Where Interference is the epic of the Doctor Who novels, The Daleks’ Master Plan is the epic of the television series. It is rivaled only by Trial of a Time Lord, which is a matter of debate whether it is best treated as separate stories with a linking arc, or as one story proper. The Daleks’ Master Plan has no such uncertainty; it is one 12-part story. This story is so epic, in fact, that it even got its own prologue: Mission to the Unknown.
Like The Chase in the previous season, this story features a prolonged pursuit of the TARDIS crew by the Daleks, but this time because the Doctor stole something from them, not just because they’re “the enemy”. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Perhaps a quick summary of the storyline is in order.
Episode 1: The Nightmare Begins & Episode 2: Day of Armageddon
- The Daleks’ alliance with various galaxies now includes the Guardian of the Solar System, Mavic Chen.
- A superweapon is prepared by the Daleks, supplied by a Terranium block mined from Uranus (lol).
- A Space Agent, Bret, teams up with the Doctor & Steven & Katarina after getting off to a rough start. The Doctor steals the terranium and they go on the run.
Episode 3: Devil’s Planet
- Bret & crew escape the planet in a spaceship but are forced down by the Daleks onto a penal colony planet.
- A convict sneaks on board the ship while they make repairs.
Episode 4: The Traitors
- Katarina dies saving the crew from the convict, on their way to Earth.
- Mavic Chen sends another Space Agent, Sara Kingdom, after Bret & crew.
- On Earth, Bret kills a traitor who would’ve turned them in; then Sara kills Bret.
Episode 5: Counter Plot
- Sara chases the Doctor and Steven into an experimental disseminator and they’re transmatted to a distant planet.
- Mavic Chen is plotting to oust the Daleks and make himself the supreme leader of the universe.
Episode 6: Coronas of the Sun
- The Daleks capture the TARDIS crew but they escape when the invisible natives of the planet attack.
- They steal the Dalek ship and leave but it’s remote-controlled by the Daleks back to the first planet where this whole story started.
- The Doctor makes a fake copy of the terranium core which they hand over to the Daleks and then they escape in the TARDIS.
Episode 7: Feast of Steven
- They stumble across some 20th century policemen and some film crews in a comic rush.
Episode 8: Volcano
- The Daleks attempt to test their Time Destructor on one of their “allies” but discover the teranium is a fake. They call in a time machine from Skaro to pursue the TARDIS.
- The Doctor & crew have a run-in in the Meddling Monk who tries to lock them out of their TARDIS but the Doctor foils his trick. The Monk vows to chase them, too.
Episode 9: Golden Death
- The TARDIS arrives at the Pyramids of Giza upon their completion. Egyptians capture Steven and Sara for a while.
- The Daleks & Mavic Chen arrive, as does the Meddling Monk. The former threaten the latter into helping them recover the terranium from the Doctor.
- The TARDIS is taken into the pyramid tomb mistaken for one of Pharaoh’s treasures, but not before the Doctor fixes its lock that the Monk damaged earlier.
- The Doctor sabotages the Monk’s ship so it’s stuck looking like a police box too.
Episode 10: Escape Switch
- Steven and Sara find the Monk, trapped in a sarcophagus because of the Doctor. They stumble across the Daleks looking for the Doctor, so he hands them over to them as hostages to bargain with the Doctor.
- The Doctor actually hands over the terranium, but the Daleks are ambushed by Egyptians immediately.
- The Doctor reveals he has stolen the “directional unit” from the Monk’s ship, so they can steer the TARDIS now. But their ships are different versions so compatibility will be an issue…. the TARDIS may be destroyed!
Episode 11: The Abandoned Planet
- The stolen directional unit turns out to be a one-shot wonder: it gets the TARDIS back to the Daleks’ base planet before blowing out.
- The Doctor disappears quickly; Steven and Sara don’t know if he’s lost or captured.
- Steven and Sara enter the Dalek city, discover that the Daleks have betrayed their allies, and decide to free them, understanding that they’ll mobilize their forces to unite against the Daleks.
- Mavic Chen fakes his death and takes Steven and Sara hostage to lead him into an underground base where the Daleks are hiding…
Episode 12: The Destruction of Time
- Mavic Chen madly believes that the Doctor wants to steal his place of glory alongside the Daleks.
- When Mavic Chen is ordered to be executed by the Daleks, he flees. The Doctor then comes out of hiding and tells Steven and Sara to flee back to the TARDIS.
- Sara sneaks back to help the Doctor with the Time Destructor and Steven returns to the TARDIS.
- As they flee to the TARDIS, the Time Destructor ages the Doctor and Sara to decrepit condition, and the jungle decays to dust around them.
- Steven rescues the Doctor and brings him inside the TARDIS, but Sarah has crumpled to dust. Daleks find the Time Controller, accidentally set on reverse by Steven, and they regress to nothing.
- The Doctor and Steven mourn the loss of Katarina and Sara in the face of this decisive victory against the Dalek invasion force.
