THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Dalek Empire: The Apocalypse Element

Written by Stephen Cole Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Running Time 90 mins
Released 2000
Continuity Between The Trial of a Time Lord and
Time and the Rani

Starring Colin Baker, Maggie Stables and Lalla Ward
Also featuring Michael Wade, Anthony Keetch, Andrew Fettes, Karen Henson, James Campbell, Andrea Newland and Toby Longworth

Synopsis: Archetryx hosts a delagation from the many planets who have time travel capabilities, including the Monan Host and representatives from Gallifrey. What is the secret of the Gravity Wells and what is the significance of the crystals adorning the mutants that exist down there? And just why does the incumbant President of the High Council of the Time Lords allow a Dalek Task Force to land on Gallifrey?


Reviews

The Apocalypse is Nigh and Big Finish Take Us There in Style by Robert Thomas 11/8/00

The story is an action romp that requires no work to be done by listener at all. It's also got a solid plot which as history has shown us seems to have been over looked in other action stories e.g. Resurrection of the Daleks. I won't go into the plot at all as I don't want to spoil it, let's just say it mixes action with a bit of intelligence.

As well as the production being carried out well all of the actors are on top form. Colin Baker goes from strength to strength, his banter with the Daleks in particular is excellent. Lalla Ward recaptures her performance of Romana and is allowed to expand it a bit. All the other guest actors are fine with my favourite being Vansell who is a typically underhanded timelord.

This brings me to Evelyn who after two stories ( I haven't listened to The Marian Conspiracy) is fast becoming one of my favourite regulars. Funny, intelligent and thoughtful a good combination for a Doctor let alone a companion. She in particular has some excellent lines in this. How she relates to this, her first future environment is particularly amusing.

To sum up this story has a lot going for it that should attract a number of fans. The Daleks themselves who are at their double dealing best, the return of a favourite companion, the action and the plot which contains certain gruesome elements from 22nd season.


No Major Dissapointments, But Many Minor Ones by Peter Niemeyer 8/10/00

This production didn't have any one massive flaw, but it had a fair number of minor flaws that, in the end, left me rather unimpressed.

The first minor flaw was the way in which the return of Romana was done. Whenever a character from long ago returns, I prefer for it to be in a story that could happen only with the involvement of that character. For example, Destiny of the Daleks would have been hard to pull off without Davros. The same for Mawdryn Undead and the Brigadier. The role that Romana played in The Apocalyspe Element could have easily been given to a new character and the story would have worked just about the same.

I also felt that the direction taken with Romana was something out of character. We last saw her in E-Space planning to help liberate the Tharils - still defying the directive to return to Gallifrey. No explanation was given as to how she got out of E-Space or what ever became of K-9. And her decision to become a part of the Gallifrey infrastructure seems at odds with her Meglos to Warrior's Gate attitudes. I don't object to having a character reconsider their attitudes and judgements, but when such a shift happens, some explanation as to why is in order.

The next minor flaw was the similarity between this story and The Genocide Machine. Both stories involve the Daleks attempting to invade a technologically advanced and seemingly impregnable location so that they can gain access to some of its technology, and both involve companions of the Doctor being used against their will to give the Daleks access. I think the second Big Finish Dalek story should have taken a direction very different from the first, which in my opinion it did not.

The third minor flaw was Evelyn's role in the story. She did have some important stuff to do, but with Romana, the Daleks, and the rest of Gallifrey running around, it's easy to see how she might get less action than in The Marian Conspiracy or The Spectre of Lanyon Moor. However, as Evelyn is my favorite audio companion, this is a totally personal observation.

The last minor flaw comes from the "story arc". The three Big Finish Dalek stories have the umbrella title "Dalek Empire". Thus, I was looking for some sort of narrative connection between the two stories, and none was apparent to me. Perhaps this will be tied up in The Mutant Phase, but for the time being I'm confused.

