Doctor Who: The Time of the Daleks [Big Finish]

The Time of the Daleks is the fifth out of a season of six Big Finish audios featuring the 8th Doctor, the second such that they released.  This particular story is from 2002, and is the culmination of a little mini-story arc about Shakespeare disappearing from history.

The Time of the Daleks.jpg

See, it turns out it has something to do with the Daleks.  They’ve turned up in the 21st century following a disastrous attempt to unleash a “Temporal Extinction Device”, accidentally creating a time corridor link between the 1500’s and the 21st century, where British leaders are performing time travel experiments.  The leader of Great Britain, one Mariah Learnman, has formed an alliance with the Daleks, ostensibly to save William Shakespeare, the memory of whom has been disappearing from people’s minds since the initial incident.

This leads to all sorts of absurd moments of the Daleks talking about how much they love and venerate Shakespeare, and indeed constantly quoting from Shakespeare.  Even a bunch of the characters have Shakespearean names–eg Viola, Ferdinand, Osric, and such.  This is justified by the revelation that Shakespeare himself is actually present in the 21st century, as a young boy.  Indeed, his accidental transportation to the future is why the memory of him is being removed from the present.

All this is silly but tolerable.  The adventure appears to proceed decently enough, with serviceable characters and some novel dialogue.  However, the sense of scene-setting is quite weak (always a challenge with audio), the plot becomes a bit tired with lots of time wasted, and the writer’s love of all the Shakespearean quotes eventually grows a bit tiresome.

Finally, though, the story takes a sharp turn into the irredeemably stupid when it turns out that Learman’s real deal with the Daleks is not to save Shakespeare, but to kill him.  Why?  Because she believes that his existence–an undeniable genius–causes everyone in Britain to grow passive.  Since they as a people have already achieved such greatness, she muses, nobody attempts to do so again.  Therefore, by ridding the universe of Shakespeare, she will actually inspire humanity to strive toward greater things.  However, Shakespeare isn’t to be removed entirely–she will retain memory of his work and access to his words, because she and only she has the ability to truly appreciate his genius.

It is perhaps the most idiotic motivation for a villain I’ve ever heard, and would only work in a deliberate farce or comedy, but here is treated (as far as I can tell) with a straight face.  The result is the evaporation of any credibility that the story might have had, which was already strained.  The fact that it ends with a not-quite-sensible time loop revelation doesn’t help.  We find out that the efforts of the Daleks to escape being trapped in the 21st century leads to them being trapped in the 21st century, and indeed unawarely repeating the experience of being trapped in the 21st century.

It’s a bit of a pompous storytelling conceit, and captures a problem with this whole run of stories–a tendency toward attempting to be weightier and grander than the production can actually pull off.  In spite of a good performance by Paul McGann as the Doctor, it makes the stories not all that enjoyable to listen to.

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