Browse the WBW Podcast
Browse the WBW Podcast
Browse Classic Who reviews
Browse Classic Who reviews

The Doctor robs the Daleks, gains two companions, loses three, and then we even get an appearance by the monk. Epic!

(NB: As this is an almost entirely lost Doctor Who serial, this is another solo-cast.)

The Doctor, Katarina and Steven arrive on the planet Kembel, last seen in the Dalek Cutaway, Mission to the Unknown. Steve’s in a bad way following his intermezzo with a Trojan warrior in The Myth Makers, but perhaps the two new interim companions, Bret Vyon (played by Nicholas Courtney of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart fame) and Sara Kingdom (played by Jean Marsh) can be of service.

It transpires that they can help each other, because as we found out in Mission to the Unknown, the Daleks have assembled their allies on Kembel to plan the invasion and/or destruction of the (our?) solar system and/or galaxy and/or universe, and the Doctor is quick to intervene.

The final cog of the titular Master Plan comes in the form of Mavic Chen, the Guardian of the Solar System, who delivers to the Daleks a core of solid Taranium, as a power source for their newly constructed Time Destructor. So when The Doctor steals the core and speeds off with his companions, a race across time and space with The Daleks and Mavic Chen in hot pursuit ensues.

A massive 12-episode epic, not even counting the Dalek Cutaway prequel, this is the longest Doctor Who serial to date, and one of many firsts.

chameleon stages of TARDIS Mark IV
(Above: The chameleon stages of the Monk’s TARDIS Mark IV)

Here's what we think of C021 The Daleks’ Master Plan

We rate Doctor Who stories on a scale from 0.0 to 5.0. For context, very few are excellent enough to merit a 5.0 in our minds, and we'd take a 0.0 Doctor Who story over a lot of other, non-Whovian stuff out there.

Leon | @ponken


Here's what we think of C021 The Daleks’ Master Plan

We rate Doctor Who stories on a scale from 0.0 to 5.0. For context, very few are excellent enough to merit a 5.0 in our minds, and we'd take a 0.0 Doctor Who story over a lot of other, non-Whovian stuff out there.

Leon | @ponken


Here's what you think 4 Responses to “C021 The Daleks’ Master Plan”
  1. Gallifreyan Buccaneer | @alunrtrussler

    Probably the toughest slog of the entire classic series due to the majority of episodes missing from this 12-part serial. I listened to the audiobook version with linking narration, clocking in at just under 5 hours. This sounds a daunting listen, but honestly the epic scope of the entire story is something not normally seen in Who, and there are plenty of significant events in the story that keep us engaged.

    The most obvious is the shocking early departure of Katerina, a young woman robbed of any potential she had as she lays down her life to save the Doctor an co.. Due to a mishandling of her character behind the scenes we feel just as robbed at the potential she could have had as a player in the oncoming stories.

    Vyon, played by the wonderful Nicholas Courtney, is a delight as always. It’s great to hear, if not see, him acting alongside the original Doctor, as he would so many others as the brilliant Brigadier. Jean Marsh plays Kingdom well enough but honestly I found it difficult as a modern listener/watcher to see her as a companion, already knowing her horrific fate at the end of the serial.

    Kevin Stoney, himself a fair veteran of Who roles, is fantastic in his role as Mavic Chen for the simple fact that he overemphasises and underemphasises his speech pattern constantly. Honestly it has to be seen to be believed! Yet it totally works, conveying his smugness over the Daleks and the Council. Later in the serial we see this degrade, under meddling form the Monk himself, the Doctor and the Daleks. He struggles to hold on to his power and of course, is betrayed and exterminated by the trusty pepper pots.

    The surviving episodes of the story are unfortunately tedious to watch as the Doctor and co. hunt McGuffins a-plenty on HOW many damned jungle planets? Also, the invisible monsters of Mira, nice budget restraint there Mr. Nation! it is nice however to be able to see the Monk once more in action.

    The Feast of Steven is an oddity, but a welcome one, a fourth-wall breaking Christmas episode in the middle of a serial full of backstabbing, galaxy-saving and extermination.

    The ending is fantastic, as Kingdom is aged to death in a barrage of sound and distorting visuals, hammering the viewer with the horror of a death come too soon. Even the Daleks are reduced to children in the face of the the power of the Time Destructor. The last ten minutes of the entire serial seals the deal, Steven ready to leave the TARDIS, as both he and the Doctor contemplate the deaths of Katerina, Bret, and Sarah, a ‘terrible waste’ indeed.

