Big Finish Review: Shadow of the Daleks 2

Big Finish Review: Shadow of the Daleks 2

At the conclusion of the previous volume of Shadow of the Daleks, we left Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor lost in the middle of a mystery, desperately following a trail through time and encountering the same four doppelgängers across history. In this final part of the adventure, made up of another quartet of stories, the Doctor remains trapped in a sequence of bubble universes. He comes closer to finding answers: but he’ll first have to survive an encounter with his deadliest foe. 

The latest monthly adventure from Big Finish, Shadow of the Daleks 2, has to carry not only the burden of delivering four individually compelling parts, but of settling the Shadow of the Daleks arc in a satisfactory way. Can it possibly live up to expectations and stick the landing?

Shadow of the Daleks 2 has been written by Lizzie Hopley, John Dorney, Roland Moore and Jonathan Barnes, and directed by Ken Bentley. It’s available to purchase at the Big Finish site here, before going on general release from the 31st December 2020. Here's the synopsis…

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.

The Review...

Echo Chamber

The first instalment, Echo Chamber, opens with jazzy, retro style theme music - it’s a radio show!

In the absence of the regular host, Silas Hexeter, the Doctor has been drafted into an Radio 5-like talk show being recorded and broadcast from a satellite. Don’t worry if you’re confused by the abrupt introduction, and the lack of a bridge between the end of Shadow of the Daleks 1 and this - so’s the Doctor, who’s bewildered to be behind a microphone, but perhaps secretly eager to find out more.

The first caller is Brian, a man with an axe to grind. He finds the newly announced truce between two warring galactic tribes, the Pellent Glommeration and the Tribe of Lepitan, to be suspicious and untrustworthy. Then the Doctor flips the script on Brian - asking if he’s quite alright. Brian calls him a weirdo and hangs up. It’s farcical, a little like Frasier in space. A second caller, part of the Pellent Glommeration herself, reaches out to make amends with Brian, but she’s dropped by the Doctor’s producer, K’Marree-943 - for being insufficiently ill-tempered.

It takes a third caller for the Doctor to ask the questions that cause the deception to begin to unravel: it’s a clever and unique solution to an equally unusual instalment of Doctor Who. Echo Chamber is the kind of low-key, even minimalist story that the Big Finish writers often challenge themselves to tell, with a unique format that contorts the typical science fiction setting into something more engaging. The observation of the talk-radio format is spot on, from the writing to the sound design - complete with ad breaks! Echo Chamber is a strong return for Shadow of the Daleks

Towards Zero

The second part, Towards Zero, finds us on steadier ground for Doctor Who - a murder mystery in a country house. There’s a twist of course, in that the murder victim is the Doctor - three shots in the laboratory and he’s dead. He’s stuck in another loop, arriving after he’s killed, and is forced to solve the mystery before the whole thing collapses. But it’s not easy: he suffers the indignity of multiple executions, and discovers his own corpse in the ice house, while contending with his exasperating new ‘family’.

“Perhaps being shot dead has rather confused me”

Writer Roland Moore cleverly re-casts the core group - played again by Dervla Kirwan, Anjli Mohindra, Jamie Parker and Glen McReady, as a very dysfunctional upper-class clan, including the Doctor as the youngest brother. Within the confines of the short adventure, the characters are sketched broadly. It recalls P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie in equal measure: the family are waspish and calculating, with equally compelling motives for wanting the Doctor dead. His mother doesn’t like his experiments, his brother finds him embarrassing, and his sister is after his inheritance. It’s welcome comic relief in the middle of a tense narrative.

Towards Zero has great fun with the time-loop scenario, and I would have enjoyed seeing it stretched to a full-length format: but here, in the context of Shadow of the Daleks, it does a fine job of accelerating the adventure and raising the stakes.

Alternate Cover

Castle Hydra

Moving on swiftly, we arrive at Castle Hydra, a fairytale castle hiding a dark secret. As we begin, an abductee is being taken to the castle by boat after being snatched from her bed in the middle of the night: her captor, another woman, refuses to take off her mask. There are other prisoners like her: and not seeing their captor’s face is paramount, it turns out, for reasons that will become clear. 

