Doctor Who #101: Escape Switch

"Will the Daleks never learn that all things do not work to a pattern - that flexibility can also lead to conquest?"TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 10 of the Daleks' Master Plan. This is the last of the three surviving episodes from this story, included on the Lost in Time DVD. First aired Jan.15 1966.

IN THIS ONE... In Ancient Egypt, the Monk delivers Sara and Steven to the Daleks, and the Doctor must trade the taranium for them.

REVIEW: It's nice that this episode exists in the archives so we can see the sets, props, costumes and models, but Ancient Egypt remains in the background for most of the story. The Egyptian point of view is presented in broad strokes - they question the divinity of all these advanced people running around and call the Daleks war machines (but not THOSE war machines) - before they commit to a well-timed attack that leads to their own massacre. Good to see them adapt and start blocking Dalek traction with rocks, but they're in over their heads. In the end, the continuing characters will leave the setting behind and the Egyptians' story, for what it was, will just end there. Otherwise, it's just a nice place for the Doctor to wear a hat, or for the Monk to get wrapped in cloth to make us think a mummy attack is pending.

The villains in this are really they're own biggest enemies, consistently passing the buck to one another, none of them conceding that another may be superior. The Monk's loyalties are especially supple, but it's hard to stay mad at him. His ultimate fate as another owner of a time-lost TARDIS is fitting and not over-harsh, and it's really too bad he never returned to the program. Mavic Chen, for his part, is a pale shadow of his former self, prone to bluster as a mouthpiece for the Daleks. His strength is as a political maneuverer, not as a traditional SF villain, clearly. Kevin Stoney does have his moments, such as when Chen delays telling the Daleks he recovered the taranium core, just to see them freak out a little more. The Daleks have one strong moment too, in which they say they don't mind the Doctor's hostage exchange conditions requiring a single Dalek to be present because "One Dalek is capable of exterminating all!" - shades of the new series Daleks - but they immediately undo this badassery by breaking the deal and showing up in numbers. Boo.

With so many villains in the picture, it's a wonder our heroes have any room to move at all. The Doctor, in fact, spends a good deal of time walking around the pyramid site far from the action, but I love his utter contempt of Mavic Chen, a man who would betray the human race to the Daleks. And while he loses the taranium core, he does rescue his friends and defeats the Monk. Not a bad day's work. Sara Kingdom has become completely integrated into the TARDIS crew, that is to say she's become an episodic cipher. She trusts Steven and the Doctor implicitly, and laughs at the absurd bits as if she hadn't just killed her brother Bret what must be hours ago from her perspective. Though Jean Marsh has said it was never the intention for her to be a "companion", that's how she's written. You wouldn't think she's part of the Year 4000 story being told. Steven, for his part, could use a good script right about now (spoiler: he gets it with the next story).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - I'm no doubt more sympathetic to this episode because we can actually SEE it, and it has its moments, but it's still largely a set piece towards the end of The Chase II, with a disposable setting and characters that deserved better.


Elden said...

Sara's characterisation can be explained by more time having past, the novelisation explicitly gives a gap of month between Ep7 and 8 and BF have put four stories in this gap... She makes a better than expected companion.

Siskoid said...

The novelization has the advantage of having been written decades later and could justify what, at the time, was less than nitpicker-proof characterization.


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