Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Daleks' Master Plan (Episodes 8-12)

And so the 12-part epic finally draws to a close with only one of the last 5 episodes existing.  Whilst Dennis Spooner took over the reins from Nation, that he still gets a mention – “An idea by Terry Nation” – speaks volumes of the quality of this script in comparison to his earlier, and indeed his uncredited later, work on Doctor Who. 

Where this serial really falls flat is in the retreading of the old concept – The Chase did this all much earlier, and to some extent more successfully.  Whilst The Chase was not laugh-out-loud hilarious, one would expect the premise, once injected with Spooner’s humour, to provide copious giggles.  Having said that, the set pieces here are far more believable, with some entertainment mined out of the fantastic design work, as well as the performances of two of the guest actors – Kevin Stoney continues to be absolutely delightful to watch, or indeed simply to listen to, as he spirals further out of control, his deluded ravings played wonderfully.  Likewise, the reappearance of Peter Butterworth as the Monk, last seen stranded in 1066, provides some light relief.  Overall, though, episodes 7 to 10 are utterly pointless.

When making this serial 12 parts, the crew clearly believed they were making an epic piece of television, and it is;  it just isn’t a consistent one.  With the bizarre and out of place episode 7, the tone is still undecided when we pick up with episode 8.  Whilst the Daleks are back, and are genuinely chilling, the sequences involving the TARDIS crew are still rather fluffy, lightweight and comedic.  Of course, some of this comedy is intentional and clever – the scene at the cricket test match is clever, with the dry delivery of the script perfectly balanced against the very ridiculousness of the scene.  Yet the point is that the scene is ridiculous. 

The sequences with the Daleks and Trantis are superb, and re-establish the innate fear that the Daleks should instil in the viewer.  Their cool and calm exterior, as they insist that Trantis be the test subject for the destructor is chilling, and one can only imagine how the other delegates must have responded to this terrifying turn-up – they are all expendable.  To add to this, once they have realised that the taranium core is false, the Daleks exterminate Trantis anyway.  At this point, even Chen realises he is vulnerable – and as such he works harder to prove his worth.  To add to this, once they have realised that the taranium core is false, the Daleks exterminate Trantis anyway.  The Daleks summon their own time machine “immediately”, but the machine doesn’t arrive for some 5 minutes – making no sense – although this allows them further time to confront Chen, presumably to terrify him, but in fact only adding to his megalomania. 

After the cricket match scene, the TARDIS skips again, with its unknown pursuers still on their tail, this time materialising on a volcanic planet, a new planet shifting and changing beneath them.  The description is stunning, and again, without anything to see, we can only imagine just how good it looked – Camfield’s skill would undoubtedly have ensured that it looked fantastic.  As it turns out, the pursuer is none other than the Monk, turning up at the most inopportune moment for the Doctor and his companions.  The Monk has vowed vengeance after the Doctor’s little trick left him stranded in the history of the Earth, and so he decides to damage the locking mechanism of the Doctor’s TARDIS, stranding him on this newly-born planet.  The scenes between Hartnell and Butterworth are as entertaining and rewarding as any of Spooner’s dialogue from The Time Meddler, but without any of the strong plotting to support it. This all simply feels like filler – as though Spooner looked at Nation’s plot outline, and thought – “Shit, I really need to make this better.  I know – I’ll bring back the Monk!”

The Monk’s plan to do something to the lock of the TARDIS sort of makes sense, in a childish way – but here, though, it is almost perfunctory.  No sooner has he damaged the lock, the Doctor manages to fix it – also in the most ridiculously perfunctory manner; he somehow refracts the light of the sun via his ring into the TARDIS door to open it.  Now, Camfield’s direction is always sterling, so I’m sure this looked good – but based on the soundtrack alone, it’s all very redundant.  To further cement that this whole run-around has simply been additional filler, the next landing of the TARDIS crew sees them by the river Thames on New Year’s Eve, seeing in New Year’s Day – another gimmick to prove that all that is happening here is pointless frivolity. 

The cliffhanger, involving the Daleks chanting “Conquest!” repeatedly leads into the following episode nicely, with the Daleks and Chen following the Doctor and his companions to ancient Egypt.  Essentially another strand in the remake of The Chase, this one last almost two whole episodes, seeing the Doctor spend almost the entire ninth episode fixing a door lock, and having Steven and Sara inevitably captured – and then escaping from – the indigenous locals; essentially it is a very broadly drawn historical, with almost no characterisation, but with the Daleks thrown in for good measure. 

