Big Finish Productions
Dalek Empire III: The Exterminators

Written by Nicholas Briggs

Starring William Gaunt and Sarah Mowat

Synopsis: Twenty years ago, Siy Tarkov set off from planet Velyshaa, making his way back to the Galactic Union, carrying vital information about a deadly race known as the Daleks. But now, he's lost in deep space...


"Exterminate!" by Joe Ford 27/8/04

I'm not sure he would appreciate this but I could kiss Nick Briggs all over until his skin was sore! Coming hot on the heels of another Big Finish mini-series the Dalek Empire universe is back for another round of rampant exterminations and as ever looks set to blow the Doctor Who productions out of the pool. This first CD shows a lot of promise and has set up the main characters and setting well enough for me to subscribe to the next five in the series.

I did have my reservations after the first five minutes or so though which quickly revealed the developments of the last Dalek series in a long series of clips. It was a bit disorienting to play catch up after all this time and the scenes chop and change randomly for ages leading you to think this is how the entire CD will play out but things soon settle down. This is the problem with a new series following an old one which has been successful, this prologue is the equivalent of a "previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer" albeit done with some semblance of style but it is just jarring as those openings on Buffy... to a new listener this must serve to confuse them totally. It would have been far easier to just leap straight into the main plot because as far as this instalment is concerned the first two series did not have any relevance at all. Maybe they will later down the line...

One thing I love about these Dalek series is that they're not really about the Daleks at all. They are about evil and Nick Briggs smartly concentrates on his "human" characters (okay they're not always human but they are sentient non-Dalek characters) and their reaction to this plague of evil. It allows us to get up close and personal to them, pushed to their limits, threatened with death by the metallic meanies we get to see what they are truly like underneath all the pretense. Who could ever forget Susan Mendez? Or Karlendorf? Brave fighters who pretended to collaborate with the Daleks so they could plan their revenge on them. Or dear old Alby Brook, the everyman who got caught up with the fighting and fell in love with Susan who turned out to be the Dalek Emperor's right hand woman? They are such memorable characters, not because of who they were but because OF the dangerous situation fighting the Daleks put them into.

The cast for Dalek Empire III looks just as good and a lot of groundwork has been done here. The performances are stellar and immediately I felt drawn to some of these people. Kaymee Arnod was especially well done, a wanabee ranger at the Graxis nature reserve; Laura Rees played the part with just the right amount of naivete and humour. I loved her descent to the planet via the chute, every bump and bruise was felt! Frey Saxton was another winner, sharp, in control and ready to snap your head off if you waste her time. I love characters like Saxton, who appear grouchy and opinionated but are actually really soft when you get to know them. Plus Ishia Bennison's gravelley voice was perfect for the production; she certainly stands out from this cast. Already we have a fighting force to take on the Daleks...

The secondary plotline for the story involves Siy Tarkoff and Selestru (argh! Everyone has a bizarre name in this story!), the former trying to convince the latter about the immanent invasion of the Daleks. This was less interesting because it was all talk and no action but the performances were still excellent. William Gaunt provides a strong guest name to the series and plays Selestru with a sympathetic edge and I take my hat off to Steven Elder who very uncomfortably plays Tarkov suffering from the very disease that is sweeping through the border planets.

The Daleks take a back seat early on but you can feel their presence throughout. It amuses me when they finally do emerge from the shadows but not with guns ablazing but as apparent saviours of mankind, ready to cure this deadly disease that is spreading. Who's willing to bet they infected the population in the first place? Hmm well we'll have to wait and see but needless to say seeing the devious bastards getting involved in local politics is a lot of fun and much more interesting than had they just come out screaming "Exterminate!" Nick Briggs is keeping the Daleks sharp; this constant evolution of their character is what keeps them so fresh.

Two things that really impressed me about this production, the sound FX and the naturalism. Dealing with the first this is another Nick Briggs production that makes you feel as if you are there. Shut your eyes and the sound FX are so good you can believe you really are on a nature reserve or that a Dalek is blasting away ten feet away. I love the atmosphere of his stories, spacesuits, screaming natives, Tarkoff coming out of cryo-stasis... there is so much to listen to whilst the story plays out you can never get bored. And secondly the way the story shifts from scene to scene so naturally, none of this "ooh look at the Dalek coming out of the ground" or "oh look the ground is shaking" dialogue that plagues these Big Finish productions when they are trying set the scene, Nick Briggs has the art of writing convincing characters in recognisable places and he simply switches scene hoping you have caught on to who you are listening to. It works a treat and helps with the natural flow of the story. I swear at times it sounds like a genuine recording you are listening to and that is the greatest compliment I can give.

As I said, a promising introduction. The cliffhangers are back (hurrah!) and this one's a real humdinger! Let's hope part two can keep the momentum going...