Saturday, 6 August 2011

Brotherhood of the Daleks written by Alan Barnes and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: The TARDIS materialises. Despite console readings to the contrary, the Sixth Doctor and Charley step out, unexpectedly, into an alien jungle, where they find themselves stalked and then ambushed. They have landed in the middle of one of the Dalek wars, and this time the tactics used by both sides are threatening the very nature of reality.

Softer Six: A massive round of applause for Colin Baker who pretty much on his own has to handle the many deft and complex explanations as this story unfolds and he doesn’t falter once. I can only imagine the mess this would be if the story were written for Sylvester McCoy. The Doctor and Charley are planning holiday trips together so he must be warming to her quite a bit. When he first appears he is decked out in genuine Inuit garb for a skiing vacation! Does he look like anything other than one of a kind. He daren’t tell the Thals that he is the Doctor just in case he starts undoing his own timeline! Although suspicious of her knowledge of Daleks when Charley runs into the jungle to escape the Thals he cannot bear the thought of letting her fend for herself. Showing his humanity once more the Doctor refuses to allow such a sadistic experiment to even be performed on Daleks. The Thals who infect the Daleks minds need a leader and a tactician and someone with experience of defeating the Daleks…can you think of anybody more qualified? Murgat wants him to travel with them via the cairopytes dream state and destroying the Dalek heart from within. Charley calls him a fibber when he says that he hasn’t met Sigmund Freud but of course its just that he hasn’t met him yet. The Doctor cries with some anger that everything in the universe changes but not the Daleks who have stagnated themselves in evil and if it wasn’t so terrifying it would be pathetic. The Doctor has confronted the Daleks on a thousand worlds, beaten them time and time again, destroyed entire legions of Daleks, whole battle fleets and he doesn’t think it too many. He’s fought the Daleks for too long and ultimately they will never change, they can’t and he can’t allow a Dalek army to exist near so many civilised worlds. The Doctor thinks that Jesic has made the wrong choice by staying behind (he was going to let her come with them and see something of the universe) but she spared him the nasty task of having to take this evolution of the Daleks and crush it.

Edwardian Adventuress: There is simply too much fun to be had with Charley continually keeping her secret from the Doctor. When she hears that the Daleks blood enemies are the Daleks she is naturally shocked and the Doctor can see her reaction no matter how much she tries to hide it and pretend she has never heard of them. The Doctor is slowing building up a picture of where Charley comes from and when she suggests shell shock over post traumatic stress disorder that is another hint in the right direction. Despite the fact that she is desperately trying to conceal her identity she still has time to a little bit sarky and gets a very nasty smack in the face for her troubles (the way the Doctor tries to comfort her is very sweet). When suggesting that they could be in a fantasy created by exposure to cairopytes Charley mentions that if that was the case she wouldn’t be travelling with the Doctor which unfortunately he overhears and misinterprets. Of course she means she wouldn’t be travelling with this Doctor but he doesn’t know that. Being a tooth that needs extracting in the maw of the Web of Time Charley is more than experienced with its ins and outs and the Doctor is curious to know how (she says he mentioned it last Thursday. Yeah, nice one Charley). I never realise what a devious cow that Charley could be and it has only been since she has been forced to make up her life as she goes along that you realise how smart she really it – just listen to her story where she tries to convince the Daleks that she is a replicant sent to travel with the Doctor and gain unique insight into him for the Daleks. She’s making it all up on the spot and she’s a bloody genius! This approach to her character being somewhat desperate and improvisational has really opened up a fascinating new avenue for the writers to explore. The Black Dalek has this insane theory that Charley has travelled with the Doctor in a future incarnation and has broken the first law of time by hitching a ride with him in one of his previous incarnations – the perfect chance for her to own up. Charley wonders if all that has happened to her of late is the Web of Time’s revenge on her and the Doctor for him saving her from the R-101. They went to amazing places and met the most wonderful of people and Charley never wanted it to end but one day it did. When she saw the Doctor die she wanted him back more than anything and to have told the sixth Doctor the truth would have been to have let her Doctor go. She’s not ready for that and she’s still not. As all this spills out of her you can sense her relief that she finally admitted to it and her frustration when it turns out to be a fake Doctor. Murgat warns Charley that she can’t lie to the Doctor forever and that he wouldn’t want to be in her shoes when he finds out the truth.

Standout Performance: Its lovely to see that no matter how complex a script Michael Cochrane thought Ghost Light was Big Finish have managed to trump it and give him a part in a story where he actually has no single clue what is going on! However it doesn’t matter because he is such a professional actor he gives a sterling portrayal of an insane quisling of a character. All the cast are very good in this story and it was needed to keep track of everything but the real plaudits have to go to Colin Baker and India Fisher whose relationship has become the highlight of the main range.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You really ought have become blooming by now’ ‘I’m not a Clematis!’
‘You’re a one man eco system!’
‘You can keep a crocodile in your bathtub Murgat but you’ll never make it tame.’
‘An experiment within an experiment! A triumph for Dalek ingenuity!’ – the Daleks take the credit for Barnes’ convoluted script!
‘A Dalek doesn’t change his spots!’