That said, there are some enjoyable moments here too – the scenes between Mavic Chen and the Monk sound hilarious, and from what we can see of episode ten, their interchanges are very funny, filled with eye rolling and disdain for one another.  The Monk does, of course, get the best moments throughout episode 9, particularly in the scene in which he pulls out his sunglasses to mask the glare on the sunlight.  His twofaced-ness between the Doctor, who he loathes, and the Daleks and Chen, who he clearly fears, is brilliantly played.  The cliffhanger for episode 9, though, is one of the most obscure, blending genres once more, as the wrapped hand emerges from a sarcophagus. 

Fortunately, episode ten does exist, which allows us to remember that Camfield is truly a genius – once it is moving again, we realise the depth of field which Camfield permits.  There are some stunning shots – the cross-fade between the sun and the reflection on the Dalek casing is beautifully fluid.  Likewise, the set design here is superb, and the cycloramas are wonderfully painted, creating a sumptuous level of detail and depth.  Episode 10, in fact, includes some great moments of genius – the face-off between Mavic Chen and the Dalek is wonderful too, and no detailed audio narration from Purves could possibly do this moment justice – as he balks furiously at it, he knocks the eyestalk off to one side – and in retaliation, the Dalek confronts Chen thoroughly, getting right into his personal space and becoming a palpable threat once more.  Once the cliffhanger is resolved, meanwhile, the scenes involving the Monk and Steven and Sara are brilliant – as the TARDIS crew discuss what is best to do in the background, the Monk fills the foreground, complaining of headaches and desperate to gain entry to the Doctor’s ship.  Likewise, humour is prevalent once Steven and Sara are taken to the Daleks as “hostages”, and Mavic Chen calls out over a loudspeaker system, hailed by Egyptians to be the voice of God, is very clever.

The episode ending, meanwhile, is exactly where the serial should have left off from episode 6 – rather than handing the false core over 4 episodes again, the drama would have been far superior had we had seen the Doctor hand over the real core, and picked up on this cliffhanger.  Whilst the introduction of the Monk was fun, and a brief distraction, the dramatic impact of the final two episodes, which are simply superb, would have been far superior. 

The scenes involving the delegates are superb, particularly the unnerving silence offered by the Daleks, are brilliant;  the moment that the delegates try to turn on Chen is brilliantly played, but upon his persuasion of them, Chen instantly becomes the leader again, even so delusional as to continue the pretence of leadership once the group are locked in.  Chen’s vanity is seemingly unending, and it is troubling – never before have we seen such a fickle human nemesis for the Doctor, and we shan’t again for quite some time (possibly the next best will also be Stoney n The Invasion).  Once the group of delegates are freed by Steven and Sara, Chen’s false suicide is quickly undermined by his reappearance.  What is interesting is that whilst the other delegates all rush home to save their individual galaxies, Chen’s delusions of grandeur extend well beyond the safety of the solar system. 

Hartnell’s absence is also played upon in this story – much like the knowing conventions were played upon in the Christmas special.  Whilst he appeared in the opening scene, his disappearance is commented upon by Steven and Sara as they pace the abandoned Dalek base, and Hartnell’s Doctor is used as a motivation for Chen; his grandeur is so obscurely over-the-top that he genuinely seems to see the Doctor as a threat – but not in a physical sense, rather that he is worried that the Doctor will replace Chen himself as the assistant to the Daleks.  It is interesting in that, for all that Chen has appeared throughout this story, he has only had two prior scenes with Hartnell, and sees him in such a way.

Episode 12 sees us finally reach the end of this epic, sprawling serial – and it is a truly explosive finale.  The Daleks finally do what was to be expected, and they turn on Chen.  But it is the way in which they turn on him that is truly terrifying.  After the repeated screams of “exterminate”, “eradicate” and “conquer”, it is at this precise moment that the Daleks decide to be utterly silent.  They glare, and watch, as his megalomaniacal breakdown goes well beyond anything we could have expected.  And then, they exterminate him anyway.  It is chilling, and fitting.  Purves’ description of Chen, falling to the floor with “a look of astonishment on his face” is superb.

