I finally made it through the epic twelve-part Master Plan. It started strong, went pretty bad, and then finished brilliantly. There’s a lot going on in this story and I think it’s best to talk about it in three parts: The first half of the the story, written by Terry Nation, the Christmas episode (also by Terry Nation), and the second half of the story, written by Dennis Spooner. Warning: This entry is a long one!
The Terry Nation half of the story is brilliant. I was having the feeling that the story was to be his masterpiece, but that thought was pretty quickly derailed once Spooner took over. First of all, Nation seems to have gotten over whatever was making him write like a moron in The Chase. Picking up where Mission to the Unknown (Dalek Cutaway) left off, the travelers arrive on the Dalek-occupied planet Kembel where rescuers from Earth have gone in search of Kory, our hero from the Dalek Cutaway. The Doctor goes in search of medicine for Steven, still in trouble after being wounded in the hasty departure from Troy. Katarina, still positive that they are in the after-life and in search of the great beyond, is left to care for him. At this point we are exposed to one of the primary characteristics of this story: death. First, an injured Rescuer is killed by a Dalek. He would be the first of many deaths, including a couple of brilliantly done main-character deaths.
Terry Nation, in his last Doctor Who story, put together a great tale. Chen, guardian of the solar system, has Taranium, an element the Daleks need to complete their time destructor, some apparent secret weapon that will allow them to take over the universe. Chen turns out to be a great villain. He is power hungry and, as the story goes on, becomes more and more insane. Along with Chen are other galactic representatives. They include a man that appears to be made of stone, like the Thing, a Mummy, a man in 1950s comic-book space suit, a man with Leaches on his face, one with bumps all over his body, and another one that looks a little like a robot. Apparently this is the greatest brain trust in the universe, but in reality they are all dupes to the Daleks.
The Daleks, in the Terry Nation half, are ruthless. Without hesitation they exterminate anyone that disagrees with them or threatens to get in the way. In this story we meet Dalek Supreme, the Dark Dalek (his only distinguishing feature is his dark color). Dalek Supreme is intense and it seems that even the Daleks fear him. As well they should, considering he has a couple of his own race whacked for failing on a mission.
The Doctor infiltrates the galactic conference and learns of Chen’s delivery of the Taranium (is this perhaps Dalekanium, from the Dalek Invasion of Earth?). He steals the Taranium and off the travelers go, accompanied by Brett, another Earth rescuer. The plan is to go to Earth to warn them of the Dalek Invasion. Unfortunately Chen follows them. On the way to Earth, however, the travelers stop on a prison planet occupied by crazed, violent criminals. The criminals attempt to board their ship, but the Doctor knocks them out, separating himself from the Daleks by saying he does not wish to kill anyone. One of the prisoners had managed to board the ship and quickly takes Katarina hostage.
Now, Katarina. If I had been watching Star Trek (or Lost) she would have been wearing a red shirt and I would have known she was doomed. As I said, she was worthless. She thought they were in the afterlife and the Doctor was a god. She was always prattling on about the perfect place or nirvana or whatever. I think she was still concerned about it when she was taken hostage in the ship’s airlock. Mercifully, she decides to sacrifice herself and opens the airlock door, sucked out into space. It was the first death of a companion, and it was a good one. Plenty of tension, and I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t expecting it. The seconds leading up to the event have existing film, but unfortunately, the film of the actual death has been destroyed. I would have liked to have seen how they did it. The Doctor, after her death, wishes Katarina well. I don’t know why. I was happy to see her go.
Chen arrives on Earth before our travelers and brands them as traitors. As a result, Brett is forced to kill his friend and Sara, under Chen’s orders kills Brett. The deaths really mount in the Terry Nation portion of the story. It sets a tense and somber mood that is pretty unique compared to previous stories. At no point has there been this level of violence. As Season 3 has progressed, the show has matured. At this point in the story I was really enjoying it. I was intrigued, I found it exciting. While the secondary characters like Chen and Brett were a little flat, as is typical, the Daleks were at their evil best and I enjoyed both Steven and the Doctor. Even Chen, later in the story, develops some depth. Unfortunately at this point in the story, however, the plot begins to devolve a little bit. This is also the point at which Dennis Spooner took over the writing.
