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Recap / Doctor Who S3 E4 "The Daleks' Master Plan"

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The Doctor receives some troubling news: most of this story got junked.
Your ideas are too narrow, too crippled. I am a citizen of the Universe, and a gentleman to boot.
The Doctor

The one where the Doctor completely demolishes the fourth wall.

A 12-episode monster, which begins with the TARDIS arriving on the planet Kembel and meeting Bret Vyon (Nicholas Courtney!) of the Space Security Service. Vyon is looking for Marc Cory, one of the men killed in the teaser "Mission to the Unknown". Together, they discover that the Daleks plan to use the "Time Destructor" to conquer the Solar System.

They report this to Mavic Chen, "Guardian of the Solar System" (i.e. Leader of the Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire) but it turns out he's in league with the Daleks and he sends SSS agent Sara Kingdom after Vyon and the travellers. The Doctor has meanwhile managed to steal the Taranium core of the Time Destructor, putting a spanner in the works.

Katarina is killed early in episode 4, blowing herself out of an airlock along with her captor in order that the Doctor should not be forced to give in to his demands. Whether she knew what she was doing, or simply pulled the wrong lever, remains a Riddle for the Ages. Sara Kingdom shoots Bret Vyon (her brother) before making a Heel–Face Turn and joining the TARDIS crew as a companion.


En route, we also revisit the Meddling Monk, and the Doctor "borrows" another bit from his TARDIS to help his own function more predictably.

The action is interrupted for the Christmas Day episode, in which the TARDIS materialises on a film set, the cue for much silent comedy with Chaplin and the Keystone Kops, before Steven points out that they missed Christmas. The Doctor produces a bottle of champagne and Steven wishes him a Merry Christmas - the Doctor then shatters the Fourth Wall by looking straight out of the camera and wishing "a Happy Christmas to all of you at home".

Sara Kingdom dies, in the end, as the Doctor turns the Time Destructor on the Daleks.

Incidentally, Bret Vyon was played by Nicholas Courtney, who would become rather better known as The Brigadier, while his sister Sara Kingdom was Jean Marsh. They would be reunited in the 1989 serial "Battlefield"... where Jean Marsh's character boasted to Nicholas Courtney's character that "the next time we meet, I shall kill you." Considering that this story was set millennia after "Battlefield"...


Only episodes 2, 5 and 10 remain, and the Christmas episode in particular was destroyed by the BBC, as it was not sold overseas.

It holds several records: longest serial ever (except for "The Trial of a Time Lord", though that's technically an arc, as each individual story had a separate production code, title and director) and first almost-companion with Bret Vyon, the first (and second) TARDIS companion deaths, and others.


