Review by Jacob Licklider
Shadow of the Daleks is an interesting idea for a Doctor Who Big Finish release, at least for the Main Range. Instead of a single release, this is a story arc crossing two releases made up of eight individual episodes from different writers, all with the conceit of the Time War breaking into the life of the Fifth Doctor and a collection of people. This review is of only the first release, as it serves as the October Main Range release, Shadow of the Daleks 1, as the second installment has not been released and the story has not been concluded. As a series of four individual stories that have an overarching narrative, I will be foregoing any sort of format and just talking about what strikes me as this is a very different type of story. Listeners going in should expect that the title Shadow of the Daleks is apt as while the Daleks appear, and Nicholas Briggs is always excellent, they are not the focal point, staying in the literal shadows of each of the four episodes. The implication is that they are fighting the Time War, and possibly dragging earlier Doctors into events in a gambit to win, but as it stands there isn’t much to know of what they are. They are even referred to only as the Enemy in one of the stories which brings back images of the Eighth Doctor Adventures and Virgin New Adventures where the Terry Nation estate did not allow their use in the novels.
John Dorney must be praised in his capacity as script editor for this release, as it lay on his shoulders to ensure each of the stories had a flow and each contributed something to the mystery of what is happening to the Doctor, and what the Daleks are doing. Director Ken Bentley also has his work cut out for him, as this entire arc was conceived and written during the lockdown due to COVID-19, meaning that the performers all had to perform in their own homes. The behind the scenes interviews included on this release are enlightening on the lengths that Big Finish and performers must go to preserve the audio quality, with Peter Davison having the best story of hanging bedsheets and having his own audio recording equipment. The small cast is an asset, giving the production a bit of a break being able to accommodate only six performers, six of which tasked with bringing four distinct yet similar characters to life. Each of the four stories take place on different times and planets, and vary in a wide range of style and tone. There is an effort to start with what is essentially a standard romp, before each successive story becomes progressively darker and begins to play with more abstract concepts.
Giving the simplest episode to a new writer was a good move as James Kettle only has about a half hour to tell Aimed at the Body which is a ‘pseudo-historical’ with a twist that you can kind of see coming, but it doesn’t really effect the quality of the story. In retrospect it’s kind of the weakest episode if only because the other three episodes have premises that just take that one’s out of the water, when they really shouldn’t. There’s a quandary about the rules of cricket and ethical questions about things that aren’t in the actual episode, but it really doesn’t do as much as it could with the premise. Jonathan Morris’s Lightspeed is where things really kick off as a quick murder mystery in space which is where we really can see just the range of the four performers who have different roles: Dervla Kirwan, Glen McCready, Anjli Mohindra and Jamie Parker all give their characters life and can go from happy go lucky to seductive to terrifying on the flip of a coin. The Bookshop at the End of the World by Simon Guerrier and Interlude by Dan Starkey are stories that should be flipped in the order, both are brilliant with the former essentially being a bottle episode with all of these characters in what is essentially a wartime experiment while the later is basically doing the Hamlet thing of a play within a play and a sort of metanalysis on theater and history. Starkey has improved as a writer, but Guerrier’s script feels like it is meant to bring everything much closer to what Shadow of the Daleks is trying to do, yet both are brilliant.
As this isn’t really a standard anthology release, as each of the four episodes tells a story but is also clearly part of an eight episode epic, the individual episode scores will be foregone and the final score is not necessarily set in stone, as the second half of this story could easily change things. That being said Shadow of the Daleks 1 is a gripping release from start to finish with an excellent cast giving it their all, a director doing the best, and scripts that know how to utilise the Daleks as a background threat a la Lucifer Rising. 9/10.
Download/buy here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-shadow-of-the-daleks-1-2051