Airdates: December 1965/January 1966
Written by: Terry Nation (Episode 7); Dennis Spooner, from an idea by Terry Nation (Episodes 8-12)
Directed by: Douglas Camfield
The Story So Far: The Daleks are still allied with the Guardian of the Solar System to conquer Earth, and the Universe; the Doctor is ready to permanently thwarts their plans, but doing so will cost yet another one of his companions their life…
Novelization by: John Peel, as The Daleks’ Master Plan Part II: The Mutation of Time (October 1989)
As I begin to write this the night after watching Episode 12, The Destruction of Time, the concluding night of the Master Plan epic, I honestly just don’t have the mental energy to feel like going back and talking about the opera bouffe that made up Episodes 7 through 11. Christmas hijinks, lead actors addressing the audience, a three-episode return for the Meddling Monk, the increasingly comic insanity of human bad-guy Mavic Chen… none of that matters. Not after the emotional ringer of the final act. As I indicated in my previous post, this story is really a 4-episode gut punch, anticipating some pages out of the Breaking Bad playbook, wrapped around an 8-episode sequel to The Chase. And even though I’ve experienced the episode before and already knew what to expect, beat for beat, I still feel most properly punched in the gut.
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair
Episode 7 — The Feast of Steven: We start with a Christmas episode, aired on December 25th, 1965. It’s basically two frenetic comedy sequences, first set in a contemporaneous British police station (meant to be a parody of “Z-Cars”), and then in a 1920s’ Hollywood studio, mixed in with three TARDIS scenes. This describes what happened, but not how…
Every one of Terry Nation’s Who serials to date have wryly commented on how unreliable TV is a a medium, and we get more of that here, as it’s the TARDIS’ broken scanner sending our travelers out into the snow to effect repairs, only for the Doctor to be arrested. Inside the police station, the Doctor quickly recognizes character actor Reg Pritchard from his role in the previous season’s The Crusade. Hartnell is back in fine form here, after his doldrums on the planet Mira, delivering lines like “I’m a citizen of the Universe, and a gentleman, to boot!”, and issuing rapid-fire put-downs to a detective. Peter Purves posing as a police constable chasing after the Doctor is also comedy gold.
After a brief TARDIS scene reminding us of the Daleks and Taranium, we wind up in the indescribably awful Hollywood sequence; no wonder the Classic Series never went back to North America after this episode. A ton of comedy-racist sentiments — characters named Steinberger P. Green and Ingmar Knopf (“Kneupf!”), and the line “madhouse… full of Arabs!” — with cacophonous noise. It’s nearly rescued by three things: A) a mute Charlie Chaplin cameo (allegedly); B) silent film-style intertitles with piano transitions; and C) Bing Crosby, in a historically inaccurate cameo, played by Robert Jewell, who usually sat hidden in Dalek casings …
And, incidentally, a happy Christmas, to all of you at home!
Episode 8 — Volcano: No cliffhanger reprise this week, obviously. It’s New Year’s Day 1966, and the comedy continues for the TARDIS crew. They briefly land on a cricket pitch (during a match!), and at the New Year’s festivities in London, which the Doctor somehow mistakes for the Relief of Mafeking. The “main” plot is set on the planet Tigus, where the Meddling Monk returns to try and lock the Doctor out of the TARDIS, as revenge for last time. This bit reinforces that the Monk is the Doctor Who equivalent of Sideshow Bob; it takes the Doctor just 30 seconds to undo the Monk’s sabotage. But it’s worth it all for two things: the jaunty music burst heralding the return of Peter Butterworth, and the loud, echo-y, shouted-across-a-distance reunion of the Monk with the Doctor and Steven; this sounds side-splitting on audio and would likely be even better if we could see it. Douglas Camfield nicely transitions between scenes with The Monk and Steven both saying that they haven’t seen the last of each other…
Meanwhile, back on Kembel, the Daleks have finally figured out that their recovered Taranium core is a fake. They summon up a new time machine and set off to chase after the Doctor again. A potentially terrifying beat is missed when we don’t get a scene showing the Daleks capturing Trantis (minus the face-tentacles he rocked back in Mission to the Unknown) and turning him from delegate to Time Destructor guinea pig. After the Time Destructor fails to work, they then exterminate Trantis anyway; too bad we are deprived of seeing his surprise at all these developments. The Loose Cannon recon, by the way, was made before the 2004 recovery of Episode 2, so they get the “look” of the alien delegates (here, Trantis and Celation, who didn’t appear in the other surviving episodes) wrong… if that matters to you.
Episodes 9 & 10 — Golden Death and Escape Switch: So you have a time machine. Where’s the first place you’re going to go with it? Almost certainly Ancient Egypt. Why wouldn’t you go there? Pyramids, mummies, ancient curses… the Magic Treehouse books went there. Even Young Indiana Jones went there (minus the Ancient part). Now, Dennis Spooner finally lands the TARDIS at the base of the Great Pyramid… and burns it off as B-plot, a mere flavorless backdrop to a Doctor/Meddling Monks/Dalek three-way comedy battle…
There are some clever moments in this two-part diversion, but on the whole, it’s the one aspect of the 12-episode serial that doesn’t “work” for me. The Daleks mass-exterminate a bunch of Egyptians in each part, but there’s no dramatic impact to the deaths. Walter Randall is back, after leering around the margins of The Aztecs and The Crusade, although thanks to the audio-only nature of Episode 9, I didn’t even realize that was him until the credits rolled. Sara evidently did some epic karate-chopping of Egyptians in Episode 9, but can’t even see how well Jean Marsh rocked those moves, because we’ve lost Episode 9.