The entire end sequence is chilling and horrific, in fact;  once the Doctor arrives, and takes the time destructor from the Daleks, everything becomes a battle against time.  The sound effects are haunting throughout, and as Sara races back to assist the Doctor, against his wishes, we realise that there is a sense of finality to this story, in the way that Katarina’s story, and Bret’s story, have each come to their bitter conclusion too.  Through her attempts to help, however, Sara ultimately achieves nothing.  And that is the bitterest pill to swallow.  She sacrifices herself needlessly, for no ends, in the most horrific death we’ve seen yet on Doctor Who, and still the most horrific 49 years later. 

Again, without this scene existing, it is almost impossible to tell how this looked, but again, knowing Camfield, it was horrifically outstanding – the description, and the stills, of Sara’s body aging horrifically as the sands of time whip at her are awful.  What reinforces this is Hartnell’s ungodly scream at Steven when he dares to have left the TARDIS, really ensuring we realise the danger involved.  The image of her skeleton – all that is left of this brave and fierce woman – disintegrating and being tossed asunder by a zephyr of time is haunting.  Likewise, the sounds of the Daleks being destroyed, returned to their primitive state, metallic exoskeleton being torn away, leaving simply the embryo, small and soft and vulnerable, is terrifically ambient. 

And that final scene, of Hartnell picking up the Dalek embryo and chuckling, before being reminded of the price paid for this small victory, is awful.  We realise that, really, the Doctor has lost this one.  Although the lives of nameless billions have been saved, it has cost the Doctor the lives of 3 companions.   

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Daleks' Master Plan (Episode 7)

Oh, my giddy aunt...  The Daleks’ Master Plan reaches a point where everything goes very, very wrong – and typically, it’s the last episode of the serial written by Terry Nation.  The key reason I’m analysing this as a stand-alone episode is that it doesn’t really fit in with the framework of the rest of the serial.  Predominantly a Christmas episode, there is no real function to it – it is simply a series of bizarre sketches, climaxing in one of the most bizarre scenes in the show’s history.

Where to start...?  Rather than just listening to the audio with some telesnaps, which is an even more confusing experience, I elected to watch an animated recon, available on YouTube here: .  Whilst the animation isn’t perfect by any means, it fits with the existing telesnaps and helps to make some sense of the more confusing sections, such as ‘the chase’. 

Entitled The Feast of Steven, a clever play on words hinting at the theme of the episode (it was originally transmitted on Christmas Day 1965), the story picks up where we left off last week – a planet with horrifically high levels of poison in the atmosphere.  Of course, the planet is Earth, and the poisonous atmosphere is high smog levels of an inner-city somewhere up North. 

Book coverWhat makes this episode work, though, is the willing suspension of disbelief.  If we look at it as a big, silly run-around, then it almost works.  Some of it is evidently funny, but only because of the very metatextuality of it all;  for weeks, the TARDIS crew, in its varying forms, has been running away from the Daleks, pursued relentlessly across all of time and space.  Indeed, the same thing happened in The Chase, which was also a ‘comedy’ in one way or another.  Here though, despite being part of the ongoing saga – and it surely must be, or the references to the story arc involving taranium cores and Daleks would not have been included – the Daleks do not appear.  Whilst in The Chase they were used to add to the comedy, mumbling and stuttering and coughing and falling over, instead Nation elects to focus entirely on the folly of humans. 
Starting outside a police station – a perfectly normal place for a police box to appear – the humour is milked from the disassociated police officers, world-weary and evidently bored of Christmas hijinks.  There are some obscure comedic moments – the sequence with “Man in Mackintosh” discussing his moving greenhouse is rather entertaining, but the knowing comment made by Hartnell is even better – recognising him from “the marketplace in Jaffa!” is a metatextual stroke of genius, highlighting the series’ habit of casting recurring actors as a variety of different characters is a habit of the show, and one which continues to this day, with actors returning to the series several decades later.

Hartnell gets some great comedy to deliver here – particularly in his interview with CID, where he refers to himself as a “citizen of the universe, and a gentleman to boot!”  Likewise, his disgruntled attitude towards Steven rescuing him, specifically about being referred to as an old man, is wonderful.  The use of false identities is another cliché of Doctor Who, and so to knowingly mock the convention is both clever and brave.

