Sunday, 1 May 2011

Renaissance of the Daleks written by Who Knows (but its definitely from a story by Chris Bidmead) and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: A random landing in London and a trip to the Savoy Hotel yield unexpected results for the Doctor. Tea, scones, an American general who knows far too much, and the threat of a Dalek invasion of Earth. Meanwhile, the Doctor's companion Nyssa is in Rhodes during the time of the Crusades, where her position proves to be distinctly precarious. It seems the Doctor's deadliest foes have woven a tangled web indeed. And in order to defeat them, he must cross the forbidden barriers of time and walk into the very centre of their latest, most outlandish scheme of conquest.

An English Gentleman: The Doctor sense that there is something wrong going on in this alternate timeline but refuses to work for anybody. He has broader responsibilities. I loved the Doctor’s little paddy in his cell – he really sounds like a petulant child! ‘This isn’t Noah’s Ark!’ says the Doctor when Nyssa Nightingale wants to take wounded men into the TARDIS which I find a bit of a cheek considering he used it as something of a taxi in Black Orchid and would do so again in The Awakening! I love his rendition of Three Blind Mice to piss off the Daleks! An outsider meddling in the shape of the time tracks? Even the Daleks admit that the Doctor understands them well and he predicts that if he doesn’t do what they want they will shoot his friends. His brilliant scheme to defeat them is to…do nothing! That’s right he plans to sit this one out in the TARDIS because as soon as he dematerialises the ship will go straight down one of the Dalek time corridors to Earth carrying the nano Daleks that will cause its invasion. So sitting on his arse and reading a book as good a plan as any!

Alien Orphan: You’ve got to love Nyssa’s idea of a threat, calculating that exact speed of which you will hit the ground when she pulls you down from a great height!

Standout Performance: Although he does sound a little like Peri, Jon Weinberg gives a lovely performance as Wilton and enjoys some great scenes with the Doctor.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The mystery of the invasion that vanished…’
‘Zero room? On the account of how much furniture they have in it?’
‘What am I thinking? Well I’ve got a TARDIS full of strangers and…yes, the TARDIS has been locked on course to an undisclosed destination by a couple of toy Daleks!’ – despite the fact that the madness of this story is reaching dementia proportions you have to admire the frivolous way that they handle its psycopathy!
‘This is serious! And you’re starting to annoy the toys!’
‘They’ve found a way to improve upon their original plan…’
‘By just standing here and doing nothing…I have defeated you!’

Great Ideas: The TARDIS has been penetrated by time technology and they know about Nyssa’s technology. In 2158 the Daleks should have invaded last year. Nyssa is trapped in the time of the Crusades. Time sensitives interpreting future events created by timeline technicians. The TLTs show that the Doctor was instrumental in defeating the Daleks during their invasion on Earth in an alternate timeline. In this reality the Dalek invasion hasn’t taken place and they want the Doctor to stop it from ever occurring. Dalek toys being manufactured and sold – argh this could actually happen in our madly consumerist society! The General is clever to realise that the Doctor cannot be left alone to put history back on track. A traversical topological rent in space time (although Nyssa does put it more simply as a wormhole) connecting different time periods together. I really like the idea of the Doctor and Nyssa saving a bunch of strays from different alternative timelines, there is something distinctly Doctor Who about something as bizarre and cross cultural (or cross alternative universal) as a menagerie of timeline defunct survivors (except maybe Alice who should have been sacrificed in her helicopter). According to recorded history Earth should be in the middle of an incurable plague and meteor bombardments, the beginning of the Dalek invasion. Global Warning is an organisation that has time technology centuries before it should. Dalek toys invading the TARDIS, I was laughing my head off! Well bugger me – there was me criticising episode one for having the Doctor escape so easily and it turns out that this was deliberate so Wilton could spy on the Doctor for his uncle! A North Pole of time where all the time tracks meet – where all the alternative realities intertwine. Alice cannot believe that with all the technology in the TARDIS that there aren’t any weapons! Towers of Daleks stacked up into the sky, millions of full size Daleks locked together like bonded molecules – what an image! The walls are made of hundreds of empty Dalek battle casings. An island of time carved out dimensional nullity, I’m not too sure what that actually means but it does sound impressive! The pan temporal ambience is a vantage point that looks down into the time tracks and the whole chronology of folly! The Daleks have an overview of the history of war – hence the time tracks to the different war periods in Earth’s history. They are transmitting energy across space and time, using voices to encourage conditions on Earth, making humanity susceptible to Dalek concepts. Causing the manufacture of millions of toy Daleks with nano Daleks planted inside so there can be a bloodless revolution on the Earth – the particle sized Daleks will break free of their toy exteriors and enter each and every human on Earth. Humanity will become a willing slave army and welcome the occupation of the planet. A renaissance indeed! That’s actually a pretty good plan – no more crazy than a plague planet, piloting a planet through space or simply blasting their way through the universe – these Daleks are going to affect the psychology of the inhabitants of the planet they want to invade and prevent bloodshed. You kind of feel sorry for the Daleks as the Greylish turns on them and sucks them all into nullity.

