Doctor Who Project: Frontier in Space

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…

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Doctor Who Project: Day of the Daleks

Doctor Who Project: Day of the Daleks

Changing history is a very fanatical idea, you know.

For a show ostensibly about time travel, Doctor Who features very few stories actually about time travel. Louis Marks’ Season Nine opener, “Day of the Daleks” (Series Production Code KKK), tries to explore the paradoxical intricacies of altering history but, oddly, is kept from doing so by the lead villains, who make a rather flat return after nearly five years’ absence from the screen. For this story, about a ragtag band of guerrilla fighters in 22nd Century Earth travelling back in time to stop World War III from breaking out in the 20th Century, would have worked better without the Daleks at all.

Behold the gold Dalek

UNIT summons the Doctor and Jo to investigate the strange appearance (and disappearance) of an armed intruder in the home of Sir Reginald Styles, a British diplomat attempting to broker a peace between China, the UK, and the rest of a world on the brink of all-out war. When the would-be assassin is later found injured in a nearby tunnel, the Doctor surmises that he’s from Earth’s future, armed as he is with a disintegrator gun, made with Welsh-mined metals, and a crude form of time machine. This conjecture is confirmed when the assailant’s accomplices show up and capture the Doctor and Jo, who have lain in wait for them in Style’s study (after helping themselves to the diplomat’s well-stocked larder and wine cellar).

Be very afraid. We're from the future!

Through a series of misadventures—and Jo’s on-again, off-again skill with “escapology”—both the Doctor and Jo separately wind up in the 22nd Century, Jo in the custody of the Dalek-led human government and the Doctor with the guerrillas who are, it turns out, fighting against the Dalek regime. And what horrible fate awaits Jo at the hands of her captors? She’s offered grapes and wine and the promise of a feast. The Daleks have really lost their touch…

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Materializing Soon: LEGO Doctor Who Set Scheduled

Not that there was much doubt it would eventually happen, but LEGO has finally scheduled the release for what, one hopes, is the first of many Doctor Who building sets. Landing right after Thanksgiving, on December 1st, the inaugural Doctor Who LEGO set features the TARDIS (with detachable police box and console play area), buildable Daleks, and minifigs for the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, plus current companion Clara and a Weeping Angel for good measure.

Image via

I had put my money on a November 23rd release, to coincide with the series’ anniversary, but December 1st isn’t too far off. I certainly hope that LEGO has sufficiently estimated demand for this product, as the early rumblings seem to suggest the Venn diagram of LEGO enthusiasts and Whovians overlaps to a fair (OK, absurd) extent, and the LEGO Ideas line tends to be limited run. Even at the US$60 price point, Doctor Who fans will not find it a difficult purchasing decision, though the choice of Doctors and companion leaves, perhaps, something to be desired. I realize my dream set of the First Doctor, Vicki, and Steven facing off the the Dhravins from “Galaxy Four” would make for a hard sell, but still, no Doctor from the original run? Not even a K-9?

Given that this set will sell as well as Yeti take to the Underground, ideally LEGO will produce variant consoles and the proper Doctors to go with them, either as separate sets or as expansions to this set. They’ve already done something similar with their planned LEGO Dimensions Doctor Who set, albeit in a mostly digital fashion, so I imagine that the licensing would not be impossibly prohibitive.

The popularity of the current iteration of the series makes the inclusion of the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors essentially mandatory, but a Whovian can dream of LEGO Sensorites…

(Image via LEGO Ideas Blog)

Doctor Who Project: The Evil of the Daleks

Dizzy, dizzy, dizzy Daleks!

Now that’s how you end a season. Doctor Who‘s Fourth Season comes to a close with David Whitaker’s “The Evil of the Daleks,” (Story Production Code LL) a seven-episode story that finds the Doctor on familiar ground: Skaro, home planet of the Daleks. But he gets there through a Dalek time travel device in a London antique shop in 1966 that deposits him in a cabinet of electrified mirrors in a Victorian laboratory, which somewhat explains why it takes seven episodes to tell the tale. Much like the prior story, “The Faceless Ones,” Whitaker’s story feels an episode too long yet still delivers an engaging, if slightly overwrought, plot. Indeed, it’s best not to dwell too much on the absurd fussiness of the Daleks’ machinations here; the real story takes place between the Doctor, Jamie, and, yes, the Daleks as they come to terms with just who the Doctor is, and what it is he truly believes.