The Christmas episode, written by Terry Nation actually follows Spooner’s first episode in the story. The travelers have begun a sequence in which they are running from a so-far unknown pursuer, presumably the Daleks. They land outside of police station in England and on a silent movie set in Hollywood. Hilarity ensues. At the police station one is tempted to think of the scenes in A Hard Day’s Night in which Ringo is arrested and the rest of the Beatles try to get him to the show on time. On the movie set the Doctor has an amusing conversation with a young Bing Crosby, encouraging him to go into music rather than comedy. Charlie Chaplin also makes an appearance. Overall the episode is entertaining The reproduction shows some silent-movie-style title cards. At the end the Doctor (possibly in an ad-lib) wishes all those at home a Happy Christmas. While VERY similar to the absurdity of The Chase, the Christmas Episode was fine on its own, although it doesn’t really fit into the story itself. I give it a thumbs-up as a special episode that aired on Christmas Day, 1965.
Spooner takes over for Nation after Sara shoots Brett. And almost immediately the quality of the story drops. At first it’s not too bad. Sara and the Doctor are teleported to another planet by a device that was still in the testing phase. Interestingly, teleportation has not been perfected by the year 4000 when this story takes place. In fact, someone (I forget who) says that it is impossible. Beyond this, however, the episode begins a 4-episode string (including Christmas) of chasing down the travelers. Including what was likely originally intended to be its own story — two episodes in ancient Egypt. These episodes stink. Plain and simple. I felt that it was a rehash of an already poorly conceived concept. What I will mention, though, is the return of the Monk. he has fixed his TARDIS and is back for revenge against the Doctor. Chen attempts to use him to retrieve the taranium. These scenes, infused with humor, are good. But why are they in this serious story? Spooner was unable to maintain the mood that Nation established in the first half of the story and it was really disappointing. The Doctor, disabling the Monk’s TARDIS again, steals the device that allows him to control the TARDIS, navigating it back to Kembel in hopes of stopping the Daleks, once again in possession of the taranium. The arrival back at Kembel got the story back on track.
This is the point at which Chen becomes interesting. His desire for power, fully understood by the Daleks, becomes his undoing. He feels that he will be sole ruler of the universe, convinced that the Daleks cannot continue without him. He has no support from the rest of the council (which has been decimated by the murderous Daleks). Yet he gleefully exclaims that he is charge and will rule the universe. While I could not see his face, his voice was delightfully deranged. And over the last two episodes, which were brilliant, he gets crazier and crazier, culminating in the Dalek Supreme’s announcement that their alliance was over. Chen, proclaiming that he is immortal, becomes the latest victim of the truly evil Daleks. In these last episodes, Chen is awesome. So insane, so deranged, so obsessed with his own delusions.
The end of the story, I felt, matched if not exceeded what Nation had initially set up. The Doctor captures and activates the time destructor, the Daleks’ secret weapon. As he and Sara race to the safety of the TARDIS, the time destructor ages them and the planet around them. It has such an effect on Sara that she falls down, dead, turns to a skeleton, and then to dust. The Doctor, falls down but experiences no further effects. The planet ages and dies, the jungle turning to desert. And, lastly, the time has an impact on the Daleks’ casings, rusting them or something, and the mutated creatures within die. The Doctor and Steven examine a dead Dalek and express regret for the violence and the death, mentioning their friends Katarina, Brett, and Sara.
The end of the story was great. The scramble to get back to the TARDIS before the Time destructor could kill them was intense and, as I’ve mentioned, the insanity of Chen. The Daleks never lost their edge in the story and were a truly menacing group of villains. With exception of the downturn throughout the middle, I enjoyed this story a lot. The show is continuing to mature and Season 3, to this point, has been the best so far. If the more serious stories were to emulate what this one did, I think the show would be at its best. The elements of danger and suspense were unlike anything so far. This story really exemplifies what I’ve come to expect from Hartnell’s Doctor, especially considering the more comedic episodes. What I’m left wondering, though, is why the Time Destructor essentially had no effect on the Doctor? And, with Sara gone, how will they fill the open companion character slot? Last time they were left like this we had a quick two-episode story to introduce Vicki. The next story is The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve, four episodes. And while I don’t expect it to match the seriousness of this one, I’m hoping it’s not too much of a let down.