Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Doctor Who: 021 The Daleks' Master Plan

Before Verity Lambert left the series at the end of Mission to the Unknown, she commissioned a massive epic story starring the Doctor's nemesis, the Daleks: The Daleks' Master Plan. "Dalekmania" was sweeping the UK and a feature film starring Peter Cushing as the Doctor in a re-imagining of the 1963 serial The Daleks was released earlier that same year, so this was the perfect time to do a Dalek story. Sadly, the new producer John Wiles chose not to have telesnaps made during his short time as producer and this serial was never screened outside the UK, so the likelyhood of recovering lost episodes certainly seems grim. :(

This seems as good a time as any to discuss the way episodes were stored, lost, and recovered. Apparently, the master copies of BBC television programs were on 2 inch video tape, but the BBC transferred them to 16mm film stock for sale overseas. Once the overseas stations showed the program, they either sent the film back or destroyed it. In the 70's the BBC decided to wipe these old video tapes (keep in mind that video tapes were not as common and not readily available to consumers at that point). They incorrectly assumed that the film archives contained copies of all the programs they were wiping. They also destroyed a number of the 16mm prints, again assuming that there were copies stored in the archive. It was through the actions of fans such as Ian Levine that this process was stopped. By this point, however, many programs had been irreversibly lost.

Most of the recovered episodes have been the 16mm film transfers - either from collectors (many of whom rescued them from the trash) or from overseas stations who didn't destroy or send back their copies. Australia and New Zealand often censored the episodes, so copies that came back from those countries often had bits missing, although it appears that most, if not all, of the censored material was kept by the Australian government and some was retained in New Zealand as well. This means that we have some "scary bits" from otherwise lost episodes. :) One of the most amusing cuts is from The War Machines where the segment cut by the Australian censors was actually recovered because it was featured in the BBC children's program Blue Peter. :) There's a very good documentary called "The Missing Years" which appears on the Lost in Time: The Troughton Years DVD which goes into great detail about these missing episodes. Also, the Wikipedia article on missing episodes goes into much more detail about the political and financial reasons why the wiping took place.

Understanding a little of how episodes were lost and found brings us back to The Daleks' Master Plan and its teaser episode Mission to the Unknown. Of the 12 episodes of The Daleks' Master Plan, only 11 were actually transferred to 16mm film stock, so the Christmas episode "The Feast of Stephen" is most likely lost forever. :( Neither of these serials was screened outside the UK, so the likelyhood of finding a copy outside the UK is virtually nil although there was a viewing copy of The Daleks' Master Plan (minus the Christmas episode) sent to Austrailia. ABC declined to purchase it and the fate of that viewing copy is unknown. Fortunately, three episodes of this serial DO exist and were lovingly restored and released on the Lost in Time DVD set. Episode 5 and 10 were discovered in the basement of a Mormon church that was in a building the BBC used to own. Episode 2 was returned by a former BBC engineer in 2004. Considering that last year two episodes of two other serials were found, there's still hope that more of these might turn up or the viewing copies sent to Australia might show up. I'll keep my fingers crossed... :)

For the missing episodes, again we turn to the Loose Cannon reconstruction. This reconstruction is unique in many respects. At the time Loose Cannon was working on this, there were only two episodes known to exist (5 and 10) of the 12 episodes. Loose Cannon did a full reconstruction of the 10 missing episodes, then just a few months after they released the reconstruction, episode 2 was returned to the BBC. Due to the time and effort that went into the reconstruction, Loose Cannon decided not to redo the reconstruction. Sadly, this means that the reconstructions of episodes 1 and 3 do not benefit from the opening and closing footage of episode 2. Also, the delegates' makeup and costumes in the reconstructions were largely based on pictures from Mission to the Unknown. When episode 2 of this serial was discovered, it was noted that some of the costumes and makeup of the delegates had changed between the two serials (Trantis, for instance). Another thing that makes this reconstruction unique is the use of CGI. They created some 3D computer models of Daleks and used them to "animate" parts of the story to add a more dynamic element to the reconstruction. Even without telesnaps, the reconstruction is nothing short of amazing. If you're really interested in how Loose Cannon does these reconstructions, there is an episode by episode breakdown for this reconstruction which makes fascinating reading. These guys are doing all this out of their love for the show, but they are certainly professionals and I would be willing to buy a DVD of several of these reconstructions if they were able to make them available.

I originally thought about breaking this blog post into two parts for the first and second half of this story. If I had, my reaction to the first half would have been that this is a decent story. After having watched the entire thing, my reaction has changed: Wow, what an excellent story. This is probably one of the best Dalek stories in the classic series. The last few minutes of the final episode is particulary gripping even watching it as a reconstruction. As you've probably noticed, I'm not doing a synopsis of the episodes. If you want that, there are plenty of places to find that including Wikipedia. I've also tried to avoid spoilers, although some spoilers are unavoidable when talking about this serial.