The story wasn't a total wash, but I can't really think of any especially positive aspects. I must say Lalla Ward gave a great performance. Audio-Romana was as good as video-Romana, a feat that in my mind has been achieved by only two other companions (Aldred's Ace and Courtney's Brigadier). That's about all that comes to mind.

So 7 out of 10. Not really all that bad, but not very imaginative either.


The Dalek Empire Strikes Back: The Apocolyptus Elephant by Julian Shortman 24/10/00

Now don't get me wrong - BIG FINISH, have suitably impressed me with various offerings from their audio collection. The Spectre of Lanyon Moor was my first dip - and a thoroughly enjoyable, warm, nostalgic one it was too.

The Marian Conspiracy I thought was a splendid effort - and I warmed even further to two concepts that I had previously not considered; namely that

  1. Colin Baker always had the potential to be a superb Doctor, if he could just stop bickering with his companion.
  2. An elderly companion, whilst being appalling for the lusting adolescent Dad ratings on TV, has potential to be fun and interesting in Who.

Passing over the minor irritation of The Sirens of Time, I also thoroughly enjoyed The Genocide Machine and the less popular Phantasmagoria.

However, it was with most anticipation for any of the titles so far mentioned that I approached The Apocalypse Element.

And perhaps there was my own personal downfall. You see, it seemed to have all the right ingredients:

Colin Baker as the Doctor minus a companion he could have a good row with, Evelyn Smythe, the interesting elderly companion, back without a duff story yet (weep, weep), Romana, dusted out of the closet and dressed up in Gallifreyan robes for a major guest part, and of course the Doolaks, free from their TV restraints and ready to blow the universe to kingdom come if everyone else doesn't say "Of course, come drop round anytime you like, we'd only be too delighted to obey."

And I foolishly believed this was enough potential in the hands of BIG FINISH to result in a stonkingly good Who audio.

Sorry to say, my expectations fell somewhat flat. My complaints in a more succinct form? Well, okay, if you insist.

The plot was too fast, too big, with too many fat holes in it that no gravity wells could fill (and has anyone out there successful imagined a gravity well by the way?). I was patient with episode one and listened to it twice to understand what was going on.

But by the end, I had the distinct feeling that a potential six parter had been shoved down my ear in a highly condensed and (as is usually the case) rather unsatisfying way. And, please don't take that as an invitaton to expand into six parters. Just because the plot demands two planet settings, three major civilisations, numerous invasions and more lengthy battle scenes than I could care to remember (and I also didn't have a hope of imagining them - I mean really, how vivid can zap, boom, "exterminate, excommunicate, exfoliate" boom, zap, zap, boom, crash, "Ow! That hurt!" really be?), and the biggest chemical reaction since Just William threw the lithium into the school fish pond doesn't mean you can flesh it out and make it work. I'm afraid this one failed on many counts, and I can't think of any way they could have resurrected, revealed or resuscitated the main plot ideas here into a decent four parter.

Romana was so pitifully underused and wasted (did anyone want to see her chained up for no good reason by the Daleks for 20 years and then suddenly sprung back in a horribly emaciated form - but wow, she soon snapped out of the duldrums of twenty years as a hostage and held out with all those mind battles remarkably well (sarcasm)). I hope Lalla Ward wasn't as disappointed as I was or I fear she won't dawn the doors of the studio again for a while. She deserved better than this.

Colin Baker was intense almost all the way through - the bits where he lightened up felt like a much needed breath of fresh air. But it wasn't his fault - as the script demanded a lot of intensity - without much genuine tension (at times we were just waiting for beep, beep, click, click, "You've done it Doctor! the gravity wells are stable again! Well done!" I found myself longing for the relaxed and more intelligent tones of The Marian Conspiracy.

Evelyn was handed a lot of embarrassing one liners, to the point where her mild double entendres had me worried she might break into "Ooooh! Young man!" Thankfully she didn't, but it was close a couple of times. You could justifiably say she had a significant role - but then the Daleks could have killed her, and Vansell could have chopped her eye out, and it would have been much the same story (minus the double entendres).

