Doctor Who Project: Death to the Daleks

Standard

Tell me, have you ever tried Venusian hopscotch?

This time, the Dalek story title wheel lands on an alliteration, but at a stretch, it’s possible that Terry Nation’s “Death to the Daleks” (Story Production Code XXX) actually could apply to the story itself, since the dozen or so Daleks in the story do perish at the end. Alas, as with most things Dalek in the early 1970s, the title, and the story, aim for the grandiose and provide the pedestrian.

Surprise, Daleks!

In keeping with one of Nation’s favored themes, a terrible plague threatens the outer colonies of almost all species. Only one planet, Exxilon, inhabited by a Stone Age civilization, possesses the cure in quantities sufficient to save the millions who suffer from the disease. Both the humans of the Marine Space Corps and the Daleks (of, um, the Daleks) want this miracle substance, parrinium, and would gladly fight each for it, if only their spaceships and energy weapons worked once they neared Exxilon.

For even the TARDIS succumbs to the energy-draining powers of the “forbidden city” of the Exxilons’ ancestors, who were old when the universe was young. Their city, imbued with a form of bio-technological sentience, was meant to be their crowning achievement, but in standard science fiction fashion, it realized they were an impediment to its efficient functioning and killed off most of them. The remnants worship the city, reduced to chanting and incense-heavy sacrificial ceremonies in its name.

The main course awaits her fate

Terry Nation must hold some grudge against the TARDIS, as for the second story of his in a row, the TARDIS runs out of a vital component (here energy, previously oxygen) and remains useless to the Doctor. Even in “The Daleks” back in 1963, he sees fit to render the blue box hors de combat, with the Doctor pocketing the fluid link to force everyone to investigate Skaro to find a replacement. The notion of the inviolable TARDIS never quite took with Nation, it seems, and he uses whatever plot device he can to get the Doctor out of its safe confines. At least the Doctor has an oil lamp handy with which to guide his way out of the blacked-out TARDIS, as one does…

Continue reading

Doctor Who Project: Planet of the Daleks

Standard

We can never leave here. Never! Never!

Perhaps nothing sums up Terry Nation’s return to Doctor Who in “Planet of the Daleks” (Story Production Code SSS) better than the fact that said planet has a core of, um, molten ice, a geological anomaly that inevitably plays a prominent role in the story’s outcome. It’s a typically outrĂ© Nation conceit. Presumably this odd planetary structure would make hollowing the core out simpler than if it were molten lava, but unlike that plan of the Daleks, this one involves learning the secret of invisibility from the inhabitants of the planet, Spiridon, a jungle world whose savage lifeforms presumably drove the natives to evolve this ability as a protective measure. They also wear purple fur coats when it gets cold, slightly defeating the invisibility adaptation.

Purple is all the rage this season on Spiridon.

But rather than simply establishing a small research outpost to exploit the Spiridonian’s prestidigitous power, the Daleks also store tens of thousands of their brethren in suspended animation there—effectively, their entire military force—in order to retrofit them with the invisibility power for the forthcoming “invasion of all the solar planets” alluded to in the prior story, “Frontier in Space.” A fortuitous single point of potential failure, then, and one which a band of brave Thals (q.v. “The Daleks“) discover and trigger to thwart their eternal enemies.

The power of molten ice!

Though the Dalek War took place generations earlier, the Thals sent a mission from Skaro to hunt down the Daleks. Their two primitive spacecraft crash-land on Spiridon, killing several Thals instantly, but after much derring-do and many scenes of self-sacrifice, the dwindling band of tow-headed non-mutants manage to crack open the walls of the vast Dalek hibernation chamber, letting in torrents of molten, er, ice, freezing the regiments of pepperpots in place for centuries.

Oh, right, and the Doctor and Jo show up, but probably only because Terry Nation’s contract required him to write the Time Lord into the story.
Continue reading

Doctor Who Project: Frontier in Space

Standard

Only you could manage to have a traffic accident in space.

Just when you think it’s safe to go back into the water, Roger Delgado returns, the Master’s smile as cutting as a dorsal fin ripping through waves. Series regular Malcolm Hulke’s “Frontier in Space” (Story Production Code QQQ) starts out with verve and pace, dropping the Doctor and Jo immediately into a tangled web of interstellar intrigue. Two great empires of the 26th Century, that of Earth and that of Draconia, find themselves unwittingly lured into war by a mysterious third party employing highly advanced ultrasonic technology that disguises their mercenary Ogrons as the other side. Months of raids by the incognito Ogrons on Earth and Draconian shipping has left tensions between the two powers strained to the breaking point.

Friend or Foe?

