The Daleks’ Master Plan ★★★★★

A 12-part Dalek epic, guest-starring Nicholas Courtney and Jean Marsh, and featuring a bizarre Christmas episode and the deaths of two companions

38

Season 3 – Story 21

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“Three time machines in one infinitesimal speck of space and time. Of course, a coincidence is possible … but hardly likely” – Mavic Chen

Storyline

Landing on the planet Kembel in the year 4000, the Doctor and his companions, Steven and Katarina, meet Space Security Service agent Bret Vyon. They discover that the Daleks are plotting – with other galactic representatives – to conquer the Earth, then the universe, using the “time destructor”. The travellers resolve to warn the terrestrial authorities but the Guardian of the Solar System, Mavic Chen, is also party to the Dalek scheme. So they make off in Chen’s spaceship, the Doctor having stolen the time destructor’s taranium core. Katarina later sacrifices herself when they are waylaid on the penal planet Desperus so that the Doctor’s mission can proceed…

To regain the taranium, Chen sends Sara Kingdom, another SSS agent, to locate the Doctor and his companions when they reach Earth. Oblivious to Chen’s betrayal, Kingdom shoots Vyon – her own brother – before being transported through space with the Doctor and Steven to the planet Mira, and from there to Kembel. A fake core fashioned by the Doctor allows them to escape Dalek clutches once more and, after interludes on Earth and involving the Doctor’s old adversary the Monk, they return to Kembel. Here, the Daleks turn on Chen and kill him, and the Doctor steals their time destructor and uses it to annihilate them. Sara ignores the Doctor’s warning that she should return to the Tardis, and is caught up in the doomsday weapon’s deadly rays.

First transmissions
1. The Nightmare Begins – Saturday 13 November 1965
2. Day of Armageddon – Saturday 20 November 1965
3. Devil’s Planet – Saturday 27 November 1965
4. The Traitors – Saturday 4 December 1965
5. Counter Plot – Saturday 11 December 1965
6. Coronas of the Sun – Saturday 18 December 1965
7. The Feast of Steven – Saturday 25 December 1965
8. Volcano – Saturday 1 January 1966
9. Golden Death – Saturday 8 January 1966
10. Escape Switch – Saturday 15 January 1966
11. The Abandoned Planet – Saturday 22 January 1966
12. Destruction of Time – Saturday 29 January 1966

Production
Filming: September-December 1965 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: October 1965-January 1966 in TC3 (eps 1-4, 6-12) and TC4 (ep 5)

Cast
Doctor Who – William Hartnell
Steven Taylor – Peter Purves
Katarina – Adrienne Hill
Sara Kingdom – Jean Marsh
Mavic Chen – Kevin Stoney
Bret Vyon – Nicholas Courtney
The Meddling Monk – Peter Butterworth
Kert Gantry – Brian Cant
Lizan – Pamela Greer
Roald – Philip Anthony
Zephon – Julian Sherrier
Trantis – Roy Evans
Kirksen – Douglas Sheldon
Bors – Dallas Cavell
Garge – Geoff Cheshire
Karlton – Maurice Browning
Daxtar – Roger Avon
Borkar – James Hall
Froyn – Bill Meilen
Rhynmal – John Herrington
Trevor – Roger Brierley
Scott – Bruce Wightman
Celation – Terence Woodfield
Khepren – Jeffrey Isaac
Tuthmos – Derek Ware
Hyksos – Walter Randall
Malpha – Bryan Mosley
Dalek operators – Kevin Manser, Robert Jewell, Gerald Taylor, John Scott Martin
Dalek voices – Peter Hawkins, David Graham

Crew
Writers – Terry Nation (1-5, 7) and Dennis Spooner (6, 8-12)
Incidental music – Tristram Cary
Designers – Raymond Cusick (1,2,5,6,7,11); Barry Newbery (3,4,8,9,10,12)
Story editor – Donald Tosh
Producer – John Wiles
Director – Douglas Camfield

RT Review by Mark Braxton
Twelve episodes, contrasting alien environments, ancient Egypt, more than one returning enemy, a plot to overthrow the universe and the first death of a companion – followed by a second and third! Epic doesn’t even come close.

It’s undeniably a classic, then, but which are the elements that make it so? Because length alone doesn’t guarantee top-drawer status. You only have to look (if you must) at The Trial of a Time Lord in 1986 to prove that. And in any case there are some rather transparent efforts to elasticate the plot. But what The Daleks’ Master Plan possesses in abundance is ambition, scale, impetus and above all… variety.

