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Doctor Who: The Daleks' Master Plan

Mavic Chen is a stable genius.
"It came from Uranus! I know it did!" – An actual line from this story.

Season Three, Story V

Starring William Hartnell as the Doctor
With Peter Purves (Steven), Adrienne Hill (Katarina), and introducing Nicholas Courtney (Bret Vyon) and Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom)
Written by Terry Nation (eps 1-5, 7) and Dennis Spooner (eps 6, 8-12)
Directed by Douglas Camfield
Produced by John Wiles
Script Editor: Donald Tosh

Episode Titles and Broadcast Dates
  • The Nightmare Begins (13 Nov 1965) **MISSING**
  • Day of Armageddon (20 Nov 1965)
  • Devils' Planet (27 Nov 1965) **MISSING**
  • The Traitors (4 Dec 1965) **MISSING**
  • Counter Plot (11 Dec 1965)
  • Coronas of the Sun (18 Dec 1965) **MISSING**
  • The Feast of Steven (25 Dec 1965) **MISSING**
  • Volcano (1 Jan 1966) **MISSING**
  • Golden Death (8 Jan 1966) **MISSING**
  • Escape Switch (15 Jan 1966)
  • The Abandoned Planet (22 Jan 1966) **MISSING**
  • Destruction of Time (29 Jan 1966) **MISSING**

How To Watch:
  • Loose Cannon Productions' reconstructions of the nine missing episodes are available here. They also made a reconstruction of episode two, which was still missing at the time, and has largely been scrubbed from the internet since its rediscovery.
  • The three surviving episodes were released on the Lost In Time DVD.
  • Despite it being one of the most desired unreleased stories, there are no plans (as of Feb 2023) to animate the missing episodes. Its length, huge number of characters, wide range of settings, etc are all factors working against it.
  • John Peel's Target novelization was published in two volumes, "Mission to the Unknown" covering the prologue and Eps 1-6, and "The Mutation of Time" covering Eps 7-12.


The Daleks have allied with a number of planetary systems to create the ultimate weapon, the Time Destructor, and are assembling on Kembel. Mavic Chen, the seemingly benevolent Guardian of the Solar System, is one of the chief conspirators and provides the final element of the Destructor, the Taranium Core that will power it. The Doctor, Steven and Katarina land on Kembel, and with the assistance of Space Security Service agent Bret Vyon, manage to steal the Core. In the ensuing pursuit across the Galaxy, Katarina sacrifices her life to save our heroes, and Bret is later killed by Agent Sara Kingdom, convinced by Mavic Chen that he was a traitor. She's overcome with grief when she learns Chen has lied, because Bret was her brother.

Eluding the Daleks for a while, bouncing between modern day London, a madcap chase through Silent-Era Hollywood, a cricket match, and a volcano planet (where they once again encounter the Monk), our heroes end up in Ancient Egypt where the Doctor is forced to hand over the Taranium Core to Mavic Chen and the Daleks. The TARDIS manages to return to Kembel where the Daleks have betrayed Chen and the fellow conspirators. Our heroes infiltrate the Dalek base and ultimately activate the Time Destructor, wiping out the Daleks and rendering the jungle planet to an arid wasteland, although Sara perishes in the process, aging to death.

A Detour To Discuss Companions

So, what is the definition of a Doctor Who Companion? Seems like a simple enough question, and yet...

John Nathan-Turner's book The Companions in the early 80's included Katarina and Sara Kingdom, but not Bret Vyon, and from that point on was more or less the definitive word on who was or wasn't a companion. I'm curious if Bret's oversight was intentional. Every definition of companion seems to have an exception. Has to travel in the TARDIS? That disqualifies Liz Shaw, though nobody's going to contest her companion status. Has to be with the Doctor for more than one serial? That disqualifies Sara Kingdom. But Bret travels with the Doctor through multiple locations and sets foot in the TARDIS, even if he doesn't travel in it, and is an active part of the narrative. The brevity of the tenures of Katarina (5 episodes), Bret (4 episodes) and Sara (9 episodes) might obligate the coining of a term like Adjunct Companion, which might end up demoting Sara and Katarina like former planet Pluto.

"Adjunct Companion" can cover a lot of ground. Regular cast members like the Brigadier, Captain Yates and Sgt Benton. Short-tenure companions like Katarina, Bret and Sara. Characters who at one point in the story's development were intended to be companions, and were as active in the narrative as the regular companions, like Jenny from "Dalek Invasion of Earth," or Samantha from "The Faceless Ones." Some characters like Harry Sullivan can claim to be both a Companion and an Adjunct Companion (his re-appearance in "Android Invasion"), perhaps Sarah Jane Smith too with her appearances in the new series. Adjunct status can be granted to regular characters in the new series as well, like Jackie, Mickey, Captain Jack, Adam, River Song and Wilfred. Nicholas Courtney could then be unique as a "Double Adjunct," as both Bret Vyon and the Brigadier.

But anyway...

