The long recap of the fight sequence from the end of Episode Two indicates that this is going to be a bit thin, and the script is mostly just vamping, spending loads of time getting the Doctor out of handcuffs; Trenchard delaying Captain Hart’s investigations, and a submarine in danger from the monsters we already know are behind the missing boats. In theory, this is infamous middle-episode padding.
This episode does most of the heavy linking to connect The Sea Devils with Doctor Who and the Silurians. On the plus side, this includes some call-backs to many of the most memorable moments of the earlier story: the man whose mind is broken by an encounter with a race memory, and the Doctor’s first encounter with a “Sea Silurian” where he again offers the hand of friendship and, beautifully, tells the monster not to be scared.
I think it’s a display of the show’s increasing self-confidence that it’s able to start doing ongoing stories than run across multiple serials. We haven’t seen the Master for eight months and as many episodes. This picks up his storyline from the end of The Dæmons, with him in prison, but predictably plotting his escape. And while it might have been safe to do this as a Season Eight throwback, instead it’s a sequel to a Season Seven story minus UNIT, with the Royal Navy standing in (which means the Doctor is again in a slightly uncomfortable relationship with military authority, rather than the increasingly cosy partnership with the Brigadier).
The mystery plot is resolved within the first minute: Arcturus was the traitor helped by Hepesh, who is trying to stir up interplanetary war. As a result, there’s a little less creeping around corridors and caves than the last three episodes, as this instead focuses on Hepesh’s palace coup. It’s all very sound and neatly ties up all the loose ends (including the Doctor’s control of the TARDIS, which he now believes was engineered by the Time Lords) at the expense of some of the colour of the earlier weeks.
It’s great again to see Katy Manning presented with more material, including quite a lengthy scene with David Troughton. But it also highlights the downside of making Jo a more prominent character than most previous female companions, because that scene involves the King asking Jo to marry him. Her independence means she’s fair game as a love interest, and the King will soon be followed by several more suitors until she’s inevitably married off. Elsewhere, she again gets to save the Doctor’s bacon – or so she thinks – by leaping in with burning torch to scare off Aggedor. This is great; her ditzy accidental hypnotism a few moments later isn’t.
These negotiations are more on-and-off than the Brexit ones. While the previous episode focused on divisions in the royal court of Peladon, this turns to the squabbling delegates. Arcturus and Alpha Centauri appear panicked by the curse of Aggedor, and even the Ice Warriors are disconcerted. It’s all a pretext for the Doctor to show his unreconstructed views on monsters, telling Jo, ‘I know the Ice Warriors, Jo. They’re a savage and a warlike race.’ Fascinatingly, it’s his prejudice that drives the plot, with Jo refusing to accept their guilt without looking for evidence, and the Doctor overlooking the obvious suspect in all this because he’s too busy going toe to toe with Izlyr.
There’s a line in this episode which goes without comment, but recognises that the new format invented by Derrick Sherwin in 1969 has been abandoned: ‘This is the TARDIS’s first test flight since I got it working again.’ Unlike Colony in Space, which (we’re reminded here) required a set-up scene with the Time Lords, here it’s almost taken for granted that the Doctor is a time and space traveller again (and has bought himself a fancy new orange jacket to celebrate). But for now, to all intents and purposes, the Daleks are back, the Doctor has the ability, however badly, to pilot the TARDIS, and UNIT are nowhere to be seen. Letts and Dicks have successfully reasserted the status quo ante-Sherwin.
So, after spending three episodes building up to a showdown between the Doctor and the Daleks… It doesn’t happen. He spends the episode retreating from them, luring them into a trap and watching them get blown up by the same bomb that was meant to ensure their future. It’s poetic justice. It’s a logical resolution to the time paradox. It’s also a bit of an anti-climax. Last time the Doctor confronted the Daleks he went up against their Emperor. This time, he doesn’t even get to berate a subordinate.
Much of this episode is elaborate vamping to keep the Doctor and the Daleks apart ahead of a (presumably explosive) showdown, even though both know the other is present (‘Doctor? Did you say Doctor?!’). Fortunately, this takes the form of a slight return of the brutal Inferno torture sequence, followed by a politely relentless attack on the Controller, resulting in the most memorable episode of the serial so far. There’s also a lot of reiteration that the Doctor and Daleks are the most implacable of foes: ‘I know [the Daleks] only too well. They’ve been my bitterest enemy for many years,’ says the Doctor. ‘The Doctor is an enemy of the Daleks! He must be found at once and exterminated!’ scream the Daleks. ‘He is the sworn enemy of the Daleks. He’s the one man they’re afraid of,’ proclaims the guerrilla leader.
It probably works to the serial’s advantage that this wasn’t conceived as a Dalek story, and so the plot isn’t reliant on wheeling on the knackered old props for a “best of” turn. Instead, they’re again kept largely in the background of this episode, a malevolent presence, clearly calling the shots but largely from behind the scenes. It gives everything else space to breathe including Aubrey Woods (with the same silver face he has in Blake’s 7 – or maybe he just had a silver face) establishing himself as the oleaginous Controller, and maintains the sense of intrigue.