THIS EPISODE TAKES
AFTER THE BIG FINISH
AUDIO DRAMA "LUCIE
BIG FINISH 8TH DOCTOR
CD#4.10 (ISBN 1-8443
5-503-7) RELEASED IN
After a last, futile
the Daleks, Lucie,
Susan and Alex
are heading home
to England in the
desperate hope of
saving the Doctor's
life. But the true,
terrible nature of
the Daleks' plan is
beginning to emerge
and the Monk has
blood on his hands.
To defeat the Daleks,
it MUST be a struggle…
...to the death.
To the Death
(50-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 2 OF 2)
Often an episode title will be justified, but misleading; sometimes, it will ensnare
the viewer with an outright falsehood, as Russell T Davies did with his heavily-hyped Next Doctor. But, from time to time, even the most inflammatory of billings will be fully borne out. Once in a blue moon, a writer will promise a battle To the Death, and he’ll deliver it - just as Nicholas Briggs does here.
To the Death holds the distinction of being one of the darkest and most dangerous Doctor Who episodes that I’ve ever seen or heard. Admittedly, Briggs set the tone for what was to come here in Lucie Miller, which in itself was a harder-hitting piece than one would normally expect from the series, but here he ups the ante considerably, shepherding a number of the Doctor’s companions towards deaths that range from capricious to colossal. And the worst thing about these deaths is that they have all come about as a direct result of the Doctor’s failure to destroy the Daleks and their Time Controller in Patient Zero; his failure to kill them in their crib in Genesis, if you want to take it a step further. As the Doctor stares uselessly at a dear friend whose sacrifice he has not only to acknowledge but endorse, in his hearts he knows that he could have prevented this, had his resolve only been stronger. And the thought of it breaks him.
As this is the final instalment in Big Finish’s eighth Doctor range, it is quite fitting that the tale allows Paul McGann to step outside his comfort zone and explore aspects of the Doctor that he usually can’t. As the performances in this play are all, without exception, so intense and enthralling I’m hesitant to single out just one performer for praise, but this really is McGann’s finest hour. Particularly in the last ten minutes or so of the play, his performance ranges from incredibly fragile to frighteningly powerful and full of rage. Within the space of moments he goes from barking at somebody with such malice that, for a dark moment, the listener thinks that the Doctor is going to overcome his aversion to physical violence, to standing forlorn in his TARDIS, talking to a recording of a lost friend as if that friend were stood in the room with him.
However, Briggs does not let either the rampant carnage or the drama secondary to it limit his storytelling ambition in any way. Lucie Miller may have suggested that the Daleks were simply recycling their 22nd century invasion of Earth plans, but the truth is far more subtle and sinister. Rescued from Amethyst by the Monk and brought into his species’ past, the Dalek Time Controller galvanised his ancestors, ordering them to invade the Earth again; remove its core; and fit it with a time warp drive so that it may be used as “plague planet” –
a means to spread the Amethyst viruses through all of space and time, leaving only Dalek life in tact. It’s a devastating plan, worthy of even Davros, and one that has been enacted with such ruthless efficiency that, short of breaking every Law of Time, the Doctor doesn’t know how to counter it. Only the Doctor’s companions recognise what must be done, and so the Doctor must watch, impotent, as together they sacrifice themselves to save the world.
The story also resolves the long-running Tamsin / Monk arc beautifully, redeeming the former and even showing us a side to the latter that certainly warrants pity, if not pardon. Indeed, the scene that choked me up the most was one in which the Monk finally realised how far he had fallen and the losses that had been suffered as a result, both global and intimate. I wish I was able to say that I look forward to hearing more from this magnificent double-act but, alas, the indiscriminate discharge of a Dalek gun-stick has put paid to that.
Many will have wondered whether
the range would conclude with the
eighth Doctor becoming the ninth.
Licensing issues would probably
never allow such boldness, I’m
afraid, but in any event I feel that
what Briggs does here is even
more momentous. In the end, it is
the changes that go on inside the
Doctor – the changes that occur within his hearts - that will turn him from a romantic, velvet-draped adventurer into the leather and lonely Destroyer of Worlds, and I have no doubt at all that the losses he suffers here, and particularly the root cause of those losses, will be what start him down a long, dark path that can only culminate in his annihilation of both Daleks and Time Lords alike.
And so the man who regularly gives voice to the Doctor’s deadliest enemies has finally seen to it that they live up to their horrifying repute. To the Death is, perhaps, the most vicious and cruel of all Dalek stories that have ever been released under the Doctor Who banner, but it’s also one of most affecting pieces of character drama that you’ll find in the canon. Never has a companion bid us farewell so gallantly; never has an ally been lost so wantonly. This story simply had to mark the end of an era, because there’s no coming back from it – and there’s no beating it.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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