Monday, September 16, 2013

The Daleks' Master Plan - "It was ... a terrible waste."

The Doctor could use that convenient robe as a disguise.
The dilemma in writing about this story is there's kind of a lot going on and some it is interesting in the context of the show's history, but much of it really isn't. Some of it we wish was more relevant to the show's history (more of Paul Butterworth's Meddling Monk would've been welcome); much of it we should probably be glad really isn't that relevant. The format of a throwing everything up to and including the kitchen sink into a long, meandering story to basically crank out hours worth of undistinguished product being an example of the latter.

That we're mostly relying on reconstruction here makes things a bit difficult; but, at least we have three episodes intact. And all the audio. Sadly, Katarina's and Sara's deaths aren't completely accessible to us. However, it may be a small mercy that much of the puzzling and bizarre episode 7 isn't viewable as broadcast -- you must have to be British and appreciate the xmas pantomime tradition to appreciate and accept it for it what it is -- but what is should mute the critical whining about Tom Baker's fourth wall breaking comment in "The Invasion of Time," which is a far less egregious violation, if we call either that, than Hartnell toasting the viewers at home with a sip of champagne. Yes, that happened.

"A Happy Christmas to all of you at home!"
So here's the thing, I took a bunch of notes while watching this one but reading back over them and comparing them to what's already been mentioned in the Discontinuity Guide and the usual round of websites, I find that I don't have a piercing new insight. Nor have I discovered a conclusive argument for or against Sara having companion status. So, I've skinned the notes down to a few bullet point observations and we'll wrap this up and put a bow on it quick. I've got "The Web Planet" and "The Invasion of Time" (speaking of the fourth wall breaking stories) waiting for first watch and re-watch, respectively. Let's start with the pressing question ...

... the neck. Not in half. 
Should you make watching this a priority?  Well, it does feature the first companion death. And the second, if you count Sara Kingdom, which I do. It's a Dalek epic. (If we use the term "epic" extremely loosely.) It's got the first return of a villain, if we want to call the Monk a villain, which I'm not sure we do. However, before we lean too far towards answering that question in the affirmative, we should decide what to make it a priority against, because I don't think we make it a priority over anything but the weakest of stories across the history of the series. It's so long, and so much of it is missing, that what we have to sit through to get to the interesting stuff may not be, strictly speaking, worth it -- unless we're being completist. It's not as easy as saying, "Just watch the three available episodes," because they don't cover some of the moments that do make this one worth watching at all. Basically, I think you could be forgiven for skimming through the highlights of this one, assigning a complete watch the same level of urgency you would taking the time to watch every extra on a DVD release.

What follows are some stray observations extracted from the notes I took while watching. (Bold episode names indicate the ones for which we have the full video and audio vs. a reconstruction:

The Nightmare Begins
Hooray, it's Nicholas Courtney playing Bret Vyon! Pieces being set in place. Bret and his unlucky buddy, the Daleks, Mavic Chen the Guardian of the Solar System and a traitor, the Doctor, Steven, and Katarina. The board is set. It's going to have to move quicker or twelve episodes of this could get pretty tedious. 
Day of Armageddon
Yeah, getting tedious -- and it's only episode 2! These representatives of the different species are not very impressive. Mavic Chen (who has the 'futuristic' habit of holding his pen in a manner completely impractical for writing), Vampire Teeth, Whispering Dalek Bumps, Convenient Robe, and the others -- can't be bothered to match them to their real names and the galaxies (?!) they represent. These clowns are pretty cavalier with the MacGuffin; hard to believe they are the rules of anything, never mind vast areas of the universe. Oh man, Katarina is irritating. I wonder if the decision to kill her off was based on the realization that combination of character and actress just wasn't working?
Devil's Planet 
Dropped int to a prison planet this looks, feels, smells, and tastes like filler. All these jungles on all these planets look the same. 
The Traitors 
Dalek Supreme is ruthless. No tolerance for failure. He orders the pursuit ship destroyed.
Katarina sacrifices herself. "I hope she reaches that place of perfection," the Doctor says. What?! "I shall always remember her as one of the daughters of the gods." By all means, he should be humbled and respectful of her memory but this isn't sitting well with me. 
Counter Plot
There's a long way to go ...  
Coronas of the Sun
Invisible creatures sure do save budget. Shake some plants and there you go, monsters on the cheap. 
The Feast of Steven 
Meets up with Charlie Chaplin! And Bing Crosby. Title cards? Fourth wall breaking Happy Christmas toast?! The Doctor recognizes an actor who played a in "The Crusade" and makes reference to that character. Not sure what any of this had to do with anything? This is possibly the single strangest episode of Doctor Who ever.
Another species close to achieving time travel? At this time, only the Daleks and the Doctor's people are known to have time travel. That one of these throwaway cultures is on the verge of it makes us wonder how it isn't more prevalent.
Cricket interlude? Another WTF moment.
The Monk is back. That's something. 
Golden Death
How has Mavic Chen survived this long? I'm surprised the Daleks put up with him. A welcome trip to ancient Egypt. These spear-hurling Egyptians aren't much of an opponent for squadron of Daleks. Hardly seems fair. 
Escape Switch 
Well, at least there's the Monk. Surely Mavic Chen is going to get it soon? 
The Abandoned Planet
Fun to watch Jean Marsh here twenty some years before she'd return for "Battlefield." 
The Destruction of Time
I'm not sure if it was intended or not, but to show the Doctor being weakened and ageing less slowly than Sara is a nice way to show how long-lived he is relative to humans. His ageing doesn't seem to be undone, that's a nice touch, too. Whew. We're done. The whole thing feels very haphazard, disjointed, downright strange. To kill not one, but two companions, for the first time in the series, and to have it be in story that features a random throwaway Christmas panto seems almost unconscionable. 
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