Doctor Who
Renaissance of the Daleks

Starring: Peter Davison
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 214 2
Available 30 March 2007

A random landing in 22nd-century London and a trip to the Savoy Hotel yield unexpected results for the Doctor: tea, scones, an American general who knows far too much, and the threat of a Dalek invasion of Earth. Meanwhile, the Doctor's companion Nyssa is in Rhodes during the time of the Crusades, where her position proves to be distinctly precarious. It seems the Time Lord's deadliest foes have woven a tangled web indeed. In order to defeat them, the Doctor must cross forbidden barriers of time and walk into the very centre of their latest, most outlandish scheme of conquest...

Big Finish has given us a lot of Dalek stories lately: Short Trips: Dalek Empire, Return of the Daleks, Blood of the Daleks - Parts 1 and 2 and Fear of the Daleks. It must be hard coming up with new ways to make use of the creatures.

This audio drama is certainly one of the strangest Dalek tales to date, though there are some elements of familiarity. As in The Mutant Phase and Jubilee, the TARDIS crew encounter a time paradox resulting from a Dalek invasion of Earth. In common with Jubilee, some toy Daleks provide a curious brand of danger.

While I can't quite imagine the toy Daleks, who threaten and chase characters at various points in the story, working in a television episode, other elements of the script (from a story by former script editor Christopher H Bidmead) are surprisingly "visual" for an audio production. The point of convergence where the various time tracks meet, a bizarre region that inspires awe among the characters, brings to mind the sort of things we've seen in Doctor Who Magazine's comic strips, especially the Fifth Doctor epic The Tides of Time.

The 1980s are further evoked by some typically Bidmead complex scientific theories, this time concerning time travel, though his old favourite recursion also gets a mention. And, unlike most previous Big Finish Dalek stories featuring '80s Doctors, this one obeys the cardinal law of '80s Dalek serials: that the title must begin with an "r"! Unfortunately, a less endearing echo of the past is also included: a rather pathetic wail of "Doctor!" emitted by Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) during one of the cliffhangers.

The plot requires the revelation that the TARDIS is fitted with a device that prevents it from materialising in the same location twice. However, knowing that this contradicts at least as many stories as it rationalises, the writer then has the Doctor (Peter Davison) explain that the mechanism only works intermittently. A bit like the ship's supposed state of temporal grace, then... and its isomorphic controls... and the HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System).

Talking of which, the HADS gets a mention too. In fact, it seems that the writer is a particular fan of the Patrick Troughton era, as an element from another of his stories is included here, when the TARDIS doors are opened in flight, threatening the blow the occupants out into the Vortex, just like at the end of The Enemy of the World.

The interviews that comprise this double CD's extra features eschew the regular cast on this occasion, instead focusing on the substantial guest cast. Nicholas Briggs talks to William Hope about accents and Aliens, to Stewart Alexander about Daleks in Manhattan, to Richie Campbell about race and to Regina Reagan about the intriguing possibility of becoming a companion.

Renaissance of the Daleks is a curious time-hopping, time-bending tale. It's not your usual story of Dalek conquest, but that is something to be commended. With a run of respectable releases over the past year, the Fifth Doctor's audio adventures seem to be going through something of a renaissance of their own.

Richard McGinlay

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