Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Dalek Empire 1.3: “Death to the Daleks!” by Nicholas Briggs (October 2001)

“Death to the Daleks!” (it is, importantly, in quotation marks, given the significance of that phrase as four spoken words) spans the greatest period of time yet, a full nine years in duration (4163-4172). It’s a bit of a quick jump, but it’s done efficiently with some choice narration and conveys how little the status quo really changes even over such a long period of time: Suz is and remains the Daleks’ uneasy ally. Yet this is not simply a retread of The Human Factor, but goes some way to move the goalposts further: this release sees the Dalek Empire at its most powerful, triumphant and manipulative yet.

A big revelation hits immediately at the beginning of “Death to the Daleks!” Suspicious journalist Pellan is in fact a “slightly more sophisticated Roboman”. It’s not the greatest twist and does rather make Alby look like an ineffectual security agent, but on the plus side it illustrates the Daleks’ penchant for infiltration and espionage, which only serves to make them seem more cunning. Hot on the heels of Pellan’s demise, we get to hear a bit more of Alby’s rapport with Tanlee (David Sax again, with his occasional “We love stories”-type delivery), although he’s not a particularly inspiring character either, and the performance is a bit one-note. His role in proceedings does place Alby in an impossible quandary, though, which is to set him up as his own lover’s assassin, asked to bury all personal feelings in the name of a greater cause. There doesn’t seem a great deal to Alby’s characterisation in some ways (he’s a bit too sweet-natured and soft to really work as a lounging, hard drunkard), but McDonnell’s amiable performance makes up for that.

Suz begins this story at her most defeatist yet, shaken by the events of The Human Factor and the revelation that the Daleks have captured Alby. Yet her alliance with the Daleks continues – even to the extent of giving Daleks orders and snubbing the Dalek Supreme Controller in favour of the Dalek Supreme, though naturally the power she wields is illusory. She remains an excellent character, and the focal point of a gripping power struggle, even if Sarah Mowat’s performance is occasionally a touch too dramatic in the ‘bigger’ scenes. It’s great to see a female-led action-adventure series like this, in a similar manner to Siri O’Neal’s lead credit for UNIT; better still, Suz’s story is one of immense resolve and ingenuity even under a terrifying and vicious system of oppression. I have to applaud the way Briggs has written the character’s central dilemma. My only issue with her storyline is the surety of her devotion to Alby and vice-versa (an unfortunately large part of it, but not merely a gripe with “Death to the Daleks!”): it’s not excruciatingly bad, it just seems an unusually tight bond after nine long years of war for two people who we didn’t get to see together in harmony for very long at the story’s opening. It’s not an impossible ask for us to suspend our disbelief in this way, it’s just rather a glaring instance of the tell-don’t-show school of storytelling.

The Dalek Supreme continues to be a conniving bastard, denouncing Suz’s and Kalendorf’s friendship as ‘inefficient’ and proposing the latter be exterminated and replaced by Alby, “the man you love”, as this will boost our heroine’s morale. There’s nothing worse than villains who can only be incredibly stupid for the good guys’ plans to work, and fortunately the Curse of Convenient Idiocy does not strike here, as the Dalek Supreme and its Emperor are fully ahead of the game when it comes to…well, almost everything. There’s the successful counter-attack on Guria, the invasion of Mutter’s Spiral and conquest of Earth, the revelation that they know Alby is listening in on their conversation with Suz, and their awareness of Kalendorf’s telepathic propaganda of rebellion. The Emperor genuinely seems like the cleverest Dalek in the room here, which is what you’d hope from their godhead.

We meet a host of new characters, too; Hive Leader Stralos of the Aurealis deep space array is played a little bit too broadly and I don’t especially like the vocal edits, but Mirana (Teresa Gallagher) is a welcome new addition to the cast (it’s unoriginal yet impossible not to notice that, yes, she sounds ridiculously like Nicola Bryant’s Peri). She spars well with Alby, even if she mostly serves as “person for Alby to talk to.” I also appreciate the quick scene in which Tanlee hears a broadcast from the President of Earth, telling him that Jupiter and Saturn have fallen and Mars is under terrible assault – just a little thing, akin to the line from Mission to the Unknown which I highlighted two reviews ago, but like all those news bulletins from messengers in Shakespeare’s histories, it’s a clever way of illustrating the story’s scale beyond and above the (already considerable) canvas we are being shown. And, of course, in its own little way it brings the conflict a little closer to home. Another briefly heard but still memorable new location is Carson’s Planet, a roguish world of thieves and robbers devoid from all the fighting; once again, the length with which Briggs is telling this story means he is able to give us little pauses like this, pockets away from the main war effort, which relieve the tension and remind us of the world outside of Dalek Empire.

The latter half of “Death to the Daleks!” is where things really pick up, after some nice character stuff in the first chunk of the story, as we build towards Suz’s empire-spanning broadcast and the potential ramifications her war cry will have. Meanwhile, Alby and Mirana head towards Yaldos and we are told of that planet’s ancient culture of Seers, who were said to have the power of resurrection, along with the revelation that Joyce Gibbs’ Narrator is some kind of older Suz looking back on her younger self (“she said that I would find a way to be with you forever. And I have found that way, my love. Here I am”). The final minutes of this story are tautly spun, gripping listening, with Suz’s tragic arc reaching crisis point. And yet Briggs deliberately obscures, complicates, the ensuing action by allowing the key “Death to the Daleks!” moment and its subsequent rebellion to occur as a mere side comment in the Lopra System’s Project Infinity headquarters. It is as though we are being slapped on the wrist for expecting one kind of plot resolution and a shiny new mystery has been dangled in front of us. As the human rebellion marches on and Project Infinity continues its progress towards full capacity, Alby and Kalendorf meet for the first time and discuss the death of the Angel of Mercy, little knowing as we do that the woman whose words are being recounted to us must in some manner be Susan Mendes from the future. Project Infinity has a lot riding on it.

Other things:
“So that’s it? You just leave the people of Guria to the Daleks?”/“Well, we could all stay here and get killed, if you’d prefer.”
“If we had time I’d suggest you had those legs of yours replaced. Obviously the field surgeon was playing some kind of practical joke on you.”
Earth and Velyshaa were due to form an anti-Dalek pact – the internal politics complicates further.
“Get out of my sight!”/“I – obey…” Wonderfully hesitant Dalek vocal work there.
“The Daleks may never kill you. They don’t have to.”
“Why – do – you – pray?”
The Quelador bar flashback is fun, although it adds to the slightly digressive feel to Alby’s storyline. We later see Alby in another bar, on Carson’s Planet, with some pleasingly alien vocal work for the barman that helped me picture it as being rather like the Mos Eisley Cantina.
“You – wish – for – emotional – support?!...Your – relationship – is – not – efficient!”
“I need one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you.”/“Uh, you like women in uniform?”/“Clever move. Using humour to deflate my murderous intent.”
The barman: “No offence if you are [a Dalek replicant!”]…it takes all sorts to make a galaxy!”
“What would be the point of that?”/“Being with someone you love? You tell me.”
“My feelings for him are like a very old fantasy replayed so many times, and yet in reality it never really started, and if it had it probably would’ve been over long ago.”
Nice nod to Daughter/Highness from The Human Factor; she did manage to tell Suz that Alby loved her, after all.

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