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30 November 2020

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Lizzie Hopley, John Dorney, Roland Moore & Jonathan Barnes

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: November 2020

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"Something is very wrong. The Fifth Doctor is lost in the Time War, heading for an encounter with his oldest and deadliest enemies... the Daleks!"

Echo Chamber by Jonathan Barnes

"It’s the radio talk show where everyone’s free to call in with their opinions. Time to welcome its host – the Doctor!"

Towards Zero by Roland Moore

"The Doctor finds himself in an old country house where he has to solve a very unusual murder – his own!"

Castle Hydra by Lizzie Hopley

"Nearing the end of his journey, the Doctor enters a jail filled with familiar faces. But who are the prisoners and who are the wardens?"

Effect and Cause by John Dorney

"A crash in the vortex leads the Doctor to the source of all his troubles, and to the Daleks. The answers are here. If he can live long enough to find them."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

After the first part of the Shadow of the Daleks anthology wowed me, I was eager for the second half. Would it hold up: could it hold up? For the most part, the answer is yes. Overall, this is another strong release in a range that has been desperate for one for a long time now.

We start with Echo Chamber by Jonathan Barnes, which is a lot of fun. Big Finish have leaned into commentary on the downsides of social media and whipped-up public hate lately, notably in the sorely underrated and sharp Like by Jacqueline Rayner, and now again here. The Doctor finds himself unexpectedly hosting a radio show where he is encouraged to fuel people’s anger and polemic views, a scenario entirely unsuited to the Fifth Doctor and therefore all the more amusing and uncomfortable: long silences feel like they last forever and the exasperation of the staff is tangible. It’s a good opener and Barnes is clearly having fun taking his swipes as this sort of manufactured outrage.

This is followed by Towards Zero by Roland Moore, the sort of story you can only really tell with a formula like Doctor Who’s, in which the Doctor finds himself trying to solve his own death. It’s a fun premise bolstered by the ensemble cast once again showing their versatility and willingness to really get stuck into the humour and horror of these scripts. It doesn’t feel right to single any of the cast out really as everyone across this set puts in a tremendous performance, but I’d be lying if I said that Dervla Kirwan and Anjli Mohindra weren’t the ones who were still in my mind days later.

Castle Hydra by Lizzie Hopley is next and shows how the single-episode running time can work to a story’s advantage. The Doctor finds himself in a suspicious prison where there is far more to the prisoners than meets the eye, and it’s not just one set of familiar faces which greets him. This is a story with a fairly simple premise, and a faintly familiar one, but at half an hour it doesn’t outstay its welcome as would be the case otherwise. Again, the performances are tight and the writing likewise, Hopley elevating what could be fairly run-of-the-mill characters to higher plains.  It’s the first play to really go hard on the ‘everybody looks and sounds the same’ angle and it deals with it well, leading into the finale without sounding forced.

Speaking of, we wrap things up with John Dorney’s Effect and Cause. It was always going to be tricky to end this run, as what would usually be the two main hooks (the Time War/Daleks and the fact the Doctor keeps meeting the same people time and again) have in fact been background noise for the most part, much to the anthology’s advantage. The fact they’re in focus here makes this the least exciting episode in the run for me, though I suppose it was inevitable.

Really though, what gets me most about using the Time War is that it was completely unnecessary. You could have the Daleks menacing the Time Lords without it being anything to do with the Time War; it’s not like they don’t have previous in everything from Resurrection of the Daleks to The Apocalypse Element. Worse, by making the Fifth Doctor even vaguely aware of the Time War, it makes his (canonical) lack of further investigation into it all the stranger: this is the Doctor who remarked that curiosity had always been his downfall after all.

It’s a habit Big Finish fall into all too often: see also Missy all but being told her entire redemption arc in The Lumiat but ignoring it for the sake of continuity. It’s meant to be a wink to the audience, but it just makes the characters look dumb and when you’re robbing your central characters of intelligence and initiative, albeit retroactively, you have a problem.

So, a poor ending but not enough to drag things down elsewhere. You can see the strain around the edges sometimes in Shadow of the Daleks 2 (having a story set in a radio studio with accompanying studio-bound microphone effects followed by one supposedly set outside but with the same sound levels betrays the recorded-at-home nature of things all too readily) but what they’ve achieved overall is nothing short of impressive and worthy of praise and the ensemble cast have been universally excellent.

The end is here for the main range as we know it, the final curtain dropping, but for two months running, they’ve shown that there is life in the old dog yet.


+ Shadow Of The Daleks 2 is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


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