Big Finish 201: We Are the Daleks
Written By: Jonathan Morris
Directed By: Ken Bentley
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Melanie Bush), Kirsty Besterman (Serena Paget), Angus Wright (Alek Zenos), Mary Conlon (Celia Dunthorpe), Robbie Stevens (Niles Bunbury/Frank Lewis), Ashley Zhangazha (Brinsley Heaton), Lizzie Roper (Shari), Dominic Thornburn (Afrid), Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks).
Big Finish, after the 200th CD, has decided to simplify things and have a kind of “reboot” at 201. What this means is not that earlier Big Finish stories do not exist, but rather, there is an attempt to write stories which are contextually more simplified without worrying about all the Big Finish continuity. How long this will last, I am not sure. How good an idea this is, I am also not sure. I think it is easy to write stories without concern for continuity – but it is often best to be able to be free to engage it when needed (and never to contradict it) when dealing with an established series.
As 201 starts of Big Finish with a new paradigm, and we are here, with a new paradigm for our discussions, I figured would start off with a new way of dealing with Big Finish audios. While it might be nice to write up every story which I listen to, it can also be difficult to do so, since some stories do not connect with me as well as others (or give me as strong reaction as others). Sometimes, when the story is neither great nor terrible, I have a difficult time knowing what to write. For this reason, after checking up with Merrick and seeing we would continue with Big Finish reviews, I thought it is best to have a new paradigm for my reviews.
I won’t review every story.
But I will review those I think deserve reviews, either because they are exceptional, or they have something worth mentioning, or because I find them to be bad and worth warning people against them. And while I will do a more traditional review later, I wanted to do something for We Are the Daleks. I thought it was a good story to use to inaugurate our Big Finish reviews here, because it is the start of a new era for Big Finish.
201, We Are the Daleks, is not an exceptional story, but it is a very good middle of the road story which addresses one major New Who Dalek concern and so makes the audio a good bridge between classic Doctor Who and New Who. At the end of the story, we find out why the Daleks have changed their political structure. I will not spoil that ending, but rest assured, it explains the new Dalek political structure seen in Asylum of the Daleks. For this reason, it is an important Big Finish story, and worth to have in the collection of anyone who listens to the audios.
Because I am doing this quickly for this first review, and because Big Finish gives a good description of this story, I will start my discussion of the adventure with their description:
The year is 1987, and Britain is divided. In Bradford, strikers are picketing and clashing with the police. In the City of London, stockbrokers are drinking champagne and politicians are courting the super-rich. The mysterious media mogul Alek Zenos, head of the Zenos Corporation, is offering Britain an economic miracle. His partners wish to invest – and their terms are too good to refuse.
While the Doctor investigates Warfleet, a new computer game craze that is sweeping the nation, Mel goes undercover to find out the truth about Zenos’s partners.
The Daleks have a new paradigm. They intend to conquer the universe using economic power. The power of the free market!
This story stars the Seventh Doctor with Mel. Unlike many, I have never had a problem with Mel; though she never reached her potential on screen, I thought Bonnie Langford always did well with what she had been given and Mel made sense as a companion. I would even go so far to state that I liked her as a companion before I learned how unpopular that she was, and though I understand the criticism of how she was written, and can laugh with the next Who fan about it, I still have always had a soft spot for Mel.
Here, she returns to what she was expected to being in Doctor Who: a computer specialist. There is, to be sure, a big caveat here: by the time Mel would have experienced this story, her knowledge of computers in and through history would have been greater than what seems to be shown here (and subsequently, in the next story which I won’t review beyond stating it is a fair, but average story). I’ve been led to believe, in previous Big Finish audios, she is a natural computer genius who was given access to and knowledge of higher techs thanks to the Doctor, which she quickly learned and mastered (perhaps with no greater example of this than in the Sixth Doctor audio story, The Juggernauts). While she continues to be a computer genius, it feels like she has lost a lot of her experience with the Doctor (mirroring, perhaps, the Big Finish desire to start fresh in story 201).
The general story – the Doctor faces the Daleks, who have taken on a business venture as a way to dominate the universe – is a slightly clever allegory about the problems inherent within capitalism. It is so natural that it feels like it is old hat, and not as ingenious as it actually is (though not as exceptional as I feel Jonathan Morris might have thought it was). The Daleks try to take over the universe and exterminate all competition; it is not difficult to see how this is the same way businesses work. And it takes only a little effort to turn people into willing slaves of the system, to kill for the sake of business, to become like a Dalek. The allegory here is clear with the name of the story: in a way, we are Daleks (though in the story, this title is able to be taken several ways, more than I express here, showing the name really is clever). That it seems almost cliché shows how strong the connection is, and why this is a good story for the new Big Finish paradigm even if it feels old hat – because Big Finish likes to take the old with the new, when it can.
The story is not perfect. Mel gets involved with computer simulations which the Daleks use to have humans act as pilots in space ships fighting against those rebelling against the Daleks. It is a smart idea, but again, almost feels second hand if one thinks of The Last Starfighter, with the added dimension that the video game itself is what is real. It works, and is an interesting concept – but there seems to be something missing in its execution, just a little more tweaking and it would work better than it does here. But it is still good, just like The Last Starfighter is good.
The Doctor gets involved with the business side of the Daleks and their desire to use businesses as a way to conquer humanity. I enjoyed this side of the story more than Mel’s, and it is here we eventually find the New Who connection emerge. The Daleks are trying to encourage a deal with the British, to make an exclusive business deal. Those involved with the deal find themselves engaging the Daleks, some against them, some working for them. One of those who works with the Daleks eventually finds a way to join them while changing Dalek society. It works, not perfectly, but it works, perhaps because it helps answer a question about New Who.
All in all this is a good “new” start for Big Finish. It is an enjoyable, though not perfect, tale, with some interesting allegories involved. I give it an 8/10, though this score is in part, because it answers New Who questions, for without it, it would feel a more average 7/10.
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