Thursday, 12 September 2013

Daleks Among Us written by Alan Barnes and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: AZIMUTH DEPARTMENT OF RE-EDUCATION. REMINDER: TO ALL CITIZENS. There are no Daleks on Azimuth. There have never been Daleks on Azimuth. Twenty years ago, the Daleks did not invade Azimuth. There was no war. There were no death camps. A man named ‘the Doctor’ did not help liberate Azimuth. There are no such things as Daleks. They do not exist. There are no Daleks among us. UPDATE: TO ALL CITIZENS. A strange blue box has not appeared in Monument Plaza. Off-worlders named ‘the Doctor’, ‘Elizabeth Klein’ and ‘Will Arrowsmith’ are not at large in the city. For your own safety, should you not see any of the above, report at once to the Department of Re-education, Azimuth Central

The Real McCoy: Wow, probably the least convincing performance from McCoy in some time. He sounds as though he rushed in through the door was handed the script and shoved in front of the microphone to start recording. He does his best work in the dark, apparently. Davros’ last appearance in the main range was an exceptional chance to explore the relationship between him and the Doctor and for the two of them to try and learn something about each other. Their relationship was the foundation of the story was based upon, and their interplay was vital to it’s success. In comparison the Doctor/Davros scenes in Daleks Among Us are flat and uninteresting, going over old ground and barely dramaticised. ‘I am above your mockery! The Daleks need me!’ blah blah blah… The opening story of this trilogy suggested the Doctor had contacted Klein for a purpose but that is barely worked into this story at all. It seems he just likes hanging out with his favourite Nazi.

Nazi Scientist: Klein’s drunken gambit to try and put the Dalek off balance is trying to play out like the sequence in The Girl in the Fireplace where the Doctor feigned inebriation in order to disable the clockwork droids. It worked there, but bombs here because the story isn’t at all sure of its tone. She will not be kept in detention like an errant schoolgirl, treated like a naughty child by the Doctor. Klein worries that for all of her genius (ego) and all of her achievements (blowing own trumpet), all the Doctor sees is a Nazi. Time had to find a place for Klein, some blank pages for her to be born into when her timeline was re-written. What better void but the chaos that was Germany in 1945. Klein gets to meet herself as a baby in her perverted timeline, born from science and taken to England by her father. Who on Earth thought that Klein being grown in a lab to precise specifications was a strong idea? It takes what was a simple but dramatically rendered character and turns her into an unconvincing plot device. Once she starts talking hypnotically about fulfilling her destiny and operating the persuasion machine I had jettisoned all hope for the character. How could this all go so horribly wrong? 

Sexy Geek: Even Klein is starting to get weary of Will’s over keenness, describing him as a puppy panting for a chocolate drop. You just knew he was the sort of bloke that made piggy noises when he laughed, right? He suggests that he will make out that he is just some dim witted tourist to cause a distraction but since that is the truth it shouldn’t take too much acting on his part. ‘It’s alright father…I’ll be mother’ – I realise the script editor for the series is writing this particular adventure but surely this effort was passed by someone else before making it to the studio? It’s like they want us to hate Will. Rather than guard his tongue, Will decides to spill the beans about the entire plot of Persuasion (to be fair he doesn’t make it sound any more exciting than it was) to a complete stranger who just happens to be Davros. It would be lovely to think that Will might outsmart Davros and realise that he is trying to bring his arch enemy out into the open but let’s be honest, it would hardly be in character for him to be able to squeeze out an intelligent thought. Oh miaow. ‘I would sooner you did not describe my appearance to the Doctor…’ – how can warning signals not be blaring in your ears when that was mentioned? Just when you think Will cannot make any more blunders, he blurts out the Daleks name on the one planet where it is forbidden. I was praying for a quick exterminating blast. How disappointed will all those apologists for Will be who thought that his geeky, wimpy, desperately uninteresting personality was the work of the persuasion machine (and thus explaining the gulf between his smouldering, leather clad look on the cover and his milksop personality within the story)? Turns out he was just a pansy after all. A companion hasn’t been this badly conceived and realised since C’rizz and I would argue that the Utermizen had far more potential. The ending suggests more adventures for this trio but let’s hope that promise goes unfulfilled.

Standout Performance: Molloy is the definitive Davros for me, especially given his stunning work with Big Finish in the past (Davros, The Juggernauts and The Curse of Davros are especially good). He’s good here but the material is beneath him and he simply doesn’t have the same rapport with McCoy as he does with Baker. ‘You fool Doctor, you should no that I never enter into any negotiation without an exit strategy prepared. In this case, a Dalek time capsule. Now, I depart this wretched world to again rule over my creations in some other far distant place!’ Yes, it gets that bad.