  • Action Girl: Agent Sara Kingdom.
  • Always Save the Girl: Painfully subverted in part 4, hilariously subverted in part 7.
  • Anti-Hero: Bret Vyon is rather grizzled and Trigger Happy, and working for a fascistic organization clearly modeled on the Nazi SS. In any other story, he'd likely be the Doctor's enemy.
  • Anyone Can Die: Sara, Katarina and Bret along with most of the minor characters.
  • Apocalypse How: Kembel suffers a Class 6, being reduced to a lifeless dustball by the effects of the Time Destructor.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Cactic power
  • Artistic License – Physics: Bret Vyon is restrained in a magnetic chair. As Mystery Science Theater 3000 said about another movie: "And if your hands were metal that would mean something."
  • Ascended Extra: Sara Kingdom only appears in this serial, but she is regarded as a companion by some traditionalist fans and reference guides because of the extremely long length of the serial and the fact she gets to travel in the TARDIS. note  The Expanded Universe depicts her having further adventures with the Doctor and Steven that take place during this story, more solidly cementing her place.
  • Aside Glance: A Dalek manages to do this - Mavic Chen is spiralling into a Villainous Breakdown and a Daleks confronts him about his incompetence. Chen rants impotently at it and then slaps the Dalek in the eyestalk. The Dalek flails around in confusion for a second, briefly fixing the camera with its eyestalk as if to ask 'can you believe he did that?' It's a real testament to the skills of the Dalek operators that they could pull this off.
  • The Atoner: After Sara kills her own brother and realizes she has been working for the Big Bad all along, she transitions into a more normal Action Girl.
  • Bad Habits: The Meddling Monk is still dressed as a monk, even though he gains no advantage by doing so.
  • Batman Gambit: The Doctor saves Steven from a dangerous force field by tricking the Daleks into shooting him only once. He even lampshades that it was fortunate they didn't get a second clean hit.
  • The Blind Leading the Blind: The Doctor is rather disoriented by 20th-21st century events without his companions' knowledge regarding history; it does allow for an easier way to introduce comedic situations, especially in "The Feast Of Steven".
  • Blooper: In-universe. The Doctor, Sara, and Steven are responsible for a few in various silent films.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: "The Feast of Steven" ends with the Doctor wishing everyone at home a Happy Christmas.
  • Can Only Move the Eyes: Steven gets locked in a forcefield. How much movement he had is unclear without surviving footage, but the Doctor uses him to hand off a fake plot device to the Daleks, who naturally tried to exterminate him. It turns out a direct hit from a Dalek Death Ray was just what the Doctor ordered to break the forcefield and free him.
  • Character Development: This serial basically established the Daleks to what they are today.
  • Chewing the Scenery:
    • While it's not extreme overacting in the context of Doctor Who overacting, Steven's behaviour during Katarina's death scen deserves an honourable mention as it saved the clip from being consigned to the same Missing Episode oblivion as the rest of the serial. Peter Purves played Steven and became a Blue Peter presenter later. To celebrate a Doctor Who anniversary, a clip of this scene was played, so the other Blue Peter presenters could tease him about his Scenery Chewing. This clip is one of the only bits of the whole story that still exists.
    • Kevin Stoney in the last episode Chen appears.
  • Christmas Episode: Purely by chance though. At the time, it was assumed that people would be celebrating with their loved ones in traditional style and not wasting their time watching the idiot box, so rather than doing any special Christmas scheduling the BBC simply broadcast whatever would have been on normally that day of the week, with a Christmas twist. This was why the Christmas episode was so disconnected from the rest of the plot: it was assumed only the lonely or misanthropic would be watching. This means that it is a missing episode which will almost certainly never be recovered, as it was excluded from international sales and the serial was offered as an 11-parter instead.
  • Cool Ship: The SPAR, both TARDISes, the Dalek time ship.
  • Continuity Nod: The Doctor suggests for Earth to recall the 2157 invasion in order to realise the danger from the Daleks.
  • Conveniently Close Planet: Desperus just happens to be on the Kembel - Earth route.
  • Corpsing: During "The Feast of Steven", it sounds as though Peter Purves is laughing in the background as William Hartnell has to do a really silly and uncharacteristic line where the Doctor addresses the at-home audience and wishes them a "Happy Christmas".
  • Dark Action Girl: Sara is initially presented as this.
