Big Finish Productions
Dalek Empire III: The Future
|Written by||Nicholas Briggs|
Starring William Gaunt and Sarah Mowat
|Synopsis: The fight against the Daleks must succeed now. But while the Wardens are outnumbered and without a strategy, the Dalek Supreme is sensing victory.|
Cliff-hanger! by Joe Ford 23/11/04
How would you describe a satisfying climax to a six part mini series? Tying up all the plot threads and bringing the characters to some sort of resolution? The Future daringly refuses to do this and I can imagine many listeners (I include myself here) slack-jawed at the conclusion to the CD. Not only does Nick Briggs refuse to resolve the situation with the Daleks, he doesn't even let you know if the good guys have achieved ANYTHING. And you thought the end of Blake's Seven was bleak!
What nobody could deny is that this is a startling piece of drama and one that has amped up the tension and interest after the lull of the last two instalments. With as little tweaking The Future could easily have come after The Demons.
My expectations were battered aside with every twist and turn; I seriously expected the finale to be an all space battle in the Border Worlds with the Daleks defeated once again. It took me a little while to realise that what we got was actually something better than that and it all comes down to Briggsy's understanding of audio. Of course he could have filled the climax with explosions and space fights but what would be the point? We can't even see the damn thing, all we would have is a number of loud bangs and that wouldn't be very interesting (see: Nekromanteia). No, the joy of audio is dialogue and ideas, reaching out to your audience with skilful storytelling, surprising and thrilling with your script and performances is the best weapon you can use against your audience and Nick does an admirable job.
That's not to say there isn't any spectacle in The Future, far from it, there is a moment where Briggsy reveals the might of the Daleks that really gave me the willies! But before I get on to that I guess I should fill you in on the events of the first four releases that lead up to this dramatic finale...
The Border Worlds have been gripped by a deadly plague, one that has forced the galatic union to seal them to prevent wide scale infection. Within the border a new ally has appeared from nowhere, the Daleks, machine creatures who claim to be able to cure this lethal disease. Siy Tarkov knows all about the Daleks, he has been discovered in a cryogenic pod by the galatic union and brings news of the Daleks' terrible menace and the last Great War, thousands of years ago, which ravaged the galaxy. He attempts to prove the Daleks' evil intent, but without proof is dismissed by all except Selestru, who sends Tarkov into the border to find evidence that will force his people to attack the Daleks. Meanwhile the Graxis Wardens have had their planet commandeered by the Daleks where they are turning into a relief planet for the plague but their evil methods force the Wardens to go on the run and eventually flee the planet. They gain support against the Daleks and soon a rebel force is in operation. Before long Tarkov, the Wardens and two Demons, genetically engineered beings created by the good Daleks (from Dalek War) to fight enemy Daleks are all on their way to Velyshaa, the planet which holds the knowledge of the defeat of the Daleks in last War. Pursued by a Dalek ship who are intent on stopping the rebels from sending the Velyshaan records to the Galatic Union and with a possible traitor in their midst, will the Wardens manage to prevent the Dalek conquest of the galaxy...?
Okay I have simplified things terribly there, but that's the basic plot of the first five CDs. Tarkov is desperate to get the information back to the union which he failed to do in the first place. Galanar is worried about Elaria who has imprinted on the Daleks and therefore always one of their agents. And the Wardens are worried about the attack ship that is on their tail. If the message does not get to the Galatic Union there will be no resistance to the Daleks whose plans are far more advanced than anybody thought. This gives this last episode some real dramatic weight, somebody, somehow, has to get that message out, even if it means costing everybody's lives.
Which leads to a spectacular scene where the Daleks square off against the Wardens on the surface of Velyshaa. Given that the Daleks have been a far more insidious presence in this series than the previous two, relying on their intelligence (by fooling the border worlds into letting them in) over their might, it comes as quite shock when they swarm from their ship en masse shrieking that interminable cry of theirs (go on, one more time... EXTERMINATE!). How they overwhelm the Wardens in what seems like seconds is horrifying, one character admits they have no hope of defeating them or even slowing them down. They are a merciless, relentless force of evil that will not stop coming until everyone is dead.
Cutting through the Wardens with speed it is time for characters to make some hard choices. Nobody is going to survive this. It is just a matter of who attempts to delay the Daleks and who sneaks on board their ship and sends the message to the Galatic Union. In this battle against blazing iniquity that is the greatest victory they can achieve. You have to admire how Briggsy cuts down his cast of characters he has been expertly assembling for the past five odd hours of running time. It might leave people feeling cheated but I loved it, in one bold move Briggsy manages to stun his audience and prove just how frightening the Daleks are. My favourite character in the series is taken here and I loved how she walked into her death fighting and screaming, sacrificing herself for the sake of the galaxy.
