THIS STORY TAKES
CURSE" AND "RETURN
BIG FINISH CD#114
RELEASED IN OCTOBER
The TARDIS MAKES A
FALL IN WITH A LOST
SOLDIERS - VICTIMS OF
A SNEAK ATTACK BY
BESIEGED BY DEADLY
AND WITH ALL HOPE OF
RESCUE GONE, THE THALS
ARE THE VICTIMS OF A
GRIM EXPERIMENTS IN
WITH THE VERY NATURE
OF REALITY UNDER
THREAT, THE DOCTOR
AND CHARLEY NEED
EACH OTHER MORE THAN
EVER. BUT DARK FORCES
ARE CONSPIRING TO
TEAR THEM APART...
of the Daleks
Alan Barnes has, to date, written some of the very best Big Finish audio dramas; there are not many fans out there that would turn their noses up at the likes of “Neverland” or “The Girl Who Never Was.” Here though, with his “Brotherhood of the Daleks”, Barnes gives us one of the most bizarre audio dramas that Big Finish have ever produced.
Now when I read the blurb for this play, I had imagined a predominantly traditional romp, perhaps interspersed with some sixth Doctor / Charley continuity, but traditional nonetheless. Indeed, the references to Spiridon and the Thals really seemed to hammer home the link to “Planet of the Daleks” – about as definitive a Dalek story as you can get. And, for an episode or so at least, that is what I got – “Thal Vietnam”, as Barnes terms it in the CD Extras, complete with invisible monsters and all. But then the rug was pulled, and Barnes’ labyrinthine story had me concentrating so hard that I had to put my glasses on to be able to listen to it. “Brotherhood of the Daleks” makes even multifaceted shows like Life on Mars seem clear-cut and undemanding! And the structure of the play is as wacky as the plot – is it a four-parter, or a five? And was that an epilogue?
One thing is for sure though - it works. “Brotherhood of the Daleks” ranges from surreal to creepy to utterly engrossing. Barnes’ story takes the Daleks into the same sort of terror-territory as that occupied by the Cybermen – I mean, can you imagine waking up a Dalek? Well, one unlucky group of Thals had to endure that fate. At least I think that they did… after just one listen, this review is likely to be totally inaccurate when it comes to its interpretation of the plot!
"What is the word? What is the word?"
That much said, at times I found the rather shrill ‘Thaleks’ somewhat exasperating; deep down, I think part of me really wanted a straightforward “Planet of the Daleks” re-hash. All
the same, the Thaleks’ presence is truly disconcerting and, better still, it really makes the impact of the ‘proper’ Daleks’ arrival in the second half of the play all the more momentous. I actually got goosebumps when I heard Nicholas Briggs’ apposite Dalek voice ring out across the modulator.
And if ‘Thaleks’ are not weird enough for you, the ‘proper’ Daleks featured in this story are… well… red. Before listening to the play I had, somewhat naively, reasoned that the red Dalek adorned on the CD cover would be a Supreme Dalek of the same ilk as the one featured recently on television in “The Stolen Earth” two-parter; never in a million years would I have anticipated that the red Dalek here would be a communist! Talk about lateral thinking! A quorum of left-wing Daleks – the complete antithesis of their normal selves – are even more unsettling than those that spout Shakespeare, particularly when they burst into chorus!
Furthermore, the cast here is absolutely stellar. Michael Cochrane (“Ghost Light”, “No Man’s Land”) gives a typically polished performance as Murgat, a grotesque shrub of a scientist living in a bell jar with a few rather extreme socialist ideals. Murgat is a far cry from your typical baddie – so much so that the Doctor actually lets him have a go at carrying out his crazy plan in the end.
Of course though it is Big Finish’s team of the moment, India Fisher and “old sixxy” Colin Baker, that steal the show here. It is incredible to believe Fisher was worried about her performance in this play as, in my view at least, she hits exactly the right note. Still, for those with a more critical eye that may want to compare and contrast the two versions of her big scene in this play, for the first time Big Finish include an alternate version here as part of the CD extras. The whole package just keeps on getting better and better…
With regard to the larger sixth Doctor and Charley story arc, part of me very much wanted this to be the one where the truth about Charley would be revealed but, then again, after the excruciatingly short-lived Thomas Brewster arc for the fifth Doctor, I was also aching for something a bit more substantial from this run. Thankfully though, thanks to the fantastic nature of his plot, here Barnes is able to satisfy both cravings, and somehow he manages to do so without too much of a cop-out at the end. The ‘Charley is a Dalek Replicant’ angle worked superbly; for a fleeting moment I even dared to imagine that this Charley really is a Dalek Replicant. Furthermore, the introduction of the whole Folkestone / “Terra Firma” element was simply sublime – the cat may not be fully out of the bag as yet, but a paw or two is certainly hanging out by the end of this one.
And so on the whole I thoroughly enjoyed “Brotherhood of the Daleks”, but I think that it will take at least another listen or two before I fully understand how all the pieces fit together.
One day I would still very much like to see Barnes flesh out his peculiar “Daleks’ Master Plan” sequel, but until that day I shall have to make do with scratching my head over this wacky, twisting tour de force.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
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