Deep in the screeching jungles of the planet Kembel, something sinister is stirring. It’s the Daleks, the most evil creatures ever invented, putting together their most audacious scheme yet in their aim to achieve mastery and dominion over every living creature in the Universe. The construction of the formidable and devastating Time Destructor is the core of their Master Plan - and it will take twelve weeks of Doctor Who (thirteen including the prelude episode “Mission to the Unknown”) for the Doctor (William Hartnell) and his sturdy chum Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) to put a stop to their antics.
The Daleks’ Master Plan (1965-66) is the longest serial in the history of classic Doctor Who (rumoured, possibly apocryphally, to have been commissioned because then BBC Managing Director Huw Wheldon’s mother-in-law was a big fan of the pesky pepperpots which had so quickly secured Doctor Who its place in TV legend) and, frustratingly, only three of its dozen episodes survive in the BBC Archive. Audio recordings exist, of course, thanks to an enterprising fan who taped the original TV transmissions and, indeed, these recordings - with sensitive narration from co-star Peter Purves to paper over the missing visual cracks - have already been made available on CD. But the BBC, keen to keep the Doctor Who money-making machine rolling (and, perhaps, to capitalise on the resurgence of the vinyl format) have licensed Demon Records to issue the serial all over again on this lavish, desirable 7-LP heavyweight translucent blue vinyl set (with a ‘splatter’ vinyl edition available exclusively via Amazon). It’ll cost, you, however, with the set costing a tick under £100.
You do, however, get a decent amount of bang for your buck. The serial, written by Dalek creator Terry Nation and former series script editor Dennis Spooner, is a big comic book space opera romp, spanning the wilds of Kembel, the prison planet Desperus, the planet Mira and its invisible inhabitants, ancient Egypt and, in the show’s first festive episode, the pantomime-ish Feast of Steven, 1920s Hollywood via a police station not a million miles away from the style of popular 1960s cop series Z-Cars which ends with William Hartnell’s Doctor breaking, if not shattering, the fourth wall by wishing viewers at home a Happy Christmas. It’s all very random, with a real sense of “we’re absolutely making this up week by week”, but it works thanks to the military precision direction of the late Douglas Camfield and the BBC’s willingness to create a Galaxy-spanning space saga on a budget even a shoestring would envy.
William Hartnell’s Doctor is a curmudgeonly joy despite the fact that the actor clearly isn’t comfortable in a jargon-heavy sci-fi setting, and he’s solidly supported by Purves as the dependable Steven, Adrienne Hill as the ill-fated Katarina (the first companion to die in the series), Jean Marsh as space agent Sarah Kingdom, and Who legend Nicholas Courtney making a pre-Brigadier appearance as space spy Bret Vyon. But the stars of the show are undoubtedly Kevin Stoney as the inscrutable, treacherous bad boy Mavic Chen, the Guardian of Earth and, of course, the screeching, hysterical Daleks who sweep through the serial exterminating, barking orders, and demanding allegiance from the weird alien delegates allying themselves with the Daleks. Great fun.
Whether you want this new vinyl set in your life depends as much on the depth of your pockets as your sense of completism (it’s the first in a new series of vinyl Who releases, apparently, so prepare to dig deeply and regularly), but The Daleks’ Master Plan remains a thrilling and often exhilarating romp, sympathetically presented on audio, which again demonstrates the breadth of Doctor Who’s ambition back in its early days.
DOCTOR WHO: THE DALEKS’ MASTER PLAN / NARRATOR: PETER PURVES / CAST: WILLIAM HARTNELL, PETER PURVES, ADRIENNA HILL, JEAN MARSH, NICHOLAS COURTNEY, KEVIN STONEY, PETER BUTTERWORTH / LABEL: DEMON RECORDS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW