Thursday, 6 October 2011

Enemy of the Daleks written by David Bishop and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: Bliss used to be a paradise planet. The Galapagos Islands of space. But when the TARDIS brings the Doctor, Ace and Hex to Bliss, it’s been over-run with ironweed plants, and the air is heavy with the stench of burnt silk and static electricity. Worse, the Daleks are coming, on the trail of a lost patrol of starship troopers. Holed up in the Roarke 279 research facility, Lieutenant Beth Stokes is preparing her last stand against the invaders. But there’s a secret on Bliss, a secret guarded by the obsessive Professor Shimura…This time, could it be the Daleks need saving

The Real McCoy: The Doctor never tells Ace and Hex to stay in the TARDIS unless things are really, really bad but this time he has made it an order. He informs his friends that this isn’t their problem but he is going to make it his. Hex wonders if he is so manipulative that it might be a double double bluff and he really is trying to make them go with him. There’s always time for scientific curiosity. My word McCoy certainly gains some authority when he barks at the staff of the facility to let him and his friends inside – I didn’t know he had it in him! The Doctor wanted to avoid his friends ever seeing this kind of atrocity especially since he is the one that has to make sure that it happens. Its interesting to see the master manipulator questioning the motives and ethics of the Professor Shimura considering some of the acts he has committed in this regeneration. Its akin to the fourth Doctor squaring up to Davros in Genesis of the Daleks, the birth a species that can slaughter the most ruthless alien life forms in the universe. His questions of what will happen once the Kiseibyaa wipe out all the Daleks is an extremely valid one however. Who would they move onto next? He finds it disturbing that he feels pity for the Black Dalek as it pleads for release as the Kiseibyaa plant their eggs into its body. He said one of the worst atrocities of the Dalek War would be committed here and that he would be the one to do it but I never imagined it would be to wipe out a race of creatures that could crush the Daleks. I understand his motives, the Kiseibyaa could commit far worse atrocities if they were allowed to spread but what an awful burden to bear thinking that every Dalek atrocity after this point could have been prevented. At the time when he had the option to wipe out the Daleks during their genesis on Skaro he thought he would be no better than the creatures they would become. Now he understands his duty and his place in history, sometimes you have to act even if your will screams at you not to. Even the Black Dalek admires the ruthlessness of the Doctor’s genocidal plan.

Oh Wicked: With knowledge of Valkerie Units, dialogue like ‘copy that’ and battle experience with the Daleks this seems to be more of the Ace from the New Adventures than the maturing young lady we are used to from Big Finish. What surprised me was how little this macho characterisation actually bothered me (because taken to angst-ridden extremes in the NA range it really got my heckles up during that run). Indeed it seems to quite suit the character and Aldred makes the most of the meaty characterisation to give a grittier, more polished performance than usual. Death hasn’t lost its ability to appal Hex so it is something of a shock to learn that Ace can witness a massacre and brush it off so easily. What has her adventures with the Doctor done to her? The Doctor has to remind Ace that she doesn’t have super powers and she can’t just punch her way through metal – plus she’s making a terrible racket too. In return she tells him she is sick of him talking in riddles. This is actually very healthy criticism in both cases. She’s been known to lob the occasional grenade in her spare time. Ace turns out to be quite a resource during the Dalek attack, recognising and improving the weaponry and slicing and dicing Daleks with the laser defence grid. Its lovely to hear that Ace (as a woman hardened by battles with the Doctor) doesn’t condemn Beth for cowardice but understands how her mind has snapped with the grip of fear of the Daleks. Its one of the most sympathetic portrayals of Ace we have heard in some time, she sticks up for Beth in the face of accusations of leading the Daleks to this facility.

