...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Day 2198: DOCTOR WHO: Blood of the Daleks


This is the story of two groups of horrible squiggly mutants who get into a war to the death with each other because the traditionalist nutters want to preserve the PURITY of their breed, while the "new" model maniacs insist that only they are the way of the FUTURE. Obviously they cannot stand the sight of each other.

No, do not worry! It is NOT about Mr Frown and nice Mr Dr Reid. It is only the DALEKS and they are much less scary!

We've had the Christmas Special, but the next season of Doctor Who on television is not due to start until April! Fortunately, those nice people from BBC7 and Big Finish have got together to fill the gap with another new season of adventures, but for Paul McGann's pre-War Time Lord.

It's the opening story, a two-part adventure, so obviously it's time to call in the Daleks. They take forever to appear, mind you, though thankfully they arrive before the cliff-hanger to part one!

And it's a good story for the Daleks. I mean, yes, they all end up dead, but it explores a new facet to their fanaticism: their placing of racial purity – the "Blood" of the title – above even survival. The scene of the Daleks planning on crashing their spacecraft into a building hardly needs underlining as a clear pointer on the route from the Nazis of "Genesis of the Daleks" to the Jihadists of "The Parting of the Ways".

Their target is a species of Daleks developed from humans as their ultimate evolutionary form, riffing on both "Genesis…" and Terry Nation's 10th Anniversary Radio Times story "We are the Daleks", while the sound design makes a nice nod to "The Evil of the Daleks" with these Daleks with the "human factor" having voices that sound similar to the humanised Daleks Alpha, Beta and Omega.

Humans being turned into a new breed of Daleks is also the central plot of "Revelation of the Daleks". Brilliant as that story is, though, the idea that the Skaro Daleks would just take Davros new Dalek Hybrids and turn them into good little soldiers is entirely out of character – something that "Blood of the Daleks" gets completely right.

"The Parting of the Ways" manages to synthesis these two stories, with the Emperor creating new Daleks out of humans, but they hate themselves.

Rather than Big Finish's usual 25 (and some) minute four-part adventures, this season for Radio 7 has been reformatted into New Series-friendly 50 minute episodes which (apart from this and the season Cyber-finale) comprise a complete story each. Unfortunately, this story has slightly too much material for one fifty minute episode but not nearly enough for two.

Hence we start part one at a gallop with a confusing introduction to new companion Lucie Miller followed by quickly diving into the action, which then slows to a snails pace as we spend seemingly forever discussing tin foil hats with Kenneth Cranham's charming conspiracy theorist or the untrustworthiness of Polycarbide-plated aliens with Anita Dobson's noble but naïve acting president.

There are a few good moments, but the best are reserved for the evil pepperpots, here masquerading as saviours of the colony planet Red Rocket Rising.

By an astonishing coincidence (not) an asteroid fell on the colony six months ago and it is in the grip of the post-cataclysm impact winter. Just as everyone is afraid they are about to perish, the Daleks turn up offering to help.

It's always good to see the cunning of the Daleks – like in "The Power of the Daleks" – and here they have a marvellous time trying to restrain their more murderous instincts. Their desire to see the Doctor ext… ext… extradited is a high point.

(Handy that no one remembers their tactics in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", though; they bombarded the Earth with asteroids then too.)

Part Two is much better, largely because most of the story is here, with all-out war between Dalek factions and the Doctor leading the surviving humans' resistance and knocking up a Dalek jamming device (see "Planet of the Daleks") in between moralising lectures. At least he gets to comment on himself in fourth-wall breaking fashion too.

Perhaps because of its made-for-broadcast nature, the Big Finish folk seem to have special dispensation to skate closer to the wind than usual, referencing the new television series. The music borrows the occasional moment of Murray Gold's choir, but the most obvious example is flying Daleks: "Elevate!" is straight out of Mr Rob Sherman's "Dalek".

You also have to ask yourself with whom are the (real) Daleks at war this time? The Doctor suggests Mechanoids, Movellans, or each other, but could it be the Time War? There would be a certain irony in Big Finish producing a story where the Doctor accidentally runs into the fringes of a War from his own future…

Having said that, the Dalek Supreme confesses that they should be on their way to a battle in sector "GAMMA Z ALPHA 9". Now, as it happens, "D5 GAMMA Z ALPHA" is what the Movellans call Skaro. Obviously Skaro ought to be a toasted cinder by this point in the Doctor's timeline but, unlike his meeting other Time Lords, he's never had to meet the Daleks in sequence (unless Davros is about). In which case, this could be set – from the Daleks point of view – in the closing phases of their Movellan War. (Unless you're going to believe a word of "War of the Daleks".)

The implication is that Skaro itself is under attack. But even with their homeworld under threat, the Daleks still find the thought of rival Daleks so unbearable that they have to waste time and resources intervening. They are that bonkers.

Aside from the Daleks, the big thing in this story is the introduction of the Doctor's latest companion.

