Monday, 28 September 2015

Main Range 032. The Time of the Daleks by Justin Richards (May 2002)

Some things are completely and inexplicably irresistible, and Justin Richards’ third script for Big Finish boasts one of them.

There is something beautifully, deliciously twisted about the Daleks quoting Shakespeare, and isolated, in and of itself, it definitely ranks as one of their finest moments. It’s notable, too, that they quote mostly from the most violent tragedies, particularly Hamlet (“We defy augury” and “the readiness is all” and so on). But there are in point of fact several irresistible things here: twisting and deforming literature to the purposes of an army of Daleks; Daleks recognising Macbeth quotes; Daleks ordering human slaves down the streets of Elizabethan England. It’s actually been quite a while since the last Dalek story (The Mutant Phase, number 15 compared to this one which is 32) and so I was relatively keen on their return, especially given we get McGann’s first showdown with them. The ‘conversion’ of Learman in Part Four is grim, visceral and effective, complemented by a stunning range of sounds from Nick Briggs. As ever, he does the Dalek voices so bloody well. Kudos, too, for the way this ties into Seasons of Fear as well as the earlier Dalek stories – The Apocalypse Element and The Genocide Machine. Big Finish has been slowly and quietly building up its own continuity for a while now, and it’s starting to pay dividends.
Unfortunately that one conceit – the Daleks quoting Shakespeare – is the most interesting thing about this story, which otherwise descends into relatively well-trodden Dalek territory, all big schemes and time corridors and so on. It’s a bit perfunctory, alas. It’s also one of the hardest Big Finish stories to visualise; the action is highly confusing at times. There’s a big cast of characters, a lot of different concepts jostling for spaces, and the direction doesn’t always make things clear. Sure, Briggs comes up with a creepy and uneasy score, and Richards has made some effort to tailor the story to the Shakespeare influence – there’s even a Shakespearean plot after a fashion:  a faction moving against the ruler whose authority is in question, the niece who sides against her aunt, and so on. But it doesn’t do a great deal with all this. We get a foretaste of The Shakespeare Code with the Doctor giving the young Will a variety of his best lines, yes (and unlike a lot of people I didn’t see the young Will twist coming so I was pleasantly surprised), but Shakespeare barely features in this story. We don’t get the Daleks in the same room as the grown Shakespeare, at the height of his power. It’s no celebrity historical that squeezes all possible entertainment value out of its premise. It’s just kind of there, because, Daleks.

There are good things though. That the source of all the paradox energy and time distortion is in fact Charley is rather wonderful, and I look forward to it being explored even if the revelation is rather swallowed here. That the time loop fulfils itself and the final Dalek scene is the same as the first is rather neat, as they spiral off forever, chanting “We will await rescue.” But finally, I do wonder whether the side-lining of Shakespeare and the otherwise tepid and uninspired nature of the story is at least in part deliberate. Look at this quote of Viola’s describing her dystopian nightmares: “A world of conformity. No individuals. Just a mass of humanity following orders. A world where there’s no thought, no imagination, no love.” It is clear that this is what will come to pass if Shakespeare (and by metonymy, literature itself) were to cease to be. Learman’s view that humanity is decadent and does not deserve literature of such genius (“pearls before swine”) is a properly nightmarish one. Perhaps if the closed-minded will to destroy ignores such high points of human history, these ugly stories are the ones we must resort to. I don’t know if this is an angle Richards intended, but it would redeem the story in my eyes if so.

This is without doubt messy, full of technobabble, and difficult to follow, but I am grateful for its existence, purely because it does try something so crazily different with the Daleks, even if the rest of the story teeters into a familiar re-tread of The Evil of the Daleks.

Other thoughts:
Don Warrington has a fantastic voice, and to hear him intone “Time is out of joint” seconds before the familiar Dalek heartbeat gives one a giddy thrill.
Launching the story with the Doctor quoting Shakespeare and Charley never having heard of him is a nice little device, given the Doctor’s tendency to paraphrase and quote.
“Did you never study Hamlet?”/ “Small villages?”
I gave up trying to source all the Shakespeare quotes about five minutes into this, and I say that as a complete literature geek!
All the Shakespearean characters’ names – Viola, Ferdinand, Maria, Osric… Richards had a lot of fun writing this, possibly even more so than it is to listen to!
“There’ll be the usual misunderstandings, of course – get locked up, escape, dice with death, get locked up again, that sort of thing…”
“This all sounds pretty straightforward. An open and shut case of Shakespeare being taken out of time.”
The “Free Will” gag – I didn’t know whether to groan or laugh; I sort of did both.
“I think he was the most accomplished, talent and influential playwright who ever drew breath – I think his prose is peerless, his sonnets sensational, and his blank verse beguiling.”
“It’s interesting that you don’t dismiss my theory as utter nonsense.”/ “A refreshing change.”
“Which is the real you? With so many mirrors it’s difficult to tell which is the reflection and which is the reality.”
The Daleks are “the most enthusiastic of Shakespearean scholars, come to ensure the success of our enterprise!”
“The Daleks venerate Shakespeare… he is the greatest playwright in all the universe!”/ “I never thought I’d hear a Dalek say something I agree with.”
No one says “quixotic quest”…Come on.
“What’s past is past.”/ “Unfortunately, what’s past is still very present.”
Doctor to a Dalek: “You can drop the pretence, we’re all enemies here.”
“We are the masters of time!”
“Of course I don’t trust them. Not one millionth of a millionth of an inch.”
“Lay on, MacDalek” – another groan.
The Doctor’s silver foil acting as a mirror scheme is actually rather clever, as is the use of mirrors to destroy the Dalek. I love it when he thinks of things like that.
“Shakespeare must be exterminated!” Well, of course it had to be said.
“It’s hard to take seriously a weapon that has the acronym TED. Sounds a bit too warm and cuddly somehow.”
“Hoist by their own petard.”/ “How very well put – you have a real knack for an apt phrase.”

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