Sunday, 15 April 2012

Energy of the Daleks written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: The Doctor and Leela find themselves in the middle of London at the time of a new energy crisis. The GlobeSphere Corporation seems to have all the answers – but several thousand protestors beg to differ. What is the connection between the National Gallery and a base on the Moon? Has radical thinker Damien Stephens simply sold out, or does he have a more sinister agenda? The Doctor has detected a mysterious energy reading. Could it be that the most evil creatures in the universe have returned to claim ultimate victory once and for all?

Teeth and Curls: Strangely enough I have been doing an exercise marathon (a mixture of Doctor Who and Big Finish episodes whilst I cross train) and have just reached the mid point of season 15. It really shows that Tom Baker didn’t have any time for Leela’s character at least as far as Horror of Fang Rock and The Invisible Enemy are concerned where he cannot look Louise Jameson in the eye and vomits his lines at her that makes every one sound like an insult. Its shocking after their sweet introductory stories in season fourteen. Its made me re-evaluate what Big Finish are trying to do with this season 14b because this is our chance as fans of both the fourth Doctor and Leela to see the two of them working together as a team and Tom and Louise really enjoying each others company and the scripts. Certainly there is more warmth and feeling between them in Renaissance, Iceni and Energy of the Daleks than I have seen yet in season 15 and its astonishing how well they fit when Baker is willing to give the character a chance. I look forward to more stories with the pair and their newfound respect for one another and perhaps one day we will see a blistering schism between the two that explain their discordant chemistry in their last season together.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Tom Baker’s performance here was that it seemed to veer between the absolute seriousness of Genesis of the Daleks and the complete irreverence of Destiny of the Daleks which given its placing in the fourth Doctor’s run felt entirely appropriate. It made me chuckle to have the Doctor wrong footed for once as he steps from the TARDIS and has its materialisation explained to him! I loved the way Tom Baker said the line ‘2025 AD’ because he sounded just like Peter Cushing when he announced their presence in Earth’s future in the second movie! The Doctor manages to give the briefest potted history of the Daleks on record but that is only because there isn’t the time to waste on such explanations and actually it’s a pretty succinct and accurate summation anyway. Listen to the way the Doctor says ‘Robomen’ and then copy him…its infectious! The Doctor and Leela have great fun pretending to be Robomen but I don’t think I’ll be putting either of them up for an Oscar. I couldn’t resist joining in with ‘BYE BYE DALEKS!’ in true Destiny of the Daleks style and my cats looked at me as though I had gone quite dolally! He enjoys giving the Daleks a galaxy sized migraine.

Noble Savage: It strikes me as a little odd that the Doctor should try and civilise Leela by showing her the worst of humanity and pitching up at historical battles (Iceni) and riots (Daleks). Mind you for Leela that sort of behaviour is civilised so I guess she feels as though she is learning a lot! The Doctor is dressing up Leela in period clothes again, this time the 21st Century I for one would have paid to have had the chance to see her in a hoodie, jeans and trainers. She is clever enough to know when she is being mocked. Leela versus the Daleks? How could they have possibly resisted? She calls them ‘metal cones’ and refuses to take any of their nonsense, always managing to shout that little bit louder than them! As usual Louise Jameson is giving 110% (is that possible?) and really sounds as though she is in severe pain as the Daleks try and drag the information from her mind. She isn’t afraid of anything, is she? She insults the Daleks because she does not fear death and has absolute faith that she will see the Doctor again and he will defeat his greatest enemies.

Standout Performance: In a time when his name is used as a swear word on the lips of certain Doctor Who fans who think they can make the show (whether it is on TV or audio) better than the people doing it (I’d love to see them have a go) I think it is worth pointing out just how much Nicholas Briggs has contributed to both Big Finish and the new series and what a talented contributor to Doctor Who he is in general. His voice work is astonishing (big up for the Judoon! How! Now! Brown! Cow!) and he has taken the Daleks to depths that even veterans such as Roy Skelton and Michael Wisher didn’t manage. His stories veer from being brilliant (Creatures of Beauty, Patient Zero, the Dalek Empire series) to less than successful (Sword of Orion, Destination Nerva, the Cyberman series) but that isn’t a blinding revelation because that is a description I would use to depict practically every writer (with very few exceptions). His best work is dramatic, thought provoking, intelligent and immersive and his continued passion for Big Finish since Gary Russell jumped ship (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory fashion because I would have done the same for a chance to work on the TV series) has ensured its continued success and survival. I think people concentrate far too much on little things (‘HOW DARE HE USE DIFFERENT VOICES ON THE EARTHSHOCK TARGET AUDIO!’) and forget all the really positive things the man has brought to the audios and the TV show. So this is a wave to you, Nick Briggs and your wonderful Dalek voices in this story and your continued dedication and talent pouring into Big Finish.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘No he will exterminate you and I will help him!’ – go Leela!
‘Let’s go to the moon!’ – and just when the Doctor was starting to sound sane!
‘That was the Daleks. They’re ruthless, they’re unstoppable and they’re on their way…’
‘Sine you’re so confident you wont mind if I give it a try, will you?’

