Friday, 11 December 2015

095 The Daleks' Master Plan Episode 5: Counter Plot

EPISODE: The Daleks' Master Plan Episode 5: Counter Plot
OVERALL EPISODE NUMBER: 095
STORY NUMBER: 021
TRANSMITTED: Saturday 11 December 1965
WRITER: Terry Nation
DIRECTOR: Douglas Camfield
SCRIPT EDITOR: Donald Tosh
PRODUCER: John Wiles
RATINGS: 9.9 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - Lost In Time

"This is the planet Mira, and the only beings on here are the Visians. We can't see them, but they're very vicious. We must try to get away from here as soon as possible".

Steven & The Doctor are hunted in the experimental complex and stray into an odd shaped room containing a cage of mice. Elsewhere in the complex the countdown to start the experiment is underway. Sara Kingdom finds Steven and The Doctor just as the experiment activates transporting them, via a very trippy effects sequence, to the planet Mira many light years away. The Daleks want to know what's happened to the Taranium Core (hurrah, there's broken neck ring talking to the Supreme) and Mavic Chen tells them that he planned to send the travellers to Mira. The travellers have materialised in a swamp. The Daleks send a pursuit ship to Mira (broken neck ring is back again fitted with a detector) whose crew exterminate the mice before being attacked by the invisible Visians. Sara, who believes Brett was a traitor, confesses to the Doctor and Steven that Brett was her brother. She is forced to ally herself with the Doctor & Steven against the Visians, but the Daleks find and capture them.

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I've never been that keen on Dalek Master Plan episode 5: Counter Plot. I first saw it in 1991 when it was released on VHS in Daleks: The Early Years with Daleks' Master Plan 10 and Evil of the Daleks 2. At the start we've just missed seeing Nicholas Courtney, Mavic Chen, the supposedly great villain, spends most of the episode being bossed around by Karlton, the space security chief, who appears more evil than he is, there's no sign of the Daleks' alien allies, the Daleks themselves are hardly in it, there's a big chunk of the episode missing the Doctor & Steven and there's some scientists who spends the whole episode wittering on about "What's happened to my mice"! Repeated veiwings, even in the context didn't improve it. About the only plus point it had to the 18 year old me was that you got to see (briefly) the Black Dalek Supreme. But first time round for the blog, having got here via 94 other Hartnell episodes, it sort of worked. Yes it's a bit slow. Yes, it's probably the weakest of the 12 (effectively 13) parts of this story. But finally, nearly twenty years after I first saw it, I sort of liked this episode. This time round, have listened/watched the first five episodes over the course of one day it REALLY worked. Many Hartnell episodes are improved by watching them episodically but this works as part of the bigger picture. The first six episodes of this story really form a solid block of adventure together, it's just a shame that one of the quieter bits falls as being one of the few episodes we can see.

Contained within the episode is an absoloutely stunning revelation:

STEVEN: You killed Bret! You just shot him down.
SARA: He was a traitor. Between the three of you, you had stolen the taranium, the most valuable mineral in the universe. It was needed desperately to spread the peace which was founded in the solar system, to reach the whole galaxy.
STEVEN: What was the taranium going to do?
SARA: How should I know? I had my orders.
STEVEN: Your orders. And even though it meant killing one of your own people, you obeyed them blindly, without question?
SARA: One does not question the orders of the Guardian.
STEVEN: You didn't stop to think how it came to happen that a space security agent, one of your own people, was a traitor?
SARA: No!
STEVEN: You didn't give Bret a chance, did you. You couldn't question Chen and you wouldn't question Bret.
SARA: Look, what do you want me to say? That I believe your fantastic story?
STEVEN: It's true.
SARA: It mustn't be.
DOCTOR: I'm afraid it is, my dear.
STEVEN: But Bret had to be killed.
SARA: Shut up! Bret Vyon was my brother.
Sara believes so much in Mavic Chen as a force for good in the solar system that she was willing to kill her own brother on his say so that he was a traitor. The proof that Chen is a traitor breaks her.

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Then we have the mice....

KARLTON: Perhaps they have only just found it. You are certain that there are no natural beings on Mira?
FROYN: Not to our knowledge. Our probes have never shown any.
RHYNMAL: That's why we sent the mice. I was hoping that they might perhaps... Oh dear. Perhaps we should send some more mice?
The fussing over the mice puts me in mind of the role mice play in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Adams may well have seen this serial as a schoolboy and there's an incident in a later episode which is almost certainly a direct influence on some of his work. Indeed the psychadelic teleport sequence also reminds of the Infinite Improbability drive sequence in Hitch Hikers as well as the Stargate sequence in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was released two and a half years later.