While the serial is officially 12 parts, part 7 fell on Christmas Day, so they decided to do a Christmas episode (which is now a yearly tradition with the revived series). That means the Dalek story is actually an 11 part story (with the Christmas episode thrown in the middle). Before watching this, my major fear with such a long story was that it would have pacing problems, as is common in some of the classic serials. Of the first 6 episodes, I only felt that there were slight pacing problems in episode 6: the invisible monsters on the planet Mira seemed unneccessary and really added little to the overall Dalek story. The cliffhanger ends with them being unable to see anything on the scanner and the Doctor saying the atmosphere is poisonous.

Then we have the Christmas episode... I think some people love this and others hate it. I thought it was absolutely hilarious and was literally Laughing Out Loud while watching it. The only connection in this episode to the Dalek story arc of the overall serial is a bit of dialog along these lines: "Is the taranium safe?" "Yes, it's right here." "Good, the Daleks mustn't get it." "I'd almost forgotten about the Daleks." "You must never do that." Other than those couple of lines, this episode could easily be watched as a standalone and the rest of the serial can be watched without this episode and still make sense. This episode starts with some bumbling policemen (ala Keystone Kops minus the slapstick humor), then when the TARDIS lands on the set of a silent film, the action really turns slapstick and actually includes Keystone Kops and even silent film cue cards such as "Meanwhile in TARDIS..." When I saw the first of these cue cards, LOL turned into ROFL. :) At the end of all of this, the Doctor turns to the camera, breaking the "fourth wall," and tells the TV audience at home to have a Happy Christmas. While this episode does start with the cliffhanger from part 6, there is no cliffhanger for this episode.

Then we have the second half of the story in which the Meddling Monk reappears and tries to take revenge on the Doctor for leaving him stranded at the end of The Time Meddler. The Doctor bounces around a couple of places being followed by the Meddling Monk and eventually ends up in ancient Egypt and the Daleks follow him there. To me, the addition of the Meddling Monk to the Dalek storyline was overly ambitious and introduced pacing problems for the main Dalek story as it lasted through episodes 8, 9, and 10. Not that I minded seeing the Meddling Monk again, but I think it could have been a serial unto itself. Plus, the bouncing around through space and time being chased by the Daleks had been in done in the previous season's serial The Chase (incidentally the story right before The Time Meddler). The Chase was not one of my favorite Dalek stories, and at 6 episodes had some pacing problems itself. The Dalek story resumed in earnest in the end of episode 10. By episode 12 when the Doctor turns on the Time Destructor and he and Sara are trying to make it back to the TARDIS before everything around them is destroyed, I was on the edge of my seat until the final resolution. When it was all said and done and the end credits rolled on episode 12, I literally said "Wow... just WOW!" It was that powerful and moving. As I mentioned, even with the pacing problems in the center of the story, I think this has to be one of the best Dalek stories in the entire classic series. I certainly hope more episodes of this are found (perhaps the Australian viewing copies?).

This story is notable for several other things besides being the longest serial (other than the 14 episode The Trial of a Time Lord which is really a series of several stories that make up an arc). This marks the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney, who would later play Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart and become to only actor to work with all 7 of the Doctors in the classic series, although his appearance with Six was a cameo in the charity special Dimensions in Time. Big Finish teamed him up Six (for a proper adventure) and with Eight to bring the Brig's total to 8 classic Doctors. While he never appeared with Nine or Ten, he did show up on The Sarah Jane Adventures where he and Clyde talk about the Doctor (Ten at the time) and Eleven tried to call him only to find that the Brig had died in a scene added in honor of the actor's passing early last year. Sadly, his first actual appearance is in episode 1 and the only surviving clip from that episode doesn't feature him, so the earliest film footage we have of him is from the recovered episode 2.

This serial also marks the first on-screen death of a companion: Katarina, who came aboard the TARDIS in the last episode of the previous serial, gives her life to save the Doctor, Steven, and Bret early in episode 4 as the continuation of the cliffhanger from episode 3. Then in the conclusion to episode 12, Sara Kingdom becomes the second companion to die in a hearbreaking turn of events. I've heard people make a big deal out of Adric's death in Earthshock, but to me, these were a much bigger deal. Beside, I don't think fans grieved much for Adric. ;)

Wow... a massively long blog post for a massively long serial. I guess that's fitting. It's truly, truly sad that this one is missing so many parts. I only hope that additional parts are found and we can one day enjoy it in its entirety. Unfortunately, the 9 missing episodes in this serial alone more than doubles the running total for season 3, bringing the total for season 3 thus far to 17. :(

No comments:

Post a Comment