...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Day 2491: DOCTOR WHO: The Dalek Masterplan


We return to Portsmouth to see Mr Nick Scovell and his Interalia Theatre present their follow-up to last year's "The Evil of the Daleks".

GOOD NEWS! It was fantastic! BAD NEWS! It was their last ever Doctor Who production.

Originally starring the ORIGINAL Dr Who, Mr Billy Hartnell, "The Daleks' Master Plan" is (beaten only by the fourteen-part "Trial of a Time Lord") the second-longest story in Doctor Who history at thirteen episodes if you count the unique one-off one-week "Mission to the Unknown", which acted as a kind of twenty-five-minute trailer, staring none of the usual TARDIS crew, a month before the main action begins.

(The play clearly DOES count it this way, because it has got the character of Mr Marc Cory from "Mission to the Unknown" in it!)

Although previously having adapted missing stories from Mr Dr Pat's time for his own interpretation of the Doctor – "The Web of Fear", "Fury from the Deep" and, of course, "The Evil of the Daleks" – this time Mr Nick has gone with Mr Dr Billy's classic in order that they might go out on a REALLY high note.

Six-and–a-half hours of television obviously needs a bit of SQUEEZING to fit onto the stage at the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth, so there have been a few trims and changes.

This is another of the so-called LOST stories – well, so-called by the BBC… who are the ones who MADE them LOST in the first place! For those of you who do NOT know the story, I had better quickly run through the version that was broadcast in 1966…

The Daleks' Master Plan on Television
It is 4000 A.D. In "Mission to the Unknown", Space Special Security Agent Marc Cory discovers a Dalek plot to take over the Universe, only to get exterminated before he can tell anyone. "The Daleks' Master Plan" then begins (after Dr Who and chums have spent a month in ancient Troy) with another Space Special Security Agent, this time Bret Vyon, searching for Cory and instead finding Dr Who and the TARDIS on planet Kembel.

Dr Who insists on discovering the Daleks' plan and it's a DOOZEY! They have allied themselves with a bunch of weird-looking aliens from the outer galaxies and are planning to invade the Solar System, using their spanking new ultimate weapon, the Time Destructor. Aiding them in this villainy is Mr Mavic Chen, Guardian of the Solar System and great big TRAITOR to humanity. He provides the Daleks with both some much needed CAMP and a full Emm of Taranium (short for Terry-Nation-ium) the most rare and powerful element in the magic toybox. (This year.)

Dr Who steals the Taranium and, cut off from the TARDIS, he and his friends Steven and Katarina along with butch Bret make their escape by stealing Mr Mavic's spaceship. The chase is ON! First to the prison planet Desperus, where innocent Trojan handmaiden Katarina sacrifices herself, then to Earth where poor old Bret is gunned down in cold blood, and then to distant planet Mira, where Dr Who manages to turn Bret's killer, Sara Kingdom, back to the light side before the Daleks capture them and drag them back to Kembel.

But that's not the end! Fooling them with a fake Taranium Core, Dr Who eludes the Daleks and escapes with Steven and Sara in his TARDIS. The chase is ON! Again! Hijinks in time and space ensue, not least in the notorious Christmas episode: "The Feast of Steven (no relation)". After stopping off on the planet Tigus, they arrive on an Ancient Egyptian building site – yes, it's the pyramids – where the Daleks finally get the Taranium back.

But that's not the end! By stealing the directional unit from the time machine of rival Time Lord mysterious alien of the same race as Dr Who though we do not know who they are yet, the Meddling Monk, Dr Who is able to chase the Daleks back to Kembel. There he discovers that the Daleks have (unsurprisingly) betrayed their alien allies, and that Mr Mavic has finally gone right round the twist. While the Daleks are busy exterminating the traitorous nut-job, Dr Who pinches their Time Destructor, inadvisably setting it off in the process. Sara comes from the TARDIS to try and save Dr Who, probably saving his life but ageing to death herself – Steven, seeing this, also comes to help and manages to reverse the weapon, so that the Daleks all age backwards into goo, while the surface of Kembel is reduced to dust.


The Dalek Masterplan on Stage
The two biggest changes [A: aside from the title's punctuation] are, first, to get rid of all the aliens (Daleks excepted) and replace the representatives of the outer galaxies with representatives of the "Seven Systems", the worlds colonised by humans; and, second, to do away with MOST of the chasing about in space and ALL of the chasing about in time.