  • Darker and Edgier: This is a very dark story compared to the previous Dalek serial. In fact, with the arguable exception of the following story, it may well be the darkest story of the entire Hartnell era.
  • Death by Irony: Mavic Chen.
  • Death World: The jungle planet Kembel is apparently the most dangerous planet in the Universe. We don't see much of this, though it is seen after the Daleks get there and start using Varga plants. Of course, the Daleks could have cleared away a lot of the danger.
  • Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: Katarina, as described above.
  • Downer Ending: The Daleks' defeat does little to brighten the mood. The Solar System is saved, but nearly everyone except the Doctor and Steven died, including two of the Doctor's companions and the entire planet of Kembel.
    The Doctor: "The waste...What a terrible waste."
  • Dressing as the Enemy: The Doctor infiltrates the conference by disguising himself as Zephon, one of the delegates.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Of the Unholy Alliance to take over the Universe, at least the Daleks, Chen and his adviser are all suffering from Chronic Backstabbing Disorder and are all ready to take over the others as well to rule the Universe alone. Anyone else involved and not chronic backstabbers (which the Daleks seem to equate and/or confuse with power-hunger) and with enough power to seem like a hindrance in one of the bigger schemer's way will risk a quick death.
    • In "Counter Plot", Daleks vs. Monsters (which are strongly said to be not Gentle Giants but ferocious creatures) Daleks wipe out all who dare approach them, though not without their moments of panic.
  • Failed a Spot Check: The Doctor forgot to fully close the airlock door, thus allowing Kirksen to sneak aboard and take Katarina hostage.
  • Fakin' MacGuffin: At one point, the Doctor manages to get away from the Daleks by handing over a fake version of the taranium core they're chasing him for.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: The Daleks activate a time-altering superweapon which almost kills the Doctor, and ages Sara from a beautiful young woman into an old woman, then into a mummified corpse, a skeleton, and then to dust. Steven then puts the weapon into reverse, which causes the Daleks to de-age into foetuses, which eject from their cases, flop about and die. The Doctor even picks up one of these foetuses and laughs about how great it is that he's wiped out every Dalek on the planet, leading to a What the Hell, Hero? moment from Steven.
  • Filler: "The Feast of Steven" was intentionally meant as filler since it was thought nobody would be watching, and viewers would be lost if the plot advanced in their absence.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Katarina. After her death in episode 4, the only time she's mentioned again is at the very end of episode 12.
  • Gambit Pileup: Mavic Chen must contend with the Daleks, the Meddling Monk and the Doctor. (And, in theory, the Outer Galaxies representatives, but they have, by this time, had a collective Heel–Face Turn.)
  • A God Am I: Mavic Chen declares himself ruler of the Universe and claiming to be immortal.
  • God Guise: Katarina thinks the Doctor is the god Zeus and the strange worlds they travel through are the Afterlife. The Doctor is not happy and neither were the writers — given the difficulty of writing a character who fails to have at least a basic understanding of her situation (not to mention a healthy skepticism about the Doctor), she was quickly bumped off — the first companion to get killed and the last for some time.
  • A Handful for an Eye: Steven blinds a Dalek by smearing a handful of mud on to its eye stalk.
  • Heroes Fight Barehanded: Sara loses her gun shortly after her introduction, but fights just as well without it in subsequent episodes.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Three of them: Katarina, Bret, and Sara.
  • Hostage Situation: Happens three times, and the Doctor only manages to save the situation once.
  • Hostage for MacGuffin: Twice, but the first time is a subversion.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Desperus.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: The Doctor realises that Daxtar is allied with Chen when he mentions the taranium before anyone else does.
  • Insane Troll Logic:
    • Chen thinking the Doctor just wants his place next to the Daleks. Hey, after his Villainous Breakdown, he went insane, so that's a bit of an excuse.
    • The Egyptian's marvellous Bat Deduction that the Daleks are not their Gods because they speak in notions they can't comprehend. Because, you know, if your Gods would decide to talk to, say, other Gods right above you, they'd be speaking your language and in terms you understand, right?
    • Kirksen demanding to be taken to Kembel where he thinks the Daleks will help him, simply because they are villains and so is he.
