Chapter 141. Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan Part I: Mission to the Unknown (1989)

Synopsis: On the planet Kembel, delegates assemble for a conference led by the Daleks. Among the attendees is the Guardian of the Solar System, Mavic Chen, who has betrayed the planet Earth by providing a vital element for the Daleks’ latest weapon, the Time Destructor. The Doctor steals the element but, cut off from the TARDIS, he and his friends take Mavic Chen’s ship in a bid to warn Earth of his treachery. Chen alerts the Space Security Service and identifies the Doctor as the traitor. Now, Space Agent Sara Kingdom has Chen’s enemies in her sights…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Toppled Towers of Ilium
  • 2. The Screaming Jungle
  • 3. Extermination!
  • 4. The Nightmare Begins…
  • 5. No Ordinary Ship
  • 6. The Day of Armageddon
  • 7. The Face of the Enemy
  • 8. Devil’s Planet
  • 9. Dangers in the Night
  • 10. The Sacrifice
  • 11. The Traitors
  • 12. Counter-plot
  • 13. Allies
  • 14. Desperate Measures
  • 15. Out of Time
  • 16. Interlude

Background: John Peel adapts scripts from Mission to the Unknown, by Terry Nation, and episodes 1-6 of the 1965 serial known collectively as The Daleks’ Master Plan, by Terry Nation and Dennis Spooner.

Notes: The opening chapter dramatises the events that were missing from Donald Cotton’s jolly adaptation of The Myth Makers. Katarina struggles to comprehend much that she witnesses, so we have to assume a lot of terminology is translated for our benefit. Nevertheless, she considers the TARDIS control room to be about thirty metres across, with walls that look like polished stone. She compares the sound of the TARDIS dematerialising to ‘Cerberus, guardian hound of the Underworld’ (have we had it compared to a growling dog before?). The wound in Steven’s shoulder on TV has become a gash to his side; while the attacking blade didn’t strike anything vital, Steven has lost a lot of blood and the Doctor also worries that the sword was unlikely to have been sterile, exposing Steven to germs from way before his own time [and see The Ark for how something similar plays out to humans from Earth’s future].  

Chapter 2 takes its title from an earlier Nation-scripted episode. Gordon Lowery is the captain-pilot of a crashed ship. The ship’s passenger, Marc Cory, is ‘lean, tall and dark, in a good-looking way’ and ‘just a shade on the right side of thirty’. Cory and Lowery discuss the Dalek-Movellan wars a thousand years before and the Dalek expansion across the Andromeda galaxy and the region of Miros. The Black Dalek has been despatched to Kembel by the Dalek Prime on Skaro (mentioned in Peel’s novelisation of The Chase). The Black Dalek is second in the Dalek hierarchy and rarely leaves Skaro.

The descriptions of each representative of the alliance seem to match the (later revised and debunked) best guesses available in 1989: Gearon, ‘a somewhat faceless creature with an egg-shaped head’, wears a thick visor as his world is ‘almost perpetually in darkness’; Trantis has tendrils on his face and is vaguely telepathic; Beaus is from the Miron systems and is a tall creature, half-vegetable, half animal, ‘like an animated tree’ [and] possessing two burning eyes’; Warrien wears a ‘cowled hood and a pressure suit that contains an atmosphere other than oxygen; also wearing a spacesuit, Sentreal has a ‘dark face… wreathed in the chlorine fumes that he breathed, and a small radio antenna on his head [that] kept him in constant contact with his fellow beings still on their ship (his people share a communal mind, and Isolation from the others would apparently kill him); Malpha, the last of the members, is ‘tall and colourless’ with a white suit and skin, aside from ‘the thick, dark network of veins that created a patchwork of his face’. Later, we meet Zephon, who dresses all in black with just his eyes visible through the hood of his cloak.

On TV, the terms Space Security Service and Special Security Service appear interchangeable, but here only the back cover uses ‘Space Security’. Lizan had joined the SSS with ambitions to work in an embassy on Draconia or Alpha Centauri; instead, she was allocated as section leader in Communications Central, a post that comes with a lime-green uniform. The Communications map shows Earth territories in blue, with Dalek space marked in red. Mavic Chen is over six feet tall with a ‘trim, muscular body’. His face showed signs of an ‘oriental ancestry, but much mixed with other races’. His white hair is closely cropped and his eyes are deep blue and ‘hypnotic’, while his voice is ‘deep, clear and precise’ and displays ‘no signs of age’. In his broadcast interview, he discusses ‘mineral agreements with the Draconian Empire’. 

When the Doctor returns to the TARDIS on Kembel, he sees a Dalek emerging from inside it! Before fleeing the TARDIS, Bret manages to select some suitable clothes for Steven, which he changes into only after the Doctor has led Katarina away to give Steven some privacy (this solves a mystery that is unresolved from the TV episode, where as far as we can tell we never learn when Steven changes out of his armour). The Doctor observes that the Daleks now have solar panels on their bodies to enable them to move about without static electricity – but their city is still built from pure metal, like the one he saw on Skaro. He also remembers that the Dalek time ship that chased him, Ian, Barbara and Vicki through time was powered by taranium, like the Time Destructor.  Realising that the Daleks will pursue them for the taranium core, the Doctor tells Bret Vyon ‘We haven’t escaped from danger – in fact, the danger has barely begun!’ … there’s a chapter title desperate to be used here…

According to Bret, Earth is three days away from Kembel, but he points out that their diversion to Desperus will have allowed Chen to reach Earth before them. Chen’s deputy, Karlton, differs from his bald and smooth-faced appearance on telly: ‘His craggy features were lined with care, and his hair was thick and grey.’ Chen views Sara Kingdom as ‘a born warrior’.

