February 17: "The Traitors" / "Counter Plot"

(The Daleks' Master Plan episodes 4 & 5)

Wow, this is a brutal episode.  It opens with Katarina being held captive by a dangerous criminal, but then she sacrifices herself to kill him by opening the airlock to space while they're both inside it.  The Doctor gives a nice little speech about how he'll always remember her as one of the daughters of the Gods, and then we apparently got a shot of her floating through space that was so good, Stanley Kubrick asked Douglas Camfield how he'd achieved it.  Not bad for someone who's only been around for 4-and-a-bit episodes, but it also serves to underline the stakes in this story.  Up to this point we've been larking about on jungle planets and such, dealing with Daleks and their strange allies; it's been dangerous but not really threatening.  But now things are brought sharply into focus with Katarina's death.

Things continue in this vein after the Spar crash-lands on Earth.  Bret is forced to kill one of his friends, who accidentally reveals that he's working for Mavic Chen.  Bret Vyon has been labeled a traitor, since it's known that he and Kurt Gantry went looking for Marc Cory after they received his distress signal (odd, that, since Cory never launched the distress signal beacon and in fact the Doctor found the tape in the jungle -- of course, if we're discussing odd things, the same scene has Mavic Chen, upon learning that Vyon and Gantry were on Kembel, declare that they must be the ones who "took over my Spar"; you'd think he wouldn't want to broadcast that he himself had been on Kembel, but maybe given the ship Bret and company stole it was unavoidable).  And then, in the final moments of the episode, he's gunned down by fellow agent Sara Kingdom -- another life lost.  "The Traitors" is a brutal episode, and it's becoming clear that the days of Verity Lambert running the show are over.

The Daleks corner Steven, the Doctor, and Sara on the planet
Mira. ("Counter Plot") ©BBC
"Counter Plot" is fortunately another episode that exists on video.  Funny, that; Marco Polo is a serial that was sold to 23 different nations, and none of its episodes survive.  The Daleks' Master Plan was sent to a single country but never aired, and yet we have three of the twelve episodes existing in the archives.  Interesting how things work out.

But in any case, this episode begins with the Doctor and Steven trapped on Earth -- although they don't actually know that yet, and they don't even know that Bret's been killed.  All they know is that they're caught in a room with Sara Kingdom and some white mice when suddenly all three are disseminated across space to the distant planet Mira, caught up in a science experiment.  After the events of the last episode, things go back to the way they were before, with another episode that seems to be marking time.  But we do get some wonderful gloating moments from Mavic Chen (along with some sinister acting from his right-hand man Karlton), and the Doctor gets a good line after he realizes he's been transported across space: "The mice couldn't have done that."  But beyond that, the primary function of this episode is to get the Doctor and Steven away from Earth and convince Sara Kingdom that Mavic Chen is a traitor, which they seem to do easily enough.  Then she reveals that Bret was in fact her brother, just to give a sense of how strong her sense of duty is.  And then the Daleks find them.  "I'm afraid, my friends, the Daleks have won," the Doctor announces sadly.

It's not the strongest or most interesting episode, but it is nice to be able to see "Counter Plot".  Much how a fairly standard episode like "Day of Armageddon" revealed some nice camera work and interesting direction, so too does "Counter Plot" reveals some interesting moments -- the shots of the Doctor, Steven, and Sara being transported through space via cellular dissemination are pleasingly unusual, with good direction blended with unusual sounds to create something wonderfully evocative.  It once again shows how good Douglas Camfield is, and "Counter Plot" ends up being a reasonably entertaining episode.  Even if we never actually discover what the counterplot is.