A furrowed brow

For “The Evil of the Daleks” very much serves as a re-statement of the show’s theme and purpose, a summing up of four seasons of Doctor Who, tidily wrapped with a neat Dalek bow. The Doctor and Jamie have two extended conversations—fights, really—about the lengths the Doctor will go to for his aims and what he cares about, dialogue that serves less the immediate narrative purpose than the ends of the show as an ongoing cultural entity. In short, Whitaker puts the needs of continuity ahead of the needs of story, or rather, he recognizes that the Doctor’s story is ongoing and not a mere series of semi-linked sequential adventures. His story embraces what has come before like no other story to date has, and though it’s riddled with what we might term continuity errors, he’s grasped the larger continuity, that of the Doctor’s beliefs, his purpose.

So the story picks up immediately from the end of “The Faceless Ones,” with the TARDIS being hauled away from Gatwick on a lorry. The Doctor and Jamie are lured to an antique shop through a series of elaborately laid (and patently obvious) clues about the location of the blue box, all designed with a knowledge of the Doctor’s curious nature. Much of the first two episodes focuses on the trap being laid for the Doctor; the narrative tension comes not from wondering what traps the Doctor will face but instead from how he will unravel them. And just when they’ve found the odd technology (and a dead body) in the back of a shop filled with brand new yet authentic Victorian artifacts, they’re gassed unconscious and wake up in a Victorian drawing room with massive headaches and a helpful servant named Mollie. And there are still five episodes to go.

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Doctor Who Project: The Power of the Daleks

So he gets himself a new one?

The Doctor might be new, but the foe is not. To usher in Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor, David Whitaker’s “The Power of the Daleks” (Story Production Code EE) relies on the everyone’s favorite aliens to ease the fledgling Time Lord (and the audience) into the new era. Viewers uncertain about William Hartnell’s replacement could still be expected to tune in for the Daleks, last seen some ten months prior. But, as is standard with Dalek stories, we do not see one until the end of the very first episode, leaving room for Ben and Polly to ask questions of this interloper, whose entire appearance and demeanor have changed.

Care is taken to reassure the viewer that there is a strong continuity between manifestations, particularly with a shot of Hartnell’s visage when Troughton looks into a mirror. The Doctor rummages through a chest and pulls out objects from past adventures, such as a dagger from Saladin and, ominously, a chunk of metal that causes him to mutter, “Extermination!” Oddly, though, he does not refer to himself as the Doctor once in the entire story, even referring to the Doctor in the third person during the first episode when asking if the Doctor kept a diary.

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Viewership figures (as reported in Wood and Miles, About Time 2), come in at nearly eight million per episode for the six-part story, far stronger than those for recent stories like “The Smugglers” (less than five million per) and even “The Tenth Planet” (starting at five and a half million and peaking at seven and a half million as Hartnell exits). The audience, clearly, accepted Patrick Troughton, but do Ben and Polly accept the Second Doctor as the Doctor?

Polly does, almost immediately; her concern is whether this Doctor is so different that he will not want them along. Ben takes somewhat longer to warm to the idea. Clearly, this new figure knows his way around the TARDIS, flicking open the door switch without looking, but Ben calls him out for not checking the monitors to ascertain if it’s safe to leave. The Doctor drilled that notion into all his companions’ heads; if this strange figure doesn’t even bother, how could he be the Doctor? But the reply puts Ben rather in his place:

Oxygen density 172. Radiation nil. Temperature 86. Strong suggestion of mercury deposits. Satisfied, Ben? Now are you two coming or are you not?

The regeneration (a phrase not used in this story) is explained, broadly, as a function of the TARDIS. The exact phrasing—”I’ve been renewed. It’s part of the TARDIS. Without it, I couldn’t survive.”—leaves open the possibility that the Doctor’s life force is connected to the TARDIS not just for regeneration but for his very existence itself, bringing a hint of mystery to the ship that we haven’t seen since “Inside the Spaceship” back in the first season.

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If “The Power of the Daleks” is known for anything, though, it should not be for the difficult task of selling the first regeneration as much as for making the Daleks scary again. An empire of Daleks can be (and has been) played for laughs; one Dalek is frankly terrifying.

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Doctor Who Project: The Daleks’ Master Plan

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.

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