Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 104: Volcano (The Daleks' Master Plan, Episode Eight)
Sometimes, there's so much useless Doctor Who knowledge buzzing around in my head that I simply ignore bits of it. I file it away in a cabinet marked 'you'll probably never need to know this' and go on thinking about something else. The nice effect this has is that elements of Doctor Who surprise me, when they probably really shouldn't.
Take today's episode, for example. It's the return of the Meddling Monk! Now, I knew - somewhere in the back of my mind - that the Monk returned in this story. I'm sure I knew that. Heck, the BBC's official 50th Anniversary website has an entry for the Monk in which he's surrounded by Volcanoes! Yet still, I didn't manage to piece it together until almost the last moment.
When this episode opens, the TARDIS is being pursued through the vortex by another time vessel. Steven speculates that it has to be the Daleks, and the Doctor thinks that he's probably right about that. Meanwhile, we keep cutting back to Kembel, where the Daleks are preparing to send a time machine out to hunt for them. It wasn't until the Daleks were ready to leave the planet that I suddenly realised that it couldn't be them chasing the TARDIS, and it all fell into place!
Aside from that nice surprise, this episode is a bit lackluster. It feels like a number of left over ideas from The Chase being added in to help pad out the story a little further. What if the TARDIS were to materialise in the middle of a cricket match? What if it turns up on New Year's Eve, during the countdown? It can't just be fleeting materialisations (and what happened to the ship needing twelve minutes to take off again?), so we get a showdown between the Doctor and the Monk, but rather than the great back-and-forth we saw between them last series, it just dissolves into a bit of laughing, and then we find that the Doctor has been trapped here.
Even then, it only takes the Doctor a matter of minutes to fix the problem and get them back on their way again. To be honest, the whole episode feels like padding before we can get onto the really interesting stuff.
Where things do still fall into place for me is when we spend time with the Daleks on Kembel. These are still the ruthless creatures I've grown used to this season, and they're by far the best thing about this episode. That they allow one of the delegates to die for them as proof that he is truly devoted to his cause is sinister enough. The fact that he survives the experiment - so they exterminate him anyway, just because they were expecting a death - is even worse. These Daleks are unlike any we've had before, and they're a fantastic breed of the creatures.
To tell the truth, though, I think things need to get back to Kembel full-time. While I still believe this tale could be seen as more than one story, it feels like its flagging a little in the middle here - they don't really know what to do with the characters before we head back in for the final showdown. I'm hoping that the final four episodes are where we bring things back into focus…
Next Episode: Golden Death