Magic Bullet Productions

The Daleks' Master Plan: The Unfolding Text

By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
(With thanks to Donald Tosh)

Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 395

“The Daleks' Master Plan” is generally regarded as a classic of early Doctor Who, and the most successful product of the chaotic creativity which defined Season Three. However, some of its most fascinating aspects come not from the story itself, but from the complex processes behind the scenes throughout its creation and rewriting.

On Tuesday 6th October, 1964, Dennis Spooner, in his capacity as Doctor Who's story editor, briefed the BBC's Copyright Department to commission from Terry Nation a new six-part adventure for the second recording block, with a target delivery date of 30th  January 1965. Nation wasn't keen, and in December gave an interview to the Daily Mail were he stated, “I don't want the Daleks back. The BBC do. They've insisted on it.” Nation's draft scripts for “The Chase” were finally delivered in mid February 1965, and Spooner was required to perform extensive rewrites. However, Terry Nation was now a household name, and so Spooner and producer Verity Lambert were soon asking Nation to supply another six-part Dalek serial for season three. Nation agreed, and on 25th February was also commissioned for “Dalek Cutaway,” a one-episode trailer for this new adventure which wouldn't feature the Doctor or the regular cast at all.

Following the broadcast of episode one of “The Chase,” which received ten million viewers, the new Head of Serials, Gerald Savory, requested from Lambert that the next Dalek serial should be extended from six to twelve parts. This request had come directly from Head of Drama Sidney Newman, who was responding to a request from the BBC's Managing Director Huw Wheldon that there should be more Daleks in the programme (Wheldon's mother-in-law, Mrs L.G. Stroud, liked the Daleks, and Wheldon believed her opinions reflected those of the average viewer). On 28th May, Lambert responded that, subject to negotiation with their respective agents, the upcoming Dalek serial would be extended to twelve parts and jointly written by Nation and Spooner.

On 5 July 1965, incoming story editor Donald Tosh briefed the Copyright Department to commission Spooner for six episodes of “The Daleks' Master Plan” (Spooner was unable to commission himself as that would have been a breach of restrictions regarding story editors writing for their own shows) and eleven days later Spooner briefed the Copyright Department to commission Nation.

This would seem not to leave Nation or Spooner a great deal of time to complete their scripts, as the shooting of  film inserts was scheduled to begin at Ealing on 27th September. However, according to Tosh, extensive discussions concerning “The Daleks' Master Plan” involving Nation, Spooner, director Douglas Camfield, incoming producer John Wiles and himself took place, at least a month before the scripts were officially commissioned. Clearly Nation was still writing “Devil's Planet” when Wiles decided to drop Maureen O'Brien from the regular cast, as he notes in his draft script that “not knowing the name or character of the girl who will replace Vicki, I have continued to refer to her as Vicki throughout the script. Her dialogue has been reduced to a minimum to assist in rewriting her. T.N.” According to Tosh, the point where he realised Katarina was not going to work as a replacement ongoing character was when he received Paul Erickson's early scripts for “The Ark,” episode one of which was delivered on 18th August 1965. This would suggest that Nation's draft script for “The Traitors” (which killed off Katrina and introduced new companion Sara Kingdom) was written sometime after this date, since it is clear that some form of character outline had been provided as his script for this episode notes that following her death, the Doctor should give “a speech here to cover the character of the girl, and her belief that indeed she would be the daughter of the gods.” Nation continues, “I'll leave this to you as the speech depends on what you have previously established.”

Although we do not have Spooner's draft scripts for his episodes, copies of Nation's do exist, and the rewrites give some indication of how the story developed. Nation's draft scripts appear to have been delivered sometime prior to the 7th September, because it was on this date that John Wiles sent Nation a letter thanking him for his scripts, but also raising a number of suggested changes that had been put forward by Camfield, Tosh and himself. These mainly related to name changes, the argument being that, in another two thousand years, contemporary names will have been corrupted into something else. Therefore, “Brett Walton,” for example, becomes Bret Vyon. There was also some concern about the references to “New Washington,” in that they felt that by the year four thousand the world would be united, and owing allegiance to nothing that we would recognise today.

Clearly Nation was following a similar tack to the one he had pursued when writing “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” which, while nominally set in 2164, was actually, for all intents and purposes, set in 1964. Consequently, the political machinations of “New Washington” were meant to recall the then fairly recent political manoeuvrings of US foreign policy, in particular the Cuban Missile Crisis. In broadly fictional terms, Cuba becomes Kembel, Kennedy becomes the charismatic Mavic Chen, the Soviets become the Daleks, and their nuclear missile bases become the Time Destructor, a device that can blast a planet back to the stone age, and is powered by Taranium, a name derived from Tarrant (Kate Nation's pet name for her husband) and uranium. The plot point regarding the process of mining a full emm of Taranium taking fifty years also points to this, as Werner Heisenberg, working on the development of the atomic bomb for Nazi Germany, famously estimated that it would require at least fifty kilograms of uranium-238 (which turned out to be far in excess of requirements), and thus that it would take a considerable amount of time to mine enough of the element to produce such a device. The production team, nevertheless, felt it would be in the story's interests to give it a more abstract and  universal tone.