The story opens with some of Interalia's trademark filmed inserts: some rather corking – if, like the music, heavily Babylon 5-influenced – computer generated spaceship shots with a voiceover giving a brief potted history of humans colonising the Seven Systems.

The Seven Systems has a suspiciously Blake's Seven-esque S7 logo… though that is fair enough as the Solar System of the "The Daleks' Master Plan" era is obviously a DRY RUN for Mr Nation's later series' Terran Federation. In fact, if you believe books like "Corpse Marker" and audios like "Kaldor City" (and why shouldn't you – they're ACE!) which imply that Blake's Seven takes place in the Doctor Who universe, then there's a good chance that it IS the (embryonic) Terran Federation.

Anyway, one of the seven systems is Kalastar wherein lies the planet Kembel, site of a human base. Marc Cory is working undercover there and on New Year's Eve 3999 is trying to get a message through to the Space Special Security Agency. Before he succeeds, Governor Zephon (a human and not a walking plant as on telly) shoots him and betrays the planet into the suckers of the Daleks.

In response to this, Guardian of the seven Systems, Mr Mavic Chen gathers the Executive… and promptly hands them over to the Daleks because he's a traitor too. Only representative Trantis comes over to his side, so the Daleks exterminate the rest of them – using Movie-like FIRE EXTINGUISHER blasts! So real, you MUST be there… and we WERE!

Fortunately, Dr Who was near enough to intercept Mr Marc's message, and arrives on Kembel. He rescues Mr Marc's girlfriend Katarina and a pilot called Steven. Here Steven and Katarina are brother and sister, rather than both friends of Dr Who who arrive with him at the start. They escape from the base in the TARDIS and meet up with Mr Marc's contact, Agent Bret Vyon. Together, they watch as the Daleks start to incinerate the vegetation on Kembel. Dr Who goes back to find out what the Daleks are up to. Inside, he sees Mr Mavic about to hand over the taranium – or t'RAN-ee-um rather than the TV pronunciation of t'RAY-ne-um – which he promptly thieves out of Mr Mavic's fingers.

Dr Who, Steven, Katarina and Bret all escape aboard Mr Mavic's crusier, but – as they are passing the planet Mira – the Daleks teleport one of their agents on board. They have used their genetic technology to make a DUPLICATE of Mr Marc. (Dalek Duplicates like this are a big part of the 1980's story "Resurrection of the Daleks" with Mr Dr Peter, BUT the Daleks ALSO made a duplicate of Dr Who himself in the 1960's story "The Chase", so this idea is not SO out of place after all.)

Although Katarina saves them from the duplicate Cory by sacrificing herself (like on telly), they still crash on the planet Mira… END OF PART ONE!

Intermission… time for ICE CREAM! I impress all the kiddies with Sonic Screwdrivers by brandishing my LASER Screwdriver. Hahahahahaaaaa

PART TWO! They crash on the planet Mira only to be rescued by Agent Sara Kingdom… except she's been sent there by Mr Mavic to recover the stolen taranium. She shoots Bret (like on telly) and then joins Dr Who and Steven in returning to Kembel.

Pretending to do a deal with Mr Mavic, Dr Who hands him a handy fake taranium, which he then goes and gives to the Daleks proving he is BAAAAAD. They plug it straight into the Time Destructor and test it… on HIM! So, on the one fluffy foot, the fake taranium saves him from being Time Destructed… on the other fluffy foot, this gets him EXTERMINATED instead.

Dr Who has worked out what the Time Destructor actually does – it uses DNA for targeting to destruct the time of one individual or species. He gives the Daleks the REAL taranium, telling them that he has wiped it clean of targeting DNA, so they cannot use it without destructing EVERYTHING… but, being Daleks, the Daleks go and use it anyway. Well, Dr Who expected that and REALLY put in some Dalek DNA so the Daleks end up time-destructing themselves.

But that's not the end! (See, you can do it on stage too!) The Dalek Supreme (played by Dalek Sec himself!) survives long enough to restart the Time Destructor so that it WILL destruct everything. So, Dr Who has to absorb the time energies himself (like in "The Parting of the Ways") even though it will kill him.

At the last moment, Sara comes out of the TARDIS and, because she absorbs some of the destruction, Dr Who is able to survive by regenerating… into Mr Nicholas Briggs!


So WHAT did we think of THAT?
Well, for a start it is a more COHERENT, a more FOCUSED story that the one that appeared on television. The original "The Daleks' Master Plan" has plot holes that arise from the struggle to get two different people (plus Mr Terry Nation) to write a continuous story that lasts a quarter of a year, often with no idea what was coming next or frequently before!