Sexy Scouse: Proof if it was ever needed that Hex would not make a terribly good gameshow host! When he thinks they are going to be cut to shreds by the piranha locusts he asks Ace to say a prayer with him that she misconstrues as asking for a snog! He loves a warm welcome so it’s a shame that they never get one. If the TARDIS is your passport for adventures in time and space then the Daleks are the catch and Hex is about to find out how bad that catch can be. Hex wants to help the wounded but cannot bring himself to euthanise anybody, he doesn’t have it in him to take a life. He refuses to run to save his own skin even if the Daleks are approaching, not when there are patients to save. Hex has seen and heard more people die today than in his whole life and he has had enough of it. Once the nightmare is over he starts to question his usefulness as a member of the TARDIS crew and whether he is suited to this life. All these years of training, all his experience and he couldn’t save anyone.

Standout Performance: It pleases me so much to be able to sing the praises of all three of the regulars in Enemy of the Daleks because they all rise to the occasion to give one of their strongest performances yet. Sylvester McCoy has never been better when he is locking horns with a demented genius and questioning the principles of his creations. Philip Olivier has always delivered when asked to expose Hex’s vulnerable side and watching the nurse trying to cope in the face of such mindless slaughter is deeply uncomfortable. But it is Sophie Aldred who impresses the most. I have been hyper critical of Aldred’s audio performances of late and whilst I stick by my opinion it is in tales like Enemy of the Daleks that you see that she can still deliver the goods if the material is strong enough and she cuts back on the immaturity and melodrama that leaks into the character at the worst of times. I was genuinely thrilled to see Aldred delivering such a gorgeous performance.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘One of the worst atrocities during the Dalek War happens at this research facility…’
‘They’ll be coming for us soon. No faces. No souls. Nothing you can reason with.’
WE HUNGER!
‘You built a monster to destroy a monster!’
‘Tell me how does it feel to meet a race that considers you to be lunch?
‘What science and fear of the Daleks have wrought here is as evil and twisted as the Daleks themselves.’

Great Ideas: Pleasingly the first episode of Enemy of the Daleks is not short of imagination and Bishop introduces one Terry Nation-esque threat after another. The Dalek creed is to murder all and once you have eliminated the stronger threats then go for the weaker targets too. There is no value in mercy no matter how much you plea with them. Bliss is a rare sanctuary for flora and fauna in a galaxy driven by war. Iron Weed is a pernicious plant that feeds on other vegetation with thorns like swords. A swarm of piranha locusts, four or five the size of normal ones. Systematic is the medical droid (and he has an tremendous modulated voice!). The Valkerie Units are all female fighting force created to fight the most dangerous and malevolent force the human race encountered. Daleks like to soften up a planet with an orbital bombardment before the main attack force lands and finishes of the populace, the dirty wee fighters. As soon as the Daleks learn that the piranha’s are deadly to human but no threat to them they slaughter the lot of them. The infection spread through the facility staff and only three of them remain functioning. The Doctor describes the Kiseibyaa as a living car crash and they are creatures that feast upon metal, specifically Dalek metal. The piranha locusts are the creatures larval state, they have been created out of one of the most ferocious species in the universe. The professor summoned the Daleks to the base in the first place so the Kiseibyaa could finish them off. He figured that the Daleks are so successful at what they do because they are a manufactured predator without a natural enemy and he created the Kiseibyaa to provide them with a predator of their own. The Generals directing the Earth forces wanted something to hold back the Dalek advances but didn’t realise that the Professor was going to create something even more devastating. He turned his fellow scientists into human incubators to bring the creatures forth and considered their sacrifice for the greater good. The Kiseibyaa plan to use the Daleks as incubators, growing inside the flesh of the mutants and eating the casings as they burst forth – what a horrible and unpleasant idea, a perfect punishment for the creatures of hate. The Kiseibyaa don’t wish to survive, they want to propagate and make all civilisations like them. How awful to imagine that the nicest thing you could do is to murder the Black Dalek to prevent the parasites growing within him.

Audio Landscape: Explosions, laser bolts, Daleks attacking and destroying hospital ships, Dalek City doors clanging, birds singing, the escort ship descending, landing and the doors opening, rubble falling as the Dalek bombardment begins, a respirator, Daleks talking and firing en masse, the Saviours breaking out of their cocoons, the voices for the Kiseibyaa are astonishing – they literally sound as though they are wretching up vomit as they talk, the Daleks burning their way through a door, the Kiseibyaa screaming en masse as they hatch, Dalek eye stalks swivelling, the Dalek casings being consumed and the mutants inside gurgling unpleasantly, listening to the Black Dalek mutant squealing in pain is truly pitiful, the devastating explosion that rips apart the facility.

