Thursday, 8 June 2017

Dalek Empire 4.2: The Fearless, Part 2 by Nicholas Briggs (November 2007)

What's interesting in The Fearless Part 2 is that for brief bits of the story, the Daleks are victims: the fearful, almost. There's also a cracking - and to my mind, quite Davies-ish, whose reciprocal influence on Nick Briggs is not to be underestimated by this point - bit of humour early on in this instalment in which the Daleks are chanting "Victory!" over and over but then interrupt themselves with "Silence!" the moment they hear that the Fearless are on the hull of their ship, about to burst in on them. Then there's their hubristic belief that their firepower is superior to that of the Fearless, quickly proved wrong. It's a unique little instance of getting tension out of the Daleks being in danger and being afraid of what's coming to get them: a proper way of selling quite how dangerous and formidable the Fearless really are. Kade's bravado, swagger and intensity - you can almost see his broad shoulders and determined expression just from how Clarke delivers his lines - shine through once again and raise the quality of the whole piece. He pivots on a dime from fury to despair, and it's compelling stuff.

Maureen O'Brien's Agnes Landen comes into her own to a greater extent in this instalment right from the off, as she displays a manipulative and ruthless streak in foreseeing and permitting the destruction of Kade's ship by the experimental Dalek weapon "Dead Hand" just because she wants to see how he reacts. Naturally, Kade's ingenuity is forefront - he and the others were in their Spacer gear in time to survive the vacuum of space. Landen has the measure of her best commando, commenting in the story's best line that "the only way you could be sure Kade was dead is if you found his boots floating around in space, and even then I wouldn't put it past him to be fighting in his socks", but she has fire in her own belly too (take the moment where she threatens to lock Kade up in a straitjacket if he doesn't cooperate). As in the first part of this tale, there's a maternal note in her relationship with Kade, but it comes laced with its own mistrust and poison; I doubt it's intentional but it makes me think of classic mother/son pairings in literature like Coriolanus and Volumnia or, in the more Whoish realm, Davros and Calcula.

Is the ruthless demolition of Lajitta and his daughter in the Kedru 7 apocalypse a classic example of fridging in order to give a character arc to the brooding male hero? Yes, to be honest, it probably is; a bit of a staple of the genre, and thus it's mildly disappointing that we aren't playing around with that trope a bit (Suz as the tortured one who loses Alby was a bit fresher). However, Briggs has the requisite skill to get some pathos out of the situation, and Clarke is perfectly capable of selling the anguished, emotional stuff. We get the grief, the denial, the suicidal urges, the drinking and the pub brawls... but really it's about the way Clarke delivers those lines. "Get out," he sobs after exploding with anger at his best friend, and it's instantly the best bit of The Fearless so far. He's a more unstable and messed-up hero than we tend to be used to in the Doctor Who universe, and it works well.

The "sidequel" aspects of Dalek Empire IV come off more successfully here than in Part 1, I feel, partly because our now-established canvas can broaden out and expand a little, thus allowing space to bring Suz's broadcasts into the story. Landen represents the anti-Suz position, a commander who thinks this policy of co-operating with the Daleks is utterly unforgivable. There's no doubt in my mind that the first season is enriched by having these extra developments unfolding alongside them, by having additional knowledge next time I listen to it that Kade and company are suffering more and more each day as the Angel of Mercy proclaims that cooperation is the best way forwards. That said, I do think the second half of The Fearless Part 2 trails off as we move from the focus of Kade's individual plight and his two-hander scenes with Landen to a different set of characters, most of whom just aren't as interesting as Kade and Landen. Part of that is a rather overdone performance from Esther Rose Elliott as Ollander; I get she's going for "nervous" and "damaged" but it never quite works in my view, it lacks emotional truth somehow (though I do like her rehearsing her greetings before Suz arrives). Avers and Kenzie are merely of middling interest, too.

Dalek Empire has always had the trappings of blockbuster science-fiction films, but perhaps never more overtly so than here; the sequence where the Daleks wipe out all life on Kedru 7 in one gigantic kamikaze blast is - in the huge, powerfully-managed sense of scale, the vastness of the assault and the smallness of the lives of Kade's loved ones who are wiped out by it - is terrifically done and made me think of the Death Star initiation sequence in Rogue One (not even a film I loved, but it seems to be on my brain at the moment). And that's why the humans are not as fearless as the Daleks, why even in their victimhood they aren't as afraid as we are, why even a dying Dalek can tell Kade "I do not fear you", why he is gripped with terror at potentially losing his wife and daughter where a Dalek would not be: because caring for others is the chief prerequisite of any horror story. Stephen King - who ought to know a thing or two about horror stories - wrote that "love has teeth which bite and the wounds never close". Thus there's a grim irony in the passenger liner in this story being called the Amorist - for as long as you care for, as long as you love, others, you cannot be truly fearless. To properly be on the same level as the Daleks, all that needs to be extinguished. You need to let someone like Landen turn you into a war machine.

Other things:
Alex Mallinson's evocative cover art helps one conjure the images of what the Spacer suits worn by the Fearless might look like. Jamie Robertson's sound design is spot-on too.
"Lieutenant Killer Kade". Hmmm. Better than "the tin dog", I suppose.
"Alright, Dalek, start talking."/"You - will - be - "/"Yeah, yeah, never mind all that."
Oh look, David Sax is back as Ernst Tanlee.
"We all hate the Daleks! But that's like hating an incurable disease - we can't stop them! There's nothing we can do!"
Clarke memorably describes Landen in the extras as "a meanie, in a manipulative and motherly way", whilst Briggs talks about what drives human beings to do terrible things in war - clearly a recurrent interest of his.

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