Review by Michael Goleniewski
Cycle of Destruction by Roy Gill
“Cycle of Destruction” continues the “Dalek Universe” adventures with an audio counterpart to “House of Kingdom” from the prior set but this time focusing on the other component of this saga’s main trio. Roy Gill’s script wastes no time in jumping right back into the fray, albeit in a way that feels more like a necessary diversion rather than a substantial addition to the main thrust of the arc. The premise is a strong one overall and it’s nice to see Mark himself get the same amount of attention and backstory that Anya did previously. But the plot and writing contain tons of technical exposition that (while interesting in how it handles the aspects of the ALARK facility and the intensive lives of the people working within it) grinds the pacing and excitement at hearing these characters again to a screeching halt. Still, the writing also touches on deeper questions as to the nature of Mark Seven and the androids themselves as well as contains major flashbacks to Mark Seven’s past which is as harrowing as one would expect. It’s in those moments and in the tension between members of the TARDIS team as to how and why they got there in the first place that the story truly shines and not necessarily in the immediate details of what’s going on in the plot.
Thankfully despite those in-the-moment writing problems, the performances are all exceptional once again. David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor is his usual intellectual self while being as witty and charming as per the norm with some great dialogue that handles both the past and present in very lovely ways. Anya as played by Jane Slavin doesn’t get a ton to do outside of being manipulated and react to everything going on but she’s still good and strong as a forceful presence in the narrative. Meanwhile, in the side cast, Nina Toussaint-White returns to the Whoniverse (last seen on TV as Melody Pond in “Let’s Kill Hitler” and in audio form as a clone of said character in ‘Diary of River Song’ Volume 3) playing an intriguing character named Mariah Six whose identity is not exactly a mystery but whose presence is fascinating, to say the least. She in many ways is the real focus of the whole adventure as she manipulates and schemes her way into getting what she wants and the conflict and chemistry that she and Joe Sims share together end up representing the true crux of the story in a way that builds on the emotions and makes both characters feel sympathetic. It’s a great fit for Toussaint-White as an actor and the results are appropriately strong as the climax builds on the cycle of the title and plays with an interesting plot device in giving characters more meaning and freedom.
“Cycle of Destruction” then doesn’t exactly get things going again for the Dalek Universe saga so much as follow up on the cliffhanger left over the prior set and put pieces into places both for the characters and for the arc at hand. It serves the same purpose that “House of Kingdom” did in bringing some good backstory to a significant companion and Roy Gill’s script succeeds in giving Joe Sims’ Mark Seven some great time in the spotlight while also throwing him and his friends in a unique situation against members of his ‘family’. Narratively, it’s probably the weakest story of this range so far but not by too significant a margin and it does its job admirably in helping listeners to get to know more of what makes this TARDIS team tick as they are thrust into the next big development.
— 7 / 10
The Trojan Dalek by John Dorney
‘The Trojan Dalek’ pushes the Dalek Universe saga past the halfway point and represents the moment where things really get moving after a subpar prequel, a massive two-parter, and two stories of interesting character development. It’s another brutally dark John Dorney premise (who at this point can do no wrong in the Whoniverse at large) that tackles exactly what it means to be a Dalek while delivering a chillingly confined sci-fi spaceship soundscape from Ken Bentley and Howard Carter that’s fairly standard but still very effective. It’s obviously no surprise that the Daleks are involved somehow in the plot and the script boasts some fairly massive surprises that lift several horrific pages from “Revelation of the Daleks” and the Manhattan pepper-pot two-parter from New Who Series 3. But the way it’s executed is still more than strong enough to keep things engaging and the script pulls on the heartstrings quite nicely by showcasing the dark and desperate side of humanity embodied in Blake Ritson’s Major McLinn whose need to beat the Dalek menace overrides everything else in his personality and character.
