As well as going back to the past of Dalek Empire, this new run of stories take us back to the past of Doctor Who in an extra-diegetic sense, casting two former companions (one from the distant past and one from the recent past) as the leads: Maureen O'Brien, who played Vikki Pallister in 1965, and Noel Clarke, who played Mickey Smith in 2005-6 but returned for minor appearances in 2008 and New Year's Day 2010. There's something rather canny about this, raiding from the cupboard two polar opposite instances of the show's long, long list of solid actors, and both O'Brien and Clarke deliver terrific performances that feel well-tailored to their respective abilities, plus there's a weird thrill in hearing the two of them act opposite each other (Clarke's role here feels a little like the sort of thing Mickey Smith will eventually develop into, but to be totally honest he gets given a lot more interesting, challenging, and intense material than he got as Mickey).
The plot-line of this opening segment is thus the need to find hardcore guerrilla warriors who are exceptional enough to wear these Spacers: in short, the need to find "the fearless". There's a lovely moment where two characters mistake a Spacer for a Dalek, hinting at that old Dalek Empire chestnut of how much you have to become like the people you're fighting in order to beat them (echoed later in the line "how bad are these Daleks? Because they're going to have to be pretty bad to be worse than you", but also the fact that the Earth Alliance put the people of Talis Minor in chains in order to "recruit" them). See also how it is a rural "hick" who is the one to bravely save the situation rather than those wearing the Spacers. Elsewhere, O'Brien subtly underplays Landen's canny and calculating qualities (particularly towards the end, where it's implied she's putting Kade through hell just to see how he'll react); she's very much the utilitarian Kalendorf of The Fearless.
It seems obvious from the moment we meet them that Salus Kade (Clarke) and Egan Fisk (Oliver Mellor) are destined to join the ranks of the Fearless, and thus the scenes of Kade deliberating the matter feel a little overplayed. First we see them staring out to sea on the planet Kedru 7, wondering about the choices that got them there, and then we flashback to a more carefree time in their lives on Talis Minor, where they spend their time hunting animals called baktos and generally being untroubled by the war (compare how we first met Alby and Suz...). Mellor, and particularly Clarke, are very good at selling the way their characters are different in different situations. Briggs is quite good on this nostalgic/carefree/bitter blend, and puts in a few nice touches between them ("wow! a real interplanet-er!"), but it's Clarke's performance that really lifts the whole thing; there's a visceral anger just under the surface of his every line that's terribly effective.
One action sequence on the Earth Alliance ship falling to Talis Minor feels curiously flat, partly due to repetitious sound design, and there's a bit too much exposition at points, but for the most part Briggs' skill in crafting these sorts of audio dramas is in full evidence. But I am not yet quite sure about what sort of story this new Dalek Empire series is telling: we're hitting the same notes as previous entries, such as how ordinary people and communities get caught up in war, and how people are forced to adopt the ruthlessness of those against whom they're fighting, but we've heard these play out before, even if they're being told in new permutations with new characters and new settings. At the moment, it feels like a curious blend of the 'anthology series' we know Briggs was planning - snapshots of people across the galaxy whose lives are changed by the war forever - and a more developed, long-form war story, and I don't know how successful the blend will be. But Clarke is so good that I don't mind that uncertainty, and sealing humans inside machinery to fight the Daleks is a nice reiteration of one of Dalek Empire's central motifs.
Helpful that a selection of clips from 1.1 Invasion of the Daleks help any listener who hasn't heard that first series for a while find their bearings again.
I notice that Briggs casts at least three actors in this production with whom he has already performed scenes for the TV show (Clarke; Oliver Mellor, who was in Army of Ghosts; and Colin Spaull, who was Mr Crane in the Cybermen two-parter earlier that year).
"We need more soldiers to fight the Dalek War. It's too much of a luxury to ask politely."
Decent cliff-hanger, if a little ... tacked on in the last few minutes.
The extras seem to confirm Salus Kade was written for Noel Clarke, which makes sense. What a likeable man he comes across as. Also interesting how Maureen O'Brien doesn't like sci-fi very much but likes playing roles for BF because she likes her characters.