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If Adams was influenced by this episode then he isn't the only person to have taken inspiration from this episode: Terry Nation himself reuses the idea of Invisible Aliens, here named the Visians, as the Spiridons in Planet of the Daleks

The scientists playing with the mice and teleporting them half way across the galaxy are Rhynmal and Froyn:

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Rhymnal is played by John Herrington who returns in Colony in Space: Episode Two as Holden. Froyn is played by Bill Meilen who has an appearance in the modern Battlestar Galactica to his name appearing in the season 1 episode Act of Contrition as the Caprica Cleric.

Having introduced Karlton in the last episode and had him be a big presence for all of this, looking like he's plotting to depose Chen at one stage, it's something of a surprise to discover that this is the last episode of the serial he appears in. That's it, he's gone just like that! Did Terry Nation mean to do something more with Karlton, and for that matter Lizan who returned in the previous episode, but not pass the idea on to Dennis Spooner, who writes the second half of the story? Or has Spooner just abandoned the characters in favour of doing something with an old favourite of his own? We will never know.

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For years the BBC believed they held one episode of this story: 4: The Traitors. Then, in 1978, that turned out to be awol from the film and vt library. One day in 1983 the BBC took a call from a Mormon church, now using an old BBC building. They had found a number of cans of film that had been left in the building and wondered if the BBC would like them back. In what was otherwise a pile of junk were 2 episodes of Doctor Who: the fifth and tenth parts of the Daleks' Masterplan. The story has grown and been distorted in the telling and even Richard's Molesworth's Wiped! Doctor Who's Missing Episodes isn't 100% definitive as to which church at what location found the material. If you think it unlikely that the BBC would just leave films lying around then come back for the Ice Warriors for more of the same! A nasty thought did occur to me: Given the previous fun with swapped film cans I hope that pile of junk was searched properly and the films checked to make sure they weren't anything interesting in the wrong box! However given that the man who searched through them, Steve Bryant, is now high up at the BFI I think we can be confident a thorough job was done.

So we were back on DVD again a mere two episodes after the last one. For many years this, the 14th episode of the season, used to be the earliest surviving episode of season 2, having taken record from The Ark episode 1, which was found at BBC Enterprises. Now it's been surpassed: first by Dalek Masteplan 2: Day of Armageddon in 2004 and then by Galaxy Four episode three: Airlock in 2011


7th May 2016 addition:

Since I blogged on this episode I've been made aware of something rather interesting in this episode: It's the first known appearance in Doctor Who of some items that will become familiar set elements.

It all began with a simple enough question:

On Roobarb's DVD Forum we have a thread for spotting reused props in Doctor Who. You'll need to register to see the Doctor Who threads before you can read it but here's a link: http://www.zetaminor.com/roobarb/showthread.php?28478-Prop-Spotting/page9

When Underwater Menace came out on DVD one of the telesnaps used in the reconstruction of episode 4 caught my eye:

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The Control Panel on the rear wall with all the knobs and dials and lines connecting them was ringing a bell for me. So I asked: where have we seen that before?

Several suggestions were made, including the usual "Look at The Curse Of The Fly" and "I'm sure I've seen that in Out of the Unknown" but someone actually found the panel in an episode of The Avengers, 'The House that Jack Built', broadcast 4th March 1966 which was 2 1/2 months after Counterplot was broadcast.

One small problem: It had five friends.

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Once I'd seen them I started spotting them all over the place in sixties television.

The earliest use we can find is in episodes of the 1965 first season of Out of the Unknown. I went through my Out of the Unknown DVD Set and found the following appearances:

The first two photos comes from the second episode, The Counterfeit Man, broadcast 11th October 1965:

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Then we have a pair in the 5th story, Time in Advance, broadcast 1st November 1965. You can see the panel I first spotted in The Underwater Menace here:

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Finally another in the 7th story, Sucker Bait, broadcast 15th November 1965.

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This brings us up to date as Sucker Bait was broadcast 2 days after the first episode of Dalek Masterplan, The Nightmare Begins.

Four episodes later we come to Counterplot and the d├ębut of these panels in Doctor Who. There's a lovely panning shot round the room so you get to see most of them. The second control panel, obscured in the first photo, is one you'll see again.

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The third panel, on the left of the left photo, and the sixth, on the right of the right photo, are both in the shot from the Avengers above. The two middle control panels, in both photos, are very, very similar but ever so slightly different

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There's a couple more control panels clockwise of these. Take note, you'll see them again!

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Then, two days after Counterplot aired, the 11th Out of the Unknown episode, Thirteen to Centaurus, broadcast 13th December, showed some more control panels and another you'll recognise from the Avengers picture above

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The control panels can next be glimpsed in episode 6, Coronas of the Sun, which makes me think designers Raymond Cusick and Barry Newbury may have used them elsewhere in this story. Could they have appeared earlier than this? Quite possibly Most of Galaxy Four and all of Mission to The Unknown doesn't exist. We have all the more science fiction themed episodes of Docto Who prior to that and nobody has spotted one in any of those episodes yet.

In 1966 they go on to appear in the episode of The Avengers mentioned above before their next known Doctor Who appearance in The War Machines.

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