Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - Emissary of the Daleks
The second of three new stories this year featuring Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor and Nicola Bryant's Peri, Emissary of the Daleks seems them face off against the classic villains in an occupied world in a remote area of space.
Written by Andrew Smith and directed by John Ainsworth, Emissary of the Daleks is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here, before going on general release on the 30th September. Here's the synopsis...
On the planet Omnia, a young man leads the Doctor and Peri through the battle-scarred ruins of a city. Among the rubble he shows them proof that their invaders and new masters, thought to be invincible, can be defeated. The proof is the blasted, burnt-out remains of a Dalek.
But this is a Dalek-occupied world like few others. For one thing, there are few Daleks to be seen. And for another, the Daleks have appointed an Omnian, Magister Carmen Rega, to govern the planet as their emissary.
Why are the Daleks not present in force? And can the Doctor and Peri risk helping the Omnians, when the least show of resistance will be met with devastating reprisals from space?
I'll be joined by my son Ben, regular Big Finish reviewer for The Digital Fix and the world's biggest Doctor Who fan. Beware of spoilers as we discuss the events of the story...
Baz Greenland (aged 38)
Last year, writer Andrew Smith gave us one of the year's best Doctor Who main range releases in Hour of the Cybermen (check out our review here). Based on the latest entry from Smith, he may have done the same again, pitting the Sixth Doctor against another classic - and rather overused villain - and delivering an exceptional story.
The Daleks make for a formidable force once, enslaving a planet, forcing its populace to mine a rare mineral and eradicating not just resistance but the planet's own history. The fight here isn't just about driving the Daleks from the planet, but reclaiming history, culture and identity, all strip mined after a decade of occupation. In Saskia Reeves's titular emissary Carmen Rega, the Doctor and Peri face a woman who believe she is doing the best to keep her people alive, going to dark and desperate ends to stop a global extermination through collaboration with the enemy.
Smith's script wisely chooses not to pain her as a nefarious, power-hungry bureaucrat. She might rule over her own people as the Dalek's right-hand woman, ordering the execution of insurgents and thousands to work in them mines, but it is an impossible situation. Without her influence, even more people would die, and yet Emissary of the Daleks doesn't give any easy answers. Reeves delivers a strong performance but never plays Carmen as evil. She is desperate but cool headed and when she does eventually rebel, it doesn't feel contrived.
Baker and Bryant are on fine form throughout, relishing the chance to bring depth and heroism to their roles. Baker has none of the maliciousness sometimes present on TV and this is not the whiny Peri we remember. There are moments where she certainly proves herself; another reason why these Big Finish stories are so important, offering us a glimpse of how great the Sixth Doctor era could truly have been.
If there's one issue I have with Emissary of the Daleks, it's that it could have been longer. There is so much rich world building over the course of the story that the final rebellion against the Daleks comes far too quickly. At the same time, the pacing is superb; moments like the infiltration of the underground resistance and the Doctor's interrogation revealing the horrors at play - the local populace turning on each other in the name of the Daleks. The escape through the mines and the Doctor's 'trick' to defeat the Daleks above the planet offers tension and heroic moments in equal measure, with the final solution offering a satisfying conclusion to the war at hand.
The moral drama of Carmen's collaboration, her conflict with her rebel son and the enslavement of the Omnian people add depth to a classic Dalek story, while still offering plenty of high stakes action in the final part. There is plenty for the Sixth Doctor and Peri to do, while allowing for guest players to play their role too. Emissary of the Daleks is a great Doctor Who story and the highlight of the main range release this year.
Ben Greenland (aged 13)
While Memories of a Tyrant remains my favourite story of the main range this year, Emissary of the Daleks belongs to the stronger half. This is very much a typical Dalek story, occupying a planet and enslaving the indigenous population for their own ends. But there is also a slight twist in the formula, with Carmen as their slave to help them govern the planet Throughout, you can easily hear her distress and regret at helping them when her son's life is threatened because he sides with the Doctor and Peri.
It was inevitable that she would rebel against Dalek rule, but the tension is maintained as she leaves her decision to the last minute when her son is to be executed - sorry Exterminated - by her. The rebels are good enough characters to spend a lot of time with, but they honestly don't do to much other than create riots, shoot a Dalek or two and make plans. Aside from that, all of the cast is brilliant in their respective roles. Nicholas Briggs once again manages to bring the Daleks to life, and it must be noted, his deeper supreme Dalek is a triumph, almost sounding like the Dalek Emperor from TV, which is no bad thing.
The final remarks must go to Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant for their portrayals of the Doctor and Peri. Baker, once again, succeeds in his version of the Doctor, once again proving he was was robbed on TV, and his Doctor could have been so much better if JNT had let him. The way he plays the Doctor's defeat of the Daleks by releasing radiation into the atmosphere is great, along with his anger at the thought of Peri being tortured. Bryant manages to play Peri without her whining hysterics from TV, holding her own during the times she is separated from the Doctor.
Overall, Emissary of the Daleks is a good tale, with a classic villain threat that well rewards the listener.
Simon Power's score is presented in an eight-minute music suite covering snippets of the themes across the story. It is a real delight to listen to, Power kicking things off with a moody, atmospheric opening, advancing with racing strings for tension and some big, heroic themes that will really stand out in isolation and within the audio itself.
A trailer for next month's Harry Houdini's War sees the Sixth Doctor and Peri caught up in the mystery surrounding the famous figure in a world at war.
Finally, the behind the scenes interviews really bring to life Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant's long-standing friendship together. Emissary of the Daleks, while second to be released, is actually the first Doctor Who story for Big Finish they recorded together in at least four years and its a delight to hear their excitement about working together again while reminiscing about their past, on the show, at conventions and their previous recordings with the site.