Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Dalek War Chapter Four written and directed by Nick Briggs

What’s it about: Two thousand years ago the galaxy was devastated by the Great Catastrophe. No one really knows what happened. Some say it was the work of the ‘Dark One’ of the ‘Bringer of Death.’ And in the ancient remains of a civilisation on the planet Velyshaa a lonely outcast is uncovering evidence of who that terrible figure really was. Could it be that Kalendorf’s determination to rid the galaxy of Daleks will bring about the destruction of everything? Indeed, can the Daleks ever truly be defeated…?

Angel of Mercy & Anti Hero: I always knew that Suze would go far to save lives but when the shot rang out at the end of Chapter Three I would never have believed in a million years that it was her shooting Alby so Kalendorf can put his plan into motion. Things must be really desperate if killing the man you love is the best option. You realise with some certainty that after 8 discs and over 10 hours of storytelling that these characters journey’s are genuinely coming to an end. There’s a horrible feeling that lingers that ultimately the people involved in this conflict aren’t important, it’s the outcome that matters and that is a cold statement to make. Alby dies suddenly, shockingly and with no grand send off (Briggs was much kinder when he came to kill off a companion in the 8th Doctor line in the future) an staring into the eyes of the laver that killed him. Similarly Kalendorf is willing to sacrifice Suze in order to defeat the Daleks. It seems that if you take the Doctor out of the equation and suddenly life is an acceptable cost as long as future generations reap the rewards of their successes. What was it I said about this series feeling very Blakes’ 7? It’s a bleak outlook for sure but it makes the series a gripping listen because anybody is expendable.

Knight of Velyshaa: Haredew takes Tarkov to the last resting place of the ‘great and terrible’ Kalendorf. Its very humbling to know that life goes on after your life comes to an end and it’s a wrenching shift to go from being in the midst of the machinations of Kalendorf’s plans to a time in the future when he has long passed on and his efforts are the subject of historical debate. In a moment of rare hysteria, Kalendorf rips open a Dalek casing to talk to a lone, dying Dalek warrior without the Mentor listening in. He feels a beat of regret when the Mentor tells him that Mirana is dead but it only last second. As I said, there’s no time for a conscience in the world of Dalek Empire. Kalendorf even recognises his own impotence – if he dies the Alliance will continue with just as much vigour than if he was alive. There is a wonderful scene between Kalendorf and the Mentor that comes after years of warfare, two tired leaders coming together to discuss betrayal and genocide. It’s a scene that I thought would be told hysterically with threats of violence but its all the more powerful for its calmness of tone. Its two equals talking peacefully about the destruction of worlds. She coolly informs him that he has led the galaxy to the brink of destruction but he maintains that to ensure the freedom of thought and of choice makes it worth it. The Mentor simply cannot understand why they fight so hard to be rid of them because if they go they will just start fighting amongst themselves. He realises that his time is passed once the fighting stops and disappears quietly into history to look for Suze.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Ultimately that’s the only difference, isn’t it? The smile. The gentle voice. But you are a Dalek’ – that’s an enduring image to take away from Dalek War. It’s the only time when the Daleks (who are usually bubbling away with hate for the unlike) commit genocide with a smile.
‘Why the hell would I have come here just to try to escape? I could have just stayed away!’ – that really tickled me!
‘The Daleks are still out there. Alive. On their way…’

Great Ideas: Initially you might be completely at a loss at why there are two random characters meeting on Velyshaa until you realise who they are and their importance to this series. This is Haredew and Tarkov who have been commenting on the action from the future throughout Dalek War. How nice to finally give their commentary some context. Haredew has been eeking out a godawful existence on Velyshaa forgotten by the Galactic Council who did not want to hear her theories about the Daleks. Tarkov has slowly been coming to the same conclusions but is not willing to make any kind of official statement until he has proof which meant he needed to find Haredew and listen to her story. It’s a great way of being able to narrate sweeping events so Briggs can push the story on at a rate of knots following the end of Chapter Three and it doesn’t feel like cheating because Haredew and Tarkov have been with us since the beginning of the series. As soon as the Angel of Mercy made her speech there was chaos; the Alliance fleet erupted into a war between all the non Dalek races and the Mentor’s Daleks. Eventually the Mentor’s Daleks retreated when the Dalek Supreme’s forces moved in. The Mentor brought forward her plan for the brain conversion of all other species. Kalendorf lead his forces besides the Dalek Supreme and the destruction was almost incalculable. The Mentor assures Kalendorf that neither side can win the war and statistically their continued fighting will lead to the destruction of all life. If that isn’t the ultimate recipe for peace then I don’t know what is! The ultimate difference between our Daleks and the alternative lot is that they have no desire to participate in pointless destruction and so they tuck their tail between their legs and head back to their own universe. The Emperor decided to remain in Susan Mendez and hatch a plan that would ensure Dalek victory. The Angel of Mercy will convince the worlds of the galaxy that the Daleks are no longer the enemy and as soon as their guard is down they will swoop in and attack. In a final wrenching twist Kalendorf reveals that he has implanted a destructive mental impulse in Suze’s mind (‘Victory or Death!’) that would spread via the Emperor to all of the Daleks. It made it easier for him to destroy the entire Dalek army because the Emperor in all his insane plotting had decided to remain inside Suze.

Audio Landscape: Spacecraft descending (just after the title music – its so loud and realistic you might find your ducking!), knocking, echoing voices, guns uncocking, a freezing wind, footsteps on gravel.

Standout Scene: Suddenly with crushing realisation you understand that Dalek War (as gripping as it has been on its own terms) is merely setting up Dalek Empire III right under our noses! This has basically been a wrapping up of all the elements from the first series with an alternative status as a five hour long Mission to the Unknown! Like the end of series one the cliffhanger ending promises a lot of excitement (‘DALEKS CONQUER AND DESTROY!’).

Result: Dalek War has been an unusual beast in that only the third instalment has been told in real time and the other three pieces of the jigsaw have been told either in retrospect and flashbacks. As a complete piece of work it is fascinating in narrative terms and Chapter Four pulls the rug under your feet in its very first scenes by not continuing the main storyline but giving depth and clarity to Haredew and Tarkov who have been narrating the story from the future throughout. Its been a useful device because it has given the series a scale and epic quality that outstretches in even series one but its only now that you realise that the events of this series have been a massive prelude to the next season set in that future time period. Briggs is playing some very clever games and with build up this good another series is assured. Its strange because you might think that telling this story in retrospect would gut it of its emotional impact (Tarkov comes from a future where these events aren’t in the public psyche anymore and all of the characters have been completely forgotten beyond an exceptional few) and despite the fact there is a dark tone that decrees that everybody is expendable, I got close to Suze, Alby and Kalendorf in the first series and I felt a need to find out how their story ended in the second.  Briggs uses that need as a weapon, constantly pulling away from their fates and denying you the sort of dramatic closure that you would expect but as compensation he mythologises them and burns their actions into your subconscious. It’s an unusual device (going for intellectual rather than an emotional impact) but given the scope of this range probably the best compliment I can hand him is that it really works. Production levels are at their peak with some stunning sound design and music and by the end of this you’ll feel as if you have witnessed a terrible war when you don’t experience a single shot. Friends are dead, the Daleks are destroyed but they have never truly been defeated. A galaxy that has chosen to ignore the Dalek threat is about to get a very nasty wake up call: 9/10

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