But the surprises don't end there. On board the Dalek ship Elaria, Galanar and Tarkov are discovered just as Elaria manages to send the message... or does she? She has already proved herself a Dalek sympathiser. Did she have it in herself to betray them?
It was only at the climax that I realised how this series has all been about Tarkov, his journey to complete a mission he should have done in the first place. When he is spared the massacre he demands to know why and the answer is all too obvious, if you cast your mind back to poor Kaymee in the last instalment. What a bastard that Briggs is! Everyone we have grown close to is dealt a horrific fate in one way or another but this is the most unfair. Tarkov's reaction to his transformation is a haunting last moment for his character.
Which leaves Galanar who confronts the Dalek Supreme in one of the best scenes in the series. The questions he poses are extraordinary, probing the Daleks in an extremely thoughtful way. Where will their thirst for conquest end? Will they be happy with controlling this galaxy or will they have to move straight on to the next? Why do Daleks think they are superior to humans when they can never have the one thing that humans cherish above all else? Contentment.
The last line spoken by the Dalek Supreme suggests redemption for the Daleks but from past experience no matter how radical-thinking their leader is they will never find peace. Should we pity the Daleks who will kill and kill and kill with no purpose to their lives? Or should we pity the humans who will have to turn into Dalek clones, hardened monsters of war, to fight them in upcoming conflict?
Or did Elaria really send that message...?
We can only pray that Briggsy will write a fourth series and answer some of this questions he has posed. It has been a marvellous series to follow for the past six months, knocking spots of the Doctor Who releases even with the so-so instalments. Perhaps cut down the next series by one episode and remove some of the flabby padding in the middle but keep the complex plotting, stunning dialogue and atmospheric production values.
Victory or death! by Thomas Cookson 30/10/07
Ever since I started down the path of Nicholas Briggs' Dalek Empire series, I've been addicted. I find myself now listening to them daily, each time discovering new delights that I'd missed the last time I listened, becoming more and more convinced that the series is a masterpiece.
But I had yet to hear Dalek Empire III. I'd read reviews articulating mixed feelings and the sense of an anticlimax, but I had to get hold of the copies. Even if it turned out to be crud, I still had to have the third season. This spin-off had brought out the completist in me in a way that Doctor Who itself hadn't. But, then again, these days I no longer think Doctor Who is fit to lick Dalek Empire's boots.
I've got to say I've loved Dalek Empire III. I've loved its whole worldbuilding, and sense of terraformed suburban paradises gone sour. I love the characters and the way they bond so positively. I love the fact that I'm listening to David Tennant and finding that I really like him as an actor and the character he plays when he's released of the trappings of having to play a Doctor who has stepped off Wackaday. I love the fact that foregoing all the intellectual, some of the action scenes win me over based on coolness factor alone.
When I bought these CDs of the third season, I vaguely felt like I was being cynically pulled in to hear the next chapter to see how it was going to end. I mainly bought them to satisfy my purely completist impulse. After all, I'd read the reviews that suggested this season wasn't as good, and that Dalek Empire 'needed resting'. Having listened to it all the way through, I find those fan criticisms pretty unfathomable. To my ears this season and all its chapters are just as precious, potent and mindblowing as the previous two. I don't know why this third season didn't go down so well with fandom. I even loved The Warriors. But in any case I will treasure them all. For something Doctor Who-related to be as consistent as this must be something special. Most complaints from listeners have centred round The Warriors, and the inconclusive nature of this final chapter.
By all accounts, this chapter is the conclusion of the story. The upcoming Dalek Empire IV will not be a continuation but a collection of stories that retrospectively go over the Dalek war. I get the vaguest worry that Dalek Empire is running the risk of becoming fat and bloated on its own self-regurgitation. But I do see this as a worthy conclusion of the story.
It does not end merrily. The Dalek threat remains, and yet this is far more a final conclusion than Project Infinity or Dalek War Chapter 4 were. I've never quite believed Nicholas Briggs when he said that he intended either last episode to be the final end of the story. Project Infinity climaxes well with the Daleks reaching their goal only to find they'd opened up Pandora's box, which has a lovely karmic sense of justice to it, but it inherently opens up a fresh can of worms too, even if it does hint strongly that the Daleks' defeat is a foregone conclusion. Dalek War Chapter 4 was the end from a character point of view and, to tell you the truth, the finale to Dalek Empire III doesn't really end things much different to how they were at the end of Dalek War Chapter 4. But, having said that, Chapter 4 always felt too open-ended because we only glimpsed the coming threat, and had no idea how even the odds were.