Great Ideas: You know Energy of the Daleks is a unique one for sure because all of the stories up until now have tried very hard (and for the most part succeeded) to capture the era they were made in. Even John Dorney’s flawed but memorable Boudica adventure could have been made at the time with a couple of horses and a muddy field. I have made no secret of my opinions of Destination Nerva and still think it was an embarrassing misfire for the range that put nostalgia above creating a decent story so its really pleasing to see Nick Briggs completely breaking free of the mould this time and producing something that I couldn’t see on screen in 1970. Made in 2011 with the benefit of hindsight we are experiencing our first taste of the Doctor and Leela in some genuinely contemporary adventures and it’s a nice feeling. If the series had stuck to its roots throughout it would have been like another Lost Story season and if the Main range had worked that way Peter Davison would be swamped by his melodramatic companions, Colin Baker would only be starring in gaudy, violent adventures and Sylvester McCoy would be shouting unconvincingly all the time. Okay the last one is true but the truth of the matter is that they took all the audio Doctors in new directions and improved them because of it and now it looks as if the fourth Doctor is going to get that chance too. Hurrah. The internet is described as a ‘21st century human obsession.’ I’ll go with that! Its interesting to see Doctor Who do a take on the energy crisis and handle protestations to that cause. He can try and sound pissed as a fart but I heard John Dorney in there as a Roboman! Everyone winding up in Damian’s bed really made me chuckle. The Daleks are still manipulative little buggers – promising Damian limitless energy if he goes along with their plans. I find it very amusing that the encapsulation of pure evil should understand human greed so well. This time the metal meanies are trying to push the moon away and turn the Earth into a violent meteorological maelstrom, shifting the planets axis, equatorial regions becoming polar with climate changes of unimaginable force and wiping out the human race. They are thinking ahead this time and wiping out a force that will challenge them in the future, the clever bastards! Leela describes them as cowards scared of a fair fight. There’s a moral in there somewhere about not taking short cuts to a brighter future but again the running means that it cannot be laboured and given some of the third Doctor’s misty eyed speeches to camera that might be a relief!

Audio Landscape: Airlock door opening, TARDIS beeping and bonking, wind, a screaming riot, rain falling, transmat, squeaky door, sonic screwdriver, the delicious Dalek guns that scream are back and I love that sound effect, the is still room for some authenticity and a Dalek blows in true 70s unspectacular fashion…it literally sounds like a polystyrene casing crumbling!, screams,

Musical Cues: There is an awesome piano theme running through the scene where the Doctor realises who is behind this whole messy business that had my foot tapping away. 

Result: Personally I found this far superior to Destination Nerva on just about every count. The simpler, more dramatic story is a blessing, the characters whilst not Robert Holmes memorable were serviceable to the plot and there is a very real threat in the shape of the Daleks. Had Nicholas Briggs failed to impress me with a Dalek tale after his superlative four season Dalek Empire series I would have been gobsmacked but he understands the creatures too well to disappoint on that score. I’ve already heard people suggest that this should have been a longer story and I cannot help but agree with that assessment because the first episodes flies by in a hurry and only leaves a scant 25 minutes for the Daleks to impress. I’m not sure if the reason is financial of creative but two of the four released so far have suffered greatly from their reduced running time (and I don’t buy that Nick Briggs cannot work to a 50 minute schedule because he provided some belters in the 8DA range) and could have done with some fleshing out of the situation and the cast. Its all about as deep as a puddle but its very exciting and quite funny (I loved the character who kept pointing out how mad the Doctor was) for that and its good to follow up the high drama of Iceni with something this unpretentious and fun. There’s been nothing in this first fourth Doctor season that I would call and out and out classic but they are certainly bubbling along quite nicely. I just wonder what the first knockout of the range is going to be (looks up Jonny Morris’ next contribution in the Mary Tamm season…). Energy of the Daleks isn’t going to be anybody’s favourite audio adventure (at least I don’t think so) but it’s a harmless Dalek diversion with plenty of bang for your buck and I can certainly think of far less fun ways to spend 50 minutes of your life (I’ve just reviewed seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager). Enjoyable: 7/10


Ryan Naughton said...

Good write up. Do you think you'll ever write an article about these "certain Doctor Who fans who think they can make the show better than the people doing it?"

MyTinyCureStories said...

Hi there! Do you own any blogging skills or it is a natural gift? Thanks a bunch in advance for your answer.

daf said...

Just getting into the Fourth Doctor Audios (after testing the waters with Jago & Litefoot) - Love these reviews (please do some more!)

David Pirtle said...

Baker goes back and forth this series. Off in Nerva, on in Renaissance Man, off in Wrath of the Iceni, on again here. I guess it just depends on the day :P

Anyway the story's good fun.