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Audio Drama Review
The year is 1987, and Britain is divided. In Bradford, strikers are picketing and clashing with the police. In the City of London, stockbrokers are drinking champagne and politicians are courting the super-rich. The mysterious media mogul Alek Zenos, head of the Zenos Corporation, is offering Britain an economic miracle. His partners wish to invest – and their terms are too good to refuse. While the Doctor investigates Warfleet, a new computer game craze that is sweeping the nation, Mel goes undercover to find out the truth about Zenos’s partners. The Daleks have a new paradigm. They intend to conquer the universe using economic power – the power of the free market…!
We never got a present-day Dalek story during the Seventh Doctor’s time on television. Instead, Remembrance of the Daleks marked the 25th anniversary of the show by revisiting 1963. Now at last we have a Dalek story set in the late 1980s – though as writer Jonathan Morris points out in the interviews at the end of Disc 2, we are, as in Remembrance, looking back at the period through a quarter of a century of hindsight.
Thus there’s a curious combination of currency and quaintness to events as Mel (Bonnie Langford) refers to floppy disks and the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) makes use of a personal organiser. Such things were up to the minute in 1987 (which is one year ahead of Mel’s own time), but might not have been referenced so self-consciously at the time, and have since become obsolete. Hindsight also allows the writer to foreshadow developments such as the rise of online gaming – nay, the entire World Wide Web – and the 1987 stock-market crash.
He also sets up things to come in Dalek history, such as their use of a child as a battle computer in Remembrance and a couple of sly references to Matt Smith stories – including a diligent Dalek host at a corporate event asking guests whether they would like a vol-au-vent.
In some ways, though, We Are the Daleks fits right into McCoy’s television era. There’s a satirical edge, of which the then script editor Andrew Cartmel would probably have approved. There are assertive female characters, such as the investigative reporter Serena Paget (Kirsty Besterman), the ambitious politician Celia Dunthorpe (Mary Conlon), and Mel herself. Like Helen A in The Happiness Patrol, there’s more than a little of Margaret Thatcher in Celia Dunthorpe, who is prepared to set aside moral qualms in order to pursue the political advantages of an alliance with the Daleks. This remains a pertinent issue, as present-day politicians and individuals must consider the ethics of supporting powerful multinational corporations or buying goods from oppressive regimes.
A couple of the performances didn’t really work for me. Angus Wright is rather flat as Alek Zenos. Conversely, Lizzie Roper goes over the top as the rebel Shari. On the other hand, Mary Conlon is excellent, as are the regulars. Bonnie Langford has been better served by Big Finish in terms of scripts than she ever was during her time on the television show. In the CD extras, she admits that this may have affected her performance – in attempting to draw something out of her thinly sketched character, she played it too big, too boisterous, too bouncy. Fortunately, she has since learned the dramatic value of moments of quiet and stillness.
In his writer’s notes on the Big Finish website, Jonathan Morris hopes that this story will be unlike anything we’ve ever heard before. It isn’t quite that – the ‘gaming for real’ aspect has already been well covered in the novel Winner Takes All and the Sarah Jane adventure Warriors of Kudlak, among others – but it is very good and very different.
This story has been designed as a good jumping-on point for new listeners, and it is that. There are no overt references to previous Big Finish releases, though newcomers may be slightly thrown by Mel’s knowledge of the Daleks (she met them in The Juggernauts). All in all, We Are the Daleks is well worth investing in.
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