The thing about Series one of Dalek Empire is that the Daleks do seem utterly invincible. It's one of the few times that the Daleks can boast that they will conquer the entire universe and you actually believe them. These Daleks seemed to come from hell itself, and that abstractness made any of Genesis' backstory unnecessary. It seemed that no matter how often the humans scored a victory against the Daleks, they were still only delaying the inevitable.
I did call Dalek Empire gratuitously violent and shocking based on my gut level reaction to it, but now I realise that I had completely missed the point. Dalek Empire is a brutally honest depiction of war and shouldn't have been anything less than what it was. Even when the humans are on the winning side, they're still having to take a punishing loss of life, and significantly there are never, ever any easy answers. And, also, we see what war does to men, as the young are brainwashed to fight for a cause they don't even understand, even our protagonist goes berzerk on the battlefield with the madness of war and mutilates the nearest corpse of an enemy. It's everything the Saward era so desperately wanted to be.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like how the conclusion to Project Infinity complements this biblical conflict, as the forces of hell open a gateway into the abstract and encounter an equal but opposite biblical force for good and eye-for-eye justice. It's like a battle between the Gods with us caught in the middle and realising that this biblical power of good is far too absolutist for us, and shows us defying a vengeful Goddess. And so, just like being cast out of Eden again for our deceit, we end up left to fend for ourselves.
I came away from Dalek War Chapter 4, feeling sure that the Seriphia stronghold hadn't been dented and that our decimated galaxy was ripe for an easy conquest. That pretty much made it pretty essential to me that I hear what happens next.
One thing I didn't know at the end of Chapter 4 was that the 'great catastrophe' had devastated most of the Daleks in Seriphia too. The Daleks have seemingly been reduced to scavengers rebuilding their race, rather than an unlimited supply of hellspawn. So when the knock-down will eventually happen, the odds will be fairly even, and so far each minor victory has felt like a true victory rather than a delaying of the inevitable.
But it is thematically important that this doesn't see us rid of the Daleks. In The Demons we re-experienced the point where the Daleks were on the brink of extinction and I can't help but feel sorry for them and half-hoping that they survive in some form.
In a way, this series has presented the Daleks as being a force of nature. You just accept that these are an extension of our own evil and as such are eternal. The conflict is eternal and, indeed, we've learned that every parrallel universe has its own Daleks. As this series conveys a heartbreaking sense of the passage of time, the years stretch to paint the Dalek wars as a fact of life, and the blood of history runs through it. Somehow, we instinctively feel the sense of the ancient sins of humanity through this conflict. We don't need to be told that this is what the Daleks represent, we just understand it instantly. We know that when the Mentor's offer of everlasting peace is violently refused, it was down to our characteristically human decision to hold onto the freedom to do evil as well as good. Likewise, to defeat the Daleks for all time defeats the metaphor; it creates too happy an ending.
But reassuringly the Daleks' golden age of power is long over, and in a sense this is back to traditional Doctor Who serials, where Daleks operated in little taskforces rather than as a swarming invasion fleet. Also like Doctor Who, the sympathy for the Daleks in their moment of near extinction is an assertion of the old show's altruistic belief in compassion for all things, and an understanding that even evil has its place.
Dalek Empire started by being unlike anything Doctor Who had ever shown before. It was more a million-dollar cinematic sci-fi action epic than a Doctor Who serial. Unless you were going to do it as a cartoon, it would have been ridiculously expensive to make for TV. Dalek Empire II: Dalek War was perhaps more traditional, and actually could have been done on Doctor Who's budget because, like the old series, it conveyed its epicness largely through the spoken word. Also like the old series, it was possible to take any given scene out of isolation and most likely you'd still get what the story as a whole was about (which was very useful for me since I started on Series 2 before Series 1).
Dalek Empire III is even more traditional. Like old Who, it prefers tales of invasion plots and subterfuge rather than all-out war. Indeed it is perhaps a modern update of Frontier in Space, in which it all hangs on getting proof of that Dalek invasion force heard by the blinded, hubris-afflicted bureaucrats in power. Like Doctor Who it proposes the conflict to be about the power of knowledge versus red tape. As such, the inconclusive nature of part six is justified by the fact that the knowledge is brought forward to make a difference. The outcome of the war is uncertain, but the noble last stand of the final battle and the theme of the power of knowledge is what gives it a note of faith and hope.
Because, crucially, this is what the series has been about. It's been about the pivotal actions of individuals rather than the success of the armies, which is also traditionally Doctor Who. The rebellion succeeding in Series One was an off-screen event and a foregone conclusion, but what mattered was Susan's courage to say those crucial words that kicked it all off (and whenever I hear it I keep visualising her face contorted in rage and vengeance and thinking 'Wow! If looks could kill...'). In Series Two, the fight against the Mentor is a decade-long, bloody affair, but the crucial point is when the Mentor and Karlendorf meet again and she realises he won't give up. Some have called that particular scene a cop-out but personally I think quite the contrary. I think it's very daring because it poses the question of what if we've misjudged the Mentor (and, indeed, we still feel that we don't entirely know her) and what if Karlendorf was wrong to wage this war against her if he could have ended it so easily over a dialogue with her?
