Review by Jacob Licklider
The Dalek Protocol started off the Dalek Universe miniseries with a fairly standard but enjoyable tale with no real connection to what would become the series at least based on the first set. And a day later, Dalek Universe begins itself properly with the first three stories in the miniseries being released to acclaim. To make what’s most likely going to be a long review short, Dalek Universe 1 is a brilliant start to the miniseries and if you haven’t already, go do yourself a favour and buy it. This is one of those sets that I cannot critically evaluate without losing my restraint on spoilers so from this point forward. You have been warned. Each installment of Dalek Universe 1 is truly part of a miniseries, blending together which helps as two of the episodes are from John Dorney, and the third deals with the character fallout from the previous two episodes before moving along to what will eventually become the conclusion of the set while transitioning into the second set. An interesting note, this set barely features the Daleks, like The Dalek Protocol before it, they are an off-screen presence bar a few scenes, the writers instead electing for setting this around the time of The Daleks’ Master Plan and dragging the Tenth Doctor out of time into his own personal timeline.
John Dorney once again proves that his favourite past time is emotionally damaging listeners through his stories with Buying Time. This and the second story, The Wrong Woman, sets up the idea of Mark Gatiss’s George Sheldrake as a man who has built a time tunnel somehow with Gallifreyan technology. Now his part in the miniseries won’t be revealed until the second story, but the Doctor attempting to unravel the mystery of how Gallifreyan technology could have survived the Time War while Anya Kingdom and Mark Seven have crashed on a jungle planet with no sentient life, visions of Anya and the Doctor bleeding through the future (or is that the past?) while history slowly burns.Dorney’s script for the first half of the story while engaging is standard and sets the listener up for what Dalek Universe is going to be, an exploration of the worlds and time featured in The Daleks’ Master Plan, especially as the Doctor does not have his TARDIS. The planet featured here is Mira; from ‘Counter Plot’ and ‘Coronas of the Sun’, as the Doctor, Anya, and Mark Seven have to find their way off the planet while time breaks down and the native Visians attack them from all sides. Dorney uses the Visians to include some musings on what can be classified as life, something that is important to Anya as her disregard for decency and life in The Syndicate Master Plan is what pushed the Doctor away from her. Jane Slavin plays the character continuing the arc started in The Dalek Protocol, trying to be better and more understanding yet still is held back by being part of the Space Security Service. There’s this great relationship between her and the Doctor as she clearly tries to grow, but the end of this story is where she really shines. Anya essentially devotes herself to helping people and here a mysterious pastor played by Chris Jarman shoots the Doctor, causing him to regenerate into a new incarnation played by Gemma Whelan, credited as the Newcomer. David Tennant as the Doctor perhaps gives his best performance yet for Big Finish here and in the rest of the set. There is this relaxed nature to Tennant’s performance here like he finally understands just how to give his performance the weight of a television performance. There’s also this great opening monologue as Dorney sets up the Doctor as dealing with the grief of having lost Donna, though it is set before the over-the-top melodrama of the 2009 specials really started in Planet of the Dead. Tennant also plays his death and regeneration here with an almost reserved dignity in contrast to the overblown nearly half hour sequence in The End of Time. Ken Bentley’s direction and John Dorney’s script start Dalek Universe off with the perfect bang leaving us with a cliffhanger that blew social media away. 10/10.
The explanation of what exactly is going on with Gemma Whelan’s Doctor comes in the form of The Wrong Woman, also from John Dorney, exploring just what Sheldrake Industries is doing with their mysterious benefactor. The first half of the story has the new Doctor going right into the action before abandoning Anya and Mark and revealing herself to be a new incarnation of the Meddling Monk, some time before the Time War and having captured the Tenth Doctor and faked his regeneration. It seems that John Dorney shares the opinion of the Tenth Doctor’s melodramatic streak being overplayed, as here he lampshades it with the Monk playing up the aspect of the Doctor’s death. Gemma Whelan and David Tennant have this chemistry which makes the second half of the story include this great relationship where the Doctor really just wants the Monk to trust him, as the Monk was never really a wholly evil villain like the Master. The Doctor has to avoid bringing up the Time War as he is the one out of time here, but Tennant fuels the performance with emotion and just an appeal which falls on deaf ears. Whelan’s Monk sets herself apart from Graeme Garden and Rufus Hound as a version of the character with some bite to the performance as well as more of a competence to her schemes. She does convince Anya and Mark that she is the Doctor and when abandoning them just gives this biting line which breaks Anya in any of her attempts of being a good person. It may be a single line, but it informs Anya’s actions going forward while Mark is the only person she thinks she has left when it comes to infiltrating and stopping Sheldrake’s machinations. Gatiss’s performance is brilliant as for Buying Time and The Wrong Woman he is essentially a red herring, giving his Master performance, but by the conclusion there is this sniveling wreck of a man about to be sued into poverty, embodying sentiments of eating the rich. It’s an ending that is actually quite upbeat even though the story ends with the TARDIS gone, the Doctor stranded, and still no Daleks in sight. Yes there is a small cameo from a Dalek here, but that being one cameo actually helps emphasise the universe aspect of Dalek Universe. This is the story with all the answers Dorney set up and does so in brilliant fashion. 10/10.
Finally, Andrew Smith brings a different vision to Dalek Universe with The House of Kingdom, which sees Anya taking the Doctor back to her grandfather in an attempt to get him back to the TARDIS. Smith is always a writer to watch when it comes to character drama and this story is no exception, exploring the Kingdom family in great detail and beginning to address the deaths of Brett Vyon and Sara Kingdom. This story was advertised on the return of the Mechonoids as voiced here by Nicholas Briggs, something that the cover is sure to note, but really there is only one and it’s all about Merrick Kingdom, the grandfather of Anya Kingdom and a scientist trying to essentially stop the Dalek wars. There are also space pirates, a plot point which could have felt extraneous but it eventually came back in with some political conspiracy which was always in The Daleks’ Master Plan but disappeared around the halfway point of that story when Sara joins the Doctor and Steven. This is a story where the listener can actually see what Sara’s death especially did to the Kingdom family. That death, along with the death of her mother broke both Anya and Merrick in different ways, destroying any chance of a good relationship in the process between the two. Kevin McNally as Merrick Kingdom provides this performance of a man misguided by his own grief and Jane Slavin’s Anya as cold, but willing to make the attempt to reconcile showing some growth in the character. This of course makes the reveal that Merrick has been working with Dr. Abigail Crane on Varga plants to create weapons to fight the Daleks. It’s essentially the downfall of the man and what really brings The House of Kingdom to a story. There’s also a slight exploration of bigotry with Mark Seven being treated like a simple minded automaton and not the android with such a depth of personality. Joe Sims essentially is this sarcastic android who may be more of a background character but has been a delight and a great foil. The innovations with the Varga plants are also fun bringing back some rather obscure bits from a story that hasn’t been seen in its original form since initial airing. It’s perhaps more standard than the previous two, but Smith delivers on the character drama ending the set on a brilliant cliffhanger. 9/10.
Overall, Dalek Universe 1 while picking up some of the threads from The Dalek Protocol really tells a character focused story all about the grief one feels in the wake of tragedy. It’s perhaps the best thing Big Finish Productions have released thus far with the Tenth Doctor giving David Tennant a classic and the supporting cast all give us some brilliant characters. Anya Kingdom’s return is spectacular and there is a looming threat of the Doctor’s actions way back in his first incarnation coming back to haunt him going forward. 9.66/10.
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