Once inside the TARDIS, having escaped from the police in a farcical scene, we are reminded of the threat hanging over the crew – and about the Daleks desire for the taranium.  I actually think this episode would have worked better with absolutely no reference to the ongoing epic – instead acting as a perfunctory bit of silliness aside from the main storyline, in a similar manner to Mission to the Unknown interrupting the flow from Galaxy 4 to The Myth Makers.  When Sara says “I’d forgotten about the Daleks”, it is working a signpost for the audience at home, and to some extent is misleading – bearing in mind the way in which The Chase was structured, we now half expect the Daleks to turn up too.

The second half of the episode, though, is where things go horribly wrong.  Whilst there is still some humour here, it is mostly just noise.  Without any visual clips to base our interpretation on, this is just a mess – on Purves’ audio commentary, he sounds exhausted trying to cover what exactly is happening, with background shouting throughout.

The arrival of the TARDIS on a silent movie studio lot in Hollywood allows for even more metatextuality though – the suggestion that the whole crew are simply players in a drama, or a comedy, throws the audience completely, predominantly because everything is so cheesy and corny and over-the-top, it is doing precisely what the show has been avoiding as much as possible since it started.  The scenes with the two film directors are ridiculous, filled with posturing men demanding the best, and yet what we are given is pure insanity.  The use of diagetic an non-diagetic music, along with title-cards with captions thrown in, makes us painfully aware that we are watching a work of fiction, a television show, where actors go to makeup and wardrobe, collect their outfits and perform.  It’s madness... 
But that’s what I like about it.  It’s awful, and ridiculous, but fun at the same time.  Whilst the audiotrack is a confusing jumble of noise, what the production team have done is very clever.  We must bear in mind that the series was recorded ‘as live’ mere weeks before it aired – and that it was on every Saturday for more than three quarters of the year.  In 1965, Saturday was Christmas Day, but the Doctor and his companions were in a story about alien plotting and death and destruction; we’d already seen two companions die (depending on your classification of a companion, of course), and there was still a third to come.  This story was emotionally draining and exhausting.  There was, simply put, no way that the serial could continue over Christmas Day and New Year’s Day without having the mood lightened.  And as such, it was a brave decision to, instead of throwing in some levity to this nasty epic, simply do a one-off, crazy chase sequence.
There are some moments of wonder here, though – Hartnell’s exclamation that “This is a mad house!  It’s all full of Arabs!”  is wonderfully un-PC, and his conversation with a miserable, griping clown is perfectly delivered – by cutting back and forth to the Doctor and the clown outside the TARDIS, with all of the insanity and noise in the other parts of the studio, it allows us to lull in and out of giggles – the complaints that all of the material the Clown had planned has been “done by Chaplin” is brilliant, and the revelation that he is actually Bing Crosby, and intends to go into singing instead of slapstick is brilliant too – “custard pies and Bing Crosby!”

Finally we reach the relative safety of the TARDIS, and the most bizarre moment of all – the breaking of the fourth wall.  After the episode we’ve just seen, in which the characters purposefully break down all of the conventions of television, it is a strange moment that throws us once more – once back in the TARDIS, one expects the series to return to its de facto position, bringing us back to normality.  Instead, Hartnell practically leans out of the screen, and wishes “a happy Christmas to all of you at home!”

And I’ll end this by running a title-card with the following caption:

(And so they all lived happily ever after...)

The Daleks' Master Plan (Episodes 1-6)

If I’m honest – and I always try to be – this is the point in this experiment that I was dreading.  The Daleks’ Master Plan is an epic, 12-episode marathon, and a lot of it is written by Terry Nation.  I could fall out with this serial at the mere thought.  At the suggestion of a friend, this update will be split into three sections – episodes 1-6, episode 7, and episodes 8-12.  The reasoning behind that will hopefully be clear.

For years, my only experience of this serial was by way of the Target novelisations – which are superb – by John Peel, splitting the story up over two books.  I intend to do the same thing with this blog entry, dividing it down the middle.  Wish me luck...