Great Ideas: Hold your breath because this is going to be a long ride. Sometimes a Doctor Who audio comes along that is so breathtaking in its labyrinthe plotting and packed full of imaginative ideas that it takes a hardcore breakdown to bring the quality of the script into perspective. The last time I encountered a script that was this complexly plotted but brimming with creativity was Neverland and low and behold that was also written by Alan Barnes. The scanner suggests they are in an ice cavern in the depths of some weird alien crevasse but outside the TARDIS is a lush and humid jungle. The scanners effectiveness is decreasing by the minute. A Thal platoon that is lost on Spiridon with their pick up on its way to their agreed location. Nyaiad was killed during their initial survey of the planet cornered by a squadron of Daleks. The TARDIS is eaten away by the spores and consumed by the jungle. When one of Thals recognises Charley it is a great ‘oh shit’ moment – not only because you wonder how she is going to talk her way out of this but because she has never met the Thals before. Hieroglyphs are carved into the moss of the nearest set of ruins but not in the stone? Nyaiad was seen to die but when she turns up they all think she is a Dalek replicate. Valion being taunted by Daleks inside his head as he struggles to find the word ‘EXTERMINATE!’ is as gripping as it is baffling. The reason that Charley didn’t start blooming when she was infected was because the dominant impression of her was that she was a Dalek replicate that couldn’t be infected. The Thals mental engrams are shaping this environment – they were never on Spiridon. There is something in the air that is encouraging this fiction but the Doctor discovers a blue flower that is noted for its anti hallucinogenic properties and they take a good sniff. That turns out to be a ruse by the Doctor to convince Charley that there was a way to break the spell of unreality and it works. When they wake up in the real world they are surrounded by Daleks who think they are the Thals that they met in the illusion (and their chanting of ‘WE ARE THALS!’ makes for a fabulous cliffhanger). The Doctor and Charley have landed exactly where they thought they were…in the hollows of an ice planet! Is a half Thal, half plant living in (for all intents and purposes) a mobile greenhouse so water is continually recycled to keep the foliage moist so the plants don’t prey on his own fluids. A hundred acres of the same flower cultivated in gigantic greenhouses in the heart of an ice planet – they are harvesting cairopytes. Their pollen lulls their victims into a dream state (see also The Mind’s Eye) where they live out a fantasy existence where they slowly being composted. The Jekylls share a symbiotic relationship with the cairopytes guarding them by night in exchange for immunity from their poison. And that immunity is what Murgat has extracted for himself to keep his infection at bay. The cairopytes pollen is sucked out through the extraction fans and pumped into the ice cavern to the Daleks. This was once a Dalek facility, an experimental station but the Thals have driven the Daleks out of this corner of the galaxy (with a little help from the Doctor). The Thals that they have met are all being eaten away by one giant cairopytes and all sharing the one dream and that dream is being relayed to the Daleks in the ice cavern. You can happily go boss eyed with confusion now, I don’t mind. The platoon were captured by the Daleks and the experiment was already underway when the Thals captured the base. The Daleks were planning on using the cairopytes dream state as a means of transmitting their thought processes into individual brains. Here was a way to enslave the minds of an entire species, pollinating an entire planet before their saucers even land. The Thals want to exploit this technique from the other angle and transplant their minds into Daleks and sabotage the Dalek are machine from the inside. It’s a long winded way to get to this revelation for sure but what a fantastic idea to base a story on. Just how far will the Daleks and Thals go to wipe each other out? The Doctor was brought here because Murgat wanted to see how the Thal infected Daleks would react to the sight of the TARDIS and unfortunately one sniff of their mortal enemy and they revert back to their heartless Dalek selves. Nyaiad was a Dalek replicant from the start…itself replicated and programmed to infiltrate the platoon! The real Nyaiad was captured alone in the jungle, interrogated in the Daleks underground citadel and subjected her to cruel torments when she refused to comply. The Thals and the Daleks are from the same species – would it be so bad if the Thals gained some of the Daleks ingenuity and instinct for survival and the Dalek’s some of Thal’s comradeship and fellow feeling. A Dalek ship glides over the facility to tell Murgat that they have been infiltrated and this has always been a Dalek facility. The Thal Daleks can experience the replicants pain. The Dalek facility is actually far larger than any of them thought and like the plot of this story has unexpected layers beneath that nobody knew about. Fully automated levels with experiments running. The whole point of the experiment wasn’t that they wanted Daleks that think they’re Thal soldiers, they wanted Daleks that think like Thal soldiers. The experiment was to bottle the fighting spirit and comradeship and use it as anything that would give the Daleks an advantage however small on the field of battle. The Daleks really are mindblowingly loopy aren’t they? As soon as he realises the truth about Charley he wants to create a replicant of her and send her to be rescued by the Doctor on the R-101 so they can change the Doctor’s future and the future of the entire Dalek race! Mad singing communist Daleks…surely this story cannot get any more insane? The Brotherhood of the Daleks is a dream worth having but the Doctor knows they will revert to type and remember the things about themselves that Murgat would rather they forgot. He wants them to spread comradeship and brotherhood throughout the universe but the Doctor knows you can take the Dalek out of the death camp but you can’t take the death camp out of the Dalek. A dream it may be but it is a dream worth having and Jesic agrees to stay with the Brotherhood and at the first sign of the Daleks reverting to type she will cause an antimatter explosion and wipe them all out.