By the middle of the third of six episodes, the viewer has been lulled into suspecting one of the characters already introduced—perhaps the warlike Earth General Williams or the honor-bound Draconian Prince—of organizing this subterfuge in order to further some hidden agenda. Two and a half episodes seems like just enough time to wrap up a political potboiler. But then, pretending to be the representative from an outlying Earth colony, swoops in the Master, and the entire story turns on a dime.

Behold, the Master

The strategy of withholding Delgado from the story for so long works brilliantly here, and one is forced to look back at hints the Doctor dropped about the fear-based disguise technology being far too advanced for the Ogrons, essentially just brute muscle, to have developed themselves. One even, perhaps, briefly moots the possibility of the Daleks being in play because of the Ogrons’ prior association with them (in “Day of the Daleks.”) And then, behold, the Master appears, putting rest to all those suppositions. It’s an electrifying moment, a real triumph of pacing and patience and plotting.

And yet, there’s immediately a sense of trepidation. For as pleasant as Roger Delgado’s appearances are, the Master’s plans don’t tend to result in gripping psychological or political drama, nor do they frankly ever make much sense. He’s more often than not a delightfully screen-stealing blowhard who falls prey to his own skulduggery. Will that be the case here?

Well, yes. But only until the real villains show up…
Continue reading

Doctor Who Project: The Daleks' Master Plan

Standard

Three time machines in one infinitesimal speck of space and time! Tsk. Of course, a coincidence is possible—but hardly likely.

They just don’t make them like they used to. The multi-episode story structure used by Doctor Who allowed quite a bit of flexibility when planning a season, and while most stories of the First Doctor’s era fit into the standard four-episode format, one story in particular stretched the limits: Terry Nation and Dennis Spooner’s twelve-episode epic “The Daleks’ Master Plan” (Story Production Code V), which first aired in weekly installments from November 13, 1965 through January 29, 1966. Nothing like it had been seen in Doctor Who before. Except, um, Terry Nation’s “The Chase” and “The Keys of Marinus,” six-episode stories from which the structure of “The Daleks’ Master Plan” is cribbed.

Both “The Chase” and “The Keys of Marinus” feature whirlwind tours of disparate locations, either climactic extremes (jungles, deserts, acid oceans) or quasi-realistic settings played for laughs (top of the Empire State Building, an animatronic house of horrors). So too with “The Daleks’ Master Plan”—the deserts of ancient Egypt; the lush jungle of planet Kembel; the swamps of planet Mira; northern England at Christmas; the, ah, manicured cricket lawns of The Oval; and 1920’s Hollywood are all stops for the TARDIS in this story. And why does the TARDIS flit from place to place? Because it’s being chased through time and space, not just by Daleks (as in “The Chase”) but by the Mark IV TARDIS of the Meddling Monk, also known as “The Time Meddler,” because, as a Dennis Spooner creation, he’s of course in this one, too. Can’t let Nation and his Daleks have all the fun.

Still, even if we know, broadly, what to expect from a Terry Nation story, “The Daleks’ Master Plan” works, well, masterfully, with but few exceptions. The story starts somewhat slowly, with the usual Nation technobabble—in short order we are introduced to two different types of spacecraft by brand name (the Spar 7-40 and the Flipt T4) and both ultraspace and ultrasonics, neither of which get any explanation. But most importantly, we are introduced to Mavic Chen (Kevin Stoney), the idolized Guardian of the Solar System (essentially the leader of all humans), whom we quickly find to be in league with the Daleks. Why rule a mere solar system, when you can rule whole galaxies?

Today the Solar System, Tomorrow the Universe!

Meanwhile, the Doctor desperately needs medicine for a wounded Steven and lands, by happenstance, on the planet Kembel, last seen as the location of a secret Dalek base in “Mission to the Unknown.” Before long, the Doctor, Katarina (picked up in ancient Troy during “The Myth Makers“), Steven, and a headstrong Earth security agent named Bret Vyon (future Brigadier Nicholas Courtney) stumble into a conference being held by the Daleks with representatives from several different galaxies. It’s at this conference that the Daleks’ Master Plan is unveiled.

Gearon, Malpha, and the Dalek Supreme. Or is that Celation?

And, as with most Dalek plans, it’s actually kind of stupid.

Continue reading

Doctor Who Project: Mission to the Unknown

Standard

It is done. The seven great powers of the galaxy are one.

Obviously, far too much time has passed since the Daleks last appeared on Doctor Who in “The Chase,” a whole eight episodes ago. And so, to set up their epic return in the twelve-part “The Daleks’ Master Plan” one story hence, we are treated to Terry Nation’s “Mission to the Unknown” (Story Production Code T/A), a one episode “prologue” also known as the Dalek Cutaway but mostly known because there’s no Doctor in it. At all.