In practical terms, the TV version is really several stories, at least three and maybe four or five. It has to be, since they couldn't and didn't expect the audience to be following it religiously. Rather, viewers would drop in and out and pick up what was going on at the time. The play can do away with that, and the necessary redundancy of having to explain the exposition again every few weeks. It can also take advantage of the fact that it KNOWS where it's going to end up in order to make the story head towards that place rather than just arrive there.

On the whole, the editing works very well, scaling the story down to fit the ninety-minute format of a New Series two-parter (including exciting "Next time…" trailer at the interval!)

It does mean losing some of the MASSIVE SCOPE of the television version: galaxies become just star systems; weird aliens become ordinary humans; and the backdrop of a chase all across space and time is (necessarily) truncated.

Along the way, it fixes some of those problems with the original.

The TV story's biggest whoopsie is that the VITAL message recorded by Mr Marc Cory in "Mission to the Unknown"… ends up going nowhere; nothing is made of it at all. The play fixes that by having it be the "inciting incident" that draws Dr Who into the goings-on. (Of course, in the original, Dr Who had no power to control where his TARDIS took him – not until years later after his exile could he control the thing – so they couldn't have used it that way back then.)

Another thing wrong with the telly version is that no one is quite sure what the Time Destructor is actually FOR. On the television, it just accelerates time – ageing people to death. The Daleks don't mind that because they are designed to be practically immortal; it is only when it goes haywire and starts reversing time that they get their comeuppance. This makes it a powerful but FINITE weapon, not perhaps ultimate ENOUGH for the significance it is given by the plot. (Obviously it's MEANT to be a metaphor for the ATOM BOMB – a weapon so powerful that it stops a war just by existing. But then Daleks are not going to build a weapon for NOT using!)

The play makes the Time Destruction much, much more ultimate, having it do what a lot of people think that the D-Mat Gun (another "ultimate weapon") is supposed to do – namely blast you and everyone you know entirely out of time.

This makes the story a LOT MORE like "The Evil of the Daleks", in that not only are the Daleks completely wiped out (AGAIN!) but they are destroyed by their own amorality.

In fact, I remember that Mr Nick made a tweak to the story of "Evil…" too: where originally the Daleks' Dalek-ising machine didn't work on Mr Dr Pat just because he was an alien (which the Daleks didn't just KNOW but had made an important part of their plot!), in his version it was Dr Who's connection to his friends (when the Daleks REJECT friendship) that saves him and ultimately DOOMS them.

Also like the stage "Evil…", which had Mr Edward Waterfield turned into a doubting reverend, there are a lot of RELIGIOUS overtones added. Dr Who refers to the Daleks' own "GOSPEL" (destroy… everything!), and justifies their destruction – to himself – because they are "made things", artificial, not a "proper" part of creation. Daddy Alex thinks he recognises the signs of a CHURCH UPBRINGING!

This means not only that the Masterplan of the title is more than JUST the (mundane) invasion of the galaxy, but also that the conclusion is based around the MORALITY of their choice: would they rather let humans anyone else? exist or destroy everything, themselves included.

Unfortunately, this also leads to a logical error in the stage story. Dr Who tricks the Daleks into wiping themselves out by giving them a choice between using the Time Destructor when it will destruct EVERYTHING and not using it at all. Except, the Daleks really do have a "Plan B" at this point – their fleets have massed on the borders of human space and the human news are all saying that they think the Daleks will WIN. The Time Destructor ploy is to make it EASY for the Daleks, but it is not essential.

So, the choice that Dr Who gives them is a FALSE choice. Giving up using the Time Destructor is NOT the end of their invasion plans, and only a few minutes earlier they were getting ready to go ahead without it anyway! Besides, what is to stop them SHOOTING the irritating Time Lord, REMOVING the taranium from the machine and re-reprogramming it themselves?

It seems that the script is trying to reach the HIGHPOINT of Doctor Who MORAL PHILOSOPHY: "Genesis of the Daleks", a story that hangs entirely around two essential moral questions. The one everyone remembers is the Doctor's "Do I have that right?" speech when contemplating genocide of the nascent Dalek embryos. The other, though, is more relevant here. The Doctor, recognising that Davros while obviously obsessed with his creation is also highly intelligent, suggests to him a thought-experiment: "if you had created a virus in your laboratory, something contagious and infectious that killed on contact, a virus that would destroy all other forms of life – would you allow its use?"

