Saturday, 12 March 2011

Death and the Daleks written by Paul Cornell and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: The Braxiatel Collection has been occupied by the Fifth Axis, led by a figure from Bernice's past. As Bernice's friends rise up to end the occupation, Bernice embarks on a desperate rescue mission, to somewhere she last went long ago. Braxiatel confronts his destiny, Jason risks all for his love, and lives are shattered and lost, as the battle of the Braxiatel Collection reaches its epic conclusion. Our heroes will live free or die...

Archaeological Adventuress: She had a prophecy in the past that suggested that she and Jason would have a future together with children. Her poker face is not what it once was (‘React as though I have just shown you a love letter’ ‘What the hell is this?’). Bernice remembers her hilarious reaction to meeting the Vardans! Setting up camp on Heaven reminds Bernice of her old days, going from site to site with a bunch of strangers, simpler days. Heaven brings back bad memories as well as good. She weighed it all up and decided to travel with the Doctor anyway. She did Jason the honour of becoming her wife and then did herself the favour of divorcing him and now they’re back together again…no they’re not. Dalek archives show Bernice as being a complete idiot! For once Bernice has her father to comfort her and she’s so proud when he saves their asses (‘That’s my dad, that is!’). Jason has finally done enough; she has decided that once this is all over she wants her and Jason to be together again. Bernice doesn’t want to live in history, the last few months have convinced her of that (although it would be fun to see how Jason coped in his own time).

Benny’s gang: A face Bernice hasn’t seen for years, her father is the Axis war leader? Its good luck that he is woken up at a time of battle given his experience. He doesn’t know what has happened to his family after the Daleks kidnapped him. Issac wonders if he can ever go home and if Benny and Jason will go back with him.

His girlfriend’s father is the leader of a fascist army; Jason sure knows how to pick ‘em! He admits that he still loves her and that is why he has donned his fat suit and helped the children and Bernice skips over the admission. Is Bernice ever going to stop punishing him? What does he have to do – die for her? Braxiatel mentions once again that Jason still cannot remember the thing that is in the corner of his mind. When this is all over he is going to have deal with all the people who think he is fat Jason the camp commandant!

Adrian is still in a prison camp. It’s weird to say it to her but somehow it’s easier to say now where it wasn’t before but he loves her. Bernice returns his affections because she thought he was going to be sent to a labour camp. Wow the Killorans are beaten senseless even as they work, you can hear Adrian screaming with pain. It is Adrian that starts the chants of ‘We Will Not Leave!’ and kicking off the Killoran rebellion. He could do a lovely new colour scheme in Brax’s TARDIS if he gets sick of white circles! Its lovely to hear Adrian and Jason sharing a drink and laughing together.

Braxiatel finds all this talk of torture quite dull. His TARDIS must have thought that a sensor blank spot would come in handy, bless her. He laughs in the face of abuse and mocks the Axis as the tin pot organisation that they are. Brax wont contact the Time Lords because he knows that is exactly what they want him to do. In a moment of calm cruelty Braxiatel hands Marshall Anson to Adrian and the men he has been hurting over the past few months. He has erased Joseph’s memories several times as well as Jason’s so he can keeps things…normal. The thought of being outplayed releases a fury in him and sees Braxiatel throw himself at Issac to murder him.

Bev is being beaten by Ms Jones’ lover. Bev’s terrorist cell has killed over 200 innocent people. Ms Jones understands exactly what Moskov means when he says he wants to ship the Killorans back to the Axis home world. Whatever happens, there’s no way back for her after this. Ms Jones has always supported what Bev is doing but not her methods and she wants Bev to let her leave with Bernard before she puts her plan into motion. If Moskov is going to die then Clarissa wants to die with him. ‘Kill the traitor! String her up beside her boyfriend!’ is the general feeling about Ms Jones. Moskof tries to convince the rebels that he never loved Clarissa so they kill her and leave his love alone. Becomes Brax’s PA and has a kind of grim reputation.

Standout Performance: Death and the Daleks is the first time the entire cast has been brought together and they are like a well-oiled machine, each having been in the limelight during different seasons. Some of my favourite pairings are Bowerman and Richardson and Fewell and Myers but there really isn’t a best performance in this story – everybody is trying their damdest to make this as good as possible. Ian Collier gives a lovely, gruff performance as Issac Summerfield.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Its my father…he’s the power behind the Fifth Axis.’
‘You came to me like a dog sniffing around for whatever’s dropped from my table!’
‘The Daleks are running the Fifth Axis military, if not their whole government!’ ‘A bunch of tin pot fascists creating a human civilisation in their own image. Humans who hate the unlike, makes sense. Conquest by proxy.’
‘Its always something mad isn’t it? You have the firepower to just wade in a have a go at the rest of the universe but no…you twat about! You make duplicates of people, you come up with plans to pit one galactic Empire against another, you get into centuries long war with races whose idea of camouflage would only be successful if the universe was a gigantic disco! How did the Movellans outthink you? They haven’t figured out that it might not be an idea to build warrior robots, which die when you yank their power pack of their belt! I’m talking to the bloody Daleks who couldn’t exterminate their way out of a tomato!’
‘I like the Daleks! That noise you have going on in here…calming! Very ambient!’
‘Why is your husband naked?’
‘The battle for the Braxiatel Collection begins tonight!’
‘I’ve got the biggest gun in this room and so I win this debate!’
‘I have been outplayed and I am going to kill him!’
‘The Fifth Axis are a means to an end…to spread Dalek ideas through human means.’

