The best thing about this episode is Kevin Stoney’s brilliant performance. Mavic Chen – a virtual anagram of Machiavellian – is brilliantly manipulative, pushing Zephon’s buttons, and winding the Daleks up with his emphasis on ‘eventually’. The way he flits about the sets, a corridor conversation here, a scribbled note there, is fabulous. And Stoney makes the most of the dialogue, relishing stuff like ‘the Embodiment Gris’ with a wry smile. It’s the first time the Daleks have been paired with a human ally – but from now on that’s the norm, probably because it works so well here.
Which isn’t to say the Daleks aren’t well handled. They’re as duplicitous as Chen, They recognise their ally’s relative ambition and usefulness, and are already plotting to destroy him at the appropriate moment. Meanwhile, they put ‘Operation Inferno’ into effect, looking to smoke out the intruders from the jungle by burning it down. Fitting Daleks with flamethrowers – actually delivering what the poster of the recently-released Doctor Who and the Daleks movie promised – has got to be a way of trying to top that film.
Where the TV show wins out is also in its range of alien monsters. Here as well as the frondulent Zephon, we get the return of weird and wonderful Planetarians like Malpha, Trantis and Beaus. There’s quite a nice attempt to emphasise their alien-ness by having them bounce, shuffle and stride into the conference room, and then weirdly applaud the completion of the Time Destructor.
Fortunately, the human characters are as colourful. Bret Vyon comes across as an unstoppable force of nature, able to hold his own against a tetchy Doctor – telling him to shut up, and then dismissing Hartnell’s slightly garbled explanation of the Dalek invasion of Earth with an off-hand ‘Who cares about history?’ Later on he barges into Chen’s Spar and coolly announces, ‘I’m taking over this spaceship.’ He’s as kick-ass as Captain Kirk, and Nick Courtney is magnificent.
Finally, the direction is superb – as one of the only surviving episodes, this is a rare chance to see what Douglas Camfield did with the material, and it confirmed what everyone suspected before it was found. This is great, full of brilliant touches, such as Chen and Zephon’s firelit encounter, flickering lights playing across them as they cross wits. Camfield then has Stoney framed between the bars of a Dalek building.
The only disappointing thing about this episode is that the next one doesn’t exist. So far this is shaping up to be one of the best stories.
Next episode: Devil’s Planet