Thursday, 1 October 2015

Dalek Empire 4: The Fearless Part 1 written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: The Daleks are conquering our galaxy. Nothing can stop them. But Commander Agnes Landen has an idea. On the outer planet Talis Minor, Salus Kade is struggling to keep his colony alive. The last thing he needs is a war to fight.

Agnes Landen: Agnes Landen strikes me as somebody with a firm vision and that nothing will stop her from achieving that. Whilst the Fearless can be compared to the Daleks, if you squint Agnes can be compared to Davros. The creator of the machine that enslaves the prisoner inside, a woman with a dream to cause mass destruction from inside a metal shell. She might be warmly spoken but I think that just makes her all the more insidious. The way she spots Kade out of all of his people as the right man for the suit, how she dismisses the rest of his people and sets her sights on him is extremely calculated. She is willing to flatter and faun to him, to call him a hero, if it will get him inside the suit. She lost children to the Daleks, something that she brushes off but I'm sure adds to her hatred of the creatures.

Salus Kade: His grandparents starved to death, his dad died in orbit...with no help whatsoever from the Earth Empire. They have clung onto to survival and the idea of abandoning his roots and fighting for humanity disgusts him. He feels like he has let his people down and an anger boils in him sometimes, he'll do anything to knock the bad guys down and cause some serious hurt to expunge his own. A precarious position for a soldier to be in. It's very possible that the Daleks would never have found Kade's world if the Earth Alliance hadn't shown up and started waving the flag and looking for recruits. With Kade you need to find out what he wants and channel him in the right direction. Having a family complicates things for him, I wonder how long it will be before they become a luxury that he is no longer allowed to indulge in. He comes back because he has something to live for.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'We need more soldiers to fight the Dalek War. It's too much of a luxury to ask politely.'

Standout Performance: The performance by Noel Clarke astonished me because of its raw intensity and his ability to switch from that to such warmth. Clearly I have underestimated him as an actor, or perhaps his appearances as Mickey Smith did not allow for him to stretch himself the way they should have. There were many gorgeous moments for Mickey throughout his run as we got to cheer for the underdog who found his voice and eventually became much more than the physical and emotional coward he was in Rose...but this material proves that Clarke had a lot more to give than perhaps Davies was prepared to push him. Briggs does and it is all to his credit because he drives an extraordinary performance out of them. Perhaps this was Clarke's chance to prove to dissenters that he is much more than just Mickey the Idiot. Maureen O'Brien excels too but that is less of a shock, she's always committed on audio. She's playing the warm Auntie at this point but I think she's yet to show her teeth.

Great Ideas: The Daleks advanced and all Earth defences crumbled, star system after star system fell. The Earth Empire is becoming part of the Dalek Empire. Outmanoeuvred by their tactics and outgunned by their fleets. The situation, as it often is in the Dalek Empire series, is bleak. The difference between this Dalek conquest of humanity and previous stabs is that they have taken a psychological approach rather than a just having at humanity with an iron fist. Give them enough hope to think that they might make it through this, allow for small pockets of resistance, give the people a mouthpiece to express their desires. These are all subtle, sneaky ways of preventing any actual rebellion. To fight back the human race needs a massive advantage. They have to be fought on their own terms, fire with fire. The Daleks are locked away in battle armour and the natural response is for humanity to do the same. The battle armour that has been invented means that the human race is only one step away from becoming Daleks themselves. Frightened, paranoid, terrifyingly armed and emotional and locked away inside a shell that both protects them from their enemy and prevents them from reaching out to the world. Terrifying. The quest is on to find those exceptional people at the peak of physical and mental fitness that can fill these suits and take the battle to the enemy. A regiment of Spacers to inspire and lead the battle for victory: The Fearless. There comes a point where the Daleks and the Fearless are interchangeable, if you haven't ever seen a Dalek there is a good chance that when you see these hulking death machines stomping across the surface of your world that it could be the Daleks. First the Earth Alliance will ask you to join their cause and if you resist they change their tactics and take you instead. Surely that is a form of enslavement, the Fearless behaving just like the Daleks.

Audio Landscape: Huddled crowd, whispered voices, a cheer of joy, Daleks chanting in unison, marching, a rolling, crashing sea, a biting wind on a planets surface, the Fearless suits stomping across a room, alarms, ships ascending, mass exterminations, firing weapons.

Musical Cues: Remember when Big Finish wasn't a vast engine of ranges but driven by the simplicity of the main range and a few scant spin offs. That is what the original series of Dalek Empire was born into. The Fearless comes along years later and has a whole wealth of tasty ranges to compete with but one thing that doesn't change at all is Nick Briggs' distinctive music for the series. Melodramatic, exciting and memorable, the same stings are in place that links this to the previous years and the energy of the piece is lifted exponentially by the score. There really isn't music quite like it anywhere else.

Result: 'The Fearless, my arse!' There is something about the action in Dalek Empire that transcends it's audio roots and becomes totally immersive. For Nick Briggs it is clearly a labour of love, even four season in. He has stumbled on a winning formula of juxtaposing the epic (the Dalek Empire sweeping across the galaxy and taking apart the Earth Alliance) and the intimate (telling the story through a few beautifully observed characters making the grand sweep of the story a personal one) and filling the episodes with thrilling action that puts you right into the heat of battle. Astonishingly The Fearless doesn't come with the weight of three seasons of Dalek Empire behind it but forges onwards as an independent piece one which listeners can pick up as an individual season in its own right. The seeds of a great series are laid here with one engaging concept at the heart of it (trapping humanity inside machinery, fighting the Daleks like Daleks) and two vivid characters in Kade and Agnes. This lacks the instant psychological sting of the Susan Mendez/Dalek Supreme scenes but I can see how things could develop in that direction between this soldier and the woman who has a vision to defeat the Daleks for good. Dalek Empire manages to carve a vision of the future that feels real and it does so by presenting itself with such confidence. The Fearless is no different. Focus on the military in the future gave this a feel of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and the more optimistic approach to the storytelling marks this out from the first three series. More please: 8/10

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hi Joe,
I know you are not a big fan of the Moffat era (neithr am I), I'm curious, who would you like to have as the next producer of Doctor Who? We had tons of characterization over plot in the Davies era and tons of plot over characterization with Moff