effect. Their time machine is rubbish.
Peter Purves announces that the Doctor has arrived on the planet Tigus, and Sue is disappointed when I tell her that it isn’t a planet run by tigers.
Me: A planet surrounded by active volcanos and inhabited by giant cat people? Don’t be silly.
And then something remarkable happens. Completely out of the blue, an old face turns up.
Sue: Oh look, it’s that Monk fella! I like him. This could actually get 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.
The Doctor 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 very happy when the Doctor rejoins our story already in progress, and Sue is tickled by what she regards as just 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 he came back today?
Sue: Ronnie Corbett.top
Oh, how things have changed. There was a time when Sue would instigate our daily dose of Doctor Who with a burst of cheery optimism and an open mind. Sure, she wobbled a bit on Vortis and things got a bit rough during Galaxy Snore, but they were a breeze compared to the mind-crushing tedium of The Daleks’ Master Plan.
I know we’re in serious trouble when we reach episode nine.
Me: Come on, it’s time for Doctor Who.
Sue: Do we have to? Can’t we just watch two episodes tomorrow instead?
Me: We should be watching two episodes tonight. We had yesterday off, remember?
Sue: Oh yeah. So we did.
Me: If we keep this up, we’ll have to watch three episodes in a row. I don’t think I can handle that.
Sue: Will you rub my feet then?
And there you go. It took until The Daleks’ Master Plan episode nine 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. OK?
Me: I’ll massage one foot – he only has a story idea credit.
We’re doomed, I tell you, doomed!
The first thing to surprise Sue is the Doctor’s utter disbelief when the Daleks show up, en masse, in Egypt.
Sue: This is so drawn out, even the Doctor can’t believe he’s in the same story.
Having said that, she is surprised when the Monk turns up shortly afterwards.
Sue: I thought he was going to be a bit of one-off padding. I didn’t realise he was a major part of the plot. Not that I’m complaining.
At one point, the Monk’s TARDIS demonstrates its ability to change its appearance and, in the reconstruction we are watching, it turns itself into a motorcycle.
Sue: That’s not very practical. How would you get in and out of it?
When Sara and Steven are arrested as tomb raiders (and in that outfit, Sara certainly looks the part), Sue is convinced that we’re about to get embroiled in an historical, like The Aztecs, only this time the Daleks will keep getting in the way of history running its course. When it eventually transpires that the poor Egyptians are left to fend for themselves when the shit hits the fan, Sue is genuinely surprised by the Doctor’s lack of involvement with the indigenous people.
When Sara and Steven escape via an elaborate fight scene, we have to imagine what it must have looked like. Peter Purves makes it sound spectacularly gruesome.
Sue: Sara doesn’t muck about, does she? It’s very Avengers, 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 rather bizarre cliffhanger involving a Mummy emerging from a tomb.
Sue: Please don’t tell me it’s another theme park ride…top
We complete this run of episodes the same way we began: with real, honest-to-goodness, moving images.
It makes all the difference.
Sue: Now that we can see Camfield’s direction again, I’m starting to wonder if the rest of the episodes were actually rather good, and not incredibly boring after all.
She’s right. There’s an incredibly effective moment when Camfield dissolves from a shot of a dazzling sun to the reflection in the dome of a Dalek that leaves us both speechless, and you could never translate something like that via a recon, no matter how hard Peter Purves tried.
Sue: Someone should do this episode as a recon and then we could see if it’s just as boring as the rest of them. Because now that it’s moving again, I’m actually quite impressed.
Me: All it takes is some Mavic Chen finger action to liven up even the dullest scene.
Sue: Look at his hands-on-hip cockiness. He is so dead.
Chen is so cocky, he slaps a Dalek’s eyestalk at one point, which is simply hilarious. In fact, Chen, as written by Dennis Spooner, is a delight, and there’s never a dull moment when he’s around. But when you put him in a room with Peter Butterworth, 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 can walk around anywhere in a robe like that and no one would 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 another detail that would be 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 later turn around and go back through it again! Sue is on the edge of her seat by that point, and she actually cheered when the set didn’t wobble.
She is even more surprised when it is revealed that the Doctor has given up the real taranium core to the Daleks and that he didn’t have much of a plan beyond going through with 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. That seems unthinkable now.
Me: I can’t believe Chen hasn’t entertained the possibility that he’s just been handed another fake.
It feels incredibly anti-climatic, especially after everything we’ve been through. But there is an upside. The Doctor has nicked the Monk’s directional thingamajig and he’ll be able to nip back to Kembel and stop the Daleks before they can carry out their nefarious plan. Probably.
Sue: Finally! So now the Doctor can steer the TARDIS. It’s about bloody time.
The result of the Doctor’s meddling (geddit?) is that the Monk has now become the Doctor, 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.
Are you listening, Steven Moffat?
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.
The experiment continues…