Dalek Empire: The Human Factor, Death to the Daleks!, Project Infinity (and farewell Gareth Thomas) [Big Finish]

A while ago, I mentioned having listened to the first volume of Big Finish’s Dalek Empire series, in spite of not being a fan of the Daleks (normally) and having limited funds with which to purchase Big Finish’s audio wares.  However, a cool deal that I came across a while ago allowed me to get ahold of both of the first two Volumes of Dalek Empire (four episodes each) and I recently, finally was able to finish off Volume I with three episodes entitled The Human Factor, Death to the Daleks!, and Project Infinity

In spite of not really liking the Daleks as much as the rest of the general Doctor Who-viewing public, I really enjoyed the first part of this saga, Invasion of the Daleks.  I enjoyed the characters and the moral quandary the lead, Susan Mendes, finds herself in as she works to keep Dalek slaves alive while at the same time helping herself by necessity helping to feed the Dalek war machine. Unfortunately, Part 2 (The Human Factor) pretty much threw away all of the good-will I had for the series.

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Dalek Empire - The Human Factor

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The episode spends all its time basically showing that Suze (as she is known) is doing what we already knew she was doing, but in other places.  Meanwhile, her sort-of boyfriend, Alby Brooks, flies around space meeting up with various aspects of the military opposition to the Daleks takeover, and regularly escaping by the skin of his teeth in from various Dalek attacks, in the company of a boring supporting character named Pellan.

Really, it’s a whole episode that seems to do nothing but just reinforce the status quo over and over.  Probably there are ways it advances the story if you look hard enough, but it’s like works really hard to avoid appearing to do so in any obvious way.  As a result, it almost lost my interest in the franchise, in spite of good production value overall.

Fortunately, things turned around for Part 3 of the story, Death to the Daleks! (a title that is only one punctuation mark away from being identical to a Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story from the 1970’s).

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Dalek Empire - Death to the Daleks!

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Things pick up a lot here as the story races toward a genuine turning point in the long game plotted by Suz and Kalendorf–a sort of Knights Templar figure, except in space and with telepathic powers–to overthrow the Daleks .  Pellan is disposed of without actually appearing (did the actor quit?), having been revealed to be a secret Dalek agent–thus sort of making sense of his and Brooks’ near escapes in the previous story.  Everything builds to a moment when Suz is going to address all of the Dalek slaves that she has helped to organize, and to give the command that will lead them into a massive rebellion.

This moment is frustratingly kept “off-screen”, which I found confusing, but it made sense when they revisited the moment in the last story, Project Infinity.  This is also a pretty good episode, where things have really take a turn and we’re definitely no longer just repeating the same story beats that we heard before.  Suz is dead, apparently, after giving the order for the slaves to revolt, and Kalendorf and Brooks now lead a military rebellion.  Dalek sleeper agents are around every corner and everything begins to focus in on the mysterious “Project Infinity.”

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Dalek Empire - Project Infinity

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“Project Infinity” turns out to be the name of the humans’ last-last-last-ditch plan to defeat the Daleks, the nature of which is kept hidden until the story’s climax.  It also turns out to be the “real” reason that the Daleks invaded the earth galaxy in the first place, which is an idea that really doesn’t make any sense.  We’re told that they swept into our galaxy, enslaved and destroyed world after world, all to distract people from the fact that they were sending out one ship to control Project Infinity?  That’s just silly.  And it’s worse when we find out what Project Infinity is:  a means of finding out how parallel universe Daleks dealt with things in their reality.  They enslave a galaxy so they can find out how to best enslave a galaxy?

Anyway, in spite of all that, the series ends an exciting note, albeit one that is a little bit silly:  the Daleks have made contact with alternate universe Daleks and have invited them over for Dalek-tea to find out how they achieved their total domination of the universe.  However, these alternate Daleks don’t take too kindly of the vicious methods employed by “our” Daleks (it’s implied but not stated that they are friendly, peace-loving Daleks) and all-out Dalek war breaks out.

And that’s the end, which comes a little abruptly and confusingly without any closing credits or recognizable theme music.  It all plays out in Dalek Empire II, one imagines, which I also own, but it may be a while before I dive into another bunch of hours to listen to it.

Anyway, the final verdict is that it’s a flawed series but ultimately far more satisfying than I’d ever have expected something called Dalek Empire to be.

One final note is that Kalendorf is played by Gareth Thomas, who is best known to sci-fi nerds as the titular Blake from Blake’s Seven.  I mention this in particular because he is the most impressive performer in the series, bringing an impressive amount of gravitas and intensity to the role of this Knight of Velyshaa.  Gareth Thomas also just passed away, only a few days ago as I write this.  He was a good actor and even though got a bit overshadowed in Blake’s Seven by his co-star Paul Darrow (who played Avon), I always thought Thomas was the best part of that show, and really did anchor the original ensemble cast.  He appeared in the Big Finish audio Storm Warning, and I also saw him in an episode of Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes series, and in some British sci-fi story about some slaves escaping from a female dominated world called Star Maidens.  So um, yeah.  So, farewell Blake (if you haven’t ever seen that show, it’s almost worth making your way through all 52 episodes just to get to the last 5 minutes of the last one), thanks for your work.  You just might be the factor, as much as any other, that gets me to listen to the next four episodes of this Dalek Empire thing.

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