Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Death to the Daleks written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: Suz decides it is time to take control of events. But when she is summoned to an audience with the Dalek Emperor, she begins to fear that all her efforts have been in vain. Meanwhile, Earth Alliance Security commander-in-chief Tanlee is intent on locating Alby. The Dalek advance across the galaxy seems unstoppable and the only possibility of salvation for the human race lies in the Lopra System. But how can Alby help, when no one will tell him the purpose of 'Project Infinity'?

Angel of Mercy: Its great how the relationships in this series keep developing and that characters act in the most surprising of ways. Nick Briggs dares to make his central protagonist almost unlikable in this instalment as Susan grows to almost enjoy the power she holds over the Daleks and the scale of her work. Its something akin to Godhood syndrome at some points and reminds me very strongly of another Terry Nation scripted show, Blakes 7’. There is more than a touch of Avon to Suz in this story but with a unique vulnerability all of her own. I can’t wait to see how this develops. Her work with the Daleks became her life over the years, worlds without end, most of which she would forget their name before leaving for the next one. Planets conquered, populations enslaved, all thanks to Suz. Susan is starting to understand her importance to the Daleks and backchats the underlings that are sent to order her about. It seems if it isn’t the Dalek Supreme or the Emperor giving the orders, she isn’t interested. She is starting to have delusions of grandeur, screaming that she is made the Dalek Empire a success and that they couldn’t have done it without her. The Daleks slaughter the slaves that Suz had remove the communications equipment in her room, more deaths to her name. I love how the Dalek Supreme tries to manipulate Suz into having Kalendorf killed by offering to swap him for Alby, asking her to choose between them. By telling them she wants Kalendorf to stay by her side confirms what they suspected, that he is telepathically working against the Daleks spreading the word of discontent. Isn’t it great how manipulative they can be, using human emotions to get people to reveal their true intentions? Even Alby says that Susan sounds harder. It has been so long since their time together on Vega that to Susan it feels like a fantasy she is just playing over and over in her head. She knows their relationship never really started and in reality it probably would have been over a long time ago. It’s her job to inspire the slaves to turn on the Daleks and to fight without fear of death because the only way they can be defeated is through strength of numbers. Did she seize her role of the Angel of Mercy with a little more vigour than was necessary – Suz certainly thinks so.

Anti-Hero: Alby is given some pleasing backstory and we get to experience a time when he was arrested in a bar by Mirana, giving their rapport an instant depth. Underneath it all Suz has always felt that Alby has been with her somehow. When he finally manages to catch up with Kalendorf it is too late, Suz has been killed when she turned on the Daleks. Even Romeo and Juliet didn't have it this bad!

Knight of Velyshaa: The relationship between Suz and Kalendorf is becoming fractious because she can sense the resentment he feels towards her for helping the Daleks. When Suz suggests that the Daleks trust her he laughs uncontrollably, telling her that they can’t trust and they are just using them. The Daleks are onto Kalendorf and his telepathic message to the slaves, wondering why he has been seen on so many Dalek run planets staring silently at the slaves. He tells him that they were preying for the death of the Daleks. The Dalek Supreme suggests if Kalendorf isn’t giving Susan hope than he isn’t fulfilling his purpose and should be murdered. What they have been doing has been a living hell for him; hating the Daleks but working for them, hating Suz and even hating himself, standing by and watching atrocity after atrocity being committed. He’s wished for them to be found out long ago so they would be killed and all of this would come to an end.

Standout Performance: I genuinely believe that this series would lack something if it weren’t for Joyce Gibbs’ astounding narration as Susan from the future looking back on these events. Not only does it give the story a mythic quality but Gibbs has a voice like a fine wine and it’s delightful to listen to. She emotes by underplaying her dialogue and it delivers in spades.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘No matter how inventive, ingenious or determined the humans were it seems they couldn’t stand against the endless metal onslaught. There were always more Dalek ships. Always more Daleks.
‘See you don’t have power over the Daleks. You just have power over the rest of us.’

Great Ideas: Pellan has a small metal disc in his brain; he is a slightly more sophisticated version of a Roboman. He was a key element in the Dalek attack on Guria. The relationship between Alby and Suz is a weakness that the Daleks want to exploit; it will play its part in their plan. Karlendorf was due to start negotiations with the Earth Alliance to form an anti Dalek pact and the Knights of Velyshaa were going to be allowed to rearm, a formidable opponent for the Daleks. Project Infinity is the Earth Alliance’s last chance to defeat the Dalek but since Pellan knew about it that means the Daleks do too. Slavery is the Daleks’ lifeblood, the force which created its power leaving every particle of technological might free for destruction. For every Dalek defeat the Earth Alliance suffered ten. The President has ordered the home fleet to evacuate the solar system because the fight is lost – the bases in Jupiter and Saturn orbit have been destroyed, the Mars Colony fighting an invasion force that outnumbers them 100-1.

Audio Landscape: Hydraulics in doors, a lift ascending, Daleks blasting a door down, hive leader Stralos has a fantastic voice with audible twitching mandibles and the sucking up of mucus, scenes through Mirana’s space helmet, a bar atmosphere of chatter and an atmospheric piano, another great alien voice – the bubble mouthed barman, water running, the chanting slaves, spaceships screaming into the atmosphere.

Musical Cues: As the story gets more dramatic so does the music and I love how much ominous piano work Briggs includes. Standout Scene: The whole series has been building up to the climax of this story, the pre arranged call to arms rally ‘Death to the Daleks!’ is spread amongst the slaves on a thousand worlds as the uprising begins. It’s an oddly muted moment that happens off screen and the cliffhanging nightmare for Alby is learning that Susan Mendez, his love, has been killed by the Daleks…

Notes: Once again its interesting to note that you could happily pick up this third part without having listened to the first and second as Alby sums up Susan’s role in the Daleks plan in the first five minutes.

Result: It’s at this stage in the first season of Dalek Empire that you realise that Nick Briggs has genuinely pulled off this space opera. What started as a nice idea to flesh out the Daleks has becomes a platform for some very engaging action and superlative drama. With more than a little helping of sixties Dalekmania (which saw the Dalek Empire at its height plus with mentions of the SSS and other sixties innovations) and a nice dose of Blakes’ 7 pessimism, Briggs has crafted a unique and quality series that really feels like it is expanding the Doctor Who universe. With a myriad of exciting aliens, enough action to knock your socks off and some genuinely startling character work, Dalek Empire has earned its commission and then some. Whilst I was listening to this story I was reminded quite strongly of the Star Trek Next Generation story The Best of Both Worlds, an alien menace spreading into the solar system and gripping the Earth with their unstoppable force. The Daleks have rarely felt this dangerous, they are too powerful, too numerous, their weaponry too destructive. Rich character work and a galaxy wide threat, this is great stuff: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:!!

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