    So is that it? Is that all the Dalek Master Plan gives us? Copious amounts of death, Daleks, and destruction? Yes and no. There are the meddling elements of the Monk to be enjoyed, the joy that is the Feast of Steven, and the potential of so many new companions. But potential is all they remain, as death always wins, and that’s what this story teaches us. The Doctor may win, but at what cost? Steven is entirely justified at the end of this story, questioning the ability of the Doctor to save the lives of so many. The Doctor is fallible, he isn’t a God, he can’t save everyone. Perhaps he shouldn’t. If he could we would have the Time Lord Victorious that was so very wrong to see in the Waters of Mars.

    *sigh* This serial is tough to talk about as there are so many directions I could take this review so I’ll end it here. The trio of The Myth Makers, Daleks’ Master Plan, and The Massacre is probably the most important in the First Doctor’s run, as it shows how The Doctor as a character can fail, and oh boy, fail is what he does here.

    Overall, with Mission to the Unknown considered, I’d give the Daleks’ Master Plan a 3.7 overall. The high-points of this epic story deserve better than the padding that surrounds it, and, as usual, it’s a damn shame we can’t see some of those high-points.

    P.S I finally got around to reviewing you on iTunes, hope that helps!

  2. Stephen | @sgamer82

    DISCLAIMER 1: As with prior last episodes, I’m going by the Audio Book vs the Reconstructions.

    DISCLAMER 2: This review is not ‘mini’ by any stretch.

    The Daleks’ Master Plan is one of the biggest stories of Doctor Who in every sense of the word. It’s the longest serial to date, coming in at 13 episodes total, counting “Mission to the Unknown” and “Feast of Steven.” It also features several firsts, such as the first serial to feature Nicolas Courtney, the future Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (as Bret Vyon), the first death of a companion in Katarina (and second with Sara Kingdom), and the first ever breaking of the Fourth Wall as opposed to the Fourth Dimension.

    The main plot focuses on Team TARDIS getting the essential part of the Daleks’ new superweapon and doing all in their power to keep it out of their suction cups. In response, the Daleks prove once more that they are terrifying for, if absolutely nothing else, sheer determination. They are hounding the Troupe in one form or another during the entire serial, which gives a sense of tension throughout as our heroes struggle to stay one step ahead of the Daleks. While thinking of how to describe this serial without going into something as long is the serial itself, what I came up with was “This is what ‘The Chase’ SHOULD have been.”

    Excluding “The Feast of Steven”, which I’ll get into separately, there’s not a great deal of ‘filler’ as there was during “The Chase”, where you could skip an entire episode or two and miss next to nothing. Every stop, no matter how random, served some dramatic purpose. Be it the shocking loss of companions, learning that no one can be trusted, finding a way to return to Kimbel without the TARDIS, or even the Monk’s appearances in the second half, which slowed the Troupe’s escape and provided a way to return to Kimbel and stop the Daleks for good.

    Mavic Chen also provided a very interesting villain. While I use the audiobooks to get the whole story, I also have the “Lost in Time” DVDs with the still-intact episodes on it so I was able to see him for myself. He had a very interesting character design with his apparent racial mix and was quite devious as he kept both the Galactic Council under his thumb and himself in the Daleks good graces. For modern Whovians, there’s perhaps a certain (for lack of a better word) satisfaction in watching him go through all that he does while knowing full well that the Daleks will inevitably turn on him. I do wonder if viewers Back in the Day were expecting the sudden but inevitable betrayal since, being only the Daleks’ fourth appearance and the first in which they collaborated with another species, they had not fully established their willingness to disregard any bargain as soon as it’s convenient.

    Despite being a serious story on the whole, there were also scattered moments of humor. My personal favorites being the Daleks seeing the lab mice on Myra and declaring “They may be hostile” and the cricket commentators when the TARDIS appeared in the middle of a match. Then there’s “The Feast of Steven.” Feast is perhaps the only episode that could be called “filler” or “padding.” However, even this was done with a purpose as from what I have read this episode was scheduled to air on Christmas Day and, expecting people to spend Christmas with their loved ones instead of watching TV, it was decided to run a light episode separated from the whole of the plot to avoid anyone missing a part of the story they could otherwise have seen. That lightness was enjoyable too. Especially as we see Sara, Steven, and even the Doctor utterly bamboozled by the 20th century Earth locales they visit. It makes good use of the fact that none of the Troupe at this point co! me from modern day Earth, as this kind of humor could never have worked with Ian and Barbara on the TARIDS.