The Daleks were okay - they blew themselves up a lot, which I guess is a nice variation on being blown up. You'd have thought they'd have designed a decent eyepiece shield now if it's such an obvious target. In their favour, they did have a nice bowing out threat to remind us they'd be back again. Not that their Empire is really doing that well... I wonder if BIG FINISH would have the guts to do a Dalek Empire story where the Daleks actually do well and win, and the Doctor is just lucky enough to get in the TARDIS with the back of his shins scorched. At the moment, as soon as you hear the Black Dalek saying "It is the Doctor's TARDIS" it's almost as if you can hear him saying under his breath, "Oh well, that's my plans gone to pot, and I spent all last night thinking that one up as well. Suppose I'd better grit my tentacles and get on with humiliating myself again"

Sorry BIG FINISH but I hope that Dalek Empire 3 is a little less grandiose and more successful than this one.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 19/11/00

Perhaps the most notable thing about The Apocalypse Element is the fact that it is done on a very grand scale. So plaudits to Big Finish for the sheer number of effects alone. Add to this a script from Stephen Cole, which whilst featuring the much hyped invasion of Gallifrey, is also relatively easy to follow and requires no effort from the listener.

This aside, the story is light years ahead of The Genocide Machine in terms of quality, as it shows The Daleks for what they really are and should be, calculating and evil. The supporting cast also perform well, although Trinkett is obviously based on Rodan from The Invasion Of Time. The return of the President and Vansell from The Sirens Of Time is also welcome, as their characters are fleshed out a lot more.

Lalla Ward makes an impact with her return as Romana, although she is markedly different; certainly the character of The Mistress who she played in BBV`s K-9 audios was more representative of her original portrayal. Maggie Stables as Evelyn doesn`t have a great deal to do and her sarcasm in the first episode soon begins to grate; fortunately this is toned down, although The Spectre Of Lanyon Moor suited her better. Colin Baker`s Doctor is undoubtedly the high point acting wise, as he veers from frustration to desperation, as Dalek weapons fire around him; indeed the word overkill springs to mind.

One other thing makes this special and this is the clever use of continuity, complete with rods and sashes Of Rassilon from The Invasion Of Time to retinas which open the Eye Of Harmony via a beam of light. Overall though this is worth investing in and a worthy addition to anyone's collection.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 8/7/01

The Genocide Machine had been wonderful. The Daleks had never sounded better. It was with a great deal of anticipation then, I awaited The Apocalypse Element. The 6th Doctor, with his wonderful new Companion Evelyn were to meet the metal monsters of Skaro. The previews were promising. The Daleks were to invade Gallifrey! But then I thought again – The Daleks, Gallifrey – was this going to be the kind of Fan indulgence that fell flat. I kept my mind open to possibilities.

What we got was ACTION, and lots and lots of NOISE. Right from the start we are flung straight into the ACTION. Our senses are bombarded with more staser blasts than World War 3! The Daleks sole purpose, it seemed, was to destroy as much as possible with the greatest amount of NOISE possible. The ACTION never lets up (except for Romana’s depressing speech at the start of Episode 2) and the NOISE is never far away.

The Daleks appear – Staser blasts galore, loud Dalek voices, explosions to break your eardrums – and so the volume control went down a few notches. Romana, Evelyn or Trinkett explain a few plot points – the volume went up so I could hear clearly what they are saying. And……….CRASH, BANG, WALLOP – the brain is pummelled into submission again! Enter the Black Dalek. This Dalek is even noisier than the rest! I’m getting an headache!

The 6th Doctor is known for his aggressive, bombastic, loud portrayal. He is positively sedate, in the first 3 parts, compared to the NOISE onslaught of the Daleks. Only in Part 4 does he feel obligated to raise the decibels himself. This speech actually is the highlight of the whole Audio though. Colin Baker evokes much emotion, really putting across the enormity of it all.