  • Invisible Monsters: The Visians.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: The Doctor realizes that Daxtar is a traitor because he knows that the Daleks' doomsday device requires a core of taranium even though the Doctor never mentioned it.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: The Doctor pulls this twice over the Daleks, first time probably knowing that the natives will distract the Daleks, and the second time as a Batman Gambit to free Steven from the choking shield.
  • I Will Only Slow You Down: Kert Gantry. He's absolutely insistent on the point.
  • Jerkass: Mavic Chen. None of the other delegates attempted to sell out their people. Zephon points this out.
  • Karma Houdini: Mavic Chen's advisor, Karlton. He conspired with Chen to betray humanity to the Daleks, but nothing happens to him. With not only Chen dead, but also every human from this time period who knew about Chen's treachery, it's even possible Karlton succeeds Chen as Guardian of the Solar System. (The novelisation fixes this in a particularly satisfying way, as the tape recorded by Marc Corey way back in Mission to the Unknown is recovered from the body of Bret Vyon, exposing the plot and ensuring Karlton's arrest).
    • Sara Kingdom kills her own brother, yet the Doctor allows her to become a companion. Certainly, later incarnations would never have allowed this.
  • Killed Off for Real: Although the characters of Katarina and Sara Kingdom were only with the series for a handful of episodes each, they are nonetheless considered officially companions of the Doctor. Both die during the course of this story, making them the first companions to be killed on the show - and the last until Adric dies in the 1980s.
  • Kill 'Em All: Most of the principal guest cast bite it - including two companions!
  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: Bret could cut through steel with his.
  • Large Ham: Mavic Chen slowly descends into this as his grip on sanity loosens.
  • Legion of Doom: The Daleks and the Galactic Council.
  • MacGuffin: The Time Destructor's core.
  • Masquerading As the Unseen: The Doctor sneaks in to a meeting between the Daleks and their allies by disguising himself as a delegate whose style of clothing was black, face covering robes.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: Discussed and dismissed when Steven does something stupid that traps him in a force field that incidentally wards off one Dalek shot. He quickly wishes to turn this to cover the entire TARDIS, to which the Doctor tells him it's a stupid and dangerous idea.
  • Mistaken for Special Guest: During the Hollywood interlude in "The Feast of Steven", Steven is mistaken for one of the Keystone Kops and the Doctor is mistaken for Professor Webster, an expert on Arabian culture.
  • Mood Whiplash: At the end of episode 6 of "The Daleks' Master Plan", the Doctor and company escape from the Daleks, having rendered their doomsday weapon useless, and go off for a fun Christmas episode involving Hollywood producers and Liverpool policemen and...hang on, the Daleks are back. Is this still the same story?
  • More Deadly Than the Male: When Sara and Steven are fighting off two guards, she takes care of the one attacking her before stepping in to finish off the one attacking Steven, all without breaking a sweat.
    Sara: Not bad. Remind me to teach you a few tricks sometime.
    Steven: Remind me not to pick a fight with you.
  • Nerves of Steel: Even in a crisis, Sara carries on with her duty, such as when she continues to calmly relay information when the trio's escape ship is being pulled back by the Daleks.
  • Never My Fault: Zephon blames the Doctor's infiltration of the conference (while disguised as him) on everyone but himself. Nobody buys it and the Daleks promptly kill him.
  • New Year Has Come: See "Christmas Episode": Episode 8, Volcano, aired on New Year's Day, and is a milder case of the same. The Daleks are in it this time, but only briefly, to establish that they are sending a task force out to recover the Taranium. The bulk of the episode is a light encounter with the Monk to reintroduce him for his role in the Egyptian episodes and it is bookended by comedy visits to a Test Match at The Oval and the New Year festivities in Trafalgar Square.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Bret tries this with Kert Gantry, who refuses to go along with it.
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: When the Doctor wanders onto a Hollywood shoot and is immediately mistaken for the history consultant, he is asked by the director what he thinks of the scantily-clad Arabian princess' costume. His response? To tell her she looks ridiculous and order her to "Put some more clothes on, child".
  • Oh, Crap!: Everyone at some point or other
  • Out-Gambitted: Mavic Chen.
  • Penal Colony: Desperus. The Earth authorities don't even bother with niceties such as cells or guards - they just dump the prisoners on the surface and let them fend for themselves.
