Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Dalek Empire 2.2: Dalek War Chapter Two by Nicholas Briggs (February 2003)

Oh, the curse of bad performances. Dannie Carr plays Morli, some kind of outer-space yokel, with a heavily exaggerated regional accent which comes over as a dull way to signify that she’s “simple” and makes the actress sound amateurish and the character plain annoying. She sounds like she’s stepped off a space panto rather than the allegedly serious drama Dalek War purports to be, although she’s almost never funny. The character as scripted has a tendency to state the obvious or ask obvious questions (never a way to make someone endearing), so it isn’t all down to Carr, but regrettably she worsens what flaws were there on the page.

On the plus side, Morli’s presence gives Alby Brook a different role – he’s more responsible now, trying to save a definitively weaker and more vulnerable character than anyone else we’ve yet met, and this brings out a more driven side in him. This is probably the strongest instalment yet for Mark McDonnell’s character, particularly in the middle scenes in which he is tortured by the Enemy Daleks using the nasty dual method of physical pain and psychological torment, but he’s also got a growlingly angry streak here that works well. And he’s developed a sudden penchant for gruff swearing because, you know, space is real gritty.

Morli’s presence does bring one other important element to the plot’s foreground, I suppose, and that is the villainy of the Alliance Daleks (or the AU-Daleks, as I’ve also seen them called), who have been brainwashing humans to believe in the AUs’ higher purpose against their rivals and “punishing” whole planets which refuse to become allies. This was heavily foreshadowed in Dalek War Chapter One, of course, and hinted at in Hannah Smith’s performance as the Mentor. It’s not the most dramatic of twists, that’s for sure – “Daleks we thought were good guys actually aren’t” has been done by Doctor Who quite a few times now, and the whole “the two sides in war are just as bad as each other” angle is not exactly the most insightful. That said, the way in which it is delivered to us is laudable, presented initially through Marber’s eyes as Mirana and Alby’s treachery against the Alliance.

The relationship between Kalendorf and the Mentor continues to be one of the most gripping elements to Dalek War: two of the wariest yet most pragmatic characters in the story in a thoroughly uneasy alliance that is as necessary as it is shaky (you just know it’s all going to blow up in their faces before Dalek Empire III comes around). Gareth Thomas and Hannah Smith play these scenes well, her carefully measured, barely-disguised venom a suitable match for his more urgent franticness. More of this pairing please.

Dalek War Chapter Two also boasts one of the most interesting and inventive ideas yet in the Dalek Empire sequence; as the Alliance fleet enters Earth’s solar system, Jupiter looms before them, now a terraformed world inhabitable by human beings. It’s a great sci-fi idea, and bonus points for doing it to a planet with which we are all (nominally) familiar, as it turns a sector of space that is closer to us into something strange and unknown. I look forward to seeing how Kalendorf fares on this world of brand new lush vegetation in Chapter Three.

From its tense opening stalemate between Suz and the Enemy Daleks, this second instalment is all about how far one can go in a time of war. Suz threatens to kill herself several times in this hour alone, with the threat of destroying the Dalek Emperor possibly residing inside her mind if the Enemy Daleks do not spare her friends; whether she could carry this out or not is hard to tell, but either way it makes an effective contrast with the actions of the Dalek fleet in the battle against Kalendorf, in which they all self-destruct so as to wreak havoc on the Alliance. Daleks do not care for their individual existence in the way the humans are strongly defined by their individuality (and threats to this individuality rear their head quite a lot here, given that the Dalek Emperor is invading Suz’s mind at the back end of this story). They have no quibble about utter obliteration for the cause. To be a Dalek is pure self-negation for the sake of negating others, and if that means going all Remembrance on us by turning on one another, then so be it.

The Emperor in Suz’s head starts to awaken at the story’s denouement, and the coalescing of Suz and Dalek which I predicted back when discussing The Human Factor has now come to pass. They are indeed a single being. It’s a stirring, haunting ending as the voice in her head proclaims “WE – ARE – ONE! WE – ARE – THE – SAME! WE – ARE – THE – EMPEROR – OF – THE – DALEKS!” and she then makes the same declaration to her friends and the man she loves. If you dare to fight the Daleks, eventually they infect you like a plague. It’s a nasty, grim, defeatist universe. All told, this is enjoyable and gripping stuff.

Other things:
This is the shortest instalment so far, at a mere 57 minutes.
“Stop this – or I’ll shoot myself!”
“Now’s not exactly a good time, is it?”/“You…er…carry on.” The great Suz/Alby reunion, actually quite nicely underplayed.
A good speech, well delivered by Mowat: “Sometimes the Daleks understand us better than we understand ourselves. If you take someone who is tired and angry, and you give them food and rest, they get comfortable. They remember that life can be good. They regain their hope. And then you remember that you don’t want to die. You can’t feel angry forever.”
The one exchange where I think Morli works: “Don’t shoot us! I think I’ve bashed me knee!”/“Us? How many of you are there?”/“There’s just me!”
Finally, someone reacts to approaching Daleks exactly as you would in real life: “Oh, shit!”
We only get one brief flash-forward to the 67th century here, which is a pity as I’d like to hear more of Saloran and Siy.
Daleks that gas their hostages. Shudder.
Morli, nobody wants to feel your muscles.
“DROP – THE – WEAPON – OR – THE – MAN – YOU – LOVE – WILL – DIE!”
“I am part of you and you are part of me. YOU – WILL – OBEY!”
“I – we – I am the Emperor of the Daleks!”
It’s a shame the cliff-hanger is ruined by Alby’s comical “NOOOO!” scream.

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