Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Doctor Who 50 Years 50 Stories Project: #3 The Daleks' Master Plan

#3 The Daleks’ Master Plan
First Doctor, Steven, Katarina, Sara Kingdom

This story is one of my all-time favourites, and it makes me really happy that this story made it into the top 50 of all time, especially since three quarters of it doesn't even exist anymore. (For the uninitiated, the BBC destroyed most of their Doctor Who tapes in the 60s and early 70s. Lots of copies have been miraculously found from various sources; sadly, 97 episodes are still missing.) Only episodes 2, 5 and 10 remain out of the original 12. Yep, 12 episodes. This serial is long. I’ve watched this once before, and although it didn’t feel quite as endless as the first time around, it is still very, very long.

So, it’s difficult to talk about. Because a lot happens in 12 episodes. Hey, entire seasons of Doctor Who have been only a bit longer than this story. How hard is it to talk about an entire season as a whole?

And then there’s the fact that only three episodes of this story actually still exist, and we have to make do with bits of salvaged video and audio and telesnaps for the rest of it. I’m always a bit wary of judging recons too harshly, because just because something doesn’t make a good recon, doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t awesome on screen. I think you can see that in this story, a bit. The direction is pretty amazing. As are the things that Mavic Chen does with his fingers. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Just look at how this guy holds a pencil.

So, I suppose plot-wise it’s fairly standard Dalek stuff. The Daleks are trying to get hold of McGuffin X in order to take over… the solar system, this time. I like the different representatives of different planets. It makes the whole thing seem big and impressive, which I guess is what they were going with in this story.

The gang.

Then there’s Mavic Chen, Guardian of the Solar System. I kind of love him. Well, okay, he’s the villain of the piece, but I love how we get more time to see him and his path from ruler to traitor and then being betrayed by the Daleks themselves. I think he’s a prime reason this story shouldn’t have been shorter.

Love this guy. Especially his moustache.
This serial is quite famous for having the Brigadier before he was the Brigadier- Nicholas Courtney stars as Space Security Agent Bret Vyon, who helps the First Doctor for much of the story. I personally think this is enough for him to achieve companion status, but the internet seems to disagree with me. Oh well.

Nicholas Courtney: not yet the Brigadier, already a BAMF.

Then there's Sara Kingdom, who oddly people do seem to count as a companion. Not going to lie, I kind of have a wee bit of a crush on her. I wish she'd stuck around longer. 

How could I not though?

Phillip Sandifer makes a great point about how it’s wrong to treat this story as a twelve-parter and I totally get that, and really, it’s much easier to pretend that some of the episodes in the middle just aren’t part of the story. Because they’re really not. For the uninitiated, episode 7 is a random not-entirely-good Christmas special, and just when you think you’re getting back to normality in episode 8 you’ve got some strange business with a cricket pitch.

Episode 7, The Feast of Steven really is very strange. The start of it at least is kind of vaguely amusing. It’s pretty funny to see the TARDIS being taken for an actual police box, and Sara being asked if she’s going to a fancy dress party. Also, Steven’s Scouse accent. He’s a man of many talents, what can I say.

(Just as an aside, I kind of forgot how much I like Steven. Like, when he first showed up in the series I was kind of meh but he’s grown on me so much. I will never not be amused by how angry that boy always seems to sound.)

Steven giving off about something. As usual.

The whole business at the film set is a bit blegh though. And as for the infamous breaking the fourth wall, I sort of like it. Well, it was pretty normal for TV at the time, and I like having the Doctor wish me a happy Christmas. Okay? #sad

So here’s the other thing, which I guess is put even more into focus by the feeble attempts at humour in Feast of Steven- this story is so very, very bleak. It's full of character death, including between one and three companions depending on your definition of what a companion is. It is so very grim.

Let’s talk about Katarina. Okay, so Katarina was never going to be anyone’s favourite- she's only a companion for 5 episodes and spends most of it bewildered by the whole experience, thinking she's in the Underworld- but her death is just horrific. Let’s not forget that this is the first (and sadly not the last) time that someone who the Doctor counts as a companion dies under his care. Her death is such a waste. There's doubt that she even knows what's going on- and her innocence makes it all the worse.

As I've mentioned before, my first experience of William Hartnell's era was watching the entire thing right the way through. There’s a lot to be said for doing it that way, and after this little project of mine I plan to go back to The Power of the Daleks and watch the rest of the entire series that way. You pick up on certain things, and I feel like Katarina’s death is really made more significant by what comes before and after it. The story before this, The Myth Makers, is the one where Katarina joins the TARDIS gang, and just at the end, there’s this exchange that made my blood run so fucking cold:

Katarina: Oh, the priestess Cressida told me all would be well, and I knew what was to come.
Doctor: What was to come, my dear?
Katarina: That I was to die.

Seriously. Whether it’s deliberate foreshadowing or not doesn’t matter because it’s so unsettling.

And then there’s The Massacre which follows Master Plan, and is probably basically summed up as the most depressing story ever. It's set during the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre and basically, the Doctor can’t save anyone because he can’t meddle in history. Like in The Fires of Pompeii, except for real. And at the end Steven is so upset that he couldn’t save so much as one servant girl who he’d taken a shine to, that he storms out of the TARDIS, leaving the Doctor to contemplate how his travelling companions have all left him- which is so raw especially after the non-stop parade of character death that is Master Plan.

Back to the story: the last episode in particular is so tense. And then everything basically goes wrong. Sara’s death is so horrific and never fails to seriously tear me up. I’m almost glad we can’t see it because seeing her slowly age to death would probably traumatise me for life. Or maybe it’s even scarier because we can’t see it and our imaginations are so much worse than what 1960s TV technology can give us.

Overall, then. I really like this story; it’s one of my favourite Hartnells. It’s bleak and scary and the world building and supporting cast are excellent. It’s way up there on my list of missing stories that need to be found like, now. Except maybe episode 7.

Next time: More Daleks! Patrick Troughton! Six recons in a row! Yep, it’s The Power of the Daleks, coming soon.

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