  • Perma-Stubble: Bret's goes nicely with his chin and his general space hero aesthetic.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Sara, as befits her strait-laced, efficient demeanour.
  • The Plan: It's hinted that Mavic Chen is trying this against the Daleks.
  • Plant Aliens: The Varga plants make a re-appearance.
  • Please Put Some Clothes On: The Doctor tells an actress portraying an Arabian princess to cover herself up.
  • President Evil: Mavic Chen, Guardian of the Solar System.
  • Putting on the Reich: Space Security (SS) — black uniformed soldiers who kill without questioning their orders.
  • The Quisling: Mavic Chen plots with the Daleks and delegates from the Outer Galaxies to take over Earth, while planning to betray the Daleks and take control of the Universe. The fact he is the only one of the delegates who is betraying their world is pointed out by Zephon, who calls him the supreme traitor. There is also the Head of the SSS, Karlton, who may be planning to betray Chen.
  • Rapid Aging: How Sara is killed by the Time Destructor.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Ancient Egyptians trap the Red Dalek with rocks.
  • Round Robin: Episodes 5-8 are written by alternating authors (Terry Nation, Dennis Spooner, Nation, Spooner).
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: The Teknix, which look human but have no hair or eyebrows.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Mavic Chen and his aide decide to call out their toughest Space Security Agent to apprehend the Doctor and company. It takes several scenes before we establish that "Kingdom"'s full name is "Sara Kingdom."
  • Sanity Slippage: Mavic Chen. Not immediately evident but by the time of his death he has completely lost it.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: More specifically, No Sense of Mass. Putting aside individuals claiming to rule entire galaxies, multiple galaxies joining up to conquer a single star system is nothing less than massive overkill. A throwaway line suggests the Hand Wave that Earth exhibits influence beyond its normal sphere, but militarily it's never described as anything but the "Solar system." Probably why it gets changed in this story to conquering the known universe, starting with the solar system.
  • Shoot the Hostage: More accurately, The Hostage Shoots Herself.
  • Smug Snake: Delegate Zephon.
    • The whole crukking council, to various extents.
  • Society Marches On: The leader of La Résistance has some very 1960s attitudes towards women, such as Stay in the Kitchen and so on, despite being from 2150.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Not in the story, but on the Daleks: The Early Years VHS. At the time it came out, The BBC apparently did not have the audio of episode 1, and so the surviving trims from that episode were accompanied by "I'm Gonna Spend my Christmas with a Dalek".
  • Sssssnake Talk: Zephon has a distinctly sibilant hiss when he speaks.
  • The Starscream: Mavic Chen is working with the Daleks but plans to overthrow them, though the Daleks exterminate him when they don't need him any more.
  • Stern Chase: Most of the middle episodes.
  • Stupid Sacrifice: With flavours of Senseless Sacrifice (Katarina) and Yet Another Stupid Death (Sara). There were rather easy ways to avoid these deaths: they could have taken the prisoner to wherever he wanted or to where they wanted without much trouble or delay and even take him along on their quest; Bret almost made things worse by getting himself killed - and this mostly by his fault too, apparently going for Sara's gun, which means The Good Dog Kicked First and she was just defending her position; Sara herself going to rescue the Doctor was reckless and useless. Of course, each had their motivations (Katarina saw the Doctor as a sort of God and would do anything for him, Bret was fighting for bigger things than his family - that is his race and the Universe, and Sara probably wanted to save the man that helped her brother she didn't believe and killed) and it all ended in saving the Universe (this time, at least) from the Daleks, but it could have worked with fewer or no deaths.
    The Doctor: The waste...What a terrible waste.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: Played straight, but quickly subverted. An Egyptian thinks the Daleks' voices are from the Gods, but a sort of leader reasons that Gods would only talk for humans to understand, and as such are not Gods but invaders with metal armour.
  • Tap on the Head: Steven knocks out Bret with a wrench.
  • Thicker Than Water: Not this time.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: How the hostage shoots herself.
  • Timeshifted Actor: When Sara Kingdom gets aged to death by the Time Destructor, Jean Marsh's mid-stage ageing is created with extensive makeup but the fully-aged version of her is played by May Warden.