Notes and Observations and Stuff

As I'd noted in the past, Terry Nation, unlike any other Doctor Who writer, fully embraced the episodic format of the show, in that he focused on the narrative arcs of individual episodes more than the overall story, which permitted him to structure the overall stories to be as long or short as necessary. He'd utilized this in "The Keys of Marinus" and "The Chase," but "Daleks' Master Plan" took it to the limit. I mean, what's the plot? The Doctor has something the Daleks want, so they pursue our heroes through time and space. Nation can flesh this out to as many episodes as he needs to to fill the schedule slot available. The nature of this flexible format even allows a complete diversion from the main plot to slip in a comedy Christmas episode, and apart from a few scenes to remind viewers that there's still a pending Dalek invasion, a comedy New Years Day episode.

Animate THIS.

As such, Nation's hopping from planet to planet or from time to time allows a flexibility of styles that is either eclectic and diverse or maddeningly hodge-podge depending on your taste. If you're watching this in a single sitting, especially when you get to "Feast of Steven" and "Volcano," the effect can be utterly jarring. Nonetheless, the breadth and scale of the story make you forget the trappings of the show's limited budget, that there are never more than four Daleks on screen at any one time, that unless you were reading the TV comics or stories in the Annuals, we'd never see actual swarms of invading Daleks on screen until 2005. And even though we only have one surviving episode in which they're actively featured, the other conspirators are a wonderfully whackjob group of aliens; the designers outdid themselves. And I love that in the chaos after the Doctor steals the taranium, one of the aliens shrieks "EEEP!"

There's always a significant death toll in these Dalek stories, but Master Plan is the first time that the shadow of death crosses the threshold of the TARDIS and impacts our heroes. Poor Katarina basically knew she was destined to die from the beginning. Bret Vyon endures about as long, and even Sara, his killer, becomes part of the TARDIS crew until the very end. As they leave the barren landscape that was the killer jungle, it's just the Doctor and Steven. This must've made a huge emotional impact on the viewers at the time.

A thing about the villain, Mavic Chen, guardian of the Solar System. He's hailed as an epic iconic baddie, and Kevin Stoney thoroughly sinks his teeth into the performance, but I think the fandom who embraces this image of Chen are actually buying into his own bullshit. Because seriously, Chen's full of bullshit from the very beginning. The Daleks know he's full of bullshit (telling him to his face, "You make your incompetence sound like an achievement!") and we know as soon as episode two that they're going to turn on him. He's bullshitting his way through the entire story. All he brings to the table is the taranium and a grievously over-inflated sense of his own brilliance, even as he fucks up over and over and over. If Karlton is any indication, there's a queue of people lining up to seize power once he falls. Once the Daleks finally do wipe him out, it's almost anti-climactic. By then he's gone completely bonkers, lost all sense of reality, and among his last words are "I AM IMMORTAL!!" and "YOU CANNOT KILL ME!!"

Also, just had to note that Stoney is playing Chen as an ethnically ambiguous character in obviously dark makeup. Arguably that choice wouldn't be made today, though it does make for a chilling image when he finally gets blasted and he goes photo-negative.

Even though there's a far more effective balance of comedy and tension than in "The Chase," there's the obligatory Billyfluff (Hartnell refers to the villain as "Magic Chen" in episode ten), and a wonderful moment of accidental (?) humor when Chen unknowingly uses a fake taranium core, and refuses to believe it, shouting "No! It can't be! It came from Uranus, I know it did!" (I made a convention ribbon out of that quote, and I'm immensely smug about it.)

This apparently (according to the Missing Episodes Podcast) was originally plotted out as a six-parter, but according to legend the wife of the BBC's Head of Drama loved Daleks, and so it doubled in size. Terry Nation basically contributed the first half of the story and a vague outline of how to flesh it out, and the rest fell to Dennis Spooner. Spooner wrote "The Time Meddler," so it's not hard to understand why the Monk pops up again for three episodes.

Even if it goes off the rails a bit, loses the plot for a while, recycles unused scenarios made for "The Chase," takes a week off for Christmas, and features a villain who insists he's a stable genius despite all apparent evidence, this is still a very effective story. I would love to see episode 12, if only to see just how they actually achieved the effect of the Time Destructor.

Viewership stayed consistently high throughout, but arguably they had drawn from the well too much. After this, viewership started a steady decline to about a quarter of its peak. Daleks brought in viewers, but didn't keep them. Note that episode twelve marked a run of fifty-seven episodes where twenty-five were Dalek stories.

We have three surviving episodes and various fragments of others. There are no Telesnaps, and the only still images, apart from promo pictures, were taken for "The Feast Of Steven" by an actor playing a minor character. Lucky thing, because (again, according to the Missing Episode Podcast) "Feast" is probably the least likely to ever be recovered, so this is the only visual record we're probably ever going to get. It possibly was telerecorded onto film, but it was not part of the package marketed to overseas affiliates. The other eleven episodes, along with "Mission to the Unknown," were offered, but never sold.

Whovian historians suspect that the three surviving episodes were the original telerecording copies, but just how they survived, and consequently what happened to the other nine, is very much a mystery. These three may just be the lucky ones grabbed from the pile before the rest went into the incinerator. If any one is more likely to have survived than the others, it would be episode four; it was borrowed from the archives to have a clip used for the show "Blue Peter," and that clip (Katarina's demise) survived. The episode does not appear to have been returned, so who knows its fate today.

As the Doctor grimly notes, viewing the wastes of Kembel, "What a terrible waste."

C'mon, this review wasn't THAT long...

One more thing! At the end of "Feast of Steven," the Doctor breaks the fourth wall, turns to the camera, and toasts the viewers wishing "A Merry Christmas to all of you at home!" This moment has been unfairly pilloried as Hartnell going off-camera, labeled a blooper, a horrible travesty, etc. BUT. This was an entirely scripted moment, and it was a customary practice for BBC shows broadcast on Christmas. Give Billy a break!

John Wiles' frustration with Hartnell continued to grow over the course of the story. His increasingly irascible behavior – perhaps his own frustration – and his tendency to wander off-script and ad-lib, or have clearly obvious moments of struggling with his lines, was the start of the Doctor Who production team wondering how the program could continue with Hartnell as the title character. In the next story, and in a few others to come, we would see some unique solutions.

A Mystery

The Doctor is largely absent from the action in episodes 11 and 12, with no explanation in the script or in any extant documentation. Hartnell would have to have been present for the shooting days of both episodes, so it wasn't as if he was being given time off, it doesn't appear to be a hasty re-write due to illness, and no records from the time offer any idea as to why, other than perhaps they were actively sidelining Hartnell. This would not be the only time in season three that they would find ways to use him less.

Haven't I Seen You...
  • Kevin Stoney would return as another iconic villain, Tobias Vaughn, in "The Invasion," and as Tyrum in "Revenge of the Cybermen."
  • Nicholas Courtney would, of course, return as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
  • Jean Marsh was also Joanna in "The Crusades" and Morgaine in "Battlefield." She was also wife to Jon Pertwee from 1955-60.
  • Brian Cant (Kert Gantry) would also play Tensa in "The Dominators," and his son Richard Cant would appear in the New Series episode "Blink."
  • Roy Evans (Trantis) would return as Bert the Miner in "The Green Death" and Rima the Miner in "The Monster of Peladon"
  • Dallas Cavell (Bors) would appear in numerous smaller roles including Sir James Quinlan in "The Ambassadors of Death"
  • Geoffrey Chesire (Garge) was a Viking in "The Time Meddler" and Benton's companion in "The Invasion"
  • Roger Avon (Daxtar) was Saphadin in "The Crusades" and Wells in the movie Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD
  • John Herrington (Rhynmal) also appeared as the scientist Jim in "Colony in Space."
  • Clifford Earl (Station Sgt) also appeared in "The Invasion"
  • Reg Pritchard (Man in Macintosh) got an in-series metajoke when the Doctor recognizes him from 'the marketplace at Jaffa;' indeed, he was Ben Daheer in "The Crusades."
  • Sheila Dunn (Blossom) also appeared as Petra Williams (and her parallel-Earth counterpart) in "Inferno." Both stories were directed by her husband, Douglas Camfield.
  • Royston Tickner (Green) would return as Robbins in "The Sea Devils."
  • Robert Jewell played a Dalek in several stories, including this, but also appeared here as Bing Crosby. He also took the photos that provide the only surviving visual material from "Feast of Steven."
  • Terence Woodfield (Celation) would reappear as Maharis in "The Ark."
  • Roger Brierly (Trevor the cricket announcer) would be the voice of Drathro in "The Mysterious Planet"
  • Bruce Wightman (Scott) also appeared in "The Crusade" and "Terror of the Zygons."
  • Walter Randall (Hyskos) appeared in several other stories in smaller roles.
  • Derek Ware (Tuthmos) provided stuntwork and small roles throughout the classic series, including Pigbin Josh in "Claws of Axos."

Sausage Factor: 93.3% Three females out of 45 credited roles (counting Jean Marsh and Adrienne Hill: 89.4%)

Rating: Three out of Four Taranium Cores
John Geoffrion is a semi-retired semi-professional thespian, a professional data guy, and a Dad. He usually falls asleep to the Classic Doctor Who channel on Pluto.tv

1 comment:

  1. This is the classic story I want animated more than any other. I have the remaining episodes on my 'Lost Years' box set, and am eager to see the whole thing, even at a massive 12 episodes.

    Kevin Stoney is so good as Tobias Vaughn in 'The Invasion', one of the best villains ever, much less just for Doctor Who, and what I see/hear of him here is that he is great indeed, but I fully agree on the dark face thing. It does indeed make one uncomfortable, and some of these kinds of things I didn't notice as a kid, but I certainly do now! I was just watching classic Scooby Doo stuff as I was a huge fan of the show as a child, and picked up a ton of it on DVD and digital versions, and got to the 'Mystery Max Mix-up' where Shaggy and Scooby do that Chinese caricature and wow, that was awful. It's regrettable that we have stuff like this in shows I otherwise love.

    It's hard to not want to see Nicholas Courtney's first time on the show, and of course Jean Marsh is always great, so despite the length and some issues, this one is very much a must watch when we finally get a chance.


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