She reminded him of a tightly coiled spring – ready to leap in any direction at an instant’s notice. She was dressed in the inevitable black catsuit that all SSS agents wore, accentuating her perfect figure. She was beautiful, but it was the beauty of ice or steel. Her hair was shoulder-length, and curled inwards. Her face was somewhat elfin. If she smiled, Chen knew she would be considered very desirable. He could not imagine her smiling. Her blue-grey eyes gave back no warmth. She looked every inch the perfect killing machine that her record had informed him she was.

Chen has never ‘felt the attraction of women himself’, believing they’d want a share of his power. The Doctor is similarly unswayed, irritated by Sara’s crying, as he feels pained by ‘overt displays of sentimentality’. 

The machine that brings the Doctor, Steven and Sara to Mira does not contain mice. There’s a more energetic battle with the Visians – and they can talk! Surrounding the Doctor, they chant ‘Kill it!’ in ‘wet, reedy’ voices. Although they’re invisible, one of them is pushed into a pool and emerges swathed in mud, revealing ‘thin, bony, with two long, clawed arms, feet like birds’ claws, and a narrow head with a beak’. Later, fearing the metallic invaders seek to take over their foraging areas and wipe out the whole tribe, the Visians stage a huge attack against the Daleks. The Doctor has ‘examined a number of Dalek installations and craft during his numerous encounters with them’, and is fairly familiar with the design that he faced now [suggesting either that he and Steven have had multiple unseen adventures involving Daleks since The Chase, unless the Doctor is counting multiple ships during the Dalek invasion of Earth too]. Some of the Daleks aboard the ship have mechanical claws instead of suction cups on their arms.

While walking towards the TARDIS, the Doctor tells Chen the name of his ship and introduces himself – thereby solving a minor continuity issue later on from the TV version. The TARDIS door is still open from when Steven and Katarina left it (so the Doctor doesn’t need to give Sara the key). With the real Taranium Core still in his possession, the Doctor speculates that Chen will get his comeuppance when the Daleks inevitably turn on him. Sara is invited to stay in Vicki’s old room and freshen up with a bath. The three fugitives await their next encounter with the Daleks…

Cover: Alister Pearson gives us another appropriately energetic composition similar to The Chase, It showcases the black Dalek leader (cleverly repurposed from a photo of a Dalek from Resurrection of the Daleks!), surrounded by Mavic Chen and his spaceship, the Doctor and a selection of delegates. The title as shown on the front cover is ‘Mission to the Unknown’ but a circular flash states that this is ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan Part I’, while on the spine it’s ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan Part I’ (‘Masterplan’ is one word). The title page inside gives the title ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan Part I Mission to the Unknown’.

Final Analysis: Poor Katarina. While we might accept that a person can’t change ‘one line’ of history, this is usually because a character wants to overthrow an entire regime or culture, but this is all tied to the destiny of a single otherwise unimportant handmaiden. The Doctor chastises Steven for asking too many questions and praises Katarina for the way she ‘simply looks and learns’, but it’s this quality that seals her fate; having learned of the importance of the Spar’s outer door, she realises that she can save her new friends by opening it and allow her destiny to be fulfilled. Steven has a personal reason for being patient with Katarina, aware that her kindness probably saved his life: his justification that ‘she’s from Troy’ is enough for him. Bret Vyon lacks Steven’s experience with time travel and simply thinks there’s something wrong with the girl, while the Doctor is irritated by her stupidity and vows to never accept a companion from a pre-technological age. This shows just how impractical Katarina is as a character. While we might empathise with her bewilderment at being transported in a space vessel, her confusion over something as simple as a key makes her much more alien to the reader than any of the delegates in the Dalek conference room. And Bret is right – the mission to inform Earth of the Dalek plan is greater than any one individual… and with Steven restored to full health, their own success is enabled by the sacrifice of the most disposable of the team. 

All of this is present in the televised episodes, but John Peel foreshadows the tragic event throughout the early chapters. It also gives credence to the ‘primitive’ beliefs of Troy and the prophecies of Cassandra. From what we can tell from the surviving episodes and audio recording, The Daleks’ Master Plan is a bit of a ‘best of’ compilation – the most impressive space ships up to that point, the best jungle – and the Daleks are at their most sinister and scheming. Peel doesn’t miss a beat in conveying this on the page. Chen is every bit as pompous and self-aggrandising as in Kevin Stoney’s TV performance and this might also be the most accurate depiction of the first Doctor in over 140 books; he’s every bit as irascible as he is in Terrance Dicks’ Dalek Invasion of Earth or The Smugglers, but Peel also remembers to make him funny, with that self-congratulatory chuckle. For any inattentive fan who didn’t know how long this story is (and missed the ‘part 1’ on the cover), this book also ends as if we’re done with the Master Plan. But as someone would later say in another episode, ‘It’s far from being all over…’

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