Big Finish Productions
Dalek Empire III: The Demons

Written by Nicholas Briggs

Starring William Gaunt and Sarah Mowat

Synopsis: Georgi Selestru's fears about the Dalek threat may not be shared by his superiors. Galanar's very survival is at stake. And the Dalek plan is gaining momentum. But who are the Demons, and whose side are they on?


Stay tuned... by Joe Ford 28/10/04

Character, character, character... get the point? Part four of Dalek Empire is a nice breather from the action to probe under the skin of what makes the characters of this striking mini series tick. The benefits of this are immediately apparent; the story cleverly links this series to the last two Dalek series and explains some of the lingering questions that have been hanging around for the last few releases. Plus we have a better idea of why our heroes are fighting, putting the current conflict into even more clarity. In Star Trek terms, if the previous three episodes were The Next Generation (action packed with a good smattering of thoughtful character work) then this was Deep Space Nine (a pause to reflect and examine the action of the previous three).

Personally it is my favourite instalment yet and the others have all been damn good as well. Halfway through I was convinced that this was just okay and suddenly it struck me, The Demons is a bloody good episode but the quality of the series is so consistently excellent now that you almost become accustomed to it.

The real hero of this series is David Tennant whose performance as Galanar is proving more and more interesting as the story progresses. After his hectic chase and dizzying cliffhanger at the end of the last instalment he finally discovers the answers to his origins and it is not pretty at all. His very human reaction to the fact that the Daleks created him is chilling because it is not what he was intended to be at all. Slowly we start to see how it was obvious all along, his uncanny abilities start to flourish en masse and he proves a valuable ally to Siy Tarkov as they finally meet. I love how the plots here mingle; the first line of narration between them proves they will be good friends.

The Demons, these genetically augmented creatures who were created by the good Daleks from Dalek War, are the real focus of this mini series and not the Daleks at all and I remain impressed at Briggsy's ability to distract your attention over here with a gripping story whilst he is brewing up an equally good one behind your back which is ready to spring out when you are least expecting. Plotting this series must have been a nightmare but the story remains watertight. Much of the tale is told in flashbacks, each rewarding because they cleverly join the dots for the story, explaining how the Dalek supreme has HER voice, why Tarkov's daughter is not his daughter, why Galanar is so incorruptible...

It seems bizarre to hear Steven Elder (Tarkov) without the nervous stutter of the plague but he once again puts in a sterling performance. He remains the most human element of the series, a gentle man caught up in a dramatic situation. You have to feel sorry for the guy when he realises he has been manipulated by everybody, Amur's dismissal of him once her cover story is blown is like a ice cold slap in the face and his pleas for an explanation are met with casual remorselessness.

The revelation about Galanar and Amur manages to drag Selestru into the story finally and there are numerous, complex flashbacks, dealing with the three Demons meeting (including the bizarrely accented Morli from Dalek War), their conversation with the good Daleks where they discover their true mission and their final re-activation by Selestru. These sequences are extraordinarily well written and there is a shivery thrill to discovering so many answers in one go.

As good as this plot is it cannot supercede the very first scene (well it comes after the music...), which is the best on the disc and gets the exposition of to a flying start. I cannot think of a more dramatic beginning to a Big Finish disc the this, the Dalek Empire from the previous series being wiped out by the destructive command in Susan Mendez. Listening as the usually powerful, icy cold Daleks scream and panic in hysteria, thinking up strategies to combat the virus that cannot possibly succeed is terrifying and it is surprising how much pity you can feel for the monsters. It is awful when one Dalek falters when asked how likely the most successful plan is to succeed and stutters "40%..." brrr. Sarah Mowat is as amazing as ever, a vicious, unstoppable force, wiping through the Dalek Empire and finally forced into a Dalek casing finally explaining her sudden appearance in Dalek Empire III.

