What's it about: The Earth Alliance is on the brink of victory in the Kedru System. But at what cost? Meanwhile, deep within the Dalek Empire, Susan Mendes prepares for her latest mission…
Agnes Landen: No great surprises that Landen has some kind of plan that she isn't letting the Fearless in on. She knows precisely what Kade is going through, she knows he needs a direction and a reason to fight on and she says all the right things to try and get him back on track.
Kade: Landen has learnt enough about Kade to understand that if he was dead, there would be evidence of the struggle to be found. He's absolutely about the mission unless it comes to his family and then emotions creep in and cloud his judgement, as they would with any man. It might be manipulative but it works. Kade is the best Spacer they have, Landen needs him to fulfil a dangerous mission that might lead to the ultimate victory against the Daleks. No pressure.
Angel of Mercy: How nice to hear Sarah Mowat again after so many years. Susan Mendez is a character that is burnt into my consciousness because she was the pioneer protagonist at the heart of this spin off right from the beginning. Susan understands the Daleks better than anyone because she has been at the heart of their Empire and formed a relationship with their most emotionally manipulative representative. She knows that all the Daleks need from humanity is for them to work and they will go to any lengths to ensure that they fulfil that task, even mercy. Hope means nothing to the Daleks but it they see that the possibility of hope makes humanity work harder then they let them have hope. By saving lives and giving them hope, Susan Mendez has made the Dalek slave force devastatingly efficient. The biggest question on her lips is if she has genuinely made a difference. Asking somebody whose life was affected for the better because of her influence is perhaps not the best approach for an honest answer. It's such an ambiguous question because she has made such a difference to so many peoples lives, can there ever be a true consensus?
Standout Performance: It's Noel Clarke again in what is turning out to be a showpiece for him as an actor. Anybody who has any doubt should give this a listen because it pushes him into some very raw places emotionally and he delivers a beautiful performance. Dalek Empire is willing to torture it's characters horribly and the result is some of the most powerful acting that Big Finish has to offer.
Great Ideas: I love it when the Daleks are on the run and shit scared - it doesn't happen very often and remains a novelty as such. They remain defiant to the end of course, confident in their right to conquer all even as their shells are being blasted off. Taking a Dalek alive is worth it's weight in gold, it could be taken apart to see if they could access it's database or tortured for tactical information. I honestly didn't think Briggs would play his hand with Kade's family quite this early, I thought that would come further down the line and that it would be at Landen's hands. Briggs has been a clever bastard, he's allowed us to get inside Kade's head and understand his motivations and so snatching away his family in such a violent way is just about the most torturous thing he could do to the character. And the most interesting because there is no telling what he will do next. It also brings home the cost of the Dalek attacks in a very personal way. Briggs can report Dalek attacks and millions of casualties until he is blue in the face but until it is channelled through the eyes of people we care about and who are affected by it it wont truly hit home. This does, devastatingly.
Audio Landscape: If Jamie Robertson is on board to handle the sound design you know that you are in very good hands and yet he has a lot to live up to since the soundscapes for Dalek Empire are some of the finest that Big Finish has to offer. He's more than up to the task, check out the opening action sequence that plants you right in the thick of it with explosions, ships being attacked and Daleks being wiped out. It's coherent, exciting and totally immersive. Very impressive. Neutronic missiles, alarms, the hull of a Dalek saucer creaking, the Daleks saucer attack is astonishingly dramatic, water crashing onto the waves.
Isn't it Odd: Ollander has been included as an insight into the psychological damage that the Daleks can do to somebody that has had their entire life torn apart by the creatures. Technically she should be the most fascinating character but she is a little too wet and weird for my tastes. I found her a little annoying.
Result: Dalek Empire doesn't play by the same rules as Doctor Who. It can make it's protagonists suffer abominably and allow it's antagonists to triumph whilst still having space for a crack of hope to shine through. It can kill off people who really don't deserve it. And it can pull the rug out from under you in a spectacular fashion, leaving you slack jawed at the sheer audacity of it's sadism. In many ways it resembles Blake's 7 more than Doctor Who. The death of Kade's family wasn't entirely unexpected but the moment itself is still a punch in the gut and exquisitely realised by Nick Briggs. It's the dramatic highpoint of the episode and it proves that the final series of this incredible spin off is going to continue to play by it's own rules. Whilst it is nice to have Susan Mendes back in action, it is when she turns up that the story gets a little unfocused and lacks a little bit of interest. We're covering the same ground as previous series and nothing new is added, at least not yet. The two plotlines, Kade's and Susan's, dovetail neatly in the final few minutes and promises exciting things for future episodes. The mission to kill the Angel of Mercy has begun. I would like to hear more of Kade and Landen's relationship, their scene during his recovery shows Briggs's writing at its finest. He loves to pen a huge epic but some of his best work comes when he strips away all the battles and explosions and focuses on people. More of that please: 7/10