Monday, 4 June 2012

Dalek War Chapter One written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: The galaxy is in the grip of a terrible war. Karlendorf and his alliance forces are fighting alongside the Daleks from another dimension. Their common cause? The defeat of the Supreme Dalek’s mighty army. But where is the evil Emperor of the Daleks? And can it be that the legendary Angel of Mercy, Susan Mendez, has already been exterminated? With civilisation on the brink of destruction, it may now be impossible to tell friend from foe…

Angel of Mercy: Suze has been in cryo-sleep for six years and doesn’t know if the people who have thawed her are friend or foe. She wakes up in terrible confusion mixing up all the horrific events that have happened and blaming Alby for the death of her mum and dad. To awaken and discover that you have the Dalek Emperors mind poured into your own is a truly horrific fate. Hasn’t this poor woman been though enough?

Anti Hero: Alby has plenty of undercover operatives in all the places that count. That’s the way he works.

Knight of Velyshaa: If you are going to build up a series around something as melodramatic as the Daleks then you need proper, classical actors to give the material some weight and Gareth Thomas (who hasn’t given a single duff performance in anything Big Finish have asked of him) is just the ticket. Whilst working with the alternative Daleks Karlendorf is trying to pull of the same trick that he and Suze did in the first series – planting instructions in the mind of others whilst pretending to co-operate. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks… His conversations with the Mentor – the leader of the alternative Daleks – are a nice alternative to the Susan/Supreme Dalek scenes of the first series. Karlendorf likes a risky strategy because usually that means a big win. He is suspicious when victory comes too easily.

Standout Performance: From the off the Mentor is an absorbing character and Hannah Smith plays the part with just enough lightest of touch to make her seem like a credible force for peace in the universe whilst adding some moments of venom towards the end of the story that suggest all is not as it seems. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I think our new Dalek allies are as ruthlessly determined about peace and order as our old enemies were about war and subjugation. It seems we might have swapped one dictatorship for another.’

Great Ideas: I love the fact that the opening scenes of this story take place long after the events of Dalek Empire where Karlendorf and Suze’s actions have been mythologised. It means their struggles counted for something and this is also a useful device to catch up those listener that haven’t heard the first series on the seasons developments. The Earth Alliance had established peace until the Daleks had invaded. Somehow they had the means to create a dimensional gateway into an alternative universe and from that universe they intended to gain the wisdom of the alternative Daleks to rule our cosmos. A terrible war began between the two races of Daleks (that’s what happens when your creator goes in for racial purity) with Karlendorf and his forces in the middle. A distress call from the Emperor of the Daleks? He was captured in a battle at the dimensional gateway but the Mentor didn’t want him killed. He wanted to use him to access the Dalek command net and take command of his forces but as soon as he was captured he shut all of his systems down. The Daleks plan in the first series was to wage war on the galaxy just to get their hands on Project Infinity – they certainly think big. Nobody was expecting the Daleks from the alternative universe to turn out to be allies and that they would work with the rebellion to destroy the Daleks from our universe. The Mentor looks like an angel encased in a golden glowing throne. The alternative Daleks stand for peace and order and consider themselves the guardians of it. It’s a very tricky description of their creed because that is exactly the sort of statement of belief that the Founders spread in DS9 but went about ensuring it by subjugating other races into compliance and murdering those that didn’t co-operate. However the very idea of Daleks from another dimension that are the polar opposites (at least on the surface) of our Daleks is such a strong idea it astonishes me that the TV series (that has explored the Daleks in some considerable depth) hadn’t thought of it. Planets that have refused to supply troops for the war effort have been decimated by the alternative Daleks or were reduced to medieval civilisations without technology so they are no longer a threat. When Mirana is near enemy Daleks sometimes she is able to sense things and the reason the Emperor is inert is because it compressed and transmitted its entire consciousness into another mind. Suze’s mind. The name for the group of worlds that are feeling the hand of the Mentor are the Punished Planets.

Audio Landscape: Explosions (there will be plenty of those throughout this series so it seems quite appropriate that the first sound effect is this). Once again Nick Briggs impresses by creating a massive cinematic soundscape but what really gets me is all the technology he makes sound so dynamic…consoles, alarms, weapons systems, ships screaming into orbit, etc. The bubbling, purring voice of the Mentor is very seductive, the Peter Cushing Dalek movie control room, cutting open the casing, Suze’s deathly scream when she wakes up, a horse and cart,

Musical Cues: Despite the fact that I haven’t listened to it in an age I still felt a surge of excitement when I heard the (excellent) theme tune such was the impact that this series had on me when it first came out. Nicholas Briggs has been criticised in the past for taking on far too much of Big Finish’s output but Dalek Empire is his baby so there should be no complaints to the fact that he is writing, directing, starring in and supplying the music. His score is disquietingly quiet for the most part some bombastic drums enter the fray as the explanations are over and the climax leads us headlong into this series proper.

Isn’t it Odd: The first half of this story is a little unsure if it wants to fill in the audience on what has happened in the previous series or set up new developments in this one. The result is an awful lot of choppy scenes with characters talking to electronic devices but not an awful lot of human interaction. With no real characters to warm to its hard to get involved initially. Plus juggling so many plotlines and battles means the story does flow as it should. I’m not worried because the first series started in a similar way but it’s a shame that this sophomore season should begin on such an awkward footing. Once Suze is revived and starts interacting with Mirana the whole story steps up a gear.

Result: There is quite a complex narrative structure to Chapter One of Dalek War with two unnamed characters talking about the events of this series from some time in the future and flashbacks within that flashback to what has happened since the climax Dalek Empire. At the same time Briggs is spends the first half of the story dealing with the consequences of the alternative Dalek/rebellion Alliance before actually revealing how and why those events took place. The story is most akin to Nicholas Briggs’ Creatures of Beauty in that it is telling the story entirely out of order and the scene that answers all of our questions about the newfound alliance doesn’t come until two thirds into the adventure. It means that ultimately this segment is rewarding but its non linear nature makes you wonder in the first half if this series is going to waste its running time basking in the glories of the first year rather than kick starting a second. Production standards are very high and by the end of the story all of our favourites (Suze, Alby and Karlendorf) are back in action and a truly intriguing situation has been set up. Introducing the alternative universe Daleks has proven to be a hit and kicked off a brand new menace for our heroes to fight whilst pretending to be on their side. Ultimately this is a clever story because its little more than exposition but the jigsaw structure of the story and the fascinating developments convinces you that you actually watching this unfold in real time. I’m not entirely sold on this as a standalone adventure but its an appetite whetting beginning and I’m looking forward to seeing where we go from here. Has Suze got the Dalek Emperor’s mind trapped in hers? What is the Mentor really up to? Bring on Chapter Two: 7/10

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