Friday, 14 February 2014

Dark Eyes II Part One: The Traitor written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

Box Set Synopsis: When the Doctor defeated the Dalek Time Controller and its Time Lord ally, the timelines shifted and events changed... but the danger is far from over. And new threats to the continued safety of the universe are emerging. Molly O'Sullivan carried on with her life as a nursing assistant in World War One. She probably thought she would never see the Doctor in his 'Tardy-box' again... From the Dalek occupied planet Nixyce VII through Earth's history and to the very edge of the universe, the Doctor's footprints across eternity are being tracked by foes old and new. But when did it all begin and when will it end? Living his life through the complexities of time travel, the Doctor can never be quite sure if he's experiencing his life in the most helpful order. The only certainty appears to be the advance of the powers of evil and the oncoming threat of a fight to the death against forces that would destroy everything the Doctor holds dear.

What's it about: Nixyce VII is under Dalek occupation. For many, their only hope of survival is decent medical care, as slave working conditions under the Dalek regime are appalling. But when you help people to survive under the rule of the Daleks, are you actually helping the Daleks? Med-tech Liv Chenka doesn't have the luxury of pondering these dilemmas. She must just do what she feels is right. But then there are the soldiers of last resort... The freedom fighters left behind to cause maximum damage to the Dalek war effort, at whatever cost. To them, anyone who seems to be helping the Daleks is a traitor. And when the Doctor arrives, his secret agenda throws him into conflict with everyone.

Battle Scarred: For a moment it felt like Eric Saward was in the script editing seat since it took the Doctor a full eleven minutes to turn up. The eighth Doctor seems to be obsessed with the Daleks at this point in his life, following their scent and seeing where he can foil their plans. He's a man with a mission. Unfortunately there is no sign of that in the first half of The Traitor in which he barely features, merely turning up and getting robotised in record time (or at least pretending to be). Keeping the Doctor in the shadows for quite so long enhances the feeling that this more of a continuation of the Dalek Empire series than a Doctor Who story. His alias when questioned is Burt Higgins - your guess is as good as mine! This time around he has an even bigger goal in mind, planning on driving the Daleks off of this planet in order to guide them towards and even more destructive force in the universe and use them as his own personal assassination squad. What force could be possibly be talking about to make him act so much like his predecessor, the master manipulator? How far can the Doctor climb to maintain his precious moral superiority? That's a question that is asked but 30 seconds from the end of the tale I'm not sure we are going to get an adequate answer.

Survivor: Given the prolific number of stories under Big Finish's wing now it makes sense to mix and match the characters to different ranges and see how they settle in. Leela slipped magnificently into Jago & Litefoot for a couple of seasons, it was a delight to mesh the seventh Doctor and Raine with UNIT for a very successful box set and perhaps most triumphant of all was the reunion between the Countermeasures team and the seventh Doctor and Ace resulted in one of the strongest main range adventures last year. The reaction might be a little muted when it comes to a character that appeared in one tale (Robophobia) several years ago and tucked away in a standalone trilogy in which Liv didn't seem to be needed beyond the confines of the opening story. The reason I did remember Liv was because of Nicola Walker's magnificent performance, a popular actress who has done some sterling work on television in the past couple of years (I loved her work in Last Tango in Halifax in particular). I'm intrigued to see what the character has to offer but more importantly I am thrilled to have Walker back for the entire length of the box set. Miracle or traitor, you decide? Liv has the reputation of having betrayed everybody by working for the Daleks (anybody getting a Susan Mendez vibe?). Whilst the Daleks are feeling generous Liv intends to take every opportunity to care for the sick that she can. Liv is saving lives, which ultimately is working against the Daleks given they will be responsible for the uprising. She has had greatness thrust upon her by the Daleks and that can be exploited.

Standout Performance:  Nicola Walker needs more involving characterisation to bring Liv Chenka to life but she does a great job with what she has to work with here.

Sparkling Dialogue: Mostly functional but uninspiring, unfortunately.

Great Ideas: Liv's opening monologue sounds like it could have leapt straight out of Dalek Empire which is no bad thing since I have been hoping to see Nick Briggs' return to (what I consider) his most successful (dramatically at least) audio work to date. If Big Finish are determined to keep using the Daleks then this is precisely the way to go, battle scarred planets under Dalek occupation, the survivors subjugated and defeated. It's not a new scenario but it is one in which Doctor Who can thrive. I wish we could actually see a Dalek Robotisation Plant - in my head it is a terrifying factory churning out the living dead. Think of the Cyberman farm we saw in The Age of Steel except a hundred times bigger. The Time Controller is still alive, keeping his mutated peepers on everything the Daleks are up to.  'A workforce with hope and good conditions is less likely to rebel...' - this is Dalek Empire! Everyone knows about 'the Hawk', the most wanted man on the planet but nobody knows who he is. Left behind by the military to commit last minute sabotage and disruption. The Daleks are planning to draw the energy right from the planets core to create a weapon of almost unimaginable power...with it they will turn this system into a pivotal strategic stronghold in the Dalek Empire (See! He admits it!). The Dalek Time Controller lives outside of time and his memories are protected...I'm not sure what that means at the moment but I'm sure all will be revealed. There is a force out there that will ultimately be worse for the universe than the Daleks and the Doctor wants them to destroy it.