    That’s not to say that the story is not without flaws. Due to why and when it was produced I don’t mark anything down for “The Feast of Steven”; but there are other things in the serial I did dislike.

    To digress a bit, I am a frequent visitor and contributor to the website TV Tropes and, as a result, often think of tropes relating to shows as I watch or, in this case, listen to them. The one trope that really stands out in this serial is “Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale.”* We have multiple galaxies apparently being ruled over by six people, the eight-to-nine planet Solar System propped up as the end-all be-all of intergalactic civilization, and the former allied against the latter in a grand example of overkill. It had something of a grating effect on me throughout the serial, though it seemed to taper off in later episodes, which notably seem to be the ones NOT written by Terry Nation. The audiobook credits episode 6 onward as written by “Dennis Spooner, based on an idea by Terry Nation”.

    Also, on listening to this story for the second time to help with my review, I came to the realization that the “Galactic Council” the Daleks form actually has no purpose whatsoever. They bring this grand council together with (obviously false) promises of power, but then dispose of them PRIOR to even starting the invasion. I was perplexed as what they were even there for when it seemed, outside of Mavic Chen, they did nothing to further the Master Plan except sit there and whine, moan, and hiss about how important (they thought) they were.

    I did come up with my own interpretation that seems to make sense: They were there to lure in Chen. The council was nothing more than a way to stroke Chen’s massive ego. Bringing this organization together, making Chen its most vital member due to the Taranium, and letting him play petty power games when they didn’t actively need him kept him compliant while he was useful. As a bonus, they also gain whatever resources the Masters of the Galaxies bring to the table in the run up to their invasion. To me, this explanation also makes Chen’s breakdown as this ultimate of traitors realizes he’s even less than a cog in the machine all the more gratifying.

    I also wish we hadn’t seen Katarina go so quickly as she did. I really like the idea of companions from the distant past as opposed to modern day or future Earth or other planets entirely. My understanding is that the writers didn’t know what to do with her and I like to think, as a result, that the development of Troughton-era companions Jamie and Victoria is them after having learned from their mistakes.

    The finale, as the Doctor and Sara flee the ravaging of the Time Destructor, is one of those scenes that one can not help but wish had survived to the current day. I even made it a point to find the recon just for that scene. It looked like it could have been impressive even by recent sci-fi standards.

    Finally, rating: I’m giving “The Daleks Master Plan” a 4.6 out of 5. I’m an absolute sucker for epic scale storylines such as this; between them Bret Vyon, Sara Kingdom, the Monk, and Mavic Chen provide us a good secondary cast; and the Daleks, more than in any of their last appearances, are established for decades to come. There were flaws, as described already. However, I’m generally forgiving of them in this era of science fiction unless they actively interfere with my ability to enjoy the show and the only one that did THAT, the “solar system” scale issue, largely corrects itself through the course of the story.

    * You can find the trope I mentioned earlier at

  3. Peter Zunitch

    Truly another epic. Throughout I was worried that the doomsday weapon would be a flop, but it was not. And it was actually used! Both Brett and Sarah were amazing characters and the Mavik Chen character even rivals the scene chewing of Paul Darrow (“Timelash”) and Brian Blessed (“Mindwarp”) later on. Such an over the top character done with finesse so as not to grate the nerves is a rare achievement indeed.
    I understand the Feast of Steven and if I were watching one episode a week I would have enjoyed it as a holiday story. However when watched as a compendium, it really drags the drama down. It’s just a little too silly. I could wish it were an episode of Evil of the Daleks or The Time Meddler instead, or perhaps the Chase would have been a better fit. Regardless, it fell where it did and is what it is, let’s just enjoy the break in the tension and move on.
    I never once felt this series was going on too long. It could have been all season long and would have been brilliant (see: The Key to Time). The Monk was a little bit of a let down here. He’s better as a foil or friendly counterpart to the Dr, not as someone bent on revenge. He could be a Loki, but instead he’s a little bumbling here and ultimately not used to his full potential.
    As usual there are some classic moments. I wonder if the mouse scene had any influence on Douglas Adams mice in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? I did feel like the characters who are ultimately responsible for Katarina’s death were portrayed too much like caveman savages though (Ka make fire). Though I don’t think they would have done it right, Katarina COULD have been an amazing character and I wish she would have stayed just a little longer. I loved her worshipful devotion to the doctor almost as much as his romantic relationship in the Aztecs.
    This episode’s top improvement suggestions consist of more background/input from the other delegates, a clearer understanding of space boundary terms and a few less convenient coincidences. Oh and the Varga plants were just too silly looking. I wish they were Triffids. 4.6