Sadly, only 3 episodes from this almightily epic serial exist, with a few short clips from some of the other episodes.  Fortunately, the audio, with Peter Purves’ narration, do exist and allow an idea of how this must’ve appeared.  Episode 1 picks up where The Myth Makers ended, with the Doctor and Katarina nursing the ailing Steven, suffering from blood poisoning and on the edge of death thanks to an injury sustained during the burning of Troy.  The main focus, however, is upon Bret Vyon and Kurt Gantry on the surface of the planet Kembel.  Vyon is played magnificently by Nicholas Courtney, better known for his recurring role as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.  As with Marc Cory in Mission to the Unknown, both SSS operatives are cool and crisp, delivering their lines with brisk efficiency.  What is beautiful is that at no point does the pair directly reference the Daleks by name – there is the mention of “those things” and “they”, but the Daleks are not name-checked yet.  Instead, the audience is forced to remember the one-off serial which aired 5 weeks earlier.

The scenes back on Earth are wonderfully dry – as Roald and Lizan sit around discussing what to watch on TV and oblivious to the flashing light signalling Vyon’s message, it is rather wittily written.  There is a strong tone of cynicism as they watch Mavic Chen on the screen discussing his holiday plans – it could be likened to an interview with David Cameron today.

The scenes back on Kembel suddenly jump back to life, as we are able to see an existing clip from the story – and it is instantly clear that, as always, we are in safe hands with Douglas Camfield.  Whilst much of the story is missing, it is evident that it will have been very cleverly handled, based on clips like this – the framing of the shots are wonderful, and there is a real sense of menace in the way in which the Dalek towers over Gantry, mercilessly shooting him down. 

Steven’s fate is ultimately interwoven with that of Vyon – upon observing the materialisation of the TARDIS, he follows the Doctor and forces him to hand the keys over.  Once inside, he tries to persuade Katarina to take off – not that there’s any chance of that, mind, since the poor girl doesn’t even understand the concept of a key! – but is promptly knocked out when Steven sees the Doctor locked outside on the scanner.  Fortunately, the Doctor was right about the planet being advanced enough to provide the drugs needed to save Steven’s life, as Vyon carries some medicine with him in his belt-pack.  With Steven gradually recuperating, unknown to the Doctor, we are left to see him discover what we as an audience already know – the Daleks are on Kembel forging an alliance that will spell the end of civilisation.  Returning to the TARDIS, he discovers that the doors are open, and the ship is surrounded.

Of course, everything is alright though – Steven and Katarina are lying some distance away, hiding.  This episode exists in the archives, and again it proves just how good a director Douglas Camfield is.  His use of blocking is magnificent, and there are some real flairs here – moments like the greeting between Zephon and Chen are beautifully realised, creating a grand scale which we could only imagine of the first episode.  Likewise, the framing of Courtney’s face as he reveals his disgust at the presence of Mavic Chen on the planet is wonderful; we are up close and personal, and his curl of the lips is beautifully underplayed.

The Master of Zephon, a huge creature in a long black cowl and with hairy hands and feet, is impressively played by Julian Sherrier – but sadly less impressive when played by Hartnell, as the disguise is taken and Hartnell’s Doctor is able to be proactive and disrupt the meeting.  Whilst Sherrier was all about the grand gestures – his entrance is magnificent as he strides confidently, arms out-stretched, through the entrance hall  - Hartnell instead elects a far softer more docile approach, head bowed, arms crossed and quick steps.  Quite how none of the other delegates are suspicious is baffling – his feet are clearly not the fuzzy claws we saw earlier, and his every mannerism is different.  Also, when Zephon finally gets back to his feet and sounds the alarm, he is still wearing his cloak – surely he doesn’t have a cloak beneath his cloak?  Is he the equivalent of a Voord, a man in a wetsuit with skin like a wetsuit, as was hinted at in The Keys of Marinus?

What is also interesting about this second episode existing, of course, is the fact that it allows us to see all of the other delegates – whilst stills exist from Mission to the Unknown, it has always remained unclear who exactly was who.  Toby Hadoke makes an interesting suggestion in Running Through Corridors regarding their character names based on the stature, and in one case race, of the actors performing the roles.  Here, though, they have been recast – and several have been replaced entirely.  Gone is the Christmas Tree / Sorting Hat, and in its place is a fascinating character moving in slow motion, covered in balls.  Again, the makeup is superb here.