All of this triggers the wrath and anger of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor who is once again strong in vocals and energy. The main crux of the adventure is his explosive confrontation with McLinn himself and the dialogue is wonderfully tense between the two as both sides argue over morals and what’s truly right. Nicholas Briggs continues to take his primary talents in new and interesting directions and there is some interesting emotional fallout and chemistry between Joe Sims’ Mark Seven and Jane Slavin’s Anya as a friend of Mark Seven who is critically injured becomes a devastating lynchpin in leading them to the same place that the Doctor is by the end of the audio. It provokes the usual arguments and the attempt at talking down a friend turned foe that’s all somewhat predictable territory. But Dorney absolutely deserves major credit for the final twists that push things to the breaking point and leaves you shocked and reeling. It’s impossible to go into much more without spoiling details but the gut punch is real and the devastation poignant in those last moments as you are left wondering where the storyline is going to go next with what it has left to offer.
‘The Trojan Dalek’ is a major upturn for the Dalek Universe range after two good but not particular great adventures and one that begins pushing the idea and concepts it has to its limit. Anyone who tells you it’s an entirely unique or original story has probably never seen another Dalek adventure before, and the script isn’t quite one of John Dorney’s strongest compared to some of his usual output. But the territory it trods (while well-worn) is extremely well-executed here backed by a good claustrophobic atmosphere, David Tennant and the rest of the cast are splendid as usual, and it finally brings the drama and energy back up to speed with where John Dorney’s last Dalek Universe script left off with some powerful implications for what’s coming in the box set’s finale and the rest of the saga to come.
— 8.5 / 10
The Lost by Robert Valentine
“The Lost” represents the Dalek Universe saga at its most contemplative and is far different from anything that’s come before in the range as both a story and a set finale. Robert Valentine’s script is extremely introspective in purpose and drive with a slower pacing that’s calmer and yet more intriguing than anything we’ve heard so far in this storyline. This is an adventure that’s obviously more about the journey and the characters at hand than anything in the plot though that’s not to say that there aren’t some important things going on moving things forward. The effects of the previous story are very keenly felt throughout the narrative and the premise tackles some of the higher-end concepts and beings of the Whoniverse at hand that New Who often conveniently forgets about at times. Certain elements feel incredibly off-putting especially in the second half and there’s a mystical vibe and energy all throughout with a great soundscape that’s vibrant and colourful even in an audio format. But its true power comes from the struggles the characters are all going through and it keeps the brutality of the prior adventure albeit in a very different way. The synopsis doesn’t lie when it states that secrets are revealed that end up changing the TARDIS team’s relationship with each other forever though some details are a bit hard to care about if you aren’t familiar with some previous Classic Who adventures.
Needless to say, the acting is outstanding across the board with everyone being tested and tried in one way or another. The narrative delves deep into the main casts’ grief in terms of both the present and the past and it ends up defining the course of the adventure more than once before the end. David Tennant’s Doctor is extremely conflicted in this story, jumping between fits of despair and angry motivation to escape and find a way out especially as he feels responsible for their current situation while Jane Slavin’s Anya is struggling in a state of denial with her trauma with plenty of questions in her mind needing to be answered about the person she’s found herself paired with. Cast-wise it’s hard to say much more especially when concerning Joe Sims’ role in the story as well as the reappearance of Kevin McNally’s Merrick Kingdom and the writing doesn’t quite get there in terms of the emotional power in that there’s still a ton of talking that needs to be done to settle the feelings and emotions of the moment. But the climax is still a decent one that serves its purpose of resolving the situation as well as giving characters the answers they need and the final moments are a fantastic hook into the final installment of the series with one of the most chillingly executed versions of a famous Who line to draw you in for more.
“The Lost” then turns out to be arguably the biggest highlight of this second Dalek Universe installment, taking a very different direction in tone and intention that helps it to stand out from the rest of the series by a significant margin. With atmosphere, identity, and emotion apparently being the name of the game for this set finale, Robert Valentine’s script pushes relationships to the breaking point via a large and otherworldly premise that New Who stories don’t often tackle in such a unique and direct manner. It drives home just how much these characters have been through together while also establishing that there’s still plenty more to go and the production, atmosphere, and passage-style plot have a strong energy that’s powerful and memorable. It’s an interesting way to close things out on the middle chapter of this Tenth Doctor journey and one that leaves you hanging and ready for what’s hopefully set to be one intensely gripping conclusion in October.
— 9 / 10
FINAL VERDICT: 8 / 10
Check out our other Big Finish reviews.