Wednesday, December 19, 2012

recent read; Doctor Who - Daleks' Masterplan

The Daleks' Masterplan I - Mission to the Unknown by John Peel

Daleks' Masterplan was an epic, 12 episode arc during the early years of Doctor Who.  The script was co-written by Terry Nation and Dennis Spooner.  In 1989, the story was novelized by John Peel, and given the general sizes of Target Doctor Who books, it needed to be spit in half.

For those who don't know Doctor Who history, this is a "lost" story.  Not foreseeing the syndication or later home video markets, in the early 1970s the BBC purged videotapes for reuse - destroying many original episodes of Doctor Who in the process.  Only 2 complete episodes of The Daleks Masterplan are known to exist.  The only way to experience the story is to read these novelizations, or find a telesnap recreation synched to the audio (such things do exist.)

This is the last classic Dalek story I had not yet experienced.  I got an "old school" whim and decided to read this, finally.  We have a classic Doctor, classic Daleks, and a near mythic lost story.  So, how does it hold up to its reputation?

Well, the first half, Mission to the Unknown, holds up quite well.

The Doctor and his companions stumble on a Dalek plot to invade the Solar System from an outlying galaxy (just go with it, it was 1960s t.v. scifi.)  The Doctor fouls their plan by stealing the rare core element from their ultimate weapon, the Time Destructor.  With the Daleks in pursuit, the heroes desperately try to keep the core out of the Daleks' sucker arms while they try to reach Earth to warn them of the impending invasion.  Their plans are hindered not only by Daleks, but also by Mavic Chen - Guardian of the Solar System and grand traitor - who is in league with the Daleks.

It's a good romp, excitingly told with some dark moments.  Dangerous planets, spaceships, crashes and pursuits.  I enjoyed it a lot.

The Daleks' Masterplan II - The Mutation of Time by John Peel

Since the 2005 revamp of Doctor Who, Christmas specials have been the norm.  They are typical Doctor Who adventures, but with Christmas themes.  The Daleks' Masterplan is famous, or infamous, for having a Christmas episode embedded in the middle of the story.  Not only is it a theme change, the tone is one of total humor.  Historically, William Hartnell even turned to the camera, broke the fourth wall, and wished the audience a merry Christmas.

The tone change is huge.  Peel does his best with the humorous material, but the drag on the momentum cannot be helped.

We are slowly eased back into the plot of the dreaded Daleks by way of a return of the Meddling Monk.  He was the first "Time Lord" (though, no one had really created that mythology early on) to face off against the Doctor.  He returns on this story, seeking revenge on the Doctor and becoming tangled in the standoff between the Daleks, Mavic Chen, and the Doctor (quite literally, with mummy bandages at one point!)

Unlike the Doctor's arch foe, the Master, the Monk is more of a galactic childish prankster than truly evil.  He's mostly played for laughs, so he bridges the story back to the Daleks' Masterplan.  It's almost too bad Peel wasn't allowed to skip the very nonsensical stuff, though avoiding the Meddling Monk bits really wouldn't have been an option.  And, we do get a record of the complete story even with the humorous material, albeit novelized.

The ending did finish much stronger, with the final showdown, Chen's comeuppance and a companion's sacrifice.

So, strong start, solid finish.  Padding in the middle, which isn't at all unusual for Doctor Who stories of the time.  They often stretched out stories over many episodes to fill gaps if they didn't have other stories ready.  The difference here was the change of tone, which made the padding more obvious and far less enjoyable.

Definitely a classic and I enjoyed it overall.


  1. Interesting little tidbit of history there. Interesting about the episodes being destroyed. wow.

  2. Charles, it's a real shame. Patrick Troughton - the 2nd Doctor - got hit the hardest. Very few of his stories are intact. His two Dalek stories are gone with only 1 episode (out of 13; one 6-parter and one 7-parter) and a few seconds of a few clips in existence.