Review by Jacob Licklider
Hype is an interesting phenomenon. When Big Finish Productions announced Dalek Universe, of course there was going to be hype: it’s three whole box sets starring David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, the return of Anya Kingdom, and a two-hour Fourth Doctor prologue with Leela and K9 to boot. This is the type of release that is designed to build hype, yet now that it is April and the first release is out, The Dalek Protocol starring Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, and John Leeson, and some of the trouble with extreme hype is that is can actually put off listeners. For The Dalek Protocol it is imperative that before you purchase or listen, you understand that it was never actually intended to be part of a bigger series. Recorded in 2018, the behind the scenes on the release are enlightening as Nicholas Briggs was simply commissioned to do what he loves and tribute Death to the Daleks while bringing back Anya Kingdom. This means that the ending of the story feels final, the Doctor and Anya don’t get to reunite which is important as the Doctor hasn’t even met her yet, and that there really aren’t apparent threads which will be carrying over to Dalek Universe proper. As a part of the series, it seems the most disconnected which is fine as it was never written to be a part of a greater whole, so listeners should be wary of those expectations before going in as you will not enjoy it nearly as much when that is in play.
The Dalek Protocol perhaps should have been titled ‘The Exxilon Protocol’, as the first half actually uses the Daleks really well as background characters; slowly developing their plans. Briggs sets that apart from the quintessential Daleks in background story, The Power of the Daleks, by making the actual plan a mystery to the listener until it begins to affect the main characters. The actual Dalek plot essentially is a side mission to acquire a rare metal they need for a war effort, which is fairly standard, however how they go about ends up being more clever and scheming with deceit as a main focus. The inclusion of the Space Security Service with Anya Kingdom and Mark Seven played by Jane Slavin and Joe Sims, respectively, is a stroke of genius from Nicholas Briggs as it is Mark Seven mostly interacting with the Doctor while Anya actually interacts with Leela. Mark Seven here feels much more developed than in his initial appearance way back in The Destroyers, as here Briggs gives the android this almost snarky personality throughout where he’s aware he’s technically superior to humans and is willing to make that fact known to Anya. The second half where his part in the plot is revealed also increases the pace and turns The Dalek Protocol into a great action romp with a brilliant conclusion between Anya and Leela. The first half is essentially Nicholas Briggs extolling the virtues of Death to the Daleks as it takes place on Exxilon and primarily concerns a new beacon having appeared. It even includes an appearance from Bellal, played by Briggs, who has some great scenes defending the Doctor. The Exxilons themselves are more fleshed out here, actually getting character, but the pace is quite a bit slower than the rest. For this half, really the scenes with Anya Kingdom and Mark Seven end up grabbing the listener more than the stuff with the Exxilons. Anya is motivated by a desire for redemption after the events of The Perfect Prisoners and the tension of her trying to avoid the Doctor, whom she knows doesn’t know her yet is beautiful.
Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, and John Leeson all have their opportunities to shine here, especially early on where Baker and Leeson have this great Season 15-esque back and forth about a broken chessboard (The Doctor can’t stand losing chess to K9). Baker is allowed to go all out with a comedic performance that succeeds in selling the danger, but most definitely puts this story right in the middle of Season 15 for them. K9 is sidelined for much of the story, but Briggs understands how to use the character. Though it is Louise Jameson as Leela who gets the most development and perhaps the best moments. Right near the end she gets this lengthy conversation with Anya about travelling with the Doctor and just what it means. There is a point where Sarah Jane gets mentioned and that essentially reflects the musings on the past, present, and future of companions for the Fourth Doctor, and Jameson pulls off the dialogue with a beautiful tenderness. Overall, while The Dalek Protocol needs some tempered expectations, it is an excellent romp giving us some great moments with returning characters and actually telling a good Dalek story with the Daleks right in the background where they can work at their absolute best. 8/10.