Overall Plot Comments
In the details, this story is a little piecemeal at times. The idea of the super-weapon powered by an element so rare it’s only found in one planet in the entire universe (and it’s from Uranus, of all places), strikes me as quite implausible. The focus on Earth’s solar system as the key to taking the entire galaxy seems to me to cheapen the value and size of the rest of the Milky Way. The transition of Sara Kingdom from loyal officer to a turncoat against Mavic Chen’s treachery seemed a bit too quick to be believable. The Daleks’ discarding of their allies towards the end of the story made me wonder why they ever needed them in the first place. Sara’s death, too, was hard to understand in the Doctor’s terms at the end – that he wouldn’t have succeeded in getting the Time Destructor away from the Daleks without her. Maybe I missed something visually because that episode was a reconstruction, but I couldn’t tell that she did anything helpful in that final scene that the Doctor couldn’t have done on his own.
In the big picture, this is a very good story. The Daleks have a high-stakes plan and are on the verge of assuring their victory. We get to see the background workings of their plan, not just a present-moment snapshot. The process of discovering and stopping their plan is costly – three people who travel with the Doctor die in this story. And this story doesn’t have a one-track mind: it deals with a few side plots along the way: the ambitions of Mavic Chen and the other allies of the Daleks, the relationship between the Doctor and his traveling companions, as well as their dealings with incidental characters at different stages of their travels, mostly on the run.
We see the Doctor has developed quite a bit from the beginning of the show. He denies being from Earth, calling himself a “citizen of the universe”. This may be the most clear hint yet that he isn’t human. He’s also very authoritative in this story, especially toward Bret and Steven. The ‘doddering old fool’ that Ian and Barbara stumbled across in 1963 is now a powerhouse of speech and personality. In particular, he proves a powerful bargainer with the Daleks! He tells Bret and Steven to “shut up,” he sets strict terms with the Daleks, he expects his companions to do what he says. Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor is a really strong echo of this 1st incarnation.
The Monk is back! He’s still hilarious. He’s still devious and difficult to read, in terms of his loyalties. And he calls his ship a TARDIS at one point, which may be the first time in the history of the show that TARDIS is used as a generic name for the time-and-space machine.
Steven is a seasoned time traveler with the Doctor at this point. He is well established as a member of the TARDIS crew, not just a passenger or sight-seer. He is a confident individual who balances well between striking out on his own and doing what the Doctor says. And he also serves as a warmer counterpart to the Doctor’s rough edges, especially in helping newer companions get used to him.
Katarina only just started traveling with them in the previous story, The Myth Makers. Coming from ancient Troy, she still believed that the Doctor was one of the gods, so her self-sacrifice with the invading convict in the air lock injected her death with both a believable heroism and a heightened sense of tragedy – as far as she was concerned, she died in service to a benevolent god, yet the rest of us know she was in error about the Doctor. Nevertheless, her death clearly did free the group to continue their mission to Earth at that stage of the story; she was the hero of the hour. It’s a shame that we barely get to know her; her lack of understanding of our history and science was balanced out by her loyalty and respect for the Doctor and her equal committment to looking after Steven when he was injured at the end of The Myth Makers going into this story. Sadly there isn’t really much room to squeeze in any extra stories with her, as the two television serials she’s in are tied pretty tightly together.
Bret is a Space Agent played by Nicholas Courtney, who would eventually reappear as Lethbridge-Stewart. It is so much fun watching his character interact with the 1st Doctor; he is in many ways very similar to the Brigadier we came to know and love: loyal to his country/planet, steadfast in his resolve, ready to use brute force much to the Doctor’s disdain, and completely no-nonsense about getting to the bottom of things. Bret lasts only a third of the way through this story (4 episodes) but he becomes a solidly believable and likeable character. It would have been fun to be able to see more of him. But again, his death helping the Doctor and Steven escape the traitorous Earth authorities advances the plot and raises the stakes.
Sara Kingdom gets an excellent introduction: Mavic Chen selects her to go on the mission to capture Bret and the others, and she is mentioned only by her surname, so you don’t know she’s a woman until she appears on screen. She is cool, calculated, and professional, just like the other two space agents we’ve seen in this story and in Mission to the Unknown. This tough outer shell is softened a little over the course of the story as she travels with the Doctor and Steven – mostly on the run from the Daleks. Apart from her a-little-too-easy realization that Mavic Chen was a traitor and the Doctor was actually the good guy, her character was another strong believable person. Well-trained for combat and espionage, she walked a similar path as the Brigadier, Leela, or Ace as the Doctor’s warrior counterpart.
The toughest question remaining is… would I recommend watching this story? If the whole story survived intact I would say yes. It’s long, and episode 7 is really just comic relief because it aired on Christmas (so it contributes nearly nothing to the overall story), but it’d be a good marathon watch over all. The Daleks are still in their hey-day here, not yet the caricature they sometimes ended up to be in the 1970’s. The 1st Doctor is a powerful and mysterious character, Steven is a solid companion, the other characters add a lot to the impact of the story. The Daleks’ Master Plan is arguably one of the major influences that inspired the Dalek Empire audio series by Big Finish. Its legacy is well-founded.
But the fact that more than half of its 12 episodes are lost, existing only as reconstructions (presently just pictures with the occasional Dalek or door animation, and the full original audio track), makes it rather difficult to get into unless you’re particularly committed. It’s harder to binge-watch when you’re alternating between episodes that are fully-extant and episodes where you have to listen carefully to a low-quality audio track and rely on subtitles to help narrate the visuals that aren’t captured in the surviving photographs. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys, appreciates, or at least can put up with that, then this is a story worth digging into.
Otherwise, you’re probably best off reading summaries like mine, or a longer synopsis like on the TARDIS Wiki, and going with that.