16 April 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 106: Escape Switch (The Daleks' Master Plan, Episode Ten)

Dear diary,

“Everyone loves Magical Chen, agreed to work as the Daleks' lackey and then, got caught in a chase for the Teranium case, flying though time, it's all such a crime…”

What? I love a good Billy Fluff, me, and the moment when he refers to one of their enemies as 'Magic Chen' instantly set of a verse of the 'Magical Trevor' song in my head. Truth be told, it's still going round there, now, and I'll be a bit disappointed if I don't hear a Dalek singing it by the end of the next episode.

Oh, all right. I should have known that returning to an episode that really exists in the archives would turn things back around for me. I mused yesterday that Douglas Camfield's direction of the fight scenes between the Daleks and the Egyptians would probably be a highlight, and I think that this episode proves that completely.

It has to be said - and this must be an effect of moving into this period where there's more and more missing episodes - when the titles faded away and I saw an actual image of the Pharaoh's treasures, it took me back a bit! It's been a while since I saw a moving episode that wasn't animated (well, a 'while'. Four days. It feels like longer. I blame all that time we wasted mucking around on the volcano world), so something just struck me as odd about it here. Trust me, by the time I finish Season Four, I'll have forgotten that Doctor Who isn't a radio series.

This is probably a good point to mention the way that I tackle the missing episodes, as it's something I get asked about fairly often. I always listen to them now as the narrated soundtracks, or occasionally as an animation (as in the case of Mission to the Unknown or The Feast of Steven). People often ask why I'm not following along with a recon of some sort and the answer is, simply, that I just can't get into them. Oh, believe me, I've tried!

Some of them are fantastic, certainly, and it's the way that I watched Marco Polo, but I find that they just put me off a bit. Truth be told, when I was headed towards this season, the thought of having to sit and watch that many reckons was almost enough to nix the whole diary. I considered hiding in a wardrobe until the Jon Pertwee years landed and missing episodes were a thing of the past. But the narrated soundtracks, I've found myself getting really hooked on (A real U-turn - I couldn't bear the one I listened to for The Roof of the World back in January).

But enough about narrated soundtracks and reconstructed episodes - we can see this one properly! It moves and everything! And - oh - is it just me or does Douggie get better every time? There's a shot in this episode where the Sun morphs into a reflection on a Dalek dome, and I couldn't quite believe what I'd just watched. It. Was. Stunning.

It also means that we get to see the gorgeous shots of the Daleks gliding through the half-constructed Pyramids. It's hard to refrain from using the word 'stunning' here, too. I've said it before, and I've little doubt that I'll say it again before the 60s are out, but this version of the Dalek prop is perhaps my favourite. They just look so good.

And as the bad guys, they're still coming across better here than at any other point we've seen them so far. Remember back in The Daleks, when I complained that the final battle essentially boiled down to them being overthrown by a handful of Thals in leather trousers? That wouldn't happen to this bunch. This lot are set upon by a hoard of Egyptian slaves, and the Daleks just plough though them, exterminating en masse.

Yesterday, I complained that I'd rather have had an Egypt story told on its own terms, away from this story arc about the Daleks and Mavic Chen. As it is, having been though this episode now, too, I think I've had a perfectly good story. Two episodes feels about the right length for this tale - though I can still see how they might get four from it, with the Daleks and the Monk only turning up half-way - and I've really enjoyed it. The ending seems to imply that the Monk is out of the way now, and with the Doctor headed back to Kembel to finish up the story from way back when, so I'll be sad to see him leave. It's been great to have him back again, and he's been far better served in this Egypt portion of the tale than he was by the leftovers from The Chase.

I can't let this episode pass without mentioning the discovery of the film prints. This one, along with the print for Counter Plot were the ones that infamously turned up in the basement of a church (Mormon or others, depending on which version of the story you're being told). The rediscovery of missing episodes is a fascinating topic, and I love the tales of where things were found - this has to be my favourite of the bunch. It's just so, so, surreal. Perfect for this story, then!

Next Episode: The Abandoned Planet

Next Episode: The Abandoned Planet 
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