Written by Terry Nation & Dennis Spooner
Directed by Douglas Camfield
Badass decay is sad to behold, but undeniably common. Once former superb villains doddering about like half senile goat charmers is a situation that arises all too often in television by the time the series gets onto its third or fourth year. Every so often, I’ll grant you, you get a Spike or an Al Swearengen or a Spike who functions just as well as an anti-hero, but they are rather rare.
After their wonderfully chilling appearances in The Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the Nazibot pepper pots suffred some serious badass decay in season 2’s The Chase. Here, in the epic Dalek’s Master Plan, totaling in at thirteen episodes including Mission to the Unknown, they do manage to regain some of their former menace, but not anything like all of it. Despite the title, they almost seem to be playing second fiddle to leader of the solar system, Mavic Chen, a man who’s most heinous crime is blacking up*. At least they don’t get their asses handed to them by some carnies this time.
As for companions, the Doctor seems to be pretty careless with them in this story. Its extremely rare for any of the Doctor’s companion’s to die. Ever. In the show’s fifty year run its only happened a handful of times, but the Doctor loses three of them in total during this story. Only one of them is actually killed by the Daleks though, and even her death wasn’t directly their fault: no blasting with their exterminating sticks.It is a credit to the writers Terry Nation and Dennis Spooner that each of their deaths is actually quite sad, despite the fact that none of them had been on the show for any great length of time. Katarina’s death is shrouded in the ambiguity over whether she killed herself deliberately to save the others, or accidentally in panic. Bret’s** demise leaves us upset, not only for him, but also for his murderer, Sarah, his sister, following orders unthinkingly, and Sarah’s own death is all the more effective after her transformation into a rational human being. As well as that, the simple action of killing off the companions, often in quite sudden or gruesome ways, lent a real edge of danger to the rest of the series. Well, at least the next few stories, until it became clear that none of the rest of them were getting killed off, anyway.
The Doctor is, as always while he was being played by Hartnell, wonderful in this story. His acceptance of both Brett and Sarah, both of whom started out as antagonists, into his little party, shows us just how accepting he can be, and his willingness to give second chances. This story also contains one of my favorite Doctor moments ever: when he is telling Katarina that he is not a god. His tone here implies that he is more trying to reassure himself of this fact than to convince her of anything.
Another welcome return here is Peter Butterworth as the Monk**, though he too sufferers from badass decay. ALthough never an out and out villain, here he is, for the most part, reduced to comic relief. Which is in some ways fair enough, because he’s Peter-Fucking-Carry-On-Butterworth, the man was a comic legend. Having said that, he does get to show the odd moment of brilliant cunning. In many ways he is reminiscent of the Doctor when he first appeared back in An Unearthly Child: a cunning manipulative time traveler who’s side you’re never sure of. When he’s not all wrapped up in bog roll.
So the Doctor’s defeated the Daleks. Again. Never would have guessed Any chance of the Doctor getting some down time now? Of course not. Join us next time, as he and Steven get sucked into some intrigue in a religiously divided France.
*Which, I grant you, is not really acceptable, but pales in comparison with the Dalek’s behaviour in previous stories.
**Brett, of course, played by Nicholas Courtney, making him the only actor who played 2 completely different Doctor Who companions, though a) there are people out there who would claim that neither of the Who characters he played were really companions. They’re wrong though. and B) There have been plenty instances of alternate dimension companions, robot versions of companions, whatever the fuck is going on with Jenna Louise Coleman etc, but they don’t count because they’re all related to the original version in some in story way.
***Though why he is still dressed as a monk is never explained.