Audio Landscape: Lifting heavy rocks, panting, explosions, rubble falling, thunder and lightning, wind lashing, a spaceship ascending, doors opening, choking, moaning victims, Daleks gliding into view, alarms, heart monitor, we get to hear the robotisation process, sonic screwdriver, rain falling, Daleks screaming in the distance, Daleks shooting past at speed, lift descending, bomb ticking, Daleks screaming, extermination blasts.

Musical Cues: The music is a massive plus, giving the story a real lift and sense of movement.

Isn't it Odd: The opening is an assault of sound effects with very little in the way of dialogue to give the aural landscape any kind of context. This can work extremely well at times (the opening minute of The Chimes of Midnight is startlingly effective) but it was a full three minutes into The Traitor before it felt as though the beginning of the plot had kicked in. I understand the dilemma when you are acting as writer and director, as the former you can afford to give yourself the opportunity to truly express yourself as the latter...but you have to remember that this is a story to be followed and not just experienced through sound effects. It is hard to give a damn about who 'The Hawk' is given that we have only just been introduced to this situation on Nixyce VII and haven't had the opportunity to get to know any of the people whose lives he has affected with his terrorist acts. Our emotional way in to the unveiling is Liv's reaction (Walker is great) but there is no sense of importance to the reveal, the mystery and the solution are brought to light ten minutes apart. The Dalek plan to create a huge super weapon to keep a whole system in check is precisely what they were up to in The Stolen Earth, and Lucie Miller/To The Death...and countless other stories. If you can't think of anything original to do with them, don't use them. From the Doctor (turning up, tricking the Daleks, saving the day) to Liv (Susan Mendez by another name) to the rebels (including The Hawk), there isn't one iota of original characterisation to be found in this story. Like the sixties stories using stock music instead of spending money on an original score, Briggs has reached into the characterisation bank and chosen tried and tested characters to populate his story. It is interesting that the Doctor should say that it is not a numbers game when it comes to comparing whose plan will have the most casualties because that is exactly what it has become with these grand space operas that Big Finish keeps churning out. Hundreds of millions will die! What exactly does that mean? It's easy enough to say to create a dramatic effect but once that threat has been made time and again it starts to lose its impact. You have to give those people a face otherwise it is just playing God with a load of lives that nobody cares about. Who are these people that the Doctor (who will whisk off to another adventure next week) and the Time Controller (who will just go on to kill even more) are discussing at the climax and why should we care about them? In the words of a Prisoner, they are just numbers.

Result: 'The Daleks think they can use her compassion as a way of increasing the efficiency of their workforce. They've done it before...' The first half of The Traitor is a very unusual experience insofar as I felt I was re-acquainting myself with the Dalek Empire series. A subjugated world controlled by the Daleks who are trying make conditions as pleasant as possible to ensure maximum efficiency with the aid of a human slave who everybody else considers a traitor because she is working with them rather than against them. And breathe. That is the basic set up for the first series of Dalek Empire. The second half of The Traitors reveals a plan to create a Dalek super weapon in their quest for supreme power. Just like in Lucie Miller/To The Death. We are reaching Terrance Dicks levels of self plagiarism here. Not only that but the first half has very little of what you could grab hold of and call a narrative, it is a series of events that is setting the scene but not a lot actually seems to happen until we are racing towards the conclusion. Fortunately Nick Briggs' has afforded himself plenty of opportunity to show off in the directors chair and a lot of this material is enjoyable anyway simply because it is so immersive. Shut your eyes and sit back and you really wont have any trouble imagining what is happening. It is extremely well realised. However, I do not listen to Doctor Who audios to be swept away by a bombardment of ambient sounds, I enjoy them because the better examples are fantastic stories that stretch my imagination and take me somewhere exciting and thought-provoking for a time. The Traitor is rehash of Briggs' old work and not an especially inspiring one, adding little to the mix to differentiate itself and following a predictable pattern of events. I'm not sure if something this traditional was ideal to open this box set but now that box has been ticked we can move on to something more novel. Condensing Dalek Empire series one into a single release might have felt like a good idea in theory but in practice it loses much of Briggs' signature ranges nuance and dramatic power. I wasn't bored because there is a momentum to the events (and the acting is superb) but I wasn't engaged either: 5/10


Anonymous said...

I think maybe 7or 8 for me - I love Daleks though (yes, Big Finish uses them more and more, but on the whole they do a better job than New Who) and it was so great to hear the Dalek Time Controller again.
I think the links to Dalek Empire were rather neat, but each to his own.
Wait until you hear each story - everything starts coming together ...
Glad to hear you weren't bored though :D (I respect your opinion very highly, I should add)

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I like the path they have taken with the 8th Doctor, I loved the breathless romantic, and I miss when he had more diverse adventures, who where more stand alone and with multiple enemies. Too many Daleks, of late, IMHO. I'm not a big fan of the master manipulator 7th Doctor, why on Earth would they want to make the 8th another Dr operating in the shadows and having a master plan? duh!
I'm not thrilled that we are stuck with dark eyes 3 and 4 before we have other 8th Dr stories...
and I loathe this costume

Great reviews, though. You are god among reviewers

Zepharia Andres said...

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