The Daleks’ Master Plan is an epic. A handful. A grand adventure loved by many. Although mostly missing, we’ve thankfully got many ways to experience the adventure. Here, we’ll count the ways it’s unique in the world of Doctor Who.
Simply put, this serial contains so many firsts for Doctor Who.
Mission to the Unknown
A whole month before the start of the story proper, they transmit Mission to the Unknown. A simple 25 minute episode that lays the groundwork for what’s to come. On the remote planet Kembel, the audience is witness to a small expedition from Earth, trying to repair their ship. They stumble upon an intergalactic plot by sinister, alien factions around the galaxy who are scheming with the Daleks to take over our solar system.
This production was not only bold but a bit insidious. The Doctor is not here, not part of the action. He’s unaware of the biggest Dalek plot to date. Imagine if you will, being a child – any viewer really – who would then sit through the next four weeks’ transmissions of The Myth Makers, all the while knowing the Dalek plot is advancing week by week. AND… at first, there was no way of knowing how long it would be until the next adventure started; even then, if it would have anything to do with the plot. Talk about messing with your head! It’s a beautiful example of dramatic irony.
I feel that, when a show is really good, a production team really confident in its abilities, only then can they make the incredibly bold move to produce an episode like this, where you feature none of your main characters. It’s a shock and it was certainly a first for Doctor Who. Possibly a first for television itself? That, I’m not sure, but it’s a fair assumption, I think.
A Tale of 13 Parts
The Daleks’ Master Plan was the equivalent of a short TV season. We, of course count, Mission to the Unknown as the prologue, as well as The Feast of Steven, even though it was more of a break in the action for Christmas Day.
We wouldn’t see a story this long again, unless you count the gathering of stories under the umbrella titles of 1978’s The Key to Time (26 episodes) or 1986’s Trial of a Time Lord (14 episodes). The War Games (1969) comes close, at 10 episodes, but doesn’t quite cross the finish line.
Breaking the Fourth Wall
In the 1965 Christmas Day episode, The Feast of Steven, the Doctor makes the unprecedented move of talking directly to the audience at home, wishing them a Merry Christmas. The episode was a strange, comedic entry for the festive day, where all sort of unconnected slapstick antics ran amok, until finally settling back in to reengage with the main story.
You can argue about whether the Doctor ever breaks the fourth wall again (there are, at least, knowing allusions to him knowing he’s part of a TV show), but this is the only definitive one, and certainly the first.
The Death of Companions
Way back in the day, Doctor Who was conceived as a children’s show. But right out of the gate, it really was an intelligent, bold, sci-fi drama that was suitable and engaging for the entire family. A kids’ show for adults, an adult show for kids. This was a show that did not talk down to you and often showed you the stakes were very real out in the vacuum of space. There was evil that existed and it must be fought. At times, there were dire consequences. The death of a companion was unheard of at the time.
Then, within weeks, two of the Doctor’s friends were gone.
Katarina will always be thought of as a tragic figure. A simple yet brave handmaiden from ancient Troy who could not easily comprehend her lord, the Doctor or the true meaning of his magic temple wherein he traveled. In the episode, The Traitors, Katarina was trapped in an airlock with her abductor, the escaped convict, Kirksen. Even now, it’s unknown whether her hitting the control to open the airlock, exposing them to the deadly vacuum of outer space was a deliberate sacrifice or a wild attempt to simply break free of him. It’s a sad, devastating moment for the Doctor, Bret Vyon, and most of all, Steven Taylor.
But this was a real moment, not soon forgotten by the viewers, either.
Sara Kingdom, referred to as a companion mostly due to the lengthy production itself and the many weeks she was with the TARDIS crew, was a dynamic figure. At first, she was under the influence of Mavic Chen, Guardian of the Solar System and betrayer of same. She eventually saw the light and moved to the Doctor’s side to help thwart Chen and the Daleks. Sara would have made a good long-term companion and the viewers probably thought it likely she would be, for many adventures to come. The last thing anyone expected was Sara dying due to the withering effects of the horrific Time-Destructor. Astonishingly, two companions would perish within the span of one adventure. This was bracing stuff and a real wake up call, signaling that the Daleks were more dangerous than ever. We wouldn’t see another companion death for 16 years, but for a while, things were getting a bit Game of Thrones here.
In the end, we were treated to a grand romp, filled with many larger than life characters and more intrigue, different planets, aliens and tragedy than had ever been seen before in Doctor Who and possibly since.