Great Ideas: The Fifth Axis, the former banana republic of a few planets have suddenly got all big and conquery and occupied the Braxiatel Collection. They tried to force their form of government on them, some collaborated, some resisted, some just went along with it. Jason made it look like he was being a collaborator when he was working behind the scenes. No one is quite sure where Ms Jones stood, falling in love with Moskov. Bernice murdered one of their oppressors, Commander Spang and was now a proper resistance girl! The planet Heaven is where the Axis are broadcasting from, the planet where Bernice first met the Doctor! A human and Draconian burial ground. Joseph is a clever sod, he knew that his subterfuge would be seen through and he would be shot and as soon as his executor gets near enough he attacks and frees Bev. Daleks! Issac Summerfield is wired up to a Dalek Battle Computer. Bev starts a food riot on the Collection, the people are starving. The Daleks sought out combat experts to run their battle computers, once it was thought that young minds were ideal but now it is thought that battle experience and strategic importance are vital. The Daleks are gaining tactical advantage over all those at war with the Dalek Empire. The Daleks wipe out the camp and murder everybody Bernice convinced to come to Heaven. One of the factors in the Axis path of conquest is the Daleks newfound mastery over time travel. Mister Crofton gives his life to save Jason and Adrian during the liberation. Those devious Daleks – Issac is still under their control and re-emerges as soon as Braxiatel allows them into his TARDIS. The Daleks planted the Admiral for Bernice to rescue, they set him up as the military leader of the Fifth Axis so she would hear of him and the whole history of the Fifth Axis is a fake. They take the Daleks to meet the Axis so the fascist party can see how their masters really are – aliens! All out war ensues with the Axis deploy Dalek weapons. Parties and celebrations the like of which Bernice has never seen once the Fifth Axis are defeated and the Daleks destroyed. Somebody tells the story of the Axis defeat on every Liberation Day. Two burgundy crystal lilies stand proud in memory of Mister Crofton and his wife and are there to say ‘never again.’

Audio Landscape: Birdsong, tearing off Bernice’s surprise, ticking clock, crackling fire, water flowing, whistling wind, Peter crying, impressive shuttle taking off, Bev’s dripping cell, creatures screaming in the dark on Heaven, explosion, alarms, Dalek screaming voices, the Dalek heartbeat, energy blasts, rain falling, hover bikes, trans solar discs screaming through the sky, the Killoran slaves whipped, polite chatter, resistance fighters screaming and firing on the Collection, TARDIS dematerialisation, console room hum, cloister bell, the TARDIS screaming as it heads down a time contour, kissy kissy unbuckling clothes noises.

Musical Cues: Love the soft piano version of the theme tune in the first scene. Naturally Braxiatel is listening to sublime classical music.

Isn’t it Odd: What a shame about the cover and the title – the Daleks come as a complete surprise within the story. It’s the ending that the eighth Doctor books should have had, one hell of a build throughout the Sabbath arc and then wham bam thank you ma’am the Daleks are behind it all! I am glad one series got to use them as brilliant tacticians but it does strike me as odd that the Bernice series can and Doctor Who can’t! Saying all this it is a real coup for this series and the cover is brilliant and bold but imagine the shock of listening to this story after reading Life During Wartime and then…Daleks! It was originally called The Axis of Evil and I wish they had continued this subterfuge. Beverly Cressman gives a fine performance as MS Jones but she sounds awfully young considering she is drawn as an old duck!

Standout Scene: So many wonderful moments but Braxiatel revealing that his TARDIS was the study all along is a moment of understated genius. The Killoran liberation army turning up is awesome! I love Braxiatel and Issac looking at the galaxy like a chessboard able to crush the Fifth Axis forever but seeking out Bernice for moral guidance as to whether they have the right (and her reaction ‘Put an end to Brax’ is as cold as she has ever been).

Notes: The opening is simply one of the best things ever – I love how this series can jump from audio to book to audio – and after reading the superb Life During Wartime it is spine tingling to listen to the story come to life! ‘This asteroid has been invaded by the Fifth Axis’ gives me the shivers every time I hear it. Anson discusses the events of Love and War, the attack by the Hoothi, with Bernice. When landing on Heaven Bernice reminisces about Jan and Ace and their time together. Bernice mentions that Brax is back in his rightful place again, in charge and ‘If only we’d known…’ The gardener is an Ice Warrior called Hass, another important player in years to come.

Result: An epic, personal, unforgettable finale bringing together four seasons worth of audios, countless novels and assembling the impressive cast of the Bernice series and giving them all great material. The idea of kicking off this story with the gripping anthology Life During Wartime is inspired, giving the situation a great deal of depth as a novel before rounding off the story with numerous surprises as an exciting audio. There are lots of wonderful kisses to the past but Paul Cornell also manages to cement the latest developments in Bernice’s life as something that is unmissable. There is a wonderful drive to the story and no easy answers and lots of intriguing character threads to picked up in later stories. One of the highpoints in the Bernice Summerfield range: 10/10

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