Saturday, 10 June 2017

Dalek Empire 4.3: The Fearless, Part 3 by Nicholas Briggs (December 2007)

The Fearless, Part 3 follows Kade's mission as he and the other members of the Spacer-wearing Fearless set out to kill Susan Mendes, the Angel of Mercy, each of them on their own in deep space as they close in on the ship carrying her, the Amorist. I was unsure about centring the story around assassinating the first series' lead character; the Kade and Landen stuff was far and away the most engaging material of the first two discs, and as such it's a shame to split that pair up and spend most of our time on a plan to kill a character we know from having heard Dalek War cannot possibly die in this set of stories. It seems like an artificial tension, though one which, as the story goes on and we reach a new twist, Briggs goes some way to justify. The revelation that the Susan Mendes of this story is in fact a robot duplicate isn't immensely unpredictable, but it does help keep what happens here distinct and less like it's playing second fiddle to Dalek Empire I: a new bit of political intrigue in another part of the conflict rather than retreading old ground. Better still, the final twist of the knife - traps within traps, schemes within schemes - promises some excellent Kade/Landen material in the grand finale. It's quite the rug-pull.

More frustratingly, the Kenzie/Avers/Ollander stuff comprises not especially engaging material performed by not especially great actors, and this really hurts Part 3 in a way that we didn't see with the opening one-and-a-half bits of this fourth series (the critique of the Fearless as no better than the Daleks themselves would land a lot more coming from a better actor than Esther Ruth Elliott). David Yip overplays Kennedy a little too, and even Noel Clarke seems to be struggling here with one or two of the more clichéd lines, though he brings his A-game once he's going up against both his best friend and the Angel of Mercy.

On the plus side, there's a greater tightness to the action here than in Part 2 (which practically launched a new story-line strand in its second half): the entire hour is set on or around the Amorist over a relatively short time frame and focuses on a single mission. Dalek Empire and the Aristotelian Unity, if you will. Focus like this is appreciated. There's also a decent structure to the way the mission unfolds, even if I'm unsure of the wisdom of the move in general: it's like a Base Under Siege in reverse as the Spacers have to fight their way into the Amorist, and the geography of it all is reasonably well conveyed. Also welcome is the fact that it's not a particularly Dalek-driven story-line, in that most of the story sees the Daleks under attack from Spacers, continuing to blur the line between the two sets of opponents, even if behind that surface material is a shadowy Dalek scheme that means they aren't quite as much victims here as it seems: the Daleks knew all along about the Earth Alliance plan, and this twist - with its attendant robot duplicate Suz - is a corker. And for all that the Daleks removing somebody's name is a bit of a silly idea in some ways, it's also a neat bit of psychological torture in that it displays just what happens when the 'Dalek factor' starts erasing human identity - one's very self-hood goes out the window.

Also neat in thematic terms is the way the Fearless represent the other side of the coin as opposed to Suz and Kalendorf's "cooperation" tactic. They're the hardcore rebels; we might call them extremists, and certainly they represent an "extreme" of human military efficiency and capability, surviving alone in space for extended periods and capable of blasting Dalek after Dalek to smithereens ("decorating the walls nicely"). Kade is quick to denounce the other humans on board the Amorist as "traitors" who need wiping out as much as Suz, and the limited vision of his mission is played up in the moment where they learn that Suz and Kalendorf are only aiding the Daleks in order to bring about an eventual rebellion more successfully ("death to the Daleks!", you will remember). In this light, what Briggs is doing in The Fearless does make sense: taking Suz's co-operating and enabling with a view to undermining from within, the ethical dilemma of which was problematised throughout earlier series, and setting it against the more unswerving, "pure" beliefs of Kade and the like. Note that moments after Ollander is unable to say her first name, we hear her asking - and receiving - Kade's full name; Suz is more often referred to by her fascistic-sounding moniker than as "Susan Mendes". 

The recent convert is usually a creed's most zealous defender, and the more passionate their ideological purity, the more hatred they have towards those whom they see as the morally compromised. Communists harbour greater resentment towards liberal socialists than towards capitalists: those of their own side who are not committed enough to the cause. Working with the Daleks in order to bring about their eventual downfall has its own ways of making you Dalek-like - all the people who have to die or suffer along the way whose deaths you have to try to justify - but the story encourages us to think of Salus Kade's ideology as no less difficult to stomach. I'm not entirely sure that's a moral view I agree with; if there's one thing this week has shown us, it's that opposition with a bit of teeth can achieve more than muted, consensus-based, centrist tactics. On the other hand, unlike Kade, I'd stop far short of language like "traitors". War being what it is, nobody comes out of it with spotlessly clean hands; there is no ethical consumption under late capitalism; and Suz, for all her utilitarian justifications, and Kade, for all his ideological purity, breathe in the dust of the dead and step in the blood of the dying around them equally. As does Commander Agnes Landen.

Other things:
Kade's hallucinating his dead wife is a fairly familiar fridging trope, and it doesn't add a great deal either, other than conveying "he misses her" and "he's losing it".
Technobabble exclamation of the week: "It's time to deploy the sensor scramblers!"
"Ladburn? That guy could never navigate out of bed, let alone find a course through four star systems!"/"And Sorcha probably hit reverse by mistake!"
"Don't you want to be better than a Dalek? My God, look at you! In your killing machine! Just look at you!"
"I knew a telepath once! Kept it from me until I wondered why he always beat me at cards..."
Oliver Mellor as Fisk finally gets given more to do than play Horatio to Clarke's tortured Kade, and the conflict between the two works well.
"See, but Daleks aren't that stupid. They know how to adapt if the situation changes. They're mean, and devious, and smart. Smart. Smart like you'd never believe. I've been in a lot of fights with them, and they always end up surprising me, always have another trick to pull out of the bag."

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