Friday, 23 February 2018

Dalek Soul written by Guy Adams and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: On the Dalek-occupied world of Mojox, a group of rebels is engaged in a futile fightback against the invaders – but at last they’ve found an ally, in the form of the mysterious Doctor. Elsewhere, however, the Daleks’ Chief Virologist is seeking to perfect a biological weapon to wipe out the Mojoxalli, once and for all. Her name… is Nyssa.

An English Gentleman: What a wonderful utter bastard the duplicate of the Doctor is. Stripped of anything that makes him remotely approachable, he has all of the Doctor’s guile and cunning and none of his honesty and virtuousness. A formidable foe, to be sure and Davison plays him to the hilt. It must be the ultimate refreshment to play the Doctor as a complete asshole for a change, rather than the beige wallpaper of old. He’s a slave with a good deal of autonomy because he gets things done. Indeed, it baffles me that the Daleks don’t start sending out fake Doctors to join up with all their enemies and help to bring them down. A mole within those pockets of resistance could help turn them into dust. Nyssa calling the Doctor a friend is over stating their acquaintance. When he comes face to face with the fact that he is a duplicate, the Doctor angrily refuses to admit he is anything other than the real thing.

Alien Orphan: To hear Nyssa saying the Daleks are her friends and that she serves them gladly is extremely discordant. Either she’s being overheard, she’s lying for some good reason, she’s a duplicate or she genuinely has come under their influence. It’s weird to think that Nyssa never met the Daleks on screen but thanks to power of audio she’s chalked up a handful of stories with them. Sarah Sutton is genuinely marvellous in her early scenes, unleashing an anger we haven’t seen in Nyssa for quite some time. She knows its futile to fight the Daleks, she thinks the rebels are fighting a lost cause and she is willing to experiment on two of them in order to buy them some time when they were going to die anyway. She’s tired and hasn’t been sleeping well but that doesn’t explain just how callous she has become. Once it is revealed that this is a duplicate, Nyssa’s character becomes even more interesting because while she is carrying out diabolical work on behalf of her Dalek masters, she still retains a certain humanity (Trakenity?) and decency. Perhaps they considered that a necessary component of her work, her willingness to go the extra mile to help people. When you are listening to a story of an evil duplicate with a soul, you’re treading on new territory and I love it when Doctor Who does that. Nyssa thinks once the rebels are wiped out they can all get back to having a peaceful life. It feels very right that the Daleks should be brought down by one of their own operatives, one they considered unimportant. One they left with humanity to become a more efficient killer.

Standout Performance: Sutton and Davison, rarely better. And that’s very good indeed.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If that doesn’t work you could always exterminate her lab assistant. That ought to give her a bit of motivation.’
‘The Doctor was hero. You’re just an empty shell filled with all the hatred of a Dalek.’

Great Ideas: I like it when Doctor Who stories kick start with the Doctor and his companion(s) already embroiled in the adventure and you have to spend a little time trying to catch up. The situation on Mojox is immediately arresting because Nyssa is forced into the uncomfortable position of working for the Daleks and the Doctor is on the conflicting side working with the opposition. Whilst there is an argument to be made that Alien Heart set up the events in Dalek Soul (and it is nice that there is a link between the two stories otherwise it is just two two-part adventures shoved together for no rhyme or reason like in the next release), this doesn’t pick up where the cliff-hanger left off so there is still some working of things out to be done before we can dive into this story.

Musical Cues: I need some kind of rhyme…’If you want a Big Finish Production to sing like Kylie and Jason…you can always rely on Fox and Yason!’ Okay okay, I’m not a poet or a marketer or even a particularly skilled wordsmith. Fox and Yason, extremely reliable contributors of the excellent Companion Chronicles range, never failed to chime with me. Their sound design is out of this world and I think theirs are my favourite scores in the entirety of Big Finish. Subtle, understated but hugely imaginative and emotional, I will listen to certain stories back just to be entranced by their music. It’s a thing of beauty here, ramping up the pace and excitement levels. They provided the music for The Magic Mousetrap, A Thousand Tiny Wings and A Death in the Family. What more can I say?

Standout Scene: For the sheer delight of having the floor vanish completely beneath me, the twist that the Doctor isn’t quite who he seems to be filled me with terror and pleasure. It’s a fantastic moment, one of many twists and it comes from nowhere making it all the more palatable. And listening to Davison go from his usual cheery soul to a malevolent traitor really exposes his acting talent. The cliff-hanger is one of the best in the shows entire run, the Doctor literally handing his companion over to the Daleks to be killed. What could be more exciting than that?

Result: Brilliant, a genuinely novel Dalek story and a writer who dares to take a potentially ropey concept (does anyone remember Leela turning evil in The Evil One?) and run with it in exciting and unpredictable directions. To have Sarah Sutton back solo is a breath of fresh air after featuring in so many stories top heavy with companions, but to give her such a meaty, innovative role in a story that probes Nyssa in brand new ways is simply magic. If you ever thought the fifth Doctor/Nyssa pairing was a boring one then this might be the story to change your mind. Peter Davison relishes the chance to do something completely different too, proving quite a realistic nasty. It reminds of the sort of work that David Whitaker tried to do with the Daleks, looking at the creatures in a psychological (let’s say humanistic) manner rather than simply using them for brute force. Guy Adams has taken a throwaway idea from an Eric Saward script and run with it, revealing just what it would be like to be the Doctor and his companion but infected with Dalek souls. The answers are surprising, the twisted characterisation never letting you relax and the volatile plot being shaken up with one bluff after another. The first half sprints ahead leaving the listener to catch up but the second half reveals the whole counterfeit situation in all its dramatic glory. Props to Fox and Yason for providing such an insistent and complimentary score. This is like Love & Monsters, Blink and Turn Left; something completely unique unto itself and all the more special for it. I was gripped throughout: 10/10

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