The Graxis Wardens make their token appearance in The Demons in just one scene and it is only here that the revisions Briggsy made to his original outline is apparent. The wardens weren't supposed to be in the story at all and while the first two episodes concentrated on them their appearances have been whittled down in subsequent releases, obviously keeping them ready for the final battle in the last episode. No Kaymee here, which is a shame because she is so engaging but I can only hope she returns soon.

It helps that the Graxis Wardens scene is very, very good. Saxton is proving a bloody good leader, gathering all the wardens together and creating a fighting force to take on the Daleks. But she is starting to have doubts about her actions, she knows the force she has assembled isn't comprised of fighters, only wardens and feels the guilt of stripping away their lives and turning them into fugitives. In a moment of astonishing honesty one of her crew grabs her by the shoulders and tells her that they ALL look up to her and would follow her into a the pits of hell if she so wished. This is followed by a gripping look at Saxton in action, tricking and destroying a Dalek ship with effortless ease.

Will the Demons get off planet and reach Valeshia to discover the Dalek secrets? Is Galanar dead? Is Amur truly on the good guys side or still working for the Daleks? Will Selestru ever get some action?

Join me in Dalek Empire III, part five to find out.

"What remains are only the values of culture" by Thomas Cookson 12/10/08

And so after coming down from the high of Dalek Empire III, I'm starting to notice the cracks in it a bit more. I think it's still a great set of stories, but in terms of what has preceeded them, I can understand why some fans have described it as unfocused and overblown.

The frustrating thing is that it almost might have been better if the last chapter of Dalek Empire II - Dalek War had been the end of the story. That would have been neat and would segue nicely into the Time War.

After all, it was because of the Doctor in The Genocide Machine that the Daleks found out about Project Infinity, so the Great Catastrophe was kind of his fault. Which gives the Time Lords and the Doctor every incentive to go to war with the Daleks to protect the decimated galaxy.

In that regard, Dalek Empire III's narrative kind of gets in the way, as does Return of the Daleks' predeterminism. In fact, whilst anyone could have written a follow on to Dalek War, Nick Briggs doesn't leave a clean slate at all with the ending to Dalek Empire III. Only Nick can tell us what happens next... if he ever will. Sometimes less is more. The more you're told, the more details you want and when the telling simply stops, you want to just shoot the messenger for telling you anything.

So, in that regard, it's enormously tempting to treat Dalek Empire III as though it isn't canonical. Indeed, one wonders if even Nick considers the third series to be canon if he hasn't gone back to it since. If Dalek Empire was ever possibly going to adapted for television, then I think only the first two series' would make it to screen. Dalek Empire III would almost certainly remain off screen and uncanonical.

I wouldn't be surprised if Dalek Empire III were to be treated as something of a wrong turn. A bit like how the second radio series of Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy never made it to television, given that the conclusion of the first series had enough closure about it, and of course the Hitch Hiker books pursued a completely different follow-on after that crossroads.

There are plenty of fan-made Doctor Who timelines, which try to map out the events of the Whoniverse and try to include all spin-off material in the equation too. The first two Dalek Empire series' get mapped on but Dalek Empire III tends to get left out, and with good reason. We don't know how it turned out yet.

As I said, I have a fear that Dalek Empire III will never get a follow up, so until it does, for my piece of mind I'm going to consider it non-canon. I'll simply imagine that its set in an alternative timeline where the Time Lords didn't get involved, and the Daleks end up winning. After all, the Daleks are the heroes of this series.

So why all this talk about continuity and canonicity? Well, Dalek Empire has a stronger sense of continuity than most Doctor Who. Most Dalek stories are very insular and so bringing in alien races like the Knights of Veleyshaa and particular planets like Garazone from outside the Dalek lore is unprecedented and suggests a conscious effort to build a consistent galactic view. It has its continuity errors, such as how in Dalek War we get two completely contradictory accounts of how Mirana found out about Emeron. However the story doesn't end when the Doctor leaves in the TARDIS. It has far-reaching consequences that echo through the millennia on every planet in the galaxy. Somehow, I can't simply ignore it and so I am resorting to burying some of it from view (and hoping it might grow in the soil).

