12 September 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: July 2015

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 12th September 2014

The year is 1987, and Britain is divided. In Bradford, strikers are picketing and clashing with the police. In the City of London, stockbrokers are drinking champagne and politicians are courting the super-rich. The mysterious media mogul Alek Zenos, head of the Zenos Corporation, is offering Britain an economic miracle. His partners wish to invest – and their terms are too good to refuse.

While the Doctor investigates Warfleet, a new computer game craze that is sweeping the nation, Mel goes undercover to find out the truth about Zenos’s partners.

The Daleks have a new paradigm. They intend to conquer the universe using economic power. The power of the free market!

* * *
The Seventh Doctor and Mel are back! Hurrah! If that’s not cause for celebration, then I don’t know what is. Often sadly poorly written for on screen, Mel has enjoyed a fantastic revamp akin to the Sixth Doctor’s here in the audio world. Bonnie Langford, forever brilliant whatever she is handed, has really stepped up to this and has continually proven how good she is and, indeed, how good Mel as a character is: enthusiastic and optimistic, someone smart and genuinely just wanting to have a good time.  I like that.  I like that in the end, she is someone who just enjoys travelling and exploring, and so she fits in wonderfully with those early, carefree days of the Seventh Doctor. Again, a lot of Season 24 never translates as well on-screen as it arguably should do, but in much the same way that Series 4 was so exhilarating to watch as it was all about the Doctor and his friend, Donna Noble, just having fun, so it should have been with the Doctor and his friend Mel, and so it has been at times thanks to Big Finish.

Of course, the Seventh Doctor’s era is well known for its sudden lurch from being light and more like a children’s show than we’d arguably ever had before, to something darker and more complex.  Whereas no attempt was really made to bridge that gap on TV, again some plays have tried to do it, and We Are the Daleks falls neatly in that slot. We have a recognizably human background (London), some nice iconography (a giant Dalek-shaped building), intelligent use of the current companion (Mel, the computer programmer, actually gets to do some computer programming!), and the slight reinvention of an old foe (the Daleks themselves) as well as a smattering of political commentary going on. It’s a neat-enough fit with the era of Doctor Who in which we find it, then, and provides some nice retroactive continuity creation to smooth over some elements of Remembrance Of The Daleks along the way.

(In addition to this, having recently criticized some of the CD covers for being very generic or lacking in risks, this one is pleasingly different and eye-catching and easily my favourite piece of work from Tom Webster for quite some time now.)

There is a lot to like in Jonathan Morris’s script, and the character of Celia Dunthorpe is superb: chillingly realistic and despite the awful things she says and does, you can see her justification and reasoning behind it all.  It makes what could be a simple caricature all the more effective and resonant.

Sadly though, despite all of these good points, there is something not quite 'there' with this play. On paper it all works, but in execution, I could never quite warm to it.

Was it the similarities to past Dalek stories? (We have a part where the Doctor explicitly compares a situation to the Dalek Civil War from The Evil Of The Daleks, and right on cue the Daleks start parroting dialogue from that tale.)

Was it the subplot with a computer game, that was very obvious from the off and felt very convenient to the plot than a natural off-shoot? (Maybe, though it does let Mel do something that her character excels at.)

Was it the sense that this sort of iconography, use of the Daleks in unfamiliar situations and liberal taking of continuity has been done before several times over now, and more often that not with the Seventh Doctor? I think perhaps that’s just it: this story is far from generic and has some great parts, but as a whole it’s in no way as fresh as perhaps it ought to be, and is perhaps a bit Remembrance-lite in parts? Last month’s play, The Secret History, had parts so shockingly like The Name Of The Doctor that I was surprised BBC Wales let it pass, but managed to feel different all the same. Perhaps it’s the use of the Seventh Doctor: he gets this sort of tale a lot, so similarities are all too easy to spot.

I know, whatever else, that many people will really enjoy We Are the Daleks, and I can’t blame them for that - there’s a lot to like.  For me though, its parts shine brighter than the whole piece.

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