Daleks & Doctor Who – the two go together like bread and butter. And I have always (read: since I was about 15, so quite a while ago now) been a Doctor Who fan. But I’ve never been a particular fan of the Daleks. Sure, they have some good stories (I’ve just rewatched and enjoyed the original The Daleks featuring William Hartnell), but the Daleks as characters with their screechy voices and their overall indomitability have never been very appealing as either characters or an alien species. They’re just annoying, with their one-note heartlessness, and I’m always wondering with all the times the Doctor has defeated them, how come people haven’t figured out how their impenetrable armor or unstoppable weapons work and just adapted them? Oh well, there’s probably some expanded universe story out there that justifies that
Anyway, my general disinterest in the Daleks explains why I wasn’t very confident or hopeful going into Invasion of the Daleks, the first part of the first season of audio adventures from Big Finish about the Daleks, and not featuring the Doctor or any other familiar characters from the TV show. But listen to it I did, thanks to the same Humble Bumble deal that got me started on Big Finish’s “Lost Stories” line of Doctor Who adventures.
But boy, was I pleasantly surprised!
Invasion of the Daleks (which is the first of four parts of the first Dalek Empire series) is a tautly done and enjoyable moral thriller, about a hapless world in the far future that is invaded by the Daleks for it’s rare and valuable mineral deposits. Most of the people are kept alive as slaves to mine this material (which is for whatever technobabble reason unable to be mined by Dalek machinery) which is critical for Dalek weapons. The star of the story is a geologist named Susan Mendez, or Suze, who convinces the Daleks to be lenient with them (giving them food & opportunity to rest) in exchange for assured productivity in the mines. It’s an interesting dilemma – if the slaves don’t work they will be killed and replaced by other slaves, but if they do work (as Suze is recommending) they are feeding the Dalek war machine that is wiping out other worlds. Just as Suze is attempting to manipulate the Daleks into keeping them alive, the Daleks are purposely manipulating Suze to create more efficient slaves, trading in hope as their currency.
Meanwhile, Suze’s off-world semi-boyfriend is attempting to get back to her to help her. He is really a low-level agent from earth who was sent to make contact with Kalendorf, a knight of sorts from an ancient order, who may be key in defeating the Daleks. Kalendorf, of course, has wound up as an ally of Suze’s, and thanks to his handy telepathic skills the two are able to communicate secretly. He is played, incidentally, by Gareth Thomas, who also most famously played another rebel leader: Blake, in Blake’s Seven.
The story ends with all this drama well in swing but completely unresolved, as the Daleks plan to export Suze’s methodology to other worlds. The story has a few bumps but overall raises its stakes very effectively, as we are left wondering whether Suze will ever be able to turn it around on her Dalek overlords, and how she will be judged by the rest of the galaxy for her actions. If the rest of the series can walk out this potential as well as its been set up here, the story will be a rare treat indeed.