I like the idea of the Time War as the perfect book closer, but do I consider the new series to be canon? Well, cynically, I see the new Doctor Who as being no more canonical than any of the Doctor Who-related adverts for tradings cards and toy Daleks. In fact, now that I think about it, even the presentation is similar: sound and fury, artificial zany coolness, fast-food television and most importantly a deliberate irritation factor. I don't really get affronted by anything the New Series has given us, continuity-wise, but unfortunately I just don't see it as taking place in the Whoniverse as I know it. In fact, the new series seems to take place in a cartoon universe where the basic laws of physics don't apply. Where you can pour all the water from the Thames down a hole to the centre of the Earth without it all evaporating in the heat, and other examples of magic wands, pixie dust and miracle cures.

If things like that didn't irritate and insult me about the New Series, I'd gladly embrace the fact that it wipes a clean slate, continuity-wise, and gets it all back to fun. If that 'fun' wasn't usually at someone's expense. Russell's humour is like that Dalek at the funeral in The Healers: mean, bullish and trampling with no respect for anyone's dignity or good taste.

It's the scope and elongated timeline of Doctor Who that makes the show so rich in mind-expanding imagination and intrigue, and yet simultaneously so frustratingly inconclusive, and Dalek Empire III is especially guilty. A critical impulse in me wants to call it didactic. In its theme about war, the importance of history and the way humans connect with one another, it's like a major University humanities course. And like those bastard subjects you can never actually close the damn book on it, and the best you can do is try to write your own conclusion. Perhaps I should see it as being about the miracle of humanity's co-existance with evil and how we've always survived it.

No, sorry, that argument isn't quite working for me. Let me try something else.

Dalek Empire to me is pure Doctor Who, in so much as an erratic, diverse show like Doctor Who can have a pure form. I see it as concentrated Doctor Who, as hard-core Doctor Who. I'd even say that it's more like Doctor Who than Doctor Who is. It is Doctor Who back in the days when it was strange and scary and uncertain. Back when our protagonist was untrustworthy, and the universe we travelled was an unknown, unpredictable one. The Whoniverse and its timeline has become very known and safe by now. We have so many fan-written timeline books that we're always made aware that the future is safe, the Daleks will lose all their wars and humanity will always survive. And so what Dalek Empire III does is to completely upset that complacency in its final word which hints that the Daleks are going to win after all and that humanity will be overwhelmed and exterminated. And it works, reminding me of the time when Doctor Who was unsafe, uncertain and a vertigo-inducing nightmare futuristic.

There, I think that'll do.

Now, the story itself. I think The Demons suffers rather from chapter-four syndrome. Chapter four is the point in the series where Nicholas Briggs wraps everything up and points to a somewhat hopeful outcome, which is why The Warriors lacks intrigue. In fact, everything is so clear-cut that, out of the middle two chapters I bought first, I found this easiest to follow.

This is where it gets complacent. At the time, I found it a relief to see the Daleks get such a creaming, but now it seems too easy and Michael Bay-ish. For instance, the scene where the Graxis Wardens destroy the Dalek ship with one shot grates rather because it should have been a lot more difficult, and as such comes off as a bit smug once the cool factor evaporates. Yes, the Daleks have been reduced to worse, undignifying cannon fodder elsewhere. The New Series Daleks even run away like wusses from the unarmed Doctor. Fans bash Silver Nemesis for reducing the Cybermen to easy cannon fodder yet big up Remembrance of the Daleks despite it being just as guilty. But that sticks out like a sore thumb here because the Daleks have been so incredibly robust and impermeable so far and so this is a major deflating of the hard-core gravitas and the sense of struggle.