I mean, what we have here is an incredibly bleak ending, which many have compared to Blake's 7's downbeat finale. But, really, the ending is far bleaker than that. Take the body count of Commando, then take all the survivors and leave them to wallow in the kind of hell of confinement, torture and betrayal of all three Saw films and you'll have an idea of how bleak it all is. I stress the twist-betrayal aspect of Saw because it is strongly implied by Amur that she betrayed them all and never actually sent that message, therefore they died for nothing. Then again, it is also strongly suggested that she did send the message and only boasted treachery to her friends because she simply had a death wish.
But, unlike those purely scab-picking films, it manages to say such honest and profound things about militarism. I've followed the story of Siy Tarkov and been literally moved to tears by his story across these six discs. If Karlendorf was a stand-in for the Seventh Doctor, with a similar tendency to gamble with planets, manipulate his companions and get a lot of people killed by association, then Siy Tarkov is arguably the Fifth Doctor, the staunchly anti-militarist one who sadly never gets heard or believed, naively taking traitors under his wing, and haunted by the death of a close one (he even speaks their name with his dying words). But in his last scene, under the duress of being tortured by the Dalek Supreme, I feel I've come to know him for the first time. As such, we are not just experiencing the exploitative spectacle of a person being tortured, but an ideal itself being crushed. It also shows the beauty of war cinema at attacking the values of our society, in how a prisoner of war may confide in his enemy everything he hates about his own country.
And the Suz/Dalek Supreme hybrid is bloody terrifying! Throughout the series she's been an enigma, a schizophrenic character with an amusing barminess. But by the end she has won all her victories and her predictions have come true and she is now able to wield her relentless malice. She seems like some unpredictable, supernatural, earth-shattering, unreachable and eternal evil force with that oracle foresight quality and a far-reaching ability to torment her victims from billions of light years' distance, and she really gives me the quakes long after listening.
She vaguely reminds me of the spider queen in Planet of the Spiders. Sometimes I envision her as Susan Mendez with kinky leather gear and glowing red eyes, sometimes as a large Dalek that projects images of Susan's face to every screen in its proximity. But, if I were to make this into a TV series, I think I'd keep her off screen almost as a supernatural disembodied voice to maintain that horror-movie atmopsphere.
There was always a subversive quality to the series, whether it be the massacres, the interrogations or the unnerving unnaturalness of Project Infinity or the terraformed Jupiter. I would say that this is the most terrifying of the three Dalek Empire series'. Nicholas Briggs has truly succeeded in bringing the childhood scare-factor of the Daleks up to a more adult level and scared me in a way I thought the Daleks never would again. Thinking of this as a body-horror story, it is appropriate then that this all ends with her holding all the cards, and the way this eternal force of evil claiming to be the destiny of the universe segues so well into Tarkov's pessimistic rant about the evils of mankind and their future. As such, I don't think we'll get a followup explaining the approaching war and its outcome, because that's not really the point. The point is we make up our own mind what happens next (and whether Amur really did send the message or not, and I'm still piecing together the clues). The camaraderie of the team can be seen as a microcosm for how strong the unified planets will be against the Daleks. Retrospectively, a story like Ark in Space suggests that we must end up winning and driving the Daleks far away and proving to be, in the words of the Doctor, 'indomnitable'. Perhaps this is even the point at which the Movellans interfere or the Time War happens and as a by-product we all get saved.
And so, I see this series as an affirming reminder of why I like Doctor Who when it is at its best, because every now and again the stakes are so high that the outcome is truly uncertain in a way few other shows would dare. It's not always victory for the good guys, evil isn't always vanquished, and sometimes the huge collateral of innocents simply makes it heartbreakingly apparent that our heroes can't save everybody. And, now and again, like in Genesis of the Daleks, Ark in Space, Frontier in Space or Logopolis, it even concludes uncertainly and asks us to imagine what happens next. It feeds our imagination by opening up a book of history and refusing to close it, but still leaves us with a bit of whimsy and hope that evolves from the nobility we've already seen so that we aren't left feeling cheated.
In short, this is just the right way to end it without actually ending it. In fact, I'm tempted to even say that it you were to just buy one Dalek Empire CD, make it this one, because this is the most topically loaded, as well as being the ultimate Dalek action showdown.
Oh, and I love the remixed theme tune at the end.