And with The Dalek Contract and The Final Phase, the second season of Big Finish’s Fourth Doctor adventure comes to a conclusion. Tom Baker, Mary Tamm and John Leeson once again star in the serials as the Doctor, Romana and K9.
The double-length adventure picks up on story points that were introduced in an earlier extra-long drama, The Sands of Life and War Against the Laan. As you can read here, I found that earlier story to be overblown and frustrating, so I was bit worried going into this one–same writer and director (Nicholas Briggs), same bloated run-time and the same major guest cast, plus the Daleks, who I have never really liked. It sounded like a recipe for disaster. Or disappointment, at least.
And the result? Eh…it’s all right. Not a disaster, by any means, and overall more enjoyable than the earlier story. But not especially strong.
Here’s the thing: the Daleks are an interesting concept, but they aren’t interesting characters–they never have been. They have a memorable look and voices that are iconic…but also kind of annoying. And in audio, we don’t have that memorable look at all, so it’s all down to their voices. And don’t get me wrong–Nicholas Briggs is excellent as the Dalek voices. He does an amazing job conveying the idea of different individual Daleks, or multiple Daleks, or crowds of Daleks, but that doesn’t make the voices any less tiresome to listen to. And I always find that stories that feature them are often very aware of how iconic and popular they are, which means there has to be a a lot of them screeching and carrying on featured in every story. Their actual story–pretending to be allies with someone so they can steal his technology in order to conquer multiple dimensions–is a bit routine and overblown. And the fact that the Doctor actually calls this out doesn’t make it any better.
This is a shame because a bit wasted in this story is the return of Cuthbert from The Sands of Life, played by the legendary David Warner. Cuthbert is a ruthless industrialist who is potentially interesting, but who sadly here joins a long line of imbeciles who collaborate with the Daleks and are then being completely taken aback by their duplicitous nature. Cuthbert is involved with some mysterious experiments that the story continually refuses to divulge for a good three and a half episodes, revealing only at the last minutes that he must travel back in time to make sure that his business empire becomes as successful as it is. This, I thought, sounded like a potentially interesting storyline, and one I would have been happier to be listening to than the Dalek one. And his story ends with so much not being resolved that I can only assume that he was brought back again (a bit of research tells me that he was, so that’s good, potentially).
Like I said, it wasn’t a disaster. I’ve certainly heard worse, including the previous seasons Dalek entry. Overall, the cast is good and the show doesn’t have the odd audio production problems that I noticed with The Sands of Life. But the story could have actually done away with completely the whole thing about the Daleks pretending to be Cuthbert’s security force, and focused instead on Cuthbert actually carrying out his experiment and the Doctor trying to stop him, thus positioning Cuthbert as a stronger antagonist for the Doctor, with the Daleks putting in an appearance as they try to steal the technology, and I would have been a lot happier.