Review by Jacob Licklider
The Audio Novels have released their third installment and instead of continuing to stay in the classic series it adds to the rather low number of Twelfth Doctor novels with Emancipation of the Daleks by Jonathan Morris, a book set in the middle of Series 10. Jonathan Morris was brought on to write the novel and depart from the previous two instalment’s format of six, one-hour episodes. The length is the same with approximately six hours of an audiobook, but it is shifted to three, two-hour episodes roughly the same word count as a televised episode according to the behind the scenes interviews. I’m bringing this up so early since the format of this novel is one of the releases biggest issues, the length of the episodes make it so that a lot of it drags and doesn’t feel like a book. This has been a slight problem with the previous two releases but as Scourge of the Cybermen and Watchers have double the chapters and double the points where the narrative stops and listeners can take a break. And with Jonathan Morris treating each part of Emancipation of the Daleks as it’s own episode, it’s paced as if it is supposed to be a full-cast episode and not an audiobook which makes everything throughout drag. Morris structures the book as three distinct ideas each following a distinct version of Bill Potts, with the inciting incident of the story being Bill Potts from 20 years in the future showing up on her own doorstep in the present before a Dalek spaceship crashes into St. Luke’s University.
The spaceship crash is something that is repeated in each of the episodes, from the point of view of a different Bill who becomes the main “Bill” that we follow in that episode. The switching of the point of view is something that makes Emancipation of the Daleks work and feel like three different linked stories, with Emancipation of the Daleks being the title of the first because for the first third of the novel’s runtime there are a group of humans basically riffing on The Power of the Daleks, but the Daleks are slaves in this situation. The idea of Daleks as slaves is a great one, and Morris does a good job of exploring what would have to happen to keep a Dalek as a slave, even if that slave isn’t useful and more of being pilfered for their weapons and technology to create a fascist human state. The early scenes between the two Bills also help establish an interesting tone as Morris uses each episode to slowly unravel the mystery of the two Bills and eventually leave it in a position worthy of a Steven Moffat finale, with all the good and bad that that brings. It becomes slightly disappointing that each of the parts aren’t titled since the focus shifts after the Daleks become emancipated and the story becomes more of a focus on doing a proper Series 10 style Dalek story which is good, especially with the way that Morris uses the Daleks, but it feels a bit off.
Emancipation of the Daleks also continues the high standard of production for the Audio Novels range, continuing sound effects and music composed here by Steve Foxon. Foxon’s suite perfectly suits the tone and style of the book and integrates very nicely with the narration. The voice of the Daleks is as always provided by Nicholas Briggs who is good, he is always good, but it is Dan Starkey who shines as the narrator. Starkey is allowed to let loose and create character voices for every character and get into the nitty gritty to tell the story. Telling the story is something some narrators fail to do, but Starkey draws the listener in and brings them along for the journey in a wonderful way.
Overall, Emancipation of the Daleks brings something new for Big Finish in a way to explore an yet unexplored period of the show by giving the Twelfth Doctor and Bill their very own focused Dalek story with more depth than any of Capaldi’s television Dalek stories would do. Though not perfect, especially in terms of pace, it continues the Audio Novels’ streak of wonderful, book length stories. 8/10.
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