Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 101: Counter Plot (The Daleks' Master Plan, Episode Five)
I'm a bit hit-and-miss with the episodes that survive from this era of the programme. I can easily list all the stories which have missing episodes, I just can't pin-point which odd episodes survive from Seasons Three, Four and Five. It's just a bit all over the place. I came into this story, for example, thinking that it was Episodes Four and Ten which existed in the archives, when it's actually Two, Five and Ten.
Would this, then, be an episode I'd have chosen out of the ones I've watched for this story so far? Well, yes and no. No because I'd have liked to have Episode Four complete in the archives - even if it is a bit of a bloodbath, it's an interesting one, at least! Or Episode One, maybe, to set up the story? Maybe Mission to the Unknown, if I can count that as a part of the tale…
On the other hand, this episode contains one of the scariest moments in Doctor Who so far. Hah! Oh yes, I can see you sitting up at the back there, trying to rack your brains and figure out what's got me so terrified of Counter Plot. Is it the mice? The sinister bald man? The invisible creatures on the planet Mira?
No. It's the Doctor. Babelcolour has a wonderful video on his YouTube page, which collects together a number of short clips he's colorised from the Hartnell era. There's also a rather fantastic Troughton one on the page, too. There's a shot in that First Doctor one, though, which has freaked me out since the very first time I watched it, and it turns out it's from this episode.
It comes from the moment that the Doctor, Steven, and Sara first get caught in the molecular dissemination experiment, and we see the image posterise as they go through the pain of being disassembled. One of the shots features Hartnell rolling his head around in a circle, with a vacant expression on his face and a wide grin. Frankly, it's terrifying. I've genuinely seen that shot in a dream after watching the video, and it's no less freaky in black and white (even if it is less psychedelic). Aside from that potentially scarring shot, it's certainly worth checking out Babelcolour's videos, because they're stunning.
Quite aside from that moment, there's not an awful lot to note about Counter Plot. This is the 'sagging' part of the story, and I'm hoping that it won't be dragged out for too long. Our heroes - and Sara - are transported to what appears to be another jungle planet, and I'm just thankful that their surroundings have yet to be described as being more animal than vegetation.
The invisible creatures are realised quite well (that's an odd thing to say), and I've certainly enjoyed them (even if they seem to serve little purpose). Early on, I did think how nice it would be if they were able to achieve a footprint effect, before realising they wouldn't really have the technology to pull it off - and then they do! Weyhey! Good old Camfield. Incidentally, how did they do it? Is there a series of footprint-shaped bits under the sand that can be dropped down? Stop motion? Someone put me out of my misery, I wanna know!
And then there's Sara Kingdom. She comes around to understanding the truth a little easily, if anything. I thought we were going to see her coming after the Doctor and Steven for a bit before giving in and joining their side in the battle against the Daleks. It's a shame to see her switch teams so simply, and after she's killed her own brother for it. The fact that Bret is her brother is one of the well-known facts about this story, so it's shame to see it treated so simply here, in a moment that you could easily overlook. I had high hopes for Sara, and I'm hoping that she'll live up to them before too long.
If nothing else, the cliffhanger - 'I'm afraid, my friends, the Daleks have won' - is striking, and a wonderful note to end on. Here's hoping that things get back to the higher standard again for the next episode…
Next Episode: Coronas of the Sun