However, although the core of the story and the scene sequence remained the same from Nation's initial submissions through to the camera-ready scripts, the differences between the final screened version and Nation's draft scripts go much further than changes of personnel and naming. One thing which Nation's scripts do have is a lot of description: character description, set description, action description, even suggestions based on his own past experience on how certain special effects might be achieved, but, for a TV show running on a small budget, not a lot of dialogue. In the sequences involving the experimental station in “The Traitors,” for instance, there are a couple of additional exterior scenes of Sara Kingdom and her team scouting the area with a pair of "space age field glasses," using walkie-talkies, and taking positions before making their attack. These scenes, which were later dropped,  have a cinematic feel not typical of BBC television at that time. Nevertheless, although the final version does contain more in the way of dialogue and explanation, it still remains one of the more visual stories of Doctor Who's history: Karlton's special force, the “Technix,” for instance, who were deliberately all cast to resemble Maurice Browning so as to suggest that they might be clones of Karlton, were an almost entirely visual detail which is, consequently, largely lost to current audiences. The final version, therefore, retains the visual flavour of Nation's initial concept, but brings it more into line with the conventions of 1960s public television production.

Nation's original dialogue also contains less in the way of interesting and subtle characterisation compared to the final version. A good example of this is the scene in CCE between Lizan and Roald from “The Nightmare Begins.” In the draft script (in which the two characters are men called “Reinman” and “Gilson”), both speak of their respect and admiration for Mavic Chen, and the plot point is established that Chen has claimed that he is taking a holiday. The final version, although conveying the same plot point and also establishing that Chen is much liked by the populace, is made more interesting by contrasting the views of Lizan, a woman who is a fervent supporter of Chen, with Roald, a man whose views of the politician are slightly more cynical.

However, the most extensive changes due to Tosh and, to some extent, Camfield's rewriting of the script relate to the characterisation and intentions of Mavic Chen. In the original version, Chen comes across as an uncontrolled maniac, with what the draft script describes as “a glint of madness and fanaticism,” rather than the outwardly calm, experienced political player of the final story: the scene in which Zephon questions Chen's logic in, essentially, betraying his own people, which in the final version shows Chen skilfully manipulating his interrogator, in the first draft features Chen leaping up and toppling his chair as he explodes with rage at the suggestion. The political one-upmanship as Chen subtly engineers the deaths of the various delegates is also missing from the original, as is Chen's suspicion of his Dalek allies. The initial version also lacks the element of counterplotting as Chen, in dialogue with Karlton, attempts to outmaneuver the Daleks.

Chen's original plan, also, was much less subtle and, indeed, credible. The Daleks intend to use the Time Destructor's ability to “put an entire planet back into the past” to occupy worlds at times when the inhabitants' technological and social development is too limited to permit effective resistance. In the first draft, Chen is aware of this property of the Time Destructor right from the very beginning and collaborates with the Daleks in order to return the Earth to an earlier time so that he can take over himself: he says “the Earth can start again, but without the shackles of infantile philosophies like democracy. It will be a new and virgin land which can be shaped... into the image that I design.” Dialogue indicates that the Daleks will permit him to save fifty individuals from the contemporary Solar System, who will presumably become the new ruling elite; however, Chen also maintains a hidden force, with the intention that these will attack and defeat the Daleks once Chen's plan has been put into effect.

In the final, Chen is aware that his position with the Daleks and their allies on the Universal Council is precarious, and his plan, as deduced from his and Karlton's dialogue in “Counterplot,” as they engineer an alternative strategy in the wake of the Doctor's theft of the Taranium, is more complex. Chen's original intention is to sow dissent and suspicion among the Daleks and their allies, then, once their invasion of the Solar System is launched, he will counterstrike with a tactical force hidden on Venus. The destruction of the Dalek-led attack, would deal a final death blow to the alliance, and also allow him to begin a justifiable counteroffensive against the alliance's members, using the incident to unite the galaxy and ultimately, through military means, the known universe, under his leadership. Again there is historical precedence, as this strategy is much in line with the tactics used by Stalin to take over most of Eastern Europe at the close of World War II. Chen's gambit only fails because the Daleks have outmaneuvered him, in that the alliance is simply a front (this time echoing the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939) under whose cover the Daleks have assembled both a powerful invasion fleet of their own and the means to construct the fearsome Time Destructor. Where the original version has Chen as more of a Quisling-figure, the final gives him a political acumen in line with the most successful political leaders of the twentieth century.

The result of the collaboration between Nation, Spooner, Wiles, Tosh and Camfield over “The Daleks' Master Plan” is to make it one of the best (and arguably, the best) stories of the series' history, combining melodrama with a shrewd sense of realpolitik. “Master Plan” goes beyond simple allegory or action-adventure, making it as fascinating now as when first broadcast.

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