Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Dalek Occupation of Winter

The Dalek Occupation of Winter is the first in a string of four monthly releases featuring the First Doctor era’s original actors Peter Purves as Steven and Maureen O’Brien as Vicki. It sees the Daleks make their debut in The Early Adventures in an adventure scripted by playwright David K Barnes (also his first contribution to Big Finish’s Doctor Who range).

The Dalek Occupation of Winter, directed by Lisa Bowerman, is available to download at Big Finish prior to its general release on the 31st October 2018. Here is the synopsis...

The TARDIS lands in the capital city of a planet deep in the midst of an endless winter. The population are celebrating a new crop of candidates winning roles at the scientific research centre. Those who go there dedicate their lives to continued service and are rarely, if ever, seen again. Not everyone is happy to see them leave.

As the Doctor, Steven and Vicki watch, the city leader – Majorian – invites onto the stage in front of the happy crowd their ‘friend who made all this possible’… and a Dalek appears.

The people of this planet seem to be living in perfect harmony with the Doctor’s old enemies. But the TARDIS crew know this cannot be true. So what’s really going on?

The Review

My favourite releases from The Early Adventures range (such as The Forsaken or The Doctor’s Tale) feature a highly evocative setting and atmospheric tone that always trigger a memory of when and where I first listened to the story. Using music and sound design to this end, particularly for a story with a historical setting, can evoke character, location and plot in a way that creates a strong and resonant listening experience.

The Dalek Occupation of Winter contains many of these elements, incorporating a planet enduring a centuries-long winter with an engaging guitar-synth soundtrack to accompany solid performances from the actors involved. The result is a bleak yet enigmatic tale that means more than simply another two hours of Doctor Who.

There has been a lot of conversation surrounding the release as an ‘original Dalek story’, and although it is no spoiler to admit the Daleks themselves are just as much as an evil threat as they always are, the way that threat is revealed diverges from the traditional format.

When the TARDIS travellers arrive, they observe the planet’s population living, it seems, in harmony with the Daleks. Inhabitants go about their daily business, many of them working at factories building Dalek parts – which in the city of Winter is all part of a day’s work. Obviously, the Doctor, Vicki and Steven are quickly alerted to the strangeness of the situation and go about uncovering the reasons why the society has developed to consider a Dalek presence mundane and expected rather than panic-inducing.

The Doctor and his companions soon face off against the weaselly Grand Marshal Gaius Majorian (Robert Daws) and venomous Chief of Security Jacklyn Karna (Sara Powell), who are shown to be working with the Ambassador, a Dalek offering friendship and cooperation with the people of Winter. It is delightful hearing Nicholas Briggs’ Dalek Ambassador barely containing its disgust at having to maintain a front of social niceties in interaction with locals, and it is clear the creature is straining to succumb to its ingrained tendencies to abuse and exterminate.

As to be expected, the Doctor, Vicki and Steven are separated for large chunks of the plot, and the resulting pairings with other characters are equally engaging. Some of the story’s best scenes though feature Steven inside one of the factories antagonising a Dalek he knows cannot drop the façade of benevolent foreman and break out into furious exclamations and extermination.

The story benefits from an extended runtime of over two and a half hours, giving more opportunities for exploring the winterly world and its society’s ostensibly harmonious co-existence with the Daleks. End-of-episode cliffhangers also prove fresh and interesting, more than the typical monster reveal or weapon being pointed towards one of the protagonists.

Once the Daleks’ hand is revealed, they drop their pretence of cooperation and benevolence and their conventional threat emerges in the latter half of the story (always welcome!). This is accompanied by a shift in the action to the Dalek research centre, and everything kicks up a gear with the horror of what is being grown in the lab (chilling), a character who undergoes physical mutation (highly unsettling), and the eventual outright Dalek attack on the local population.

I began listening to this story a week after it had been released, meaning that I had read snippets of other reviews beforehand. But this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story at all or ruin the twists that lay in store – rather this only increased my interest. Ultimately it was entirely worth it, as The Dalek Occupation of Winter is a successful fresh spin on the well-run Dalek occupation trope.

The Extras

In terms of extras, there is also worthwhile praise for the two original actors from the 1960s featuring here, and common – yet always entertaining – anecdotes about in-studio real-life encounters with the authentic Dalek voice.

Also, Toby Hrycek-Robinson’s score, presented at the end of the first disc as an isolated 10-minute track, stands out as one you’ll want to listen to twice because of the funky and eerie vibes.

The release is rounded off with a trailer for next month’s release in The Early Adventures range, An Ideal World, which is also teased at the end of the story itself. It sounds like an impactful tale with high emotional stakes, space exploration, new worlds and hostile alien entities.

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