From the start, one imagines “Mission to the Unknown” to be Terry Nation’s vision of the Daleks outside of Doctor Who, with neither the Doctor nor his Companions even mentioned in the episode. The music itself seems a departure from the established series norm, with an excessive use of musical “stings”—quick, crashing, slightly discordant sounds more commonly associated with horror or thriller films.

Opposing the cumbersome pepperpots this time is not a Time Lord but Marc Cory, an agent of Earth’s Space Security Service (also called the Special Security Service in this episode). Had Marc Cory survived the episode, I would have suspected an Earth vs. Dalek spin-off series in the making. But one feels nothing for the deaths of Cory and his unwitting colleagues Garvey and Lowery; they are essentially set dressing.

Ultimately, the episode serves as an info-dump more than a teaser. The actors (Dalek and human alike) fairly stumble over big blocks of text as Terry Nation spends most of the story in expositional mode, setting up the scenario (a thousand years after the last Dalek invasion of Earth) and letting us know what the Daleks have been up to in the intervening years (conquering planets millions of light years away). And now they’re back for another crack at Earth, this time in a great alliance with the galaxy’s six other great powers, noted in the script as Gearon, Trantis, Malpha, Sentreal, Beaus, and Celation. And note, too the black dome of the Dalek Supreme.

As is somewhat typical of early (and, who are we kidding, current) Doctor Who, astronomical terms are thrown around with imprecise abandon. One of the delegates at the Daleks’ alliance meeting, from Malpha, proclaims:

This is indeed an historic moment in the history of the universe. We six from the outer galaxies, joining with a power from the solar system: the Daleks.

Universe, galaxy, solar system? Even the location of the planet Kembel, where the action takes place, is unclear. Cory and his fellows suggest that Earth has a huge galactic network, though, so Earth is no slouch in terms of colonization and, perhaps, conquest.

As with “Galaxy 4” before it, “Mission to the Unknown” no longer exists on film, and given the effects work hinted at in the publicity stills and the script, one hopes fervently that a copy turns up at a jumble sale somewhere after decades in an attic, if only to see the giant headed cone alien walk around.

Continue reading

Doctor Who Project: The Chase

Standard

Barbara, could I, ah, have your cardigan?

Terry Nation and his Daleks return to Doctor Who in “The Chase” (Story Production Code R), with their own time machine, ready to pursue our heroes through time and space with one aim: to exterminate. The possibilities are endless, the potential locales and eras limitless. And we wind up on a desert planet populated by fish people. And also on Earth three times. And then on a jungle planet with hungry fungi and truculent robots. By the end of the story, one mourns not so much for the departure of Barbara and Ian as for what could have been.

Much like an earlier Nation effort, “The Keys of Marinus,” “The Chase” bounces around from place to place, episode to episode, and as a result, far too much screen time is devoted to establishing the when and what of where the Doctor and his companions have arrived. This influx of exposition overwhelms any sense of anxiety about the Daleks who pursue them just minutes behind in the time and space vortex. And, of course, the intrepid travellers must conspire to get themselves separated from one another in each and every episode. That takes effort, drawing away from any depth of plot.

The action, such as it is, starts on the heels of “The Space Museum,” with the Doctor tuning in various moments in history on the Time-Space Visualizer he insisted on liberating from that eponymous institution. The Time-Space Visualizer is curiously heliocentric, with the names of the solar system’s planets around it, and indeed the entire story resounds with references to the Doctor as human, though likely an unintentional rather than prescriptive description. Shakespeare makes his first appearance in Doctor Who on the Visualizer, and the United States is referenced for the first time as well, as Ian requests a peek at Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address.

A thousand channels and he winds up on the History Channel

But then, in a fortuitous bit of channel surfing, the Daleks appear, chanting “TARDIS, TARDIS, TARDIS!” as they roll one after the other into their own time machine, ready to chase the Doctor and chums through time and space as revenge for the foiled invasion of Earth. They don’t seem overly concerned about the Doctor’s seeming destruction of their species on Skaro way back when, just the whole Earth thing. Because turning the Earth into a hollow spaceship to fly it around the galaxy was totally going to work.

Of course, our time travellers can’t just leave, because the party is split up on the desert planet Aridius, adding yet another lazy planet name to the Doctor Who canon. The fishy Aridians, whose planet was once water covered and who live in fear of octopus-like Mire Beasts, don’t seem at all surprised by the sudden appearance of the Doctor or the Daleks, who threaten to destroy the Aridian civilization if the Doctor and his companions are not handed over.

Fish men. In a desert.

Thankfully, a Mire Beast breaks through a wall and eats an Aridian, allowing Vicki, Barbara, and the Doctor to escape and meet up with Ian, who has passed out from the first of two head-beatings in this story.

Continue reading