Tuesday 1 November 2011

344 Planet of the Daleks Episode One

EPISODE: Planet of the Daleks Episode One
TRANSMITTED: 07 April 1973
WRITER: Terry Nation
DIRECTOR: David Maloney
SCRIPT EDITOR: Terrance Dicks
PRODUCER: Barry Letts
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - Dalek War: Frontier in Space & Planet of the Daleks
Episode Format: 625 video

Jo lies the Doctor down on a bed as he falls into a deep coma leaving him ice cold. She records her thoughts on the Tardis log. The Tardis lands in deep jungle and she goes to find help. Something unseen stalks her through the jungle. While exploring a local plant spits some liquid onto her hand which stings. The Doctor wakes to find the Tardis oxygen supply being depleted. Jo finds a crashed spaceship with a body in a spacesuit. She is in turn found by Taron & Vaber two blonde haired men who think Earth is a name from their legends. They tell her that she was lucky that "they" didn't find her before a third man Codal arrives reporting a patrol is nearby. She directs them to where the Doctor is and they leave, but she remains in the ship. She hears heavy breathing as objects start moving seemingly by themselves. The Doctor is still trying to repair the Tardis oxygen supply but is failing and then finds he cannot open the door. The men chip a mould away from the Tardis doors allowing them to be opened and the Doctor rescued. His rescuers tell him they are from Skaro and the Doctor recognises them as Thals. He tells them he was there during the Dalek war. Vaber doubts his story but Taron recalls his presence from their legends. Taron finds the Doctor has been infected by the fungus and treats it. They tell him he is on Spiridons, home of the invisible Spiridons. They are there on a secret mission, but Vaber is despairing of their chances of success having lost 4 of their 7 man party. Jo has collapsed in the spaceship overwhelmed by the fungus. The Thals hear something approaching, which they think has been overwhelmed by lightwave sickness. Using a liquid paint spray they reveal their previously invisible foe: A Dalek !

And off we go again. Just in case you've missed the last week's episode, and haven't read the title on the credits or the Radio Times, both the Doctor & the Thals keep quiet as to who they're fighting till the end of the episode when the Dalek is dramatically revealed using spray paint. But hey, it's Dalek story and tradition states that your Dalek has to be obscured till the end of the first episode. Returning writer Terry Nation, who hasn't contributed since Dalek Masterplan, and director, David Maloney, absent since the War Games at the end of the Troughton era, know what's expected of them and deliver. Nation in particular tucks into his back catalogue with glee giving us Thals (The Daleks), a jungle that sees "more animal than plant" (Kembal in The Dalek Masterplan, Mechanus in the final few episodes of The Chase and The Keys of Marinus Part 3: The Screaming Jungle), ruins (Screaming Jungle again) and invisible monsters (The Visiains in Dalek Masterplan 5 & 6). Yet there's odd signs here our Tel is starting to look towards the future: We've got a Thal called Taron which isn't a million miles from Tarrant, a name that will be familiar to anyone who's seen any post Planet Terry Nation stories, and I don't mean just Doctor Who either! Then there's the guns, connected to the belt of the spacesuits by a power flex (it's little details like this that people have claimed Nation was prone to include at the expense of things like dialogue): hardly unlike the guns on the Liberator in Blake's 7 at all...

Lots of things in this episode just make me giggle: the bed unit in the Tardis is so obviously 70s MFI! Then there's the Tardis Log: obviously a cassette case. Lots of the Thal gear is recycled: the suits are the Spacesuits the Astronauts wear in Ambassadors OF DEATH while the helmet, seen on what I assume is the body of their commander, is another reuse for Beaus helmet. You do wonder why the Thals would keep the body of one of their crewmates in it's seat in the ship, especially as they still seem to be using it. I know the wobble of the ship set is designed to make it look like the ship's sitting unstably but all it makes me think of is a very holiday caravan. Actually the body in the spacesuit reminds me of a scene in the Space 1999 episode Another Time, Another Place (by future Doctor Who writer Johnny Byrne) where John Koenig & Alan Carter find their own corpses in spacesuits aboard a crashed Eagle.

We are now forced to consider why the Tardis' Oxygen supply runs out, an old fashioned device to force the crew out of the Tardis similar to the fluid links failing or running out of Mercury. From a plot point of view it's not necessary: Jo will leave the Tardis looking for help and the Doctor, when he recovers, will go to look for Jo. It just adds a little peril for the Doctor. I can conceive that the Tardis takes on fresh air when it lands and this mechanism gets blocked by the fungus spraying plants. But the Tardis is a huge ship that voyages through space & time, surely it should have a huge onboard air supply? So why do we run out of air so quickly? Fortunately the show's immediate and recent past provide us with not one but two convenient explanations: the first is the Doctor damaged the Tardis' life support systems while attempting to repair it while it was immobilised by the Time Lords and has only just found out now the air intake has been blocked. A more likely explanation however is that the Master has deliberately sabotaged his old friend's ship. He had it in his possession for most of Frontier in Space and it wouldn't be out of character for the Master to leave a little trap behind as a parting gift for his friend.

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