“Maybe drowning’s better than where you’re taking me”

The Doctor arrives in the castle courtyard via the TARDIS, and diagnoses temporal leaks before rapidly being caught up in the events. He meets a new set of players, including Professor Callis and the sinister Torrance: but he soon realises that the anomaly is becoming more severe, and the cast seems to be multiplying. He also gets the opportunity to hit things with a broadsword, just to provide balance between intellectual and elemental thrills.

The inhabitants of the castle are divided on how to deal with their self-appointed problem as it gets out of their hands, vividly recalling real-life detention facilities. The sound design and scoring of Wilfredo Acosta, returning from the first volume of Shadow of the Daleks, expertly conjures the ambience of a dank, echoing fortress.

A slightly confusing climax only mars Castle Hydra a little: it’s a frightening gothic story of nightmares come to life, kidnappings and dungeons that more than earns its place in Shadow of the Daleks 2.

Effect and Cause

Hurtling towards the source of the interference, the Doctor hears a familiar sound: the cloister bell sounding in the recesses of the TARDIS. He cries that he hasn’t been given enough time, before reality starts to go a bit… weird. It’s in the final part of Shadow of the Daleks, Effect and Cause, that we resolve the mystery of how the Doctor and his new acquaintances have been caught up in so many strange new realities. The Doctor encounters a seemingly very normal ship’s crew, but that’s quickly put to one side when he meets the titular baddies. Yes, just as this crew seem to understand that something’s wrong, the Daleks show up, adding to the stakes significantly. 

Without revealing too much, the catalyst for all the time-space trickery involves a collision, and an inversion which reflects the clever title of this episode. Even after this final revelation, it doesn’t make much sense to the Doctor, and the primary resolution is an emotional one. While it’s a convoluted conclusion, in the best way, it’s also extremely satisfying in the tradition of classic Doctor Who. It also might encourage listeners to go back to the beginning to see how these late revelations fit into the larger plot. It was certainly fun for me to see how subtle hints were planted throughout.

Shadow of the Daleks 2 is a challenging and rich experience, as well as a satisfying end to an eight-part mini-epic. Aided by writers, actors and technicians all at the top of their game, it’s proof in a tiny package that narrative experimentation pays off for Big Finish - well into their quarter-century existence. 

The Extras...

Comedy French accents and a killer android meet in the trailer for the Plight of the Pimpernel, the latest Colin Baker adventure from Big Finish coming in December. The Sixth Doctor gets to don the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel during the French Revolution - at the cost of being hunted down. Bashing history and fiction together, it seems like a great romp and a refreshingly low-stakes adventure.

The disc comes complete with the cast and crew interviews which always help to contextualize and deepen one’s enjoyment of the whole package. John Dorney, script editor and writer of the final episode, Effect and Cause, reveals that David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas was a key reference point in conceptualising the narrative mechanics of Shadow of the Daleks.

Jonathan Barnes talks of how Echo Chamber was an idea he’d had for a while, finding it plausible that such a radio format could still exist in the far future. He also reveals that Peter Davison, coincidentally, was the Doctor he had in mind since he’d arguably be the worst at it - and simply out of his element. Roland Moore, writer of Towards Zero, sums up his episode as the point when the pieces begin to come together - with small references to the Doctor’s past planted throughout. Lizzie Hopley, writer of Castle Hydra, reflects on the inspiration for her contribution - the question of what you might do if you met someone who looked like you, and what conversations you could have.

The cast, as with the first part of Shadow of the Daleks, get to discuss their methods and the appeal of working on such a singular project. Dervla Kirwan is fond of the opportunity to ‘go big’ with her performance, plus the variety involved - as is Anjli Mohindra, who also reflects on her long history with Doctor Who across multiple media. Finally, Nicholas Briggs weighs in on the versatility and adaptability of the audio format for actors - himself included.

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