Episode 2 is also important for another reason – until the recovery of it in 2004, there was no existing footage of Katarina at all – as such, we had no way of seeing exactly how Adrienne Hill played her, only able to hear her rather disjointed and staccato delivery at the end of The Myth Makers and on the soundtrack to this serial.  Now that we can see it, however, it becomes far more interesting;  whilst she always sounded rather monotonous and uninspired, her performance is beautifully played with little quirks and nuances, as she walks around in a daze constantly, arms floating airily by her side.  She also provides a cracking cliffhanger, wonderfully poignant as she exclaims that they cannot leave without the Doctor – “Without him, we can’t reach the place of perfection”.  The desperation in her voice is clear, and it is telling that even with the Doctor’s insistence that he is not a god, she still sees him as a saviour, one without whom they stand no chance.  It speaks volumes about the way in which the show is still progressing, as since Ian left, the Doctor has become far more proactive.

Episode 3 leaves us back to only having a soundtrack and a few existing clips, but based on the soundtrack alone it is quite a belter – the scene in which the Daleks stand by, watching the war of words between Mavic Chen and Zephon is wonderful, and Kevin Stoney, as Chen, is simply breathtaking.  The arrogance and corruption oozes from him, and he is spectacular in scenes like this.  What is also fantastic is that after the ludicrously debasing saga of The Chase, the Daleks are genuinely threatening again – the carelessness on their part is fantastically played, as whoever loses this verbal sparring will be executed, as simple as that.  They do not care who dies, but someone will, to pay the price for the failing. 

The scenes on Desperus – because the convicts are desperate... gettit?! – sound great too.  The in-fighting between the convicts over ownership of the knife is wonderful, and what is interesting is that it is Kirksen who survives on the planet and enters the airlock before the Spar takes off again.  Easily the weakest of the three, it is he who shows cunning, and leads wonderfully into the cliffhanger, which is possibly the first time a scream has seamlessly melded into the closing credits – something which Bonnie Langford will make every effort to do week-in-week-out in the 1980s.  Here, it is the Doctor’s carelessness which has led to Kirksen gaining entry – he left the external door open because he isn’t “used to this kind of craft”.  Likewise, it is he who sends Katarina to check on the door, leading her to her impending death.

The death scene, in episode 4, still exists, and the struggle between Katarina and Kirksen is horrible to watch, as the pair tussles inside the airlock, and Bret’s refusal to change direction, builds up the tension and the drama nicely.  When she pushes the button to expel both herself and the convict into space, it is heartbreaking, and Purves’ delivery as he screams her name is wonderfully touching.  Even more powerful, though, is Hartnell’s speech, as he says that “She wanted to save our lives and perhaps the lives of all the other beings of the Solar System. I hope she's found her Perfection. Oh, how I shall always remember her as one of the Daughters of the Gods. Yes, as one of the Daughters of the Gods.”  It is a speech which should be up there with the “I shall come back” speech of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, yet is largely unknown because of the lack of existent material. 

This scene also marks an important first – the death of a companion should not be underrated, as it is a powerfully emotive scene, and one which further highlights the danger of the Doctor’s lifestyle.  Whilst each serial invariably features a character nearly meeting their end – whether by a sword, a ray gun, a depressurised airlock or what you will – they are always seen to be saved.  Here, though, we realise that the Doctor loses.  Or more importantly, that the Doctor can lose.  Later in this episode, we have the death of Bret Vyon, and he receives no eulogy whatsoever;  the Doctor and Steven simply believe he’s fallen back somewhere, and even when they discover his fate, little is said or done about it.  It will not be until Earthshock in the 1980s that a companion should suffer such an emotively-strung fate again, but this is beside the point.  If companions were frequently shown to die, it would remove some of the wonder and fantasy that time travel entails.  It is enough to simply show that they can die.  Interestingly, had Vicki not left the series in the episode before, it would have been her to have died in that airlock, and that frequently doesn’t even bare thinking about – Katarina had only travelled briefly with the Doctor, and it was heartbreaking, but if it had been Maureen O’Brien instead, goodness knows how I’d have felt.