Lucie arrives in rather too similar a manner to Donna, the Runaway Bride (don't they have someone to check this sort of clash doesn't happen?) and without satisfactorily explaining who she is or where she's come from. Yes, yes, they're trying to establish some sort of "mystery" about her and why the Time Lords have dumped her on the poor old Doctor, but since they have hardly any time together and it's at such a rushed pace we fail to gain any sympathy for her.

They have a much better scene at the end of the second part, where Lucie thinks that the Doctor has been waiting for her and is almost charmed into reconciliation, until he lets slip that in fact he's being trying to leave and the Time Lords won't let him.

Again like Donna, Lucie is a reluctant passenger aboard the TARDIS and this sparks an abrasive relationship with McGann's Doctor. This allows for a change of tone from McGann's familiar companion, Edwardian adventuress Charlie Pollard, though it would be nice if Big Finish would resist their usual habit of leaving everything open and bring the adventures of Charlie (and C'Rizz) to a proper conclusion.

Meanwhile, the personality clash with Lucie offers up much of the fun of these episodes, and is something which gives McGann the chance to employ the more spiky side to the eighth Doctor that he has developed.

In the BBC books, with only his TV movie performance to base it on, the eighth Doctor's character quickly became nicknamed "Time's Wet Nosed Puppy" (eventually this was overthrown in favour of a new version of the character, "Time's Grumpy Amnesiac", with no greater success).

Thankfully, Big Finish have given Paul the chance to show that he has a much broader range than that, and their audio eighth Doctor is much more interesting and unpredictable.

On the downside, here the writing makes him apparently even more genocidal than the seventh Doctor in "Remembrance of the Daleks", actively regretting his decision in "Genesis…" not to blow them up at birth and determined not to make the same mistake again.

Here the writer, Steve Lyons, is accepting the Eric Saward interpretation that letting the Daleks live was a mistake, and I reject that premise.

Surely the true Evil of the Daleks (and the moral of the story of that name) is that they make us like them. In "Genesis…" the Doctor rejects evil and the Universe is a better place because of it.

Just to really hammer that point home: at the end of "Genesis…" there will be Daleks: the only question, and the Doctor's choice, is whether they will be descended from Kaled mutants or from him.

Think about the warning that the Time Lord gives to the Doctor at the start of the story: we foresee a time when they will come to dominate the universe. This isn't about unstoppable armies of personalised tanks: this is a philosophical question. The Time Lord is dressed as Death from a Bergman film; do you need any more clues than that?!

The Doctor chooses to have a universe where there are Time Lords and Daleks, rather than one where the Time Lords become Daleks.

This is not a point that has escaped Russell T Davies, actually. The existence of the Genesis Arc in "Doomsday" – a dimensionally transcendental Dalek prison – shows that the Time Lords were fighting the Time War in a different way to the Daleks: they weren't just killing their Enemy; they were better than that.

Here, the Doctor is completely intent on wiping out the new species of Dalek at birth, even to the extent of cooperating with the original Daleks to do so. There is no sense that his plan is to engineer mutual destruction; that is more of a happy accident because the original Daleks' ship is out of missiles.

So how different from the Daleks does than make the Doctor? Like them, he cannot stand the new species on sight because of what they are.

(Interestingly, this theme is reminiscent of Steve's earlier novel, the Missing Adventure "Killing Ground", staring the sixth Doctor. There, humans at war with the Cybermen turn themselves into Bronze Knights and the Doctor decides on sight that they're just another monster for him to stop.)

At least the ninth Doctor has the sort of excuse of having seen his homeworld and all his own people destroyed before he got to the point where he "would make a good Dalek".

Like good little Nazis, the Daleks no doubt believe that so long as the other side doesn't kill them the conflict will make them stronger, but again that is not a philosophy the Doctor is supposed to share.

And from a purely pragmatic point of view, two mutually antagonistic species of Dalek who are more likely to go for each other than anyone else seems like a good way to stop them bothering folk for a while. It's not like the Doctor hasn't engineered a civil war between humanised-Daleks and pure-Daleks before…

In fairness, the Doctor shifts the moral question onto the shoulders of the story's Davros-a-like: Professor Martez; only this time, the mad scientist is convinced by the Doctor's arguments and shuts down the neo-Dalek production line.

And, for a laugh, with both factions of Dalek destroyed, the colonists receive a hail from a new set of saviours from the planet Tel…

(Okay, I've just got to quibble again: Red Rocket Rising clearly isn't in the Solar System but there's a fair old amount of evidence that Telos actually is, and is the Planet 14 mentioned in "The Invasion". But that's an argument for a different time. Go and read "About Time 2" if you want to know more.)

So, even though Part One could have spent its time more usefully expanding the introduction to Lucie and cutting back the wandering in the ruins, the strong ideas and dramatic action of Part Two more than compensate making this a great story.

Next time… Kinky Boots and Gratuitous Puns, it's "The Horror of Glam Rock"!

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