But, from here, it seemed like the series was heading for an optimistic conclusion. The Daleks were in precious few numbers and even they were getting a royal pasting. The Veleyshaan datastore suggested that not only would the Galactic Union be warned about the Daleks, but they'd find out all their weaknesses too, and that seemed to suit Doctor Who's main theme about the power of knowledge. It all seemed too easy, and it was from that listening experience that I wrote most of my favourable review on The Future, long before I found myself growing unsatisfied with the bleak inconclusiveness (rather naughty of me I know).

But I think that's the cruel irony of the thing. If the Galactic Union had taken action by now, then they would have defeated the Daleks easily. Perhaps permanently.

I love Suz's revenge on the Daleks. It certainly explains why Seriphia was so quiet for 2000 years, and why Earth survived the great catastrophe. The signal isn't strongest at its source, it actually amplifies and grows in power as it travels. I love her icy, unforgiving "I sensed them trying to find ways of stopping me... too late." After all that she has suffered to the Daleks, who can blame her for having no mercy for them now? And yet, in spite of all the evil things that they've done you still feel sorry for the Daleks as they are boiled alive by Suz's signal. Proof indeed that Doctor Who can still maintain its morality even whilst depicting a hero's cavalier acts.

Speaking of what Doctor Who does, I must say I like how Susan's death, resurrection and eventual reincarnation mirrors the Doctor's capacity for regeneration and sticks to the Christian-Buddhist angle of the show. Suz's reincarnation as a Dalek seems to be her punishment for her collaboration with them and for killing Alby. I like the irony that Alby spends the whole war searching for her, but then finds in his dying moments how hardened and dangerous she has become. In a sense, the whole war has been a punishment for humanity's tampering with existence through Project Infinity. Indeed, maybe that's why the Doctor's TARDIS is such a trouble magnet (as is the Master's TARDIS, come to think of it).

And so we see how the Daleks have time and again clinged to life with iron determination when on the verge of extinction. Hate is a survivor, you can't 'kill' evil. The Suz/Dalek hybrid is frightening because even the Daleks fear her when she speaks her first words. She's unlike anything we've ever encountered. I like the fact that she even acts female. She teases and is emotionally perceptive and interrogates victims like she's stroking and caressing their brow. She's a schizophrenic, insane creature and her hot and cold neuroses are actually amusingly barmy. But whilst at first you underestimate her, ultimately she wins and all her predictions come true. She is a master of destiny, but, as Gallanar observes, like all Daleks she is never at peace with herself.

On that note, the New Series Daleks have a certain bitchy demeaour. I have no real problem with that. That humorous slant is more fitting than the ineptitude of The Chase. The Daleks are by nature arrogant, contemptuous and back-stabbing. My problem is that it means nothing since the New Series Doctor is just as bitchy and sneering, if not more so.

Anyhow, we next have the Graxis Wardens with their nifty visualisation scrambler (I wonder why they only use it once). And so Frey Saxton and Dan have their heart to heart chat. A bit like Janeway and Chakotay. Indeed I think Star Trek is a strong influence in terms of war and galactic territories, telepaths and warrior races, mind melds and living spirits and in places there's a Wrath of Khan vibe about it, only with the Daleks putting discs in their agent's brains rather than eels, but the effect was no less disturbing. But clearly this is far more full blooded and from the gut than Star Trek could ever be. No one in Star Trek would say "It's what we've got and those filthy machines can never have! It's to do with instinct and gut feelings". And, as I've said, I think it's terrible how our politically correct, empathising culture has come to regard trusting one's instincts as somehow being a negative and prejudiced thing to do, when it's often pretty much essential, because sometimes you can just sense evil in people.

