Invasion of the Daleks
The Daleks are the deadliest and most popular of the Doctor’s opponents, yet most of their outings on screen failed to sufficiently take full advantage of their potential. Creator Terry Nation finally decided to take his monsters over to the USA where he would try his luck at pitching the nasties in their own program. Forever doomed to failure in Doctor Who, Nation’s Daleks could reign supreme on their own, as seen in the Dalek Chronicles newspaper strips co-written by David Whittaker. Nicholas Briggs’ Dalek Empire realizes the possibilities of a program centered on the Daleks in a gripping dramatic production that is a testament to the classic comic strips of the 1960’s with a modern science fiction approach.
The Daleks are a race of paranoid mutants forever trapped inside of an armored shell. In their fearful and manic attack on all other life forms, their strategic cunning can often be overlooked. On screen, there are few examples of the Daleks being anything other than screaming meanies armed with laser guns. The Daleks, The Dalek Master Plan and Evil of the Daleks are perhaps the high points of the sophistication on character. Briggs’ production shows them in such grandeur that they live up to the menace that is so often hinted at in the Doctor Who series.
Invasion of the Daleks opens in the halcyon days of the Earth Empire. Susan (Suz) Mendes is being piloted across the waterways of the planet Vega VI by Alby Brooks, a swarthy taxi driver. As the pair discuss the future with a hint of stifled romance, they are engulfed in war as a space craft crashes from the atmosphere into a nearby town. Over garbled radio broadcasts, they learn that the Earth Empire has been attacked by a fleet of Dalek ships and that Vega VI has fallen to the enemy. Set long after the Dalek wars, Suz has no real knowledge of the threat that the Daleks pose, but Alby is far more than he seems, and has an intimate understanding of the creatures. Failing to convince Suz to leave with him on the last flight off planet, Alby abandons her to find her family in the ensuing carnage.
Following the systematic subjugation of the native life forms, patrols of robomen (zombie-like humans brutally transformed into brainless slaves) stalk the streets, arranging survivors into work crews to drill the core of the planet for minerals. Her family dead in a radioactive wasteland, Suz finds herself in the company of a garrulous old man named Kalendorf and makes it her mission to save his life. The pair gain the attention of the Daleks who find Mendes’ independence and refusal to simply give in to the domination of the invading forces. Singling her out, the Supreme Dalek confers with Suz and learns the secret to controlling the survivors and building an empire, turning her into an unsuspecting collaborator.
Waking up on board the departing craft Aquitania Alby soaks his sorrows in alcohol, commiserating with another survivor, Pellan. Contacted by his superior officer in the Earth Alliance, Alby discovers that his mission to locate Kalendorf has been scrubbed and he has been assigned a new mission far from Vega VI, the Dalek Invasion and Susan Mendes. Not knowing that the two are now working together to keep the few survivors of the invasion alive while slowly but deliberately building up a resistance, he is overjoyed to discover that there are scattered transmissions coming from Vega VI. Riddled with guilt over leaving Susan Mendes behind, Alby becomes driven to find her again. But the situation on Vega VI is more complicated as Susan Mendes has become an inspiration to the workers and a tool of the Daleks who have finally discovered the perfect manner by which to control the human race.
When I first watched Doctor Who I wasn’t all that impressed with the Daleks. I enjoyed Resurrection, Revelation and Remembrance of the Daleks, but found the monsters lacking in any real threat. Hindered by a cumbersome design and claustrophobic sets, they never really stood much of a chance in conquering the human race. As my association with Doctor Who deepened, I obtained an appreciation for the horror and insane fear that they embodied, their earlier adventures exhibiting a far more impressive menace than the latter episodes that I had seen.
The new series Bronze Daleks look outstanding but suffer from a writer more interested in reality TV, musicals and video conferencing to give them anything to do. It’s a shame because Parting of the Ways features one of the more outstanding moments for the Daleks in Doctor Who, yet they serve no real purpose on the story. In a recent Dalek documentary, Nicholas Briggs told a story that he was shocked to learn Russell T Davies was a fan of his work in Dalek Empire. I am similarly shocked that someone who recognized the power of Briggs’ work could fail to impart even an iota of that energy into the BBC Wales program. I breathed a sigh of relief when I viewed an admittedly hollow Victory of the Daleks last year as it wiped the slate clean, introducing an entirely new paradigm of Daleks to the program that viewers have yet to see bear fruit. Maybe in 2012?
Computer-animated version of Dalek Empire
Dalek Empire: Invasion of the Daleks is so inspired and directed that it comes close to being the most perfect depiction of the Daleks ever. When I had learned of an audio adventure series starring the Daleks I thought ‘how silly, it must be an incredibly painful experience to sit through all that shouting,’ but color me surprised. Briggs’ script is brilliant and counter-balances the human element with the threat of the monsters incredibly well. The voice cast is similarly excellent with Sarah Mowat as the defiant Susan Mendes, Mark McDonnell as the scraggly Alby Brook and Blake’s 7 star Gareth Thomas as the legendary Knight of Velyshaa, Kalendorf. Thomas gives 1,000 percent as Kalendorf, reminding me just how amazing he was in Blake’s 7 all those years ago and how lucky we are that he is around performing in productions like this.
The music score is very well done, the theme track suitably creepy and doom-laden. I have been enjoying the atmospheric and cinematic quality that the other Big Finish Productions have shown, but somehow this one stands out from the rest as being especially impactful. Everything from the sting of a death ray to the cacophony of deep space battles to the snap of a pickled onion are depicted with such attention to detail that it draws the listener into a complete world that s/he is reluctant to leave.
The Daleks have been frightening children for decades and selling everything from tea towels to toys and bedroom slippers for the BBC, but very seldom are they given any real depth. Big Finish Productions’ Dalek Empire settles that debt in full. If you are a fan of Doctor Who and unfamiliar with this product, buy it today.