The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Merlyn's Laugh: "Volcano"/"Golden Death"/"Escape Switch" [The Daleks' Master Plan 8-10]

Well, we've left Terry Nation's episodes of this juggernaut behind, and Dennis Spooner is penning the story. Spooner's wit is a drier form of humor than is Nation's, but they each confront the same fundamental quandary: How do you wring drama out of the Doctor, Sara and Steven evading the Daleks and keeping the McGuffin away from them for yet three more episodes?

Spooner, as with his historical episodes, throws in some plot complications. The TARDIS i being chased by another time-traveling vehicle--the Daleks, in hot pursuit, they deduce. They land on Earth, to do repairs, but find themselves in the middle of the Ashes, where the cricket commenters take the appearance of the police box on the pitch as bad news for England, as its presence prevents play, and the announcers put me very much in mind of Chaters and Caldicott. The TARDIS dematerializes, having only cost England 2 1/2 minutes. . .

To land on a volcanic planet, where their pursuer is revealed as the Monk, seeking revenge. He messes with the TARDIS and gloats. The Doctor fixes the TARDIS, and we're away...

To ancient Egypt, where the Doctor expects only the Monk, but in fact, some Daleks with Mavic Chen are en route. (By the bye the TARDIS links pretty beat up again, and seems to have graffiti on it. Sara and Steven stalk the Monk (un, it's the Daleks, guys), while the Doctor fixes the lock.

The Daleks start exterminating ancient Egyptians (the Butterfly Effect isn't so much of a thing for the Daleks.) With Sara and Steven missing, the Doctor has finished his repairs, and goes in search of them.

Meanwhile, the Monk in fact arrives. Sporting some cool shades. The Doctor, wearing a really nice straw hat, stalks him.

Sara and Steven are thought by the Egyptians to be thieves, and possibly allied to the Daleks. They are held captive, but Sara begins to cut herself loose. She and Steven overpower the guards and escape. Meanwhile the Daleks and Chen capture the Monk. Chen begins to interrogate the Monk. He admits that the odd time machine out belongs to the Doctor, and that he wants to settle a score. Well, the Monk ends up getting forced into trying to trap the Doctor (he fails; the Doctor follows him, and changes his TARDIS's appearance from a stone pillar to...a police box. He walks off with a piece of the Monk's TARDIS, and follows him into the tomb. The Monk gets tied up by the Doctor as we can tell when Steven and Sara, entering the tomb find a heavy set figure trapped in a sarcophagus.

And then, blessedly, we move on to a live episode, not a recon.

The Daleks' Master Plan is a struggle in places, in part because the retcons lose so much of the action. The best work very well--The Myth Makers is the most recent example, but this story is so dense that the recons are not as useful as ideal. (Though the tele snaps of of Peter Purves struggling with guards and Jean Marsh in full-on Cathy Gale mode do work with the audio quite well).

But then we get Escape Switch, and realize how much even the best recons necessarily lose.

Kevin Stoney is eating the scenery as Mavic Chen, and remains a delight, slapping a Dalek's eyestalk when it doubts his ability to pull off his plan, but with moments of hesitation when he realizes they will turn on him if he doesn't pull off his mission.

Peter Butterworth as the Monk (now billed as "the Meddling Monk") is quite amusing as he desperately, and weakly, tries to play Dalek off against Sara and Steven, and then Steven (who has met him before) against Sara. When his schemes fail, and he finds himself wandering time and space in a TARDIS he can't steer--well--it works, that's all.

Steven's become fiery, yet not lost his sense of humor. Purves makes him likable, but tough. Not so tough as Sara, he admits, at one point (after they overpower their guards), remarking "remind me never to get into a fight with you."

Sara--oh, she's interesting. She's softening from the tough-as-nails Space Security Agent we first met, but she can pull that persona right back on, and it fits her like a glove. She's a lethal fighter, but she's befriending her companions, learning how to laugh. Jean Marsh really is awfully good in the part.

But the recons, by losing expression and movement, really undermine what Hartnell is doing as the Doctor.

Hartnell's performance here has become steadily more mannered, more "hmming" and laughing to himself. From the audio alone, it sounds off, with the movement and expression, you can see where Hartnell is going--he's Merlyn, as I've suggested. And that constant laughing reminds me of the story Robertson Davies tells in World of Wonders:
“The magician Merlin had a strange laugh, and it was heard when nobody else was laughing. He laughed at the beggar who was bewailing his fate as he lay stretched on a dunghill; he laughed at the foppish young man who was making a great fuss about choosing a pair of shoes. He laughed because he knew that deep in the dunghill was a golden cup that would have made the beggar a rich man; he laughed because he knew that the persnickety young man would be stabbed in a quarrel before the soles of his new shoes were soiled. He laughed because he knew what was coming next.”
The Doctor here is all reassurance, he's in control, amused, he knows what's coming, and, even though he has to give up the McGuffin to the Daleks to save Sara and Steven (yes, and he insists on saving the Monk, if a little unwillingly), and so the danger is greater than ever, he is undaunted.

Where that confidence will lead remains to be seen.

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