Audio Landscape: Sometimes when I hear a sound effect that made in impression on my during the television series being used so authentically in an audio adventure I cry out loud (no, its true) and when I heard the splot-splot sound of the horrid fungus plant on Spiridon I think I scared the cats! Dalek heartbeat, verdant jungle sounds, walking through the grass and ferns, a space craft screaming through the sky, Charley being eaten by a plant, gunfire, Dalek extermination blasts, we experience the Spiridon illusion vanishing and the Doctor and Charley appear in a dank spacious warehouse, lights snapping on suddenly, ripping off the masks (it sounds like ripping off somebody’s skin!), the humanoid sounding Thal Daleks are awesome, Nyaiad screaming horribly when she was tortured by the Daleks, Daleks screaming as their casings are melted down, the Black Dalek is executed in a big explosion.

Musical Cues: Steven Foxon has great fun providing a dark and playful score to accompany Brotherhood of the Daleks’ twisting plot.

Standout Scene: Just when you think the story must have run out surprises Charley admits what her secret is to the Doctor…that she is a Dalek replicant! This is so dizzyingly out of control at this point I was just grinning and going with it. Just when you think that Charley has finally owned up to the Doctor that is proven to be another conceit. Clever sods, having their cake and eating it. I love the sequence at the end with the title music playing and the Doctor completely subsumed by cairopytes that he thinks he is visiting Spiridon once again but this time with Jesic as his companion! Then Barnes trumps that by pretending that he is leaving the story open ended and suddenly disrupts what we think is the real concluding music with the crushing inevitability of the Doctor being right. It’s a superb final scene when we finally understand that their creed heralds their own destruction.

Notes: The Daleks remember Charley from Folkestone on the planet Earth – her cover is finally blown when the Daleks recognise her from the eighth Doctor adventure Terror Firma.

Result: ‘Doctor there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you…’ When reality is in question and people aren’t who they say they are…can you trust anybody? As India Fisher says in the interviews ‘you’ve paid your money and now get your money’s worth’ and it will probably take a number of listens to get your head around the many layers that this story is built on. There is a feeling of distrust that runs through this story that extends from the Daleks to the Thals and even to the Doctor and Charley whose relationship is really starting to flourish in unexpected ways. Brotherhood of the Daleks is a devilishly complicated tale that enjoys freaking out the audience by never failing to throw more and more surprises at you. The ideas keep coming and when I first listened to it I gave up by the end of the second episode because I felt it was too complicated for its own good but I have never been more wrong. Alan Barnes rams so much ingenious plot down your throat you are left gorged by the innovations and completely unwary of the volley of twists in the last few episodes as the traitors are exposed and the Daleks make their move. Underneath this madcap narrative there is the continuing discomfort of Charley keeping her secret from the sixth Doctor and with each successive story things are becoming more and more impossible to hide. This is The Last Resort of the Big Finish range – an intricate nightmare of a story that is great fun to deconstruct its Russian Doll nature and with a intense final scene: 8.5/10

You Tube animation of the last scene here rendered in 3D animation:


Anonymous said...

This story is insane. In a good way, but nonetheless insane. It fulfilled my wish to hear singing Daleks. That alone makes it worthwhile.

Unknown said...

Just listened to this absolutely loved it and great review!

Ernesto Guevara said...

Love the story for the most part just hated the whole anti-communist diatribe against the character of Murgat, which I would really have only expected from Charley though. Ultimately though, I think Barnes was saying that a creature as evil as the Daleks couldn't embrace any kind of equality. The epilogue could have been cut out, despite how well done it was, because it seemed fairly obvious to me that the trigger word was "Exterminate!" and it would have left a great cliffhanger as to whether Murgat succeeds or not, leaving an open book, not for sequels but for interpretation of the plot. I don't see why the Doctor liked Jessick so much, she didn't seem like companion material to me until the Epilogue, but the whole Thalek narrative/experiment was intriguing to say the least.