The return to Earth also sees the introduction of Jean Marsh’s character, Sara Kingdom.  Last seen in The Crusade, Marsh brings a sense of coldness to this character, crisp and clipped in tone, dressed in a black cat suit.  Her brisk manner underlies the danger she poses, and her calm willingness to follow orders is wonderful when seen in juxtaposition with her performance in episode 5.  Also on Earth is the man Bret Vyon trusts implicitly, Daxtar, played wonderfully by Roger Avon (also from The Crusade).  Daxtar’s treachery is uncovered rather simplistically, however, using the old trick which we saw most recently in The Time Meddler – he is obviously a spy because he knows things that the TARDIS crew haven’t yet told him.  Bret’s argument that “I’ve known this man all my life” is quickly undermined when he executes him in cold blood for his betrayal. 

Equally cold-blooded is the execution of Vyon, by Sara Kingdom, who accuses him of treasonous behaviour.  The efficiency with which she guns him down, followed by her orders to kill the Doctor and Steven, are troubling enough – but her addition of “aim for the head” makes the blood run cold. 
Episode 5 exists, which is both a blessing and a curse – sadly, this episode is the weakest of the serial so far, featuring clumsy Daleks and mice.  Essentially a reread of The Chase, up to now, the story has bounced from location to location, with our heroes only ever being breathing distance from the next threat.  Now that they are being pursued by Daleks, the similarity becomes even more noticeable.  What this episode does do very well, though, is cement what we heard in episode 4 – and that is that Stoney is simply magnificent.  In episode 2, particularly with Zephon, he was great.  Here though, away from funny looking aliens and tin-pot wannabe dictators, he smoulders brilliantly.  His scenes with Karlton, played by the impressively-bald looking Maurice Browning, are fantastic, as he rants about power and see his quirky mannerisms underlying the danger of the maniac. Likewise, we are able to see Stoney through Browning’s eyes too – he is clearly aware that his boss is going crazy, yet is willing to goad him, to push him onwards.  Karlton is actually the brains of this operation – the ultimate spin doctor, in fact, as he works to turn the situation into an advantage for them both.  It’s wonderful to see, and in lesser hands, both roles would have been hammy and over-the-top, but instead the performances are low-key when they need to be, filled with explosive bombast the next moment – and always brilliant.

The revelation that Kingdom was related to Bret – “Bret Vyon was my brother” – is stunning, and delivered wonderfully.  In the last episode, Kingdom was a threat to our travellers, but now, forced to unite with them, her character needs a quick 180-degree turn, becoming an ally.  It should feel forced and tacky, but the cast work with the principal wonderfully, with Steven’s bluster turning to embarrassment, and Hartnell showing clear sympathy for a woman who was simply doing her duty.

On the planet Mira – it’s like a mire, a swamp, see? – the three are forced to work together as they do battle with the Visians, the first invisible monsters in Doctor Who history (although they certainly won’t be the last!)  Added to this the threat of the Daleks, and the tension is ramped up successfully for Hartnell’s line at the cliffhanger – “I’m afraid, my friends, that the Daleks have won”.  We’re only five episodes in, and it would appear that the serial is winding itself up – a contemporary audience would have had no idea that this particular story is due to run for 12 weeks.

Episode 6 is something of a blessing, really – it sees the writing credits handed over to the wonderful Dennis Spooner, and the dialogue instantly feels richer and more varied.  Whilst Nation is a perfectly adept writer – at times – the serial suddenly feels fresher and more natural under Spooner’s pen, and it somehow lifts the pace of the serial too.

Peter Purves is excellent in this episode – feeling useless and outdated, his act of courage and bravery is wonderfully played, a man desperate to have some impact.  Sadly, of course, we can’t see his performance, but based on Purves’ own narration on the audiotrack, I bet it was great – “With a struggle, Steven manages to blink his eyes”.  The plot device is wonderfully simple too – creating a false core that looks and feels identical is a little clichéd, and in Nation’s hands it almost certainly would have been, but Spooner creates a sense of urgency about the whole thing – as the ship is being drawn back to Kembel, it is Steven’s sacrifice which saves them.

Likewise, as the handover is performed outside the TARDIS, it is Steven who makes the whole thing possible – thanks to the field around him, he is able to hand the false taranium core back to the Daleks and escape into the ship without coming to any harm.  The sixth episode comes to a close somewhere, unknown due to the broken scanner, but with horrifically poisonous readings.  One could be forgiven for thinking that, once and for all, The Daleks’ Master Plan has been defeated...