The return of Romana is not successful. She is a troubled soul, having been locked away for many years. As a result this is a very different portrayal than the TV version – and I like the more light-hearted, girly Romana from TV. The other companion of the piece is Evelyn. She is so massively out of place. She was excellent in Marion and Spectre. She is simply not suited to this futuristic Sci-Fi romp – lets keep her in the Past or Present. I would love to be proved wrong in this assessment however, we shall see.

The Daleks invasion of Gallifrey is a fan indulgence. It is not very interesting. All this tape is an assault on the senses – A big NOISY mess. 5/10


A Review by John Seavey 15/11/03

Gah! First and foremost, I think I'm still bleeding from the ears at the sheer wall-to-wall loudness of this audio. Take out the insanely loud Dalek voices shouting things, the Dalek guns shooting things, the explosions exploding, the crashes, booms, collisions, and general shrieking noise that permeates the entire production, and I think you'd have perhaps twenty minutes of dialogue out of 140.

Worse, what you get when you reduce it to those twenty minutes is awful. The jokes are strained to the point of actual rupture, with pride of place among a field of horrid contenders going to, "Evelyn seems to have created a feedback loop." "Well, that is after all my specialty." What the heck does that even mean? Was it perhaps a joke in its original language, and then got run through BabelFish a few times? Ugh. The rest of the dialogue is more shouting, macho posturing, and one seemingly-endless self-indulgent whinge by Romana on how being a Dalek slave is a Bad Thing... poured out, no less, to a total stranger who's just walked up to tell her something. I kept picturing the poor woman saying, "Yes, that's bad, but -- yes, I see, but -- look, I just wanted to say --" Hideous stuff.

The characters are so flat and lifeless that I won't waste further sentences complaining on them, other than to mention that one should never name a character "Trinkett" if one doesn't want derisive laughter at every mention of said name.

The plot doesn't seem to know what's interesting about it; setting up a plot device where Romana's vanished twenty years ago and the Doctor vows to find her is great, but having her escape and bump into the Doctor on his own as he's busy doing entirely unrelated things before he gets around to finding her reduces the drama to nil. The whole thing ends with a blah "base-under-siege" plot that Cole thinks will be more interesting if the base is Gallifrey and the besiegers are Daleks. Unfortunately, it doesn't.

This one was really just a disappointment on every level.


A Review by Ron Mallett 29/7/05

It's somewhat strange now looking at the earlier Big Finish projects. While some of the stories are still repetitive (perhaps limited to an extent by the audio medium itself) they have increasingly grown more and more sophisticated. The Apocalypse Element is a real fan's treasure trove: including Romana II, the Daleks, and an invasion of Gallifrey. Despite all this - and it pains me to say this - it is actually a bit dull.

Dull?! Well, yes. The focus of the earliest Big Finish audios seemed to be providing soundtracks of episodes that we never got on television. This was long before the more humorously orientated stories and the advent of Doctor Who and the Pirates. In short, the team had not quite found its stride. We have a very convoluted plot and the most over-used villains in history; that combined with a rather chatty sort of a script full of soliloquies and endless conversations rather than action produce a rather mediocre story. It actually smacks of a Graham Williams era story for that reason.

The story is saved to an extent by Colin Baker, Maggie Stables and of course Lalla Ward. The idea of Romana as President of the High Council is a little far-fetched but works quite well. One of the better Big Finish innovations, CIA Coordinator Vansell played by Anthony Keetch also makes a welcome return.

I realise of course that the story needs to be seen in a larger context. It is the second story in the Dalek Empire series, but as a separate entity it is a bit of a let down. Perhaps the highlight is the almost hypnotic soul-searching by the imprisoned Romana. Perhaps it is the absence of Davros, but the Daleks seem to be a rather unimaginative option for a series of stories.

All in all, not a bad adventure, but it's nothing special. I'm afraid the apocalypse element itself is not a good enough concept to warrant four episodes of Doctor Who.