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31 August 2017 @ 08:04 pm
The Randomiser: The Daleks' Master Plan  
I can finally say of a famously long Doctor Who story that it's no better than it deserves to be given the length. It is a shame because, I've been impressed by the longer Who stories of the late sixties and early seventies and was starting to wonder if it was actually a strength of the show.

"Ooh! I've seen a story with Peter Purves in it where the daleks spend the whole story chasing the Doctor!" Tame Layman said at the start. He was thinking of The Chase which I've not seen, but it did rather highlight the fact that not only are there 12 episodes of this but that it reusing an idea from only a few stories earlier.

The Daleks' Master Plan feels like something very different from The Invasion, The Silurians and The Ambassadors of Death which all have a certain similarity. In fact The Daleks' Masterplan feels more closely aligned to the serialised Flash Gordon series from the 1930s (I think), that I recall showing on BBC2 when I was growing up than it does even to much of the Doctor Who that surrounds it. Most of the episodes feel oddly self-contained as if the writer only had a rough idea of where the story was going and was content simply to move from the cliffhanger at the start of the episode to the cliffhanger at the end, with a certain amount of action involving Daleks pursuing the Tardis in order to regain the Taranium core in the middle. I am certain that I read at some point that the two credited writers, Terry Nation and Dennis Spooner, alternated episodes each challenging the other with a cliffhanger, although wikipedia and later writing about the story suggests more that Nation wrote the first half and Spooner the second. However one can see, from the shape of the thing, how the idea that they alternated could have gained some credence.

The story has a delight in its crazy aliens which has rarely been matched since, possibly because budget and higher costuming standards/good sense have prohibited it. However this idea of a vast galaxy/universe with a myriad of races is also reminiscent of Flash Gordon and the races and cultures of Mongo.

On the whole I would say that Nation's half of the story is the stronger, which is a shame because the character of pseudo-companion Sara Kingdom, introduced halfway through is one of the story's high points. From reading synopses, I had always got the impression that Sara was something of a caricature of the highly-efficient "kick ass" female soldier (which, frankly, given the time would have been a radical departure for Doctor Who as it stands) but in fact we get someone who is much less of an emotionless automaton, who has a sense of humour, and a genuine connection to the Doctor and Steven (while also being an efficient, capable soldier) and so feels dramatically rounded for an "independent woman" character in a 1960s SciFi show. Of course, some of this may be in Jean Marsh's performance and not in the script itself but I would have loved to see more of her, particularly in a set of episodes where I hadn't begun to tire of the format. In contrast, Nicholas Courtney's first appearance in Doctor Who as Sara's brother, Bret Vyon, is oddly forgettable.

Mavic Chen is another strong point. I kept wondering why he reminded me so much of Tobias Vaughn from The Invasion. There are some obvious similarities: Chen has allied himself with the Daleks, as Vaughn did with the Cybermen and both show awareness of the fragility of their position. However, where Vaughn recognised he was disposable and planned to mitigate the fact, Chen only occasionally shows a glimmering of understanding of quite how precarious his position is. Then I realised that actually they are played by the same actor - demonstrating if nothing else, I suppose, that The Talons of Weng Chiang was not the first time the show chose to indulge in black/yellowface (Chen has a Chinese surname, but his make-up suggests a darker skin).

I also still like the Meddling Monk, but it's undeniable that he isn't as good here as he was in The Time Meddlar. His pettiness has an edge of vindictiveness, not present in the earlier story and his cowardice is too predictable.

We were relieved that three of the episodes of this 12/13 part epic actually exist. They were generally a great deal more watchable than the variety of reconstructions we sourced from Youtube. Of these an animation of the first (zeroth?) Doctor and companion-free episode Mission to the Unknown was the most interesting, and had pretty accomplished animation for a Youtube effort. Although I think it unlikely this will ever be re-appraised as a classic, I do think it a shame that more of it doesn't exist. The episodes that do remain were refreshing and entertaining enough when they did come along that I can imagine the story working quite well in a mindless entertainment sort of a way if there were moving pictures to accompany it. Sadly audio and reconstructions of various kinds only highlight the way much of the story (from the point where the Doctor steals the Taranium core to the point where the daleks recover it) is simply and extended multi-episode chase sequence.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/463205.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on August 31st, 2017 10:12 pm (UTC)
The cliff-hanger challenging is a Doctor Who urban myth, sadly.

I think Big Finish did some stories with Sara where she's a haunted house [sic].

I think Chen's make up and name was deliberately intend to look like he came from an age where different races had interbred until racial differences had been eroded.

I do quite like this, but it is over-long. It's padded, but strangely there are also some odd loose ends that could have been tied up. The Varga plants from Mission to the Unknown are largely ignored and Nation's episodes seem to be setting up Chen's aide Karlton as a potential key villain, manipulating and/or toppling Chen, but Dennis Spooner obviously wasn't interested in him as he disappears midway (in the novelization he gets his comeuppance). I'd like to have seen more of the alien ambassadors too and I'm glad one of their episodes survives. I think episode 2 is very strongly directed for a studio-bound 60s episode, good use of light and shadow from director Douglas Camfield.

ETA: it's definitely tons better than The Chase, though, thanks to largely being played straight, except for the terrible Christmas episode which you didn't mention (deliberately blotted out?) though even that, About Time 1 points out, was a first for the show in some ways, not just the obvious but in having the Doctor come up against authority figures on contemporary Earth.

Edited at 2017-08-31 10:14 pm (UTC)
louisedennis: Christmaslouisedennis on September 1st, 2017 09:16 am (UTC)
Oh yes! The Christmas episode. I thought the first half was OK and, like much of this, was probably perfectly watchable if you actually had some moving pictures. The second half though... well it obviously was relying heavily on physical comedy and the sound track at that point just became more or less unintelligible shouting. I suspect it suffered even more than the rest of the story from the lack of actual pictures but even so, it sounded like a bit of a mess.
liadtbunny: DW bw Masterliadtbunny on September 1st, 2017 02:26 pm (UTC)
I thought the Masterplan started off really well but the amount of episodes got to them in the end:/ I enjoyed the Monk but as you say not as good in this. I would have liked to have seen more Monk serials, maybe next year;p or fic!
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on September 3rd, 2017 02:34 pm (UTC)
Yes, there was just too much that was a bit the same - I don't know if many of the second half episodes would have seemed better if there hadn't been quite so much of the same beforehand!