Audio Landscape: Such a stunning array of locations for a single story; the Savoy in London, the Crusades in Rhodes, the Vietnam War…to his credit Gareth Jenkins does an incredible job bringing these varied and challenging locations to life. Jingle in a lift, the sea rolling behind Nyssa, a babble of voices that introduces out regulars, static giving way to Dalek voices, the Crusaders fighting amongst themselves, screaming winds, a sky scooter screaming through the air, bullets tearing at the TARDIS, explosions, rifles firing, a huge explosion that breaks through the salient, jungle life, birds chittering, a rive flowing, creatures nestling in the undergrowth, a helicopter hit and exploding into the jungle, the whispering voices of the time Omniverse junction, Dalek heartbeat, the voice of the Greylish.

Musical Cues: A much darker score than the last few stories – listen to Andy Hardwick’s theme of doom as the Doctor and the General discuss the importance of meddling with timelines in the first episode. Although the story is taking a turn for the bizarre as the Dalek toys stalk the TARDIS the music just gets better and better with some dramatic drums – its some of the most exciting music we’ve heard in ages! As the Doctor and the Greylish discuss the Dalek plan in the last episode there is a calamitous score in the background that sounds quite like the stirrings of danger in the early sequences of the TV Movie. Regardless, its blisteringly good.

Isn’t it Odd: I take it the ‘Dalek Invasion’ trailer at the beginning of the story is some kind of advertising slogan for toys – please see Jubilee to see how this sort of thing should be done (with some wit and intelligence). The first episode leaps about a little too quickly storytelling wise – almost as if to make up for the lack of events in Nocturne! – with the Doctor’s drafting, escape and capture all taking place at blink and you’ll miss it speeds. I have seen many varied and dramatic reactions to a devastating historical event through Doctor Who’s long tenure but Floyd’s bizarre screaming mating call has to be the most surreal! Wow Alice has a horrifically irritating accent – the second she opened her gob I just wanted her to shut up! Surely that isn’t a real accent? What a shame that episode two should end on one of those dreadful ‘Doctorrrrrrr!’ moments, we haven’t had his name stretched out this long since Jane Hampden belted it out in The Awakening cliffhanger! The idea of Dalek toys being armed with firepower is such an awesomely nutty idea it is such a shame to see it wasted in a story that is already juggling too many other clever concepts. This is ripe for a screwball comedy set on contemporary Earth.

Standout Scene: Episode four was my favourite as all the disparate strands manage to come together with some style – I really don’t understand the levels of confusion I have seen reported about this story in the past. I also secretly really enjoyed the toy Daleks invading the TARDIS – come on what a fun idea!

Notes: Two things immediately go against this story – the appalling cover and the idea that the writer was so dismayed that he took his name off the product! I can only think of two other times when that has happened in Doctor Who history – with The Dominators (and we all know how that turned out) and The Brain of Morbius (which was spectacular). Perhaps the innovations were for the best – The Hollows of Time was pretty much Bidmead left to his own devices and that was the biggest yawn fest of the Lost Stories first season – or maybe we would have had the audio equivalent of his very own Castrovalva or Frontios, two stories I rate quite highly. The cover literally looks like the faceless stamp that Amazon puts on Doctor Who releases before the genuine cover has been released – a shimmering TARDIS and this time it is surrounded by a squint because its hard to recognise montages of Daleks. Its shockingly awful and the second below par cover in a row (actually Circular Time’s was pretty naff too).

Is this the very first ‘Coming Soon From Big Finish Productions…’ from Nick Briggs? There has been much debate and pomp’n’circumstance about Briggsy and his ominous trailers of death voice and although I put in my tuppence worth there I’ve got to say…I rather like it! Its become a staple of the CDs now that I would miss if it was taken off – however I do feel that the trailers being put at the beginning of the stories is a huge mistake, especially with the upcoming trilogies because it spoils events in the story you are just about to listen to. However whoever made the suggestion that Tom Baker should do the trailer announcements on his stories is a genius because Baker is about the only person I can imagine giving it even more gravitas than Briggs!