Wouldn’t the Monk’s role in Episode 8 have been even funnier if he didn’t come back for these two episodes? Not that I didn’t appreciate his role here. He’s heard of the Daleks (unlike the Doctor back in their first appearance) and is plainly terrified of them, which is a nice contrast with his genial bumbling elsewhere — stopping a revenge plot to fetch sunglasses, or being forcibly wrapped by the Doctor in mummy bandages. I quite like his trying to persuade Steven and Sara to let him into the TARDIS to find aspirin for his “headache”, when they’re not even paying attention to him… meanwhile, he gets bullied around by Mavic Chen, who should be his intellectual inferior!
And more quick praise for Douglas Camfield before we return to Kembel. He pulls the camera back on the Monk, after the Monk learns the Doctor’s stolen his TARDIS’ directional control, making the poor Monk shrink in stature. There’s also the much-discussed dissolve from a shot of the blazing sun, to the reflection of a studio light in a Dalek’s dome (interestingly, the Dalek time machine now has a central console and a glass column… hmm!). The Doctor and Chen get a big confrontation here — their last one in the story, as events transpire, but, sadly, Hartnell and Stoney don’t really find any chemistry together; they’re acting past each other, not off each other. Anyway, at the end of Episode 10, the Daleks, after 8 weeks of chasing, finally get their Taranium back. So, goodbye to Carry On, Mummies, and back to Breaking Bad…
Episode 11 — The Abandoned Planet: It’s said that Episode 3 of any 4-part Doctor Who is the dull, padded part, and that’s why John Nathan-Turner would start making more 3-part stories in the late ’80s. This installment is really Episode 3 of the story… and it really is dull. William Hartnell features heavily in the opening TARDIS scene and then… vanishes, without explanation, with his lines reassigned to Steven for the balance of this act and the first one-third of the next one. Shannon Sullivan’s site attributes this to unknown reasons, but we do know that it’s the beginning of a long trend of Hartnell being sidelined from his own show.
Not that Steven and Sara make bad leads. They have an interesting sibling-rivalry chemistry, as they squabble their way from the TARDIS through the jungle to the Dalek’s hidden fortress (although we’re stuck with woeful lines like “Sara, this is no time for a lesson on the Power-Impulse Compass!”). In a subplot, they rescue most of the Dalek Conference alien delegates, sending them back to their respective galaxies to defend against the Dalek invasion. Unfortunately, they can’t get rid of Mavic Chen…
I’ll admit it, Kevin Stoney’s undeniable screen presence aside, I’ve gotten sick of Mavic Chen’s increasingly delusional character by this point in the story. We’ve lost the video of a great scene where Chen provokes a mini-riot amongst the delegates and one of them is killed (Gearon, per the Loose Cannon recon… I’m not sure which one was Gearon); I’m sure Camfield directed the heck out of that fight. But Chen’s persistent rants about controlling the Daleks are getting boring. He stages his own death toward the end of the act, only to come back three minutes later. Who else was more annoyed than surprised by his cliffhanger-timed return?
Episode 12 — The Destruction of Time: Boom.
This is the most harrowing Doctor Who episode produced to date, and will keep that title for quite some time (Web of Fear Episode 4 may come close when 1968 rolls around). It’s a dialogue-light episode, the Doctor doesn’t show up until 8 minutes have elapsed, and, after the Universe-spanning scope of the rest of the serial, there are just 5 speaking roles. And Camfield makes top use of this tight focus.
The first 10 minutes are devoted to offing Mavic Chen. I won’t lie, I was actually rooting for the Daleks against Chen; I like how they whispered amongst each other, as they secretly conspired to double-cross him. Wish the video of this had survived, so we could see if Stoney allowed Chen any moment of recognition of the futility of his efforts — likely not, because Chen is still ranting madly even as he’s being blasted into infinity…
Then, the Doctor sneaks in and activates the Time Destructor while the Daleks are out Chen-hunting. He flips the switch and turns it on. And it works. We’ve been hearing for 12 episodes now just how dangerous a weapon the Time Destructor is, but now we see it (or, hear it) work, and it certainly lives up to the hype. It turns the jungles of Kembel into ash. It turns the Daleks into dust, rust, and rotting octopoid embryos. It turns Sara Kingdom to an old lady, to a skeleton, to dust blowing away in the wind.
I have no idea how they achieved all this, in a 100-minute studio session with limited scene breaks. This is the same show that couldn’t get Zarbi props to walk in a straight line or keep the Sensorites from stepping on each others’ cardboard feet, within those constraints. But, by all accounts, Douglas Camfield managed to pull off all these complex effects. Hartnell, Purves, and Jean Marsh all do some stunning anguished voice acting, conveying real pain and despair. When it’s over and the Doctor finds the remains of the rusted Dalek shells, Hartnell tries to bitterly laugh off what the Time Destructor has done, until Steven brings him back to reality by reciting the names of all the dead.
This is intense, stunning, emotional. Everything and (nearly) everyone dies. Steven and the Doctor barely make it into the TARDIS before the Time Destructor burns them out. After so many comedy episodes in a row, this was a stunning jolt back to reality. It’s horribly depressing. This is as devastated as I’ve been by a TV show since the Breaking Bad finale aired last month. And I’ve actually seen this recon before, I’ve heard the audio, read the novelization… none of this was a surprise to me, but it’s lost none of its impact…
And, just when you think it’s over and things will look up again, out comes the following caption:
WAR OF GOD
Actually, you know what, I take it back. Even the end of Breaking Bad was less relentless and more uplifting than this.