Saturday, September 15, 2012

Big Finish: Energy of the Daleks - AudioReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash

Doctor Who: Fourth Doctor Adventures 1.04.

Founded in 1998, it was a relief for fans of Doctor Who when a license to produce official audio plays was awarded to Big Finish, their first story to be produced in this new range: The Sirens of Time (1999), a multi-Doctor adventure bringing together actors Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. It was to be the perfect alternative to a series that had been brought to an end in 1989 after twenty-six years on television.

It is sad to think that actor Jon Pertwee had only died three years earlier, and there is absolutely no doubt, in this reviewer's mind at least, that this great man would have contributed to the birth of this new venture for the Doctor and his companions, there is no doubt about that.

Another Doctor who could have embraced the role further was actor Tom Baker; however, it looked as if the man who had played the Time Lord the longest would not find, or wish to find, a place in this long line of tales brought magically to life by a company that would go on to produce other works including Sapphire and Steel, Dark Shadows, Sarah Jane Smith, Bernice Summerfield, and, more recently, a revival of Blake's 7 for audio.

Storm Warning (a tale of His Majesty's Airship, the R101) would signal a return to Doctor Who for Paul McGann, the man who had been tasked with the portrayal of the Eighth Doctor for the 1996 television movie.

And so back to Tom Baker, and the news that was to be announced in 2011. Though not the first to be released, Energy of the Daleks was the first to be recorded by the Big Finish team, which included Louise Jameson (reprising her role as Leela), Alex Lowe, Mark Benton (no relation to Sergeant Benton, I can assure you!), Caroline Keiff, Dan Starkey, John Dorney; and the voice of Skaro's finest, Nicholas Briggs. Was it a sensible choice to bring back the Daleks alongside Baker's first audio adventure for Big Finish? Simple answer: Yes, absolutely! It almost evokes the exact same shivers that I experienced with McCoys The Genocide Machine - almost, if it had only been that little bit longer... (Energy comes in at approx 60 minutes compared to Genocide's 120 minutes)

That aside, there is much to admire about Nick Briggs' tale of the Kaled creatures plotting Mankind's downfall - yes, another fiendish plot - aided by Andy Hardwick's excellent music score and sound design. And, honestly, there will always be a place in this reviewer's heart for both Baker and Jameson, together as the Fourth Doctor and Leela. For the latter, it is indeed a thrill to see (or in this case, hear and imagine...) how the Doctor's companion takes on the might of the Daleks, a psychological battle in which Leela refuses to submit her will to the enemy. Knife at hand, she has always been one of the strongest to accompany the Doctor and it is a pleasure to rejoin the lovely Jameson for further travels.

It is also remarkable to note that Jameson had never featured in a Dalek story before, during her time on television, and so it feels only right that that mistake be rectified.

The tale of energy, friendship, and potential genocide (did I mention The Genocide Machine earlier?) has the correct balance to play with, enhanced by nostalgia and a feeling that this is a lost adventure, one of those that had been written during Baker's original occupation of the TARDIS in his seven-year run and had not, for whatever reason, been filmed. The Earth-Moon setting also inspires thoughts of the Patrick Troughton era and Cybermen. This has "Classic" written all over it - and yes, I do differentiate between Classic and Nu-Who!

Though short in length, Energy takes bold brisk steps, never pausing for breath and making the most of its use with both scene and character. The re-introduction of Robomen nicely reflects the magic of William Hartnell's The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964) while permitting a brief recollection of Mark Gatiss's Roboman as heard in The Mutant Phase, another Big Finish production from 2000.

This outing for Baker and Co. has enough energy of its own to pack a punch and will surely be a favourite with fans for many years to come? Though it has some negatives and faults - yes, even Energy - it is unfair to criticize, as where would we be without our Fourth Doctor and Leela in audio? There are already plenty of possibilities for this pairing - including what will be Mary Tamm's last appearance as Time Lady Romanadvoratrelundar in another season of stories!

It is indeed sad that Elisabeth Sladen never had the opportunity to once more share in this pleasurable journey with co-star Tom Baker. I only hope that the Daleks aren't overused during Baker's time with Big Finish, although it will be an honour to experience the magic of Baker and Tamm in The Dalek Contract (featuring K9), expected for release in 2013.

It had been a long wait. But, in the end, the result of a Doctor at his best - marvellously acted by an equally marvellous actor - makes this a moment that all fans should experience. Further reading: Big Finish