SUPERFICIALLY this looks like a similar question to the one Dr Who offers the Daleks over their Time Destructor here. Change your mind or kill everything. Except it's NOT the same, because in "Genesis…" Dr Who is trying to make Davros see the dangers of creating a force of destruction that will not ever stop, he is trying to make Davros see reason and temper the Daleks. (Davros, of course, for all his genius, is also a NUTTER, so he doesn't see the downside.)

In this "Dalek Masterplan", Dr Who is playing HUSTLE: he is offering the Daleks a BOOBY TRAP but, like the long-con artists, has left them with an OUT.

When the Doctor asks the Daleks: will you give up and go home or blow up everything, he's ACTUALLY echoing Davros' offer at his "trial" in the Kaled bunker: here's a big "blow up everything" button – if you won't side with me, I dare you to use it!

In fact this ending is very much more "Remembrance of the Daleks", another story where the Doctor provokes the Daleks into using what THEY think is an ultimate weapon only to reveal that he has previously programmed it to BACKFIRE on them!

"I beg of you, Davros, do not use the Haaaaaand!"

Sorry, Doctor, but it IS still genocide even when you sucker the other side into pushing the button on themselves!

The script is consciously riffing on other Dalek stories too, both earlier and later ones in their chronology (plus mention of Sanctuary Base design from "The Impossible Planet" linked to the Scott-Bailey principle from "The Brain of Morbius" and one snuck in from "Revenge of the Cybermen": a reference to "phobic energy discharge" during teleportation). "Destiny" is casually mentioned – it's their second favourite word, says Dr Who dismissively. And Mr Mavic invites the members of the Executive to come and stand with him, a la Mr Davros in "Genesis of the Daleks", and then likewise tells them that he offered them power and they chose extermination.

When he immobilises a random Dalek grunt, Dr Who mentions doing something similar on Spiridon (the "Planet of the Daleks"). Mind you, THAT'S a line from "Remembrance…" as well!

Ideas from the New Series creep in as well. When the Doctor refers to the Daleks' gospel of hate, he says that all they desire is to be alone, the worst thing in the universe. It is a clear foreshadowing of the loneliness of the ninth and tenth Dr Whos. Likewise, the implication at the end, when Sara's sacrifice saves him, is that he survives BECAUSE he is not alone – it is a REITERATION of the idea from the stage version of "Evil…" that having FRIENDS is the key to salvation; that living depends on the OPPOSITE of being a Dalek.

And the Dalek Supreme's last line… "Emergency Temporal… Restart!" is surely a cheeky reference to the Cult of Skaro's getaway in "Doomsday".

Possibly the BEST lines though are from the original "The Daleks' Master Plan" on telly: "I'm a citizen of the Universe, and a gentleman to boot" and "Oh, it's New Year; am I too late to wish a Merry Christmas to everyone at home?" (Both of which, IRONICALLY, come from "The Feast of Steven"!)

Daddy Alex spotted another couple of other BLOOPERS that arose from the trims to the story.

The first is when Dr Who and his chums escape from the planet the first time. On the telly, it has been established that (a) the Daleks have found the TARDIS and (b) the flames of Operation Inferno have cut off Dr Who and so he cannot get back to his own ship. Under those circumstances, he takes the next best option and nicks Mr Mavic's Spar. By giving him more control of the TARDIS and having him still using it to bounce around Kembel, the play doesn't really HAVE a reason for escaping by spaceship rather than TARDIS.

(And, come to think of it, neither play NOR telly has a good explanation of WHY the Daleks decide to start flame-throwering the jungle. Apart from it looking REALLY COOL!)

The second booboo is when Agent Sara shoots Agent Bret, who it turns out is her brother, remember. She goes into shock at what she has done, and so when Dr Who puts himself in harm's way she cannot shoot him and essentially turns to his side. But then, shortly later, she has a go at Dr Who and Steven about them being the traitors and Dr Who has to talk her round to his side AGAIN.

Equally, from the original, Agent Bret meets a friend, Daskar, on Earth who accidentally gives away that he knows about the taranium – which must mean he is in with the traitorous Mr Mavic. So Bret shoots him. In the play, it is Sara who slips up and reveals her knowledge of the taranium so Bret realises she's not on his side… but he DOESN'T shoot her, or even draw his gun, which makes him look just a little bit STUPID when SHE shoots HIM five seconds later.

