Plague of the Daleks
After a pair of adventures in the past and present, the Doctor and Nyssa have once again been drawn back to Stockbridge, this time to the future. A picturesque and idealistic vision of the perfect English town, it has become something of an intergalactic theme park where denizens from across the galaxy travel to get a taste of ‘genuine English history.’ But nothing is as it seems and very quickly the situation spins out of control. The Doctor has been drawn into a very elaborate trap set by his oldest foes, the Daleks. Their insidious plot entangles the innocent tourists and Nyssa as well as the murderous beings release a plague so deadly that it could threaten all free thought.
The weather turns from springlike to the dead of winter as the pair traverse the terrain. The pub landlady is deranged and serves spoiled food. When the Doctor overhears a cricketing match his heart lifts but it is a short-lived relief as the team are all zombie-like in their behavior. When he finally meets the staff of the Stockbridge Experience, he realizes that the entire town is something of a theme park of historical value, populated by nth generation clones for the population.
Issac and Lysette mistake the Doctor and Nyssa as being official representatives of the Trust and attempt to impress them with their hard work despite limited facilities, a single technician and ancient hardware. Of course the Doctor and Nyssa play along and when a shuttle containing a trio of guests arrive, the pair of adventurers attempt to lay low, look for the TARDIS and stay out of trouble. The Doctor pairs up with Isaac to investigate the mechanical issues so that Nyssa can join Lysette on a typical tour.
An unexpected rain shower starts and has a horrifying effect on the clones, transforming them into what appear to be shambling zombies. Issac isn’t that bothered as the clones ‘aren’t really people.’ Outraged, the Doctor is determined to get to the bottom of things and lashes up an ingenious mist to cover his journey to the abandoned shuttle, wearing a space suit that will hopefully keep out the acid rain. Nyssa is meanwhile cornered by the rain and after one of the tourists becomes drenched in it learns the effects are not restricted to the clones. Two of the touring party become infected and lose their humanity gradually, while both Nyssa and the Doctor attempt to unravel the mystery of this strange attack and who could be behind it.
The Daleks are attacking Stockbridge with a deadly virus that rewrites the minds of the infected, removing free will. It’s very reminiscent of the ‘Anti-Life Equation’ from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics. The plot has some echoes in modern stories, but they’re all crap, aren’t they? The Dalek-ized humans in Daleks Take Manhattan just stand around and eventually turn on their masters… in a music hall. The zombified clones in Plague of the Daleks are somewhat dim, but tireless and terrifying in their inhumanity. Sure, it’s a thinly-veiled attempt to wrap zombies into a Dalek story, but if it works, shamble with it.
The final part of the ‘Stockbridge trilogy,’ Plague of the Daleks gets some stick for its pacing and dreary dramatic posturing, but to be honest both work quite well for me. The Doctor and Nyssa’s arrival in the mysterious small English town is a very traditional, almost by-the-books Terry Nation motif that poses a familiar tone that gradually becomes unsettling.
It’s a slow burn that may cause some listeners to dose off, but it hit just the right notes for me. Besides, many of Davison’s TV stories were rather slow-moving, so it fits.
The characters of Isaac and Lysette Barclay may be somewhat one-dimensional but they are played very well by Keith Barron and Liza Tarbuck. They are ‘salt of the Earth’ types, real jobbing individuals determined to make a go of it in the bleak future. As supporting cast members, Barron and Tarbuck work wonderfully with the regulars, providing some great moments for the Doctor to be rather impetuous and for Nyssa to be ballsy and determinedly courageous. Both characters come off so strongly here that I found myself yearning for more (then I listened to Demons of Red Lodge and boy was that a delight!).
The Daleks, having hidden in the catacombs beneath Stockbridge for hundreds of years, are damaged vestiges of their usual selves. The cryogenic process that allowed them to lay in wait has malfunction, leading to very few of their already limited squad intact.
One of the things that I really enjoy about this story is that it delivers the threat and cunning of the Daleks whereas on screen they mostly trundle about, scream and are eventually blown up or spew shaving cream all over the place (who knew?). In this instance, Nyssa repeatedly warns Lysette to not underestimate the Daleks and is shown to be right each time. They are chased through a chapel, through the dank tunnels, and fight valiantly with steel reserve (and stolen Dalek weapons), but in the end it is the calculating evil genius of the Daleks that allows them to gain the upper hand.
At one point the Doctor establishes that at this point in history, the Dalek Empire is long gone (can anyone place this on a timeline for me). The Daleks attempt to reach their fellow death squads and encounter radio silence. However, this does not throw them into a fit of despair as they have a plan. Spreading the psychology of the Daleks as a virus is the perfect method to make the Dalek race immortal. This goes beyond the plans hatched in Revelation of the Daleks and into something far more sinister.
On screen, Davison got some very convoluted and often times lousy scripts that he had to trudge through, trying all the while not to trip over superfluous Adric, leggy/bitch Tegan and the rather wooden Nyssa… them a red-haired boy tried to kill him with a rock over the head. None of these impediments are here, however and the man shines so brightly. Brilliant, mischievous and witty, the Fifth Doctor is an erratic genius who is definitely unbalanced as he launches himself into a swarm of zombies, faces the Daleks head-on while fighting their infection and comes out of it all smelling like roses (or celery). Unlike his successor, the Fifth Doctor also has a strong moral code that he refuses to step over and retains the higher ground, something I find very impressive.
The Doctor’s dejected disappointment at the fate of Stockbridge, a town that he has seen through various stages of its history is touching… and very English. In the words of Patrick Troughton, ‘Isn’t it terrible the way people work so hard to make such beautiful things only to have someone else come along and destroy it?’ There’s some lovely lyrical moments in this story that took me by surprise as I had never thought of the Fifth Doctor as the romantic type, but it clarifies his attachment to the simple things and the beauty of a quiet life.
A lovely addition to the annals of the Fifth Doctor’s era, Plague of the Daleks may be a bit too slow moving or cliched for some but I rather enjoyed it.
Doctor Who – Plague of the Daleks can be ordered directly from Big Finish.