The Daleks’ Master Plan

Well, where do I start? I feel like I’ve been watching this story for about as long as I spent watching all previous ones. It was a bit tough to get through, and I’m quite glad it’s over, but there was certainly a lot to enjoy.

Mavic Chen is a great villain, and it seems like a revolution to give the Daleks allies; while it’s not at all surprising that they eventually turn on and destroy the individual members of the alliance, it’s quite disconcerting to note that you’re on their side as they do so! Chen is such a massive shit that you’re begging for an extermination towards the end.

The Daleks themselves are quite low key compared to their previous appearances – we go for long periods without seeing them, which I’d guess was done to prevent them outstaying their welcome. They were doing much more talking than they were exterminating, but the action sequences were suitably epic when they did arrive.

Really though, this serial was all about the companions, and of course, their deaths. Traveling with The Doctor will never be the same again now that the series has shown that it’s not something that everyone will survive. I’ve no intention of getting into a debate about who qualifies as a companion and who doesn’t, but what I will say is that if Sara Kingdom counts, then so does Bret Vyon.

All the deaths – including Bret’s – were truly startling and grim. Katarina’s in particular, comes out of nowhere, and it’s very bleak. Bret’s is more touching than it perhaps would have been on first broadcast, simply because it’s Nicholas Courtney, who’s just as brilliant here as he would be as the Brig.

I get why they wanted rid of Katarina – being from the past was a bit too much of an obstacle – but it’s a shame we never got more of Sara Kingdom. Jean Marsh is fantastic, and the character had a lot of potential. Her death is quite visceral, while Purves and Hartnell are great at conveying the sense of loss and disbelief.

Overall though, this definitely felt like two stories tacked together. The first involves the Doctor learning of the Daleks’ plans, stealing the terranium, escaping, making a duplicate and tricking them into taking the dud. Then it’s Christmas, and everything goes weird. Then there’s another story, where it turns back into The Chase for a bit, with the Daleks pursuing The Doctor, The Monk getting involved, Chen getting the real terranium back, The Daleks readying the Time Destructor and The Doctor thwarting them once more. I can’t help but feel that it might have made better viewing to split these two distinct parts, with another serial or two in the middle.

Like I say, though, lots to enjoy. I made the following brief notes during the last twelve days:

– The planet of invisible monsters must have been very cost-efficient.

– Are the mice who were beamed to said planet classed as dead companions too?

– The Feast of Steven is batshit mental. Kind of glad it exists, but it utterly destroys the momentum of the story.

– Great to see The Monk again – the first recurring villain, Daleks aside. He gets properly morally ambiguous towards the end of his section – definitely a proto-Master.

– The stuff at the cricket match is great; so much better than any of the film set bollocks in The Feast of Steven.

– I’m detecting a deliberate injection of mystery into The Doctor’s background during this story, what with the delegates not knowing how he can time travel, mentions of distant galaxies, and The Doctor himself being deliberately vague about his magic ring. I might be reading too much into it, but could this reaffirmation of his alien-ness be a prelude to the forthcoming regeneration?

One last thing. I’m now coming up to a run of episodes that I know very little about. I went into this one knowing that Katarina and Sara would snuff it, but I don’t even know who the next companion is. Or even whether there will be one – will it just be The Doctor and Steven for a bit? How long’s Steven going to be around for anyway? I genuinely know nothing about any forthcoming serial until The Tenth Planet – none of the titles mean anything to me. So between now and the regeneration, everything will be fresh, surprising and completely new. This is exciting.

RATING: 8

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The Myth Makers

Oh man. I didn’t know this was Vicki’s last episode. Bah. I really liked her, and it feels like we didn’t get enough of her. I suppose I should have seen it coming when she was conspicuously nicknamed “Cressida” and then met a bloke called Troilus. She’s inevitably become the second in a long line of young female companions who immediately shack up with a bloke they’ve only just met, but this one is made a little bit icky by the fact that she was his prisoner earlier in the story. Stockholm Syndrome, much?

Like Susan, she’s been left to rebuild an utterly destroyed society, but unlike Susan, we didn’t get to see the Doctor say goodbye. His quiet “I’ll miss her” moment didn’t feel as real as it did with Ian and Barbara a few serials ago. Of course, Katarina is there as an instant replacement, but I’m afraid I already know what her fate will be…

Meanwhile, another myth being made by our heroes comes about when The Doctor invents the Trojan Horse. It’s a little odd that he doesn’t seem concerned about changing history at any point – all three of the regulars are perfectly happy to meddle with the course of events throughout the story.

But still, this is a bloody good serial – it invokes The Aztecs a lot, what with The Doctor and Vicki being mistaken for a god and a sorceress, but it does an even better job of creating intrigue right from the start. It’s funny too – nothing major, but there’s a much more subtle style of humour than we got in The Romans, and it’s a lot more successful as a result. Both the Greeks and the Trojans act like sit-com families at times, and I’m all in favour of that.

The hook into the next serial is great – Steven is seriously wounded and there’s a mad-eyed Trojan on board. You’ve got the sense that they’ll all be in danger right from the off, and the next episode slide popping up with “The Nightmare Begins” certainly helps.

Oh, and that reminds me: “Small Prophet, Quick Return” and “The Horse of Destruction” are silly titles for episodes. Although, I read that one of them had the working title of “Is There A Doctor In The Horse?”, which is much better.

The Daleks’ Master Plan next, then. Looking forward to it, especially the episodes that actually exist – it will have been over a week since I’ve been able to actually watch anything properly. As it’s such a long one, I might do a mini-update halfway through, or maybe just one or two short tweet-length posts if anything occurs to me.

(PS. I was intending to change the header image on this blog every time the line-up of regulars changed. This will usually happen at the end of the first serial with the new cast, but as I know that Katarina won’t make it past the end of her first serial, I thought I’d make an exception…)

RATING: 8