Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Dalek Empire 3.4: The Demons by Nicholas Briggs (August 2004)

I can’t decide if the routine ‘flashback’ sequences to Dalek War at the beginning of each episode of Dalek Empire III are a nice way of showing the divide pre- and post-the Great Catastrophe and explaining how the current situation came about, or an overlong instance of tiresome repetition. Perhaps a bit of both; I certainly think they go a bit far in indulging the need to explain things and fill the gaps, and they also go overboard on technobabble and jargon. I’m more of a fan of vagueness if it means we don’t have to submit ourselves to an overdose of sci-fi terminology, since the latter has the effect of killing dead the interest of the listener (or this listener, at least) in the storyline at hand, which is a pity.

I was a bit unsure whether calling the Daleks’ augmented-human creations “demons” makes all that much sense, at least from the Daleks’ point of view (isn’t picking that word a bit too human a concept of the “mythic” or “supernatural”? And if a human picked it, aren’t they a bloody awful salesperson?), but this actually gets addressed in the narrative eventually as being a taunt made by the human scientists who created them. As for the Demons themselves, they’re a reasonable idea, it’s nice to learn they were created by the Alliance Daleks as a cool tie-in to Dalek War, and they’re something of a natural progression from the Robomen of previous stories. One of the things I most like about them is the way they “imprint” themselves on the people they meet and are surrounded by. In practical terms, this means Galanar and Elaria end up on different sides. But when we’re talking about thematic significance, it hints at your real family being those whom you meet and befriend as you go along in life, not the people who just happen to come from the same place as you by some quirk of space and time. Yep, it’s rather neat, that. And, to give credit where it’s due, this twist in the tale allows David Tennant to add ‘broken and damaged’ to his range in playing Galanar (this works exactly as well as you’d expect) and it also affords Giorgi Selestru a few flashbacks. However, it also really stunts the progression of the storyline (equivalent to *drop bombshell – spend half an episode explaining backstory of bombshell – return to not long after bombshell moment*), and it’s a bit odd to learn so much about Galanar’s phenomenal powers if we haven’t seen a single one of them displayed in action up till now. These scenes between Galanar and Elaria are unfortunately overlong, overwrought, full of far too many flashbacks, and worse still see the return of the dratted Morli (why?!).

Steven Elder’s Siy Tarkov remains a marvel. In this one he’s a bitter, acrimonious man, less sick than he was after the Daleks cured him of the NFS disease, and yet even angrier. Elder spits out his lines as though they taste foul and stammers his way through the scene in which both his doctor and his daughter reveal that they are not who he thought they were; it’s a great performance. And once again, some of the best material comes from Ishia Bennison’s Frey Saxton, who gets an excellent scene with her subordinate and friend, Culver, in which she wonders if the Daleks are in the right. These kinds of doubts tend to form the most interesting discussions in Dalek Empire, and Saxton’s – no doubt fermenting ever since she was forced to leave Kaymee with the Daleks – are no exception: “Every instinct in me tells me the Daleks are wrong – evil. You only have to stand near one of them to sense that. You only have to hear that voice to know, to feel, that they’re totally devoid of any compassion or capable of anything we’d recognise of a decent or worthy motive. But what if I’m wrong?” In one sense, it is this gnawing worry that the opposing side may have a point which makes Saxton such an admirable human. After all, as we’ve identified, the terror of individuals like the Mentor, or, well, Tony Blair, is the utter, unwavering certainty of being right. People that never question themselves or seem to have no qualms about the way they go about things are scary. So Saxton is right to waver, so long as she doesn’t topple.

In my view, The Demons is without doubt the least engaging segment of Dalek Empire III to date, mostly down to its unfortunate over-emphasis on plodding exposition and flashbacks, but also a number of hokey clichés that were mostly limply comic where they should’ve been tense and a regrettably and interest-sheddingly limp action sequence at the story’s end. Nonetheless, the performances are almost universally good and there is still some rich fruit for picking over, and with a full two episodes to go, I have no clue where this overarching umbrella serial is headed. Let’s hope things pick up soon.

Other things:
Mowat is much better when playing the subdued and creepy Dalek Supreme than when she’s screaming at Galanar during the torture scenes.
“Why the hell would the Daleks want to cure anyone of anything?...no. Just as I thought. No answer.”
The Wardens’ ship, the Ranger 1, has some really nifty special features. All that multi-imaging and false recognition codes would come in handy on most of the other ships in this galaxy!
There are 357 Graxis Wardens? I never quite bought that scale, to be honest, which is a bit of a fault in the direction.
Reflecting Briggs’ comment on how human friendship and companionship is what they will always have over the Daleks: “It’s all that matters in the end, Frey! It’s what we’ve got, and those filthy machines can never have! It’s to do with gut feelings, it’s to do with instinct; it’s to do with heart, Frey, your heart, and what’s in the heart of you is good and strong, and stop looking at me like that, because you know it!”
If you’re going to bring back *one* character from Dalek War, why would you pick Morli…?
The Daleks trying to access knowledge on Dalek defeats is a bit like Davros & Nyder with their tape, isn’t it?
“What could be easier than convincing a weak, grief-stricken man that you’re the daughter he never knew?”
“He was broken into pieces…and I lovingly rebuilt him.”
The Daleks identifying Elaria’s tear as “moisture, analysis indicates saline content” is unintentionally hilarious. Or maybe it was intentional.
“THEY – ARE – INVISIBLE – YOU FOOLS!” Oh gosh, I couldn’t stop laughing, and this clearly wasn’t supposed to be funny.

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