  4. The Daleks are gathering on the planet Kembel and they have a plan to conquer the galaxy. The TARDIS lands just in time to team up with Bret Vyan – last survivor of the Space Security Service investigation mission. They realise that the Daleks are being aided by Mavic Chen, Guardian of the Solar System, who is providing them with an Emm of Terranium – the crucial core of the Daleks secret weapon, the Time Destructor.

    Stealing the Terranium and hijacking Mavic Chen’s ship, the Doctor et al try to escape and warn Earth. But Mavic Chen is too quick for them, and when they arrive, Bret’s sister Sara Kingdom shoots him as a traitor. In a sudden turnaround, the group are beamed to a third planet. Sara now joins the team and, with the Daleks in hot pursuit, they flit around in time and space, encountering invisible monsters, ancient Egyptians, the Meddling Monk, Charlie Chaplin and Christmas.

    Finally, there is an epic showdown back on Kembel. Everybody betrays everybody. The Time Destructor is activated and planetary destruction ensues.

    First up, the reconstruction of this story is lovingly done. Only three episodes still exist, but the others have been patched together with snippets of existing footage, telesnaps, newly recorded cutaways, CGI animation, 3D models, and all sorts of other elements to produce something that works incredibly well overall.

    Putting that aside, there is so much that makes The Dalek Masterplan stand out as one of the most memorable stories of the Hartnell era.

    For the first time in Dr Who, a companion dies. And not just one companion – three companions die! In all the rest of Dr Who history, this death count remains unmatched. No wonder the Doctor laments at the end: “What a waste! What a terrible waste!”

    Out of these companions, perhaps we may not miss Katarina much. It doesn’t look as though her character had been properly developed. But both Bret Vyan (played by the wonderful Nicholas Courtney) and Sara Kingdom (played by the equally wonderful Jean Marsh) are brilliant. Even if they weren’t played by these actors, they would be fun characters, but the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney is a milestone in Dr Who history, and Jean Marsh brings the overall acting talent in the show to a new level.

    It’s also a delight to see the return of the Monk, played by Peter Butterworth. He is as devious and as likeable as ever, and it’s great to see the first return of a villain in Dr Who history.

    Furthermore, the sets and costumes are magnificent and the plot is pleasantly twisted. Mavic Chen is a great villain – his continual phrase “I, Mavic Chen!” adding to his air of unashamed melodrama and providing a perfect counterpoint to the flatly malevolent Daleks.

    The terms galaxy, universe and solar system get scattered around and used interchangably. This is very confusing in terms of discovering what the Dalek Masterplan actually is. They have certainly gathered together delegates from the ‘Outer Galaxies’, and we presume the intention is to ally with them militarily in crushing and dividing the Milky Way galaxy. However, this is then broken down as ‘Mars, Jupiter, Earth and the Moon’… That’s a very parochial approach to the Milky Way galaxy… And, surely, if Mavic Chen is involved, then he would prefer they invade another part of the Milky Way, rather than his home planet, which he already rules?

    Beyond this general confusion, the relationship between the Daleks and the delegates seems very dubious. They go to all the bother of getting them together and sharing their plans with them. But then they test out their Time Destructor on one of them; when it malfunctions, they exterminate him; and eventually they imprison everyone, on the basis that they can shoot them later. It’s not exactly sensible diplomacy. Why do they need them in the first place?

    Also, at 12 episodes, the story does drag. Not as much as you might expect – it’s pretty jam packed. But it’s clear why this longer format was not repeated.

