Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Dalek Empire 3.5: The Warriors by Nicholas Briggs (September 2004)

“The Daleks don’t just destroy lives with brute force! They want to destroy our minds, the way we think, what we believe in! They betray, coerce, they lie! Their agents hide among us. They may look like us, but inside they’re Daleks right to the core!” – Siy Tarkov

In effect, The Warriors puts to us the question “where do Daleks really come from?” And the answer turns out to be both a production line where Dalek casings are assembled and yet also the distorted, grotesque nightmare visions of a terrified woman. They are, literally, rivulets of steel and copper and brass and wiring encasing a writhing, seething mass of hatred, yes, but they are also an idea, and that’s much, much scarier. In fact, as Sandifer correctly observes in his essay on The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone in the book Outside In 2, it’s probably Doctor Who’s single scariest idea. The idea of the power of ideas: “What if we had ideas that could think for themselves? What if one day our dreams no longer needed us? When these things occur and are held to be true, the time will be upon us…the time of Angels.”

And like the Weeping Angels, these Daleks can worm their way into your head. Tautly and claustrophobically directed with all the logic of a nightmare, scored with the creepiest piano score you can imagine, Kaymee’s dream sequences are one of the most interesting parts of a storyline that is already pushing at the boundaries to try new things. They’re constructed particularly cleverly, with Nick Briggs luring us in with the fairly standard PTSD-sufferer’s dreams as she watches the extermination of her father replaying over and over: very much the kind of thing one would imagine poor old Kaymee Arnod might have nightmares about. But over time these dreams become stranger and stranger, as though the Daleks are encroaching on her headspace (the masterstroke, for my money, is the slow but sure effect of the familiar ‘heartbeat’ noise pulsing in the background as Kaymee talks, growing ever more noticeable). These Daleks are firmly not creatures of war; they have firmly become a truly eerie, indeed almost conceptual threat; they possess her thoughts, transmute her words into theirs, even begin to make her speak with their voice. She is their guinea pig, fed with Dalek “nourishment”, both physically and spiritually. This is easily the creepiest the pepperpots have ever been in Briggs’ hands, and the moment in which a Dalek declares itself to be Kaymee’s father absolutely rivals the scarier moments in Jubilee for sick humour and unease. Her slow, sickening transmogrification into Dalek form is precisely the Briggs version of what will later become Oswin from Asylum of the Daleks, and another perfect expression of the “dissolution of identities” theme that’s been running throughout this particular season.

The other Graxis Wardens’ plot isn’t as engaging as Kaymee’s storyline, in my view (isn’t it a touch convenient the way they manage to rescue the two Demons? I know the different plot strands needed to align at some point, but it just feels a little too easy). Regrettably, once they are all together, the suspicion/paranoia scenes do go on too long and are relatively leaden (Galanar’s backstory surely isn’t a priority yet again, is it?), while the fact that the refuelling outpost trap is a trap is just eye-rollingly obvious, rather deflating the tension. We also don’t really get an almighty cliff-hanger to lead us into the finale, more of a brief arc-related teaser to get us to keep listening. That said, Steven Elder’s crazed, wild-eyed mental imbalance works well – he is not, as Galanar points out, mad. Just suffering. On a different note, I’m a big fan of the portrayal of Provost Carneill and all his self-doubts, which enhances the Kaymee scenes. The man is in a heck of a difficult position, and he’s had a great little mini-arc across this series. Just listen to the weary and resigned way in which he tells the Daleks, “Yes. Yes. Then you can exterminate them,” when they demand that condition, as though they are malicious children gone rogue. We know what Davros’ children are like, and so his tragic fate is inevitable as it is awful.

If it were not for the helpful continuity link, I’d flat out state that Empire is the wrong word to describe this third series. These Daleks have no Empire; as Tarkov says in the quote at the top, they live among us (I know there’s a future audio called Daleks Among Us, but it sounds like a great title for one of these six, frankly). They’re our allies and doctors and confidantes, looming in our very dreams and replacing our family members. Their main aim for most of the series so far amounts to wiping out all records and traces of them so that nobody will think they are a threat, so that they can blur into the background; it’s for that reason alone they want to go to Velyshaa and destroy all the evidence against them. They are an insidious ideology gone rogue, and as we all know, it’s very hard indeed to kill an idea. As Alan Moore says in V for Vendetta, ideas are bulletproof. Of course, they have more than this in mind; there’s still a galaxy-spanning scheme in the form of controlling the NFS mutation and turning patients into Daleks. But even this works, as we see Daleks that spread by infection rather than by straightforward military conquest (something which came up with the varga plants in Dalek War and in Mission to the Unknown). As Dostoyevsky puts it in The Devils, the fire is in the minds of people, not on the roofs of buildings. It’s a victory of the psyche, not the battlefield.

The Warriors is a more involving piece than The Demons by far, mostly down to the excellent Scalanis VIII scenes between Kaymee and Carneill in the first 20 minutes: they’re sick, disturbing, thrilling in the way the best Doctor Who can be. It gets a bit lost in the muddle of the second half, but nonetheless the more disturbing tack that the Dalek threat takes on in this instalment makes this, on balance, a good listen. This has overall been an often nuanced, usually engaging series, and it’s a shame I’ve only got one more entry in Dalek Empire III to go.

Other things:
“And what exactly do the Daleks get out of this?”/“WE – DO – THIS – BECAUSE – WE – ARE – YOUR – FRIENDS.” Briggs doesn’t do the subservient-Daleks thing quite as well as David Whitaker, but then very few writers have done, so.
“That’s something I’ve been asking myself for some time.”/“And have you been answering yourself, Provost Carneill?”/“Not exactly, no. I just keep coming up with more questions.”
“EAT – YOUR – NOURISHMENT. EAT – IT – ALL.”
“I don’t think you’re my dad. You’re not my dad. You’re not. You’re NOT my father!”/“Then who the hell is?”/“I – AM!”
“There are no mirrors in here, are there?” Spine-tingling.
I’ve just noticed something which could back up this whole “blurring of identities” business, and that’s the way each cover displays an image of one of those main characters as set against their negative (exterminated?) visage.
“They’re firing at us!”/“You don’t say.” Ha, a nice joke at the expense of written-for-audio dialogue!
“Did I ever have a daughter?”
“That’s the trouble, isn’t it? We don’t even think of ourselves as people. Not after what’s been done to us.”
Hmm, seeds seem to be sown for Elaria’s sudden but inevitable betrayal in The Future.
A short featurette of extras again – nothing particularly noteworthy.

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