Great Ideas: The Wraiths of Lemuria (I think that’s how it is spelt, McCoy sounds so under-rehearsed when he speaks this line it is pretty hard to decipher) are the surviving remnants of a species so obsessed with criminal wrongdoing that they decided to build the larger database of law breakers DNA in the universe. Takes all sorts I suppose. I know people who collect stamps. Because it took so long for them to compile this, all the criminal were dead once they were done and so it left with no choice but to condemn their living descendants instead, making practically everyone guilty of a crime. I’m not sure if that makes any logical sense whatsoever but let’s go with it. On Azimuth there is a burial pit and named Monument Plaza. Aliens enslaved the colonists and Ace was instrumental in their defeat, with a naked monument erected of her (search me). I liked the mention of Dalek mine workings on Azimuth, perhaps they were trying with this world to re-create something similar to The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Stolen Earth or Lucie Miller/To the Death. The idea that Davros is the Daleks prisoner and isn’t even aware of it is a clever one, albeit one that should have been revealed at the end of episode one. Clever for a moment, but it leaves Davros as a victim which is never his strongest suit.

Isn’t it Odd: I would hate for somebody to come to this adventure as a standalone because all the heavy exposition in the first couple of minutes would force me as newbie want to run away and hide. Whilst I do think that the trilogy format has been overused at this point, I rather enjoy the interlocking stories but there has to be a more of a happy medium than simply throwing all this information at a casual listener at the start of a story because it screams that you have missed out on important information (when given the quality of this trilogy, you really haven’t) which isn’t the most welcoming of introductions. A tangled enough affair, indeed. The opening sequence is so spectacularly unengaging I almost gave up at that point. Given the cover and the title you are waiting for the Daleks to turn up so to try and package their appearance as a surprise is a little unusual. I may have mentioned this a few times in the past but the overuse of the Daleks in Big Finish is starting to become a genuine burden – they need to start relying on their own original monsters and not keep falling back on the same old clichés. The fact that the Daleks have appeared in the main range and the 4DAs in recent months means that the damage is starting to spill into other ranges – Gallifrey series V (the thought of which still makes me shudder) climaxed with the unexpected appearance of the Daleks, which could have been a great shock moment had they not been used in a couple of years. The fact is that their continual appearances means that I genuinely couldn’t give a toss about the sixth season of Gallifrey now, because it will simply be more of the same and that makes me sad. ‘My casing is alight, I am burning!’ is no replacement for ‘my vision is impaired, I cannot see!’ Listening to Daleks trying to co-erce a Nazi into spilling his secrets about the Persuasion machine is a soporific experience – all ‘Exterminate!’ and ‘Ach! Send me to your death camps!’ The Dalek/Nazi parallel has been done to death and I was praying that this point was not going to be laboured. With lines like ‘I am the Fuhrer of the Daleks now!’, don’t count on it.  I don’t understand the logic of a race of beings condemning the descendants of a bunch of criminals they have catalogued the DNA of…but I was prepared to let that one slide. However the idea of a war that has been forgotten, and all discussion about has been made illegal makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Even if you enlisted the most terrifying methods, people would still talk, word would still spread, especially if it was something that has been highlighted as something that must be avoided. This story seems to have been built on some pretty unreasonable concepts. The first cliffhanger assumes that the audience will know who Terry Molloy’s character is, otherwise it makes absolutely no sense as a moment worthy of pausing the action on. Bizarrely, Barnes chooses to abandon the narrative at the halfway point to delve back into Klein’s origins. Clearly he hasn’t learnt his lesson from when he performed a similar detour in Gods and Monsters with Ace. The Doctor asks whether the Daleks are hiding a hibernating army or manufacturing plant on Azimuth – when monsters become this predictable it is time to give them some respite. Turns out it is a duplication plant to make an army of Klein’s – what now? It takes an age to figure out what Davros is doing on Azimuth, he seems to be hanging out pretending to be someone’s old man for three episodes for kicks. There comes a point in Daleks Among Us where the Persuasion machine simply isn’t important anymore, it is such a cats cradle of messy ideas that the original one gets lost somehow. I can’t believe that the dramatic foundation of this arc relies on the hideous soap opera twist that Schalk is Klein’s father. A case of bad timing – the idea of seeking out every virtuous deed that the Doctor has ever performed and erasing them from time is exactly what the Great Intelligence was up to in The Name of the Doctor. I’m not certain it was original then, either. By the time the Daleks latest monstrous scheme was revealed my patience and interest had worn down to nothing. I can’t even be bothered to discuss it here. Needless to say to it involves a bunch of Klein clones and leave it at that. The conclusion relies on exactly the same mundane twist that brought one of the finest Star Trek stories to a close (The Best of Both Worlds), a human subject sending the Daleks to sleep. Alan Barnes wrote Storm Warning, Neverland, The Girl Who Never Was, Brotherhood of the Daleks, Orbis, Death in Blackpool, Enemy Aliens…what happened?

Standout Scene: Get off.