    – The Varga plant monsters are really creepy. If they sting you, you become like them. They’re the vegetable version of zombies.
    – The moment when Lowery gets stung is handled perfectly. The atmosphere of despair is tangible.
    – The sequence where Gantry is being stalked by some unseen presence in the jungle is also brilliantly tense. The footage survives only because it was censored by some broadcaster for being too frightening, and you can see why they might have thought that.
    – The Daleks have got flamethrowers… That’s awesome!
    – The Doctor is going off on a long rant about how he is in charge. Bret Vyan steps in forcefully: “Sir, will you shut up!”
    – Bret, again: “We’re taking over this spaceship! Get over there!””
    – Bret, again: “Here we are, stuck on a pimple of a planet while you footer with a fusebox!”
    – Bret, again, referring to the Doctor: “What’s the matter with Grandpa?” – He gets all the best lines!
    – The Doctor’s grief, following the death of Katarina, is rather touching: “I hope she’s found her perfection.”
    – One planet is populated by invisible monsters. We see only their footprints, but it’s an excellently done effect, and still works well today.
    – The Daleks carefully examine a box of mice. “An alien device. There are small white creatures inside. They may be hostile.” And, yes, the Daleks do then exterminate these hostile mice.
    – Mavic Chen must spend long afternoons at the local nail bar. Those clattery talons clearly take hours of maintenance!
    – When challenged by a policeman as to where he is from, the Doctor responds with one of his most quotable lines: “I’m a citizen of the Universe, and a gentleman to boot!”
    – One policeman, after witnessing the Doctor and team leave the TARIDIS: “There’s a whole army of them, living like gypsies in one of Her Majesty’s police boxes”
    – There’s an extended sequence set in a silent-era movie stage. We even get on screen title cards: (e.g. “Meanwhile, back in the Wardrobe Department”). It’s debatable whether or not it serves the story, but you have to admire the creativity of the concept. Again, it shows that Doctor Who can take any format it wants to take – even 4th-wall-breaking, self-parodying, meta-narrative comedy.
    – This rogue episode (The Feast of Steven) has another couple of such moments. The Doctor recognises an actor from “The Crusade” appearing in the police station, and says he last met him in the marketplace in Jaffa. And of course there is the infamous moment when the Doctor turns to camera and wishes “A Merry Christmas to all of you at home”
    – The Daleks test out their Time Destructor on a key diplomatic ally on the grounds that he is overly enthusiastic. Excellent diplomacy skills there!
    – “The Time Destructor is useless” screeches a Dalek. “No!” cries Mavic Chen, “It came from Uranus!” The teenage schoolboy inside me had a proper snigger at that one.
    – “You haven’t heard the last of me!” screams the abandoned Monk. Cut to the TARDIS console. “If you ask me,” says Steven, “we haven’t heard the last of him!”
    – In Egypt, the Doctor wears a very stylish hat that makes him look as though he’s just stepped off the set for “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
    – In the style game, however, he has a serious rival in the Monk’s sunglasses!
    – Mavic Chen is delightfully deluded: the Daleks’ total silence when he challenges their authority is really nicely done. There’s nothing so sinister as a silent Dalek just staring at you.
    – The final race against time – literally – with Sara ageing in front of our eyes, is one of the most iconic sequences in Hartnell’s era. It’s tragic that it’s missing.

    This story is epic. A lot of the Hartnell years can be quite experimental, but this is one of these few stories that establish the fundamental format of the series. There is a cosmic conflict between good and evil. The Doctor is thrown into the middle of this conflict. The bumbling, interfering actions of the Doctor and his companions prove crucial in stopping the evil and saving the good.

    If that is the format that the series settles down into, then the best stories within that format are the ones that transcend it and become something more. One key aspect of this story is the despair. Even at the end, the Doctor only succeeds by running away and letting the planet destroy itself. He is unable to help Sara, who suffers a truly gruesome death in front of his eyes. Along with the Myth Makers and the Massacre, the Dalek Masterplan is the centre of a trilogy of stories in which the Doctor does not succeed. There is no saccharine happy ending. There is just the Doctors final verdict: “What a waste! What a terrible waste!”

    OVERALL: 4.3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

If you haven't already... Subscribe now!

Subscribe to us on iTunes now! We're dropping a new episode every week (pretty much), reviewing Classic Who, New Who and all kinds of bonus stuff from spin-offs and conventions to Doctor Who comic books.

We last reviewed...

N183 73 Yards