Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - Alien Heart / Dalek Soul
The latest addition to the main Doctor Who range from Big Finish is something a little different to what listeners may have seen before. Rather than creating one four-part story in the classic Doctor Who TV tradition, it's a set of two different stories with an overarching link. Both feature Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, and continue to give fans a glimpse into their solo travels between series 19 and 20.
Two stories, Alien Heart and Dalek Soul, have been released on digital audio and CD. It's available for Big Finish customers now and goes on general release on the 31st May. Here's the synopses...
Alien Heart by Stephen Cole
In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Nyssa stumble across a trail of ten destroyed worlds, all of them obliterated by means of some utterly monstrous but utterly unknown device. The planet Traxana would seem to be next in line to suffer the same fate. But when the TARDIS lands on an outpost on Traxana’s moon, Nyssa is carried away by a tide of giant green arachnoids, leaving the Doctor behind…
And the coming menace is closer than he thinks.
Dalek Soul by Guy Adams
On the Dalek-occupied world of Mojox, a group of rebels is engaged in a futile fightback against the invaders – but at last they’ve found an ally, in the form of the mysterious Doctor. Elsewhere, however, the Daleks’ Chief Virologist is seeking to perfect a biological weapon to wipe out the Mojoxalli, once and for all.
Her name… is Nyssa.
Yet again, I'll be joined by my 11-year old son Ben, one of the biggest Doctor Who fans this side of Gallifrey. (You can check out our joint-review of Dethras here).
Baz Greenland (age 35)
Alien Heart and Dalek Soul offer something a little different to a lot of Big Finish stories. Both are distinct in their own right with different supporting characters and narratives, but they share a strong link that you only really begin to appreciate at the end. What starts off a little slow develops into something surprisingly good and it is well worth sticking with until the end.
I have to admit, I wasn't feeling it in the first part of Alien Heart. While there was an intriguing mystery, I felt there were a lot of used Doctor Who ideas floating around the beginning of this story. The cell spiders reminded me of the spiders from Kill The Moon or Full Circle, Theebe (Alex Tregear) was a stock villain, deceiving Nyssa after she was separated from the Doctor, and there seemed to be a lot of wandering around, trying to discover what the spiders were and what had led to a thirty-year devastation of ten different worlds.
Sonderal (Eve Webster) and Elthar (Geoffrey Newland) make good allies of the Doctor after Nyssa is carried away, but I wish they had been given more to do. Scouts from the Human Empire, they feel a little wasted in what is quite a quick tale. Episode two picks up steam quickly though and proceeds at breakneck pace as the Doctor discovers the Daleks are behind the creatures, using Dalek DNA to cell spiders and rage war against their old foes, the robotic Movellans (who recently turned up after nearly forty years to cameo in the Doctor Who series 10 opener The Pilot).
It's a more devious act from the Daleks than their usual brand of extermination, but it speaks to their intelligence as well as their brute force. And there is a nice twist too, these Daleks not realising that their war is over. Their misplaced aggression will soon turn to the Human Empire, spelling doom for everyone as they seek to conquer key strategic worlds like Earth and Gallifrey. Fortunately the Doctor is able to outwit the Daleks before their plan can take fruition, but not before a surprise final twist that leads into Dalek Soul.
The second part of Alien Heart has some good moments; the Doctor finding Elthar fused into the war by the spiders feels very Alien and Sonderal gets a fantastic line when she takes out the traitorous Thebee: "Greetings from Planet Earth, my planet's bigger than yours!" And the ending is truly fantastic, as more Daleks appear out of nowhere to ruin the happy farewell to Sonderal, exterminating her and capturing both the Doctor and Nyssa. It is totally unexpected and keeps the listener on their toes. It is just a shame that the first part of Alien Heart seems to drag a little and part two packs in so much that it becomes a little confusing at times. Had part two been two parts in itself, it would have flowed much better.
Fortunately Dalek Soul is much stronger; it plays on the audience's expectations time and time again. The Doctor first appears on a Dalek-occupied world, aiding a rebel Vineeta Rishi (Lieutenant Falex) and then ruthlessly sells her and the others out to the Daleks. Nyssa meanwhile is the chief virologist for the Daleks, helping to create a virus that will infect the rebels and force them to kill each other. It's dark stuff and you sense that Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are enjoying playing darker versions of themselves (they say as much in the interview extras). Davison in particular does evil and ruthless incredibly well, so much so that is easy to dislike him. As a listener, you want him to be playing an act, but you can't comprehend how he could so easily have that many people killed, let alone be the Daleks' faithful servant.