Result: It is very difficult to make a story that features Tracey Childs as Klein and Terry Molloy as Davros an unsatisfying experience but Daleks Among Us has a damn good stab at it anyway. The story seems to be built on the undramatic concept of whether there are Daleks among us or not, a ramshackle premise since I was hoping that it wouldn’t be the case given how much they have been worn-out on audio. Fans brought to Big Finish from exposure to the new series would be completely at sea; this story relies on you knowing Klein’s backstory, Davros’ backstory and the backstory of the rest of this arc. I was confused at times (more because this was often a tangle of exposition rather than a decently dramatised play) I have all that information at my fingertips. The story is overlong, each episode bloated out of all proportion and I can’t deny I was looking at my watch before the end of each installment. You can usually rely on any Doctor Who story to be built on reasonably solid ideas but Daleks Among Us lacks even that groundwork, with illogical concepts destabilising the story from the off. Tracey Childs is trying her damdest to make this material count for something but given that the writer is systematically damaging the characters origins beyond repair she is fighting a losing battle. As for Sylvester McCoy? I have always considered him the weakest performing Doctor and whilst he has enjoyed some consistent success in the past couple of years he has plunged back into an unpersuasive phase in 2013. He sounds utterly lost in Daleks Among Us, like he is reading the script for the first time and if you compare the interplay between him and Molloy to that of Baker and Molloy in The Curse of Davros, their lack of chemistry is obvious. Is this story supposed to be about Davros and the Daleks or about the Doctor and Klein? I don’t think it knows, and the two stories make very uncomfortable bedfellows. If this was an attempt to replicate (hoho) the success of Brotherhood of the Daleks then it is an abject failiure; that was an expertly plotted piece of Russian doll storytelling, this is just a confused, untidy, unsatisfying bewilderment. Ken Bentley doesn’t have a hope in hell of salvaging this script and it feels like he doesn’t bother. Like 2012, thank goodness there is a second story released in September. What the second Klein trilogy proves is that sometimes things that work are best left alone, as so many movie makers have learnt when bombing in the box office with dreadful sequels. The first set of Klein adventures were an unqualified success but that didn’t automatically prove that the next lot would be similarly good, as this latest trilogy has exemplified. Daleks Among Us continues the general feeling of hopelessness that has infected the main range of late. Once the only range and a source of excitement, it has become possibly the most disposable of the Big Finish series with only the occasional Doctor/companion combinations (such as Colin and Bonnie earlier in the year and Davison/Sutton/Fielding/Waterhouse next year) proving appetite whetting. Here’s hoping that jettisoning the trilogy format for the next three releases will pump a bit of life back into this ailing range, an especially unfortunate experience in the anniversary year. A complete re-think is in order, especially concerning the Daleks. I would give them a rest for many a year if this is best that can be done with them. Could you tell that I wasn’t keen on Daleks Among Us? It’s an ill thought through climax to an ill thought through trilogy that takes one of the most strikingly original Big Finish characters and ruins her. Abominable: 2/10


Peakius Baragonius said...

I haven't even read your review yet, but I just couldn't help but skip down and see your score based on your bad feelings about this one beforehand. And...oh dear. Looks like this one's gonna be a good read! ;)

Which is a roundabout way of saying that your Doctor Who reviews have become practically as much of an institution as the show itself in this corner of the internet. Congratulations, sir ;)

Peakius Baragonius said...

*10 minutes later* Wow...after reading that...I'm so sorry. This one wasn't fun to write, was it? :(

I've been considering getting into the Klein stories whenever I have the chance, but now I know where to stop with the character...

Joe Ford said...

Hi Peakius,

You're right, this wasn't an enjoyable story to listen to at all. I would discuss it further here but just thinking about it makes my blood boil. I was ranting about it for about half an hour to my long suffering husband who listened patiently and when I was done just asked quietly 'If you didn't like it, why are you wasting time moaning about it? Just forget about it.' A shame though, I used to get so excited about the main range stories.

On a lighter note, thank you so much for your enthusiasm for the blog. You are a real charmer.

Anonymous said...

You obviously got pretty confused at the end. You're talking about Klein's rant and death and then coming back... did you not even listen to the dialogue afterwards where it was revealed to be her mother the Nazi and not her? Criticsing the actual plot is one thing, making up nonsense because you didn't listen to a major point is another.

Joe Ford said...

You're not wrong (I wish people would leave a name so I don't have to call them Mr anonymous) - I did switch off at the end because I had had enough of the godawful story. The pain was unbearable. I've now amended the review but I all my other criticisms stand, it was a nauseating experience. Hyperbole ahoy!

Tony Jones said...

This was indeed dire. I don't go as low as 2/10 (I would probably give it 4/10) but there's a lot wrong with this including some bad science and a lack of cohesion across the trilogy.

Mine own thoughts are here: >The Arrowsmith Klein Trilogy on Red Rocket Rising

Peakius Baragonius said...

I just saw this tweet featured on Big Finish's website - it made me laugh... "@bigfinish Daleks Among Us - complex story that grips from the start. Excellent from start to finish! Big ten out of ten! Well executed tale"

Some people...

Joe Ford said...

It just goes to show...there is someone out there who loves everything! And in a way, I'm glad.

Gus Fallon said...

I'm a teetotaler but I often feel like drinking three bottles of whiskey in one go whenever I see this warning on a Big Finish story: "Written by Alan Barnes."

He's an absolutely dreadful writer. I think that he's the worst in "Doctor Who" history.