Musical Cues: If an exciting action adventure is to be exciting on audio then the music is all important and Steve Foxon has conjured up an awesome electric guitar score that is up there with one of the best in the Big Finish range. It’s a brilliant bombastic drawl that will stay in your head long after you have finished listening (I was strumming it down the beach earlier).

Standout Scene: There is a truly awesome moment where the Daleks search the room for the creatures that have burst forth from the cocoons and realise they are hanging from the ceiling just in time for the metal meanies to be completely devoured by the Kiseibyaa. Bloody marvellous.

Result: Its so refreshing to listen to stories like Enemy of the Daleks, an action adventure tale with no pretence to do anything but deliver an exciting adrenalin rush which it manages brilliantly. It reminds me of Terry Nation’s work at its best and I mean that as a massive compliment, full of danger and a frightening view of the universe plagued with Daleks. They feel like a deadly, implacable, unstoppable force and their attack on the facility in the second episode screams with energy and sees them at their intimidating best. And yet Bishop trumps that by creating a race that is even more devastating than the Daleks and impossibly manages to make the most destructive force in the universe victims without diminishing them one jot. Putting Ace and Hex in such extreme circumstances was a stroke of genius because it brings out the best in both of them by highlighting the horrors of this fight from the point of view of soldier and a nurse. I cannot believe that this is the second knockout seventh Doctor audio in a row, it is giving me incredible hope that the trilogy format is going to completely revolutionise the most disappointing (to this point) audio Doctor. David Bishop should be credited for providing the sort of fast paced, engaging thrill ride that Doctor Who needs to offer its audience every now and again to get the blood pumping and remind us of the reason we fell in love with this show in the first place: 9/10

2 comments:

rumblebars said...

I just finished listening to this one. For me, this may be the best 7th Doctor story from Big Finish that I've heard yet. Very well done.

I did have a couple of comments though. These creatures, the kielbasa, err, kimosabe, err kiseibyaa - they could have been a success had they been more carefully genegineered. If they had a gene-based "taste" ONLY for Dalek mutants and their crunchy shells - for food and breeding, they could very well have wiped out the Daleks, then perished themselves when the food ran out.

Also, for Prof Shimura to just assume these creatures will do his bidding just because he's The Creator shows he must have been insane to begin with. I would never have tried to develop such a creature without building some kind of weakness into them, like some kind of chemical that would impair or kill them.

I'm not sure if I liked how Hex sold himself and Ace to the Daleks to save his skin. Not that he did it, I can understand that. And I guess that may have been part of his questioning whether he should be in the TARDIS at all, but I'd have thought there would have been something more made of it. All Ace does is smack him on the arm at the end... Maybe this will be followed up down the line.

Lastly, I'm with many others and think the Daleks have been over-used. This, however was a GOOD use of them that didn't bother me a bit.

-Andy

Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

@rumblebars

One of the recurring themes this story, and a lot of other Dalek stories explores, is the difficulty people have understanding other minds that are vastly different from their own. In the original "Genesis," which the Doctor discusses, Davros creates the Daleks to be merciless and is immensely surprised when that lack of mercy is directed against him. In this story Hex cannot comprehend that the Daleks really are merciless, he assumes that they are like human soldiers who will show mercy as long as he doesn't provoke or inconvenience them. Professor Shimura creates the Kisebeya and assumes that they will have normal human emotions like compassion and gratitude, even though he did not bother to make sure those emotions were programmed into them. The common theme is that people assume their own minds are the default way all minds are, and have trouble getting their head around the fact that there are other minds that vary from theirs.

Perhaps earlier in my life I would have thought Shimura unrealistically naive. But I've read about AI development and have seen a lot of idiotic programmers in real life who think that there is absolutely no risk that they will design an AI mind that is hostile to humanity, because they seem to think that all AI minds will automatically have the moral emotions that human minds do.