It wouldn’t be a Bidmead script (or from a story by…) if it didn’t have an entire episode set inside the TARDIS with people jibber jabbering!

Result: Vietnam, Crusades, alternative realities, deadly toy Daleks, the Omniverse junction, wormholes to different times, a City made of Daleks, conditioned human Daleks – you certainly cannot accuse Renaissance of the Daleks of not being ambitious! I honestly don’t see what is so confusing about this story since everything (the time tracks, the toy Daleks, the whispering voices) is explained and tied up in the last episode and with some swagger I might say! Is this much criticised story as bad as people say it is? Not at all and I would go as far as to say it is worth seeking out because of its piss poor reputation – the ideas are incredible, there is some really fun imagery, the Doctor is on form and the story builds a threat that is unusually bloodless and fascinating. I even really enjoyed the hoping about from place to place, beautifully brought to life by John Ainsworth who is back on form. There are problems – Alice is the most irritating creation since Monica Lewis in Land of the Dead, the story feels top heavy with concepts at times and there is a massive gap in the middle of the story where all the characters hang out in the TARDIS for half an hour. Plus the conclusion isn’t quite as spectacular as I would have hoped for, it reminds me of one of those Star Trek style endings where Captain Kirk convinces the living bomb to kill itself. However I went into Renaissance of the Daleks expecting pain and was hugely surprised to find such a wealth of goodies – I haven’t even mentioned the terrific musical score which really adds to the drama. There’s about four stories going on at once here and they aren’t all given adequate time but as a quirky, labyrinthine bit of madness that genuinely gives the Daleks a new spin I give this story a thumbs up: 7/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @


John Ainsworth said...

Well, it's nice to read a review of this story that highlights some of the more positive aspects of the release. Reservations about the script aside, I was actually very pleased with the production of this story. Andy Hardwick brought a subtlety to his sound design that really brought the scenes to life and complimented them with some excellent music. I was also very pleased with the cast - including Regina Reagan who played the brash Alice, but nobody else seemed to like her unfortunately.

The script though! And Christopher Bidmead taking his name off it. What happened there then? Well, the final version of Chris's script was about half-an-hour too long, had twice as many characters and, to be honest, really didn't making much sense. Nick Briggs made the only sensible decision which was to cut the script down and to eliminate or combine many of the characters. Nick did all the actual writing but much of what he did came out of many long discussions between him and myself. As well as addressing the practical issues, we wanted to make some sense out of the story. In Chris's version there was - astonishingly - seemingly no connection between the production of the toy Daleks on Earth and the invasion being planned by the Greylish. So, a priority was to connect the two in a credible way. Also the original ending made absolutely no sense. In it, the TARDIS was broken up, in the same way that it was in 'Frontios' (a story, by-the-way, that Chris had Nyssa remembering even though she had left the TARDIS by that point). The destruction of the TARDIS somehow foiled the Dalek invasion attempt, but it wasn't at all clear how or why it had done this. So, Nick and I decided we had to create a completely new ending. After much head scratching, I came up with the idea of using the HADS to break the Daleks' control over the TARDIS, giving the Doctor only seconds to jettison the bomb.

I think there were lots of other minor changes, but these were the big ones. Despite Nick's rewriting of the script, I would say that, apart from the climax, the story was still essentially what Chris had written - including the 'Three blind mice' sequence, which I really didn't like.

We sent the revised script to Chris and, as far as I remember, he read no further than the first half of episode one. Seeing that changes had been made he asked for his name to be taken off it. A disappointing reaction, especially when one learns how much he tampered with other people's scripts when he was script editor on the TV series.

The trouble with trying to repair a poor script is that you can never be entirely successful. Listeners will still criticise it and some might think that rewriting by hands other than the author's own may have made things worse not better. I think that might be true in some instances, but not in this particular case. Even if it had been possible to produce the original Bidmead version of the script (which would have meant releasing it on three CDs and with a large cast beyond the production's budget) I doubt many would have been happy with a story that defied all logic and had an unsatisfactory, non-sensical ending.

John Ainsworth
Director - Renaissance of the Daleks

David Pirtle said...

I think your review is spot on regarding what works and what doesn't. It's great of John Ainsworth to have left such an extensive explanation of how it came about, too. Sounds like the process of getting this story made was every bit as crazy as the story itself ended up being. Anyway, I enjoyed it, bad reputation or no.