I suppose it's typical reluctance to think the worst of people. But my bugbear with this series is that it's obvious that the Daleks caused the plague in the first place. The conviction of the protagonists at ignoring that possibility just about works at making you ignore the obvious, but still it's a major leap of credibility that the Daleks would expect the humans to be unsuspecting, or have no historical information on the Daleks. But, then again, the Daleks could just let the plague finish us all off anyway. Maybe the Daleks want to make sport of us first. To gun us down rather than leave it to the germs, and to manipulate us as their helpless toys.

Frey's "What if I'm wrong?" sums up the theme of this series, in which the doubts and hesitations of good people and the thought that something has to be sacrificed is what allows evil to prevail. Just as Carneill thinks a few dead wardens is worth it to cure the plague, Earth will become more militaristic for a moral cause. The wardens are meant to represent this transformation of ordinary people into soldiers. They are ordinary people who embark on a war and every single one of them gets killed. The issue about the fascist Earth isn't merely about corruption, but about being drafted and sent to die in battle without having a say.

Siy Tarkov's hypothesis that humanity will turn into a war machine would be a bleak conclusion in itself but the theme only gains weight when Elaria's possible betrayal crushes all hope. It's easy to share in Siy's despondence of a new fascist Earth like we're morally superior. But once we share in the hopelessness of the Dalek threat and how desperate the war might get, we realise that if we were president of Earth, we'd probably be drafting kids too because we'd have to hit the Daleks with everything we've got. In that regard, Gallanar's last word is both a Doctorish plea for cross-cultural understanding and peace, and an assertion that if we do go fascist it'll be worth it, because humanity deserves to survive.

In Dalek War, Morli's inability to properly pronounce the drilled-in rhetoric that she lives by was a tragically ironic reflection of militaristic brainwashing - believing fanatically in something you don't even understand. But it's clear now that there was more to Morli than we first realised, and I'm sure that Nick always planned that. And so we learn of the Demons and their superior strength and invisibility techniques, and suddenly Morli being the only survivor of the Dalek attack makes perfect sense. I just love how these 'perfect operatives' are a bunch of sociopathic misfits.

Georgi reminisces on how he revived Gallanar, and how Gallanar imprinted on him like a hatchling (there's that 'nature' theme again). I just love William Gaunt's eloquent, sardonic way with words "You can't interrogate a corpse can you?".

And then there's Gallanar, as played by David Tennant. It was only come The Idiot's Lantern that I disliked Tennant's Doctor, to the degree that I have never warmed to him since, and he remains at the bottom of my Doctors' list (Tom, Pat, Pert and Eccles are at the top, by the way). Had I not listened to this, I wouldn't have known that Tennant actually could have been a contender. His resilience against the Dalek Supreme's torture is riveting. Jigsaw couldn't break him. The scene where he gains Siy's trust is so edgy. He's so sociopathic and manipulative you just can't quite trust him.

But then there's the moment where he berates Elaria for her heartbreaking deception of the widowed Siy. Oh no, domestics, and he's going to become Jeremy Kyle and do his Mr. Shouty routine like he did in The Idiot's Lantern and Gridlock. Except no, what he does is so subtle that for a moment you're not sure he even cares. But he gets under Elaria's skin and quietly dares her to empathise with her broken victim. And he tears apart all the work she's done and you sympathise with her as he smashes her beliefs to pieces. Serving the Daleks is something she did because she knew no better. She's just a child, really. Maybe the kind of child who tortures animals and younger siblings alike, but still a child. A blank moral canvas. And that's what makes Gallanar's moral condemnation so affirming as a missing piece of her life. And, of course, his immediate empathy shows how he will naturally become friends with Siy.

And he does it quietly, imagine that.

As he and Elaria rampage Dalek control like gerbils on speed, they immediately become such a wonderful action dynamic duo who would sit well in an anime series. And maybe that's the major theme which the inconclusive series can rest easy on. It wasn't simply fluke that people like Susan, Kalendorf, Mirana and Alby had the skills and courage to beat the Daleks, because every generation has its extraordinary individuals who will resist and fight the Daleks with every fibre of their being.

And so the fight goes on.