Doctor Who
Return of the Daleks

Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £10.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 238 8
Available 30 December 2007

A spaceship from the Dalek science division arrives on the planet known as Zaleria during the time of the creatures' second occupation. But why are the Daleks so interested in Zaleria? They haven't taken Susan Mendes (the so-called the "Angel of Mercy") into their confidence. The needs of the science division supersede all other instructions and standing orders, including the protection that is usually afforded to Suz by the Dalek Supreme. The Doctor has also arrived on Zaleria, and he makes contact with Suz's co-conspirator Kalendorf. But the Time Lord knows far more about the planet's secrets than he is letting on...


It's the return of Return of the Daleks! Like The Maltese Penguin, Her Final Flight and Cryptobiosis before it, this CD was issued free to subscribers of Big Finish's regular monthly Who releases and is now available to buy separately. However, unlike its predecessors, this is a Seventh Doctor story rather than a Sixth Doctor one. More importantly, whereas Her Final Flight and Cryptobiosis were far from earth-shattering, this single-disc release is essential listening.

This is because it unites the Doctor with characters from Big Finish's Dalek Empire series. It was, at the time of its initial release, also the first Empire-related production in more than two years. Despite the Doctor Who series title emblazoned on the front cover, this feels like more of an Empire story than a Who story. Suz (Sarah Mowat) and Kalendorf (Gareth Thomas) play larger roles here than the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), particularly to begin with. Perhaps the production should have kicked off with the Dalek Empire theme and ended with the Who theme. Instead we get the Who music at both ends.

The tale appears to take place partway through the third episode of the first series of Dalek Empire, "Death to the Daleks!" (as does the subsequently released Dalek Empire 4: The Fearless series). For those of you who aren't familiar with the saga, the Doctor's dialogue contains handy character studies of Suz and Kalendorf, as do the CD's sleeve notes.

As for when this story takes place within Doctor Who continuity, that's rather more tricky to explain. This isn't the first time the Seventh Doctor has revisited the planet Spiridon, the setting of the Jon Pertwee serial Planet of the Daleks. In the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip Emperor of the Daleks, he saw Davros thaw out and take control of the Dalek army frozen beneath the planet's surface. It's possible that Return takes place after Emperor: acting on information supplied by the Doctor, Davros might not have located and defrosted all of the deep-frozen Daleks, because he may have assumed that there were only ten thousand of them (as theorised in Planet), as opposed to more than a million (the figure revealed on this CD).

However, given the Doctor's references here to his "last" visit to Spiridon, which do seem to refer to the events of Planet rather than those of Emperor, it's more likely that the strip takes place after this CD as far as the planet and its people are concerned, though the CD undoubtedly takes place after the strip from the Doctor's point of view (he is travelling alone prior to the TV movie). It is entirely conceivable that thousands of Daleks remain frozen after this audio drama, for Davros to subsequently find. The Seventh Doctor's concerns about not wishing to interfere with established history, though explicitly referring to the destinies of Kalendorf and Suz, could also indicate that his visit to Spiridon in the comic strip took place in the planet's future.

Perhaps in deference to Nicholas Briggs's current stardom as the voice of numerous monsters in the BBC television series of Doctor Who, this CD marks what was the first instance of the front-cover credit: "Nicholas Briggs as The Daleks"! He certainly earns his dues, playing an astonishing number of different Daleks, as well as some Ogrons and a Zalerian, who often converse with each other and all sound distinct from one another. The Dalek in charge of the heat ray sounds a bit silly, though, coming across like Leonard Rossiter or Captain Pugwash (a character who was, incidentally, brought to life by the original Dalek voice artist, Peter Hawkins).

Apart from such minor blips, this story, written by Briggs and directed by John Ainsworth, boasts universally strong performances - in spite of a few instances of duff dialogue, such as the Doctor asking himself: "What secrets will unfold?"

Return of the Daleks remains one of the best single-disc Doctor Who releases to date (though I haven't yet heard the new one, Return to the Web Planet). If you don't already own it, catch it if you can.

Richard McGinlay

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