And it is a LITTLE BIT cheesy when the Dalek Supreme, who the Time Destructor is supposed to have wiped out of history, gets just… one… last… gasp… Still, that's villains for you.

The set is a return to the minimalist approach that worked so very well for "The Web of Fear": mainly an empty stage, with a raised platform to either side, with two large triangular columns – or giant Dalek Toblerones, as we called them – that move from the sides to the centre depending on where they are needed to change the dynamic of the stage. At the end, they rotate and come together – like a theatrical Transformer – to become the Time Destructor. (Not QUITE as cool as last year's Dalek Emperor reveal, though!) However, the best use of them is when they become the airlock of the stolen spaceship for the dramatic moment where Katarina, held hostage by Dalekised Mr Marc, ejects him and herself into space rather than surrender.

This is a CRUCIAL moment in the story – on stage as it was on television – because as "Dr Who's girl" Katarina ought to be death-proof. That she's NOT shows that the stakes are higher than EVER BEFORE. There were audible GASPS of HORROR from children in the audience when they realised what had happened!

The Daleks themselves are, always, a triumph of design. Here, as last year, they a in most part a curious blend of old-style Daleks, in silver with blue bumps, with added New Series ear-lights. Sadly we do NOT get to see Daleks equipped with PYROFLAMES for the Operation Inferno scene, though TECH OPS Daleks, with green and red highlighting and claw arms instead of suckers do turn up to operate the Time Destructor. A red Dalek Commander seems to rule the roost, until a VERY swish Black Dalek Supreme turns up to take over. This one is a PERFECT new series model, right down to the separately articulated mid-section (for final surprise EXTERMINATION!), painted Dalek name-tag under the eyestalk, and extraordinarily powerful blue light in the eye – particularly visible in the darkened scenes as an extra spotlight!

In fact, a LOT of the lighting is exceptionally clever, but never better than the moments where Dr Who, Steven, Katarina and Bret gaze out from one of the platforms over the burning jungles of Kembel – done entirely with flickering crimson light.

The acting was the usual mixed bag: Mr Nick (S) as Dr Who was as excellent, as ever as was Mr James George, last year's magnificent Theodore Maxtible, this year as Mr Mavic. (What a shame we won't get to see his Tobias Vaughn!) Ms Helen Stoddart playing Katarina was also terrific; but Laura Eggerton's Sara Kingdom was a bit drippy, unfortunately, especially compared to Ms Cathy-Gale-in-Space Jean Marsh. The boys were a bit wet too – and NOT in a moist way! – leaving us sorely missing a last outing for Mr John-Paul McCrohon as this Dr Who's Jamie. (And we were not QUITE sure why Steven said he just wanted to go home and then went and got into the TARDIS.) Mr Nick (B) was brilliant as the Daleks – in no less than four different voices – but, perhaps surprisingly, a bit too over-the-top as TV's Dr Who. We THINK he was trying to catch some of the adrenaline-rush-wacky that Mr David (and Mr John Simm as the Master, for that matter) got after regenerating. Except it's not ENTIRELY appropriate when the floor is covered in CORPSES. (At least Mr Christopher had had the GOOD TASTE to get aboard the TARDIS and get out of the Dalek Dust before HE exploded into Mr David!)

I have already mentioned the video inserts, presented in glorious back-projection. The CG stuff at the beginning was probably the best; the second half included faux-video footage of the cough-cough interstellar News Network, covering the accelerating Dalek crisis. It worked to raise the stakes and give us a sense of the threat involved, though it did look a little naff! On the other fluffy foot, the scrolling news-ticker at the bottom was a GREAT LAUGH: "Historians ask… where is the Doctor?" Better still was Dr Who's surprise phone call to Mr Mavic, which was charming and cheeky in equally generous measures.

It's the end, I suppose, and they prepared for it by rewriting the conclusion to have Dr Who regenerate, thus finally putting the role behind him for (a) Mr Nick. Actually, that isn't even THAT much of a change from the original, since the HURT that Mr Dr Billy takes from being Time Destructed is – you can make a case for saying – the beginning of what leads to his eventual regeneration. Aging him, draining him, in the end will leave "…this old body of mine getting a bit thin".

(Mind you, he lasts another eight adventures, which is almost as long as the whole of Mr Christopher's entire run! They bred Doctors stronger in them days, I reckon!)

And so an era ends: sad but strangely satisfying. Well done, Mr Dr Nick!

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