Raymond Cusick and Barry Newbery provided a wealth of fantastic settings, from the peril-packed jungles of Kembel and bubbling swamps of Mira to the gleaming metal architecture of the Daleks and hieroglyph-strewn edifices of the pharaohs. The production crew as a whole coped with every outrageous demand that the Nation/Spooner script threw at them. So it would be a hard taskmaster that didn’t excuse them the odd invisible alien! How cruel, then, that only a quarter of the entire story remains (episodes 2, 5 and 10).

But what else? Well, in Mavic Chen we had one of the great villains of Who. On paper, a ranting, Bondian cliché hell-bent on the acquisition of power. But on screen he’s way more subtle: Kevin Stoney imbues Chen with well-spoken malevolence, increasingly unhinged monomania (“I, Mavic Chen …”) and the weirdest pen grip possible. Admittedly his make-up is strange, but the character’s indeterminate nationality counters any cry of racism. Besides, anyone able to both talk over the Daleks and contemptuously fling aside a probing eye-stalk is utterly deserving of audience admiration.

The Daleks themselves are, for the most part, impressively callous and as telegenic as ever, although the effect of their new flamethrowers is lessened by their apparent inefficacy on the robust foliage of Kembel! Also, a holistic view of the story reveals that their misnomer of a Master Plan barely gets past the first hurdle. Much of this is down to the quick wits and sprightly mind of yet another reason for the story’s success: the Doctor.

Daleks' Master Plan

[William Hartnell. Photographed by Don Smith, Nov 1965 at BBC TV Centre, TC3. Copyright Radio Times Archive]

William Hartnell gives one of his best performances as the Time Lord, from his customary, impish monologuing and harrumphing irritation to a spot of “cards-to-the-chest” cleverness and, on more than one occasion, utterly haunted helplessness. In episode nine Hartnell sounds quite poorly, but he carries on regardless. All credit to him for this: his outwitting of the Monk and the Daleks provides some of the story’s standout moments.

Which brings us to the companions. Steven continues to plough his solid, humourless furrow, not helped by his cardboard-stiff corduroy jacket. But the story stands out for the death of Katarina. Adrienne Hill’s credulous naif was a likeable contrast to the usual Tardis traveller, and her ultimate gesture would have been numbing to viewers in 1965.

And though they aren’t companions in the accepted sense, the fact is that Bret Vyon and Sara Kingdom both accompany the Doctor on his quest. They, too, die jaw-dropping deaths: Bret shot by his sister (whose motivation is inadequately explained) and the latter to horrible, Ursula-Andress-in-She-style rapid ageing. Fans still talk about Adric’s death in 1982, but what about this stunning triple whammy?

Such was the producers’ confidence at different styles and treatments at this time that they essayed out-and-out comedy for their Christmas Day episode, The Feast of Steven, breaking the fourth wall in the process with the Doctor’s “Happy Christmas” to the viewers. Whether it worked at the time is debatable; it’s absolutely awful now. Worse was to come in the following episode when the Tardis lands on the pitch at The Oval during a cricket international. The commentators’ exchange could have been written by a child.

But still, you can forgive the indulgence: a frivolous intermission was probably needed considering what was to follow. The finale is one of the bleakest and most solemn in the show’s history.

No review of this monster undertaking can pass without mention of the director – one of the show’s true unsung heroes, Douglas Camfield – who bundles together all the disparate strands with commendable tenacity. Not many would have accepted such a challenge, but Camfield’s attitude was: “If I could cope with this, I could cope with anything.” If not his finest story, it was undoubtedly his greatest achievement.

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Radio Times archive material

This epic tale was promoted by a variety of small features, sometimes changing in regional editions. They often used images no longer known to exist.

This was the main introductory feature and a regional variation for The Nightmare Begins.

DMP1 feature v1
DMP1 feature v2

Small recaps for Day of Armageddon, Devil’s Planet and Counter Plot (some only printed in editions which didn’t yet list BBC2).

Episode 2 ("Day of Armageddon") of "The Dalek Masterplan". (Only published in Editions not yet carrying BBC2 details - Northern Ireland, Scotland, North of England etc.) 20 Nov. 1965.
DMP3 27.11.1965 article
DMP5 feat x

RT billings

Daleks Master Plan billings 1-4
Daleks Master Plan billings 5-8
Daleks Master Plan billings 9-12
Daleks Master Plan pics

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[Episodes 2, 5 & 10 available on the BBC DVD boxed set, Doctor Who: Lost in Time.
Complete soundtrack available on BBC Audio CD]