And that's the crux of this story - what happened to turn the Doctor and Nyssa into the enemy? Nyssa is the heart of this tale, contacted by the rebels and uncovering footage of their capture on Traxana. As she delves deeper into her forgotten past, the discovery that they have been working with the Daleks is another cruel twist. Worse still is the cliffhanger, as the Doctor brutally orders the Daleks to exterminate Nyssa after he spies on her. The Doctor killing a companion with the aid of his mortal enemy makes for a wonderful final cliffhanger.
Because Dalek Soul is largely a Doctor / Nyssa interplay, with some Daleks and supporting characters thrown in, it is paced much better than Alien Heart and as such works as a two-part tale. The cruel twists keep on coming as a seemingly alive Nyssa discovers that she and the Doctor have been cloned and have died many times trying to escape. But these clones have been altered, with no memory of their real lives and there's some tense moments as she tries to find a way to reveal the truth to the 'evil Doctor' too. It is Nyssa who saves the day, turning her virus into something that will turn the Daleks against each other, killing their enemies and finding a way to release the real Doctor and Nyssa.
It's a strong, satisfying conclusion, if a little sad too, as the victorious clone Nyssa is left alone on the war-torn planet, saying that she would have loved to have traveled with the Doctor.
Alien Heart / Dalek Soul is an interesting audio. The first story dragging a little and then rushing at a breakneck pace; it has a great guest star in Sonderal and Alex Tregear plays the smarmy villain Thebee well, even if I didn't like the character. There was a great story here, which ends up rushed at the final execution but it sets up the superior Dalek Soul well. It's a lot of fun to hear Davison play a ruthless, evil version of the Fifth Doctor and it gives Nyssa some truly heroic moments, while keeping the audience on their toes until the very end.
Ben Greenland (aged 11)
With Big Finish's main range changing to two stories, consisting of two 25 minute parts for April-July, it gives you two stories for the price of one. Alien Heart is the weaker story of the two but is has some gruesome parts, particularly the moment when Elthar is discovered, frozen into the wall by the cell spiders. Thebee is a greedy, power-hungry villain, but the least dangerous one by far in Alien Heart.
We know from the title, that the Daleks are going to appear in Dalek Soul; having them show up in Alien Heart, is quite a surprise and builds up to Dalek Soul with a shocking cliff-hanger that destroys the happy ending. Peter Davison never faced the Daleks much on screen, so the expanded universe of him versus the Daleks is quite fun.
Dalek Soul has a unusual start, with people being subjected to a virus by the Daleks. It was horrifying to find Nyssa and the Doctor serving the Daleks. Having the Doctor saying he would kill Nyssa is so unlike him but he is a great villain. In a way, Nyssa takes on the role of the Doctor, and the reveal of the cryogenic pods helps you to understand what's really going on. The ending is a little rushed and confusing though.
I enjoyed Alien Heart / Dalek Soul, but I think Peter Davison has had better audios in the past. I liked hearing him as a villain though.
Disc one contains the music suite from Alien Heart. It's very 80's Doctor Who and very dramatic, though it doesn't quite work as well in isolation from the script.
The majority of the extras are on disc two, starting with the trailer for the upcoming Sixth Doctor story Vortex Ice Cortex Fire, which looks to put an interesting spin on humanity's search for alien life.
The final two tracks are interviews with the cast and crew. It's interesting to hear script editor Alan Barnes and Big Finish producer (and voice of the Daleks) Nicholas Briggs discuss their approach to the two-part double bill entries for the latest releases on the main Doctor Who range, and how audiences are used to quicker stories; two-part adventures feel like the four-part tales of old. There's a certain truth to that, as Dalek Soul demonstrates, though I do feel Alien Heart suffers a little for it.
There's also discussions with the cast of actors Geoffrey Newland, Alex Tregear, Eve Webster and Vineeta Rishi, with Rishi in particularly reminiscing how she played Martha's friend on the series three opener Smith and Jones. But the most fun part has to be hearing Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton discussing how much they enjoyed playing different versions of their characters, with Davison in particular relishing the opportunity to 'go bad'.