Review by Michael Goleniewski
“Emissary of the Daleks” continues the latest Sixth Doctor / Peri trilogy of stories begun with the intrinsically memorable “Memories of a Tyrant” last month. On a remote planet orbiting a solitary star, the Doctor and Peri have landed in order to discover how life has developed on a world with little to no external influences. They soon discover a devastated landscape full of gravestones of the dead and a nearby city on stilts under the control of the new masters of the planet.
Stalked by the still-living populace and wandering through the destruction all around them, it’s not long before the TARDIS team is separated when they encounter members of a resistance that is fighting back as well as the familiar-sounding oppressors of the title. But this time, the Daleks are being unusually indirect with a surrogate leader handling things on the planet in place of a full presence. But why and what exactly are the Dalek’s intentions for the planet and its people?
At its core, ‘Emissary’ is a fairly predictable story taking several ideas cues primarily from ‘Dalek Invasion of Earth’. It’s a standard uprising narrative against the Daleks with the Doctor and companion getting caught up in the conflict with the obvious results you’d more or less expect. What makes this one stand out a bit more is the quality of the soundscape and the minor details hidden in the folds of the narrative. John Ainsworth’s direction and soundscape are utterly outstanding and very cinematic and the score by Simon Power is very exuberant and epic. It makes the adventure feel grander and more mysterious than a Dalek story has felt in a long time; almost like a Who version of Star Wars in that regard.
This epic nature extends to the writing as well. While the script by Andrew Smith isn’t outstandingly different, it does play around with some fun ideas particularly surrounding the titular emissary herself. Played by Saskia Reeves, Carmen Rega gets a prominent role in the adventure as one of the more interesting original one-off characters Big Finish has ever created. She may be a ‘puppet leader’ controlled by the Daleks but she’s not an idle weakling; with an intriguing strength to her and many great points to make. Her story is a relatable one given her predicament and Reeves gives an exceptionally composed performance to back that up. She also has some interesting connections to the cast that only reinforce the ‘Star Wars’ similarities and her conversations with Colin Baker are the easy highlights of the audio.
The rest of the story is good if a little bit flawed. Both Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant continue to be exceptional both together and separately in their respective roles especially against a threatening Dalek presence once again voiced by the talented Nick Briggs. The rest of the cast is larger and varied but not very interesting though they get the job done when focused on appropriately. The premise remains good throughout but the pacing slows to a dull crawl for a while in the second half which kills a lot of the drama that the initial half does such a great job in setting up. Thankfully, the climax ramps up the tension fantastically with some nasty torture, a threatening ultimatum, and an expected betrayal leading into a final battle and conclusion.
As a whole, “Emissary of the Daleks” is a strong Dalek adventure with a lot to enjoy and recommend. Granted it’s not quite as fun as ‘Revelation of the Daleks’, as intriguing in its imagery as “Order of the Daleks”, or as strong as the amazing “Masters of Earth” from a few years back. But it still works with all of its elements extremely well and adds just enough new things to a tried and true formula to warrant a listen. It’s a fun return to form for Doctor Who’s prominent ‘pepper-pots’ and at it’s best is an epic excursion that’s highly recommended for all Whovians old and new.
8 / 10