  • Transflormation: The Varga Plants, the thorns of which contain poison that transforms victims into other Varga Plants, return.
  • Translator Microbes: While the TARDIS has a translation circuit, the Daleks' time machine is an aversion; the Egyptians hear Mavic Chen's ultimatum as the Second-Great-and-Bountiful-ese he speaks.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: When the TARDIS briefly materialises during a sports match, the commentators spend more time discussing how its appearance will affect the outcome of the game than the fact that a police box appeared in the field out of nowhere.
  • Unwitting Pawn: The Council delegates.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Mavic Chen, so much that his minions virtually worship him.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Chen goes insane at the realisation that the Daleks don't need him either and his mind concocts the paranoid idea that the Doctor doesn't want to destroy the Daleks, but wants to hand over the MacGuffin and rule in Chen's place, followed by...
  • Was It Really Worth It?: Discussed by the Doctor and Steven at the end:
    "Let's go, Doctor. I've seen enough of this place".
    "Well, my boy, we finally rid this planet of Daleks".
    "Bret, Katarina, Sara".
    "What a waste. What a terrible waste".
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Katarina, Bret, Sara.
  • Weirdness Censor: Sara. Getting inside a ship bigger on the inside? No reason to mention it, or wonder about it. 1066? Question the reference of a later year, but pretend it didn't happen. Random people trying to dress you up in weird clothes for unspecified reasons? Pyramids and Egyptians? Sure why not. All it matters is getting where they're supposed to and finishing the mission. It was foreshadowed by Chen that she was unquestioningly loyal, but it becomes ridiculous as the serial progresses.
    • There are also the commentators at a cricket match calmly noting the sudden appearance of a police box on the pitch and casually discussing how it might affect the match.
      • Although anyone familiar with Test Match Special would recognise this as Truth in Television...
  • Wham Episode: "The Traitors" and "The Destruction of Time", which featured Katarina and Sara's deaths respectively.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: The Doctor despairs at the sheer loss of life in this story:
    "What a waste. What a terrible waste".
  • Who Would Want to Watch Us?: In "The Feast of Steven", the Doctor encounters a washed-up Hollywood clown who bemoans the fact that Charlie Chaplin has already used all the best jokes. He's thinking of packing it in and becoming a singer, but who'd use a singer with a name like Bing Crosby?
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The Council members tend to think they're in a series where they're the Big Bad and not the Daleks, that if the Daleks have their way, the Daleks keep their word, and eventually, that the Daleks are naive enough to just let one of them stroll around enough to take power from the Daleks. That's of course assuming that there's no group of heroes ready to stop them, or who would have any chance to.
  • Yellowface: Mavic Chen has white hair, dark skin and epicanthic eyefolds. Though this does not come up in the story, Chen represents a future where racial distinctions do not exist. Even though other human characters appear sans makeup, only the main human baddy. (Some eyewitness accounts claim that he was actually in blueface. This mind boggles if this is true).
  • Yellow Peril: Mavic Chen. In the script, he's even described as "part-Oriental".
  • You Have Failed Me: The Daleks on the pursuit ship.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • Trantis apparently doesn't prove particularly useful to the Daleks, who decide to test the Time Destructor on him. Fortunately, the device's core was swapped out for a fake by the Doctor. Unfortunately, the Daleks just exterminate him in the usual manner straight afterwards.
    • The Galactic Council. In a twist, the Daleks imply that they still intend to have the Council members' battle fleets attack alongside them, presumably explaining why they kept the members alive and imprisoned rather than just exterminating them.
    • The Daleks later have to do this to Mavic Chen a second time, after he escapes and thinks that he's not only working with the Daleks, but actually the leader of their alliance. This time, they make sure to dispose of him properly.
  • You Just Ruined the Shot: The TARDIS lands on a Hollywood movie studio. Through the scanner, the crew see a man in a black cloak about to feed a girl into a circular saw via a Conveyor Belt o' Doom. Steven and Sara charge out to rescue her, only to find they have just disrupted the shooting of a melodrama.

The Melodrama the Doctor, Steven, and Sara interrupted filming of in part 7 contains examples of:


Example of: