THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Dalek Empire: The Mutant Phase

Written by Nicholas Briggs Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Running Time 90 mins
Released 2000
Continuity Between Time Flight and
Arc of Infinity

Starring Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton
Also featuring Christopher Blake Jared Morgan Mark Gatiss Andrew Ryan Sara Wakefield

Synopsis: In the 22nd century, the Daleks have occupied planet Earth. By the 43rd century, only a handful of humans survive. Still further into the distant future, a Thal scientist must choose whether to betray his heritage, or see the universe destroyed. When the Doctor and Nyssa find themselves trapped in this deadly chain of events, they must decide who their real enemies are. What is certain, however, is that no matter where the Doctor turns? his arch enemies, the Daleks, will be waiting for him. What could possibly be worse than that? The Mutant Phase.


Reviews

I have to be honest, I feel guilty by Robert Thomas 9/2/01

First of all this is a bit of a non spoiler warning, the plots of the previous two Dalek stories suggested that the three stories MIGHT have been linked. Apart from being Dalek stories this is not the case.

This is probably the fasted paced story Big Finish have done yet, as can be seen on the blurb there are a number of locations the characters go through in the course of the story and there is no real central location. The only location that can be termed as such in this story is the TARDIS, which is very refreshing and keeping with the Davison era.

There is also a very refreshing twist to the actual Daleks and some late on surprises that I won't spoil.

The actual story is very impressive and well thought out - a plot device taken from an earlier televised story and reversed, not telling which.

(At this point I would like to comment that I could have done a few spoilers at this point and have not. If this story is to be enjoyed DO NOT look at the coverage it got in Doctor Who Magazine - as this spoilt the mystery that becomes central to the story in the later half.)

There are a lot of characters and to be honest they are a bit hit and miss. I did not feel that some of the characters who were meant to grab me grabbed me.

The Doctor does very well in this and has a great scene in the final part with a Dalek and someone else that will certainly get you laughing. However this is a very serious story and treated with sincerioty by The Doctor. Nyssa however was very hit and miss, something happens to her in part one and is unsubtly referred to in almost every other scene. I enjoyed her in Winter For The Adept (not heard Land Of The Dead yet) but it seems writers try to get her to moan so she can be a bit bitchy. Still she has some good scenes later on.

To sum up, I get the feeling that I should have liked this a lot more than I did. I think that I should say it is good when I can only muster an average-ish. Certain bits felt a bit flat and the spoiler I mentioned really spoiled a bit of it for me.

Even though the stories are not linked I get the feeling I should say something about the three Dalek Empire stories. These Daleks are very emotional with different emotions in each story cunning, ruthlessness and panic. I'd say that The Genocide Machine was the best, with The Apocalypse Element coming in a fair way behind it (on a second listen I think I hyped it too much it's more of a sevenish than a nine) and behind that comes this story. I think the last two stories were more experimental and succeeded in some respects. If you are prepared to concentrate to visualise what is happening Element is a fine story however for a multitude of reasons this one fell a bit flat.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 25/2/01

One of the problems with Peter Davison's Doctor is that he doesn't have the same strong personality as The Fourth's for example, when it comes to facing enemies such as The Daleks. And it is partly for this reason, which is why The Mutant Phase works so well.

Nicholas Briggs turns out a tale in which The Daleks are afraid, forcing an alliance with The Doctor, a rogue Thal and paradoxes waiting to fall apart. The word clever springs to mind. Peter Davison is great as The Doctor and Sarah Sutton is better than usual fulfilling her roles as scientist and companion admirably. To my surprise I enjoyed The Mutant Phase more and more, maybe The Fifth Doctor is coming of age in the Big Finish audios.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 29/3/02

The 3rd part of the Dalek Empire series features the 5th Doctor and Nyssa. Peter Davison likes Nyssa - quite fitting then that she should have now appeared in 3/5 of his Big Finish solo adventures up to this point.

It's a complicated story set in a variety of time zones, with paradoxes galore. It makes for very confusing Dr Who. The switching between time periods doesn't help either. I have heard it three times now and am just beginning to get it. It's all very confusing. The Mutant Phase is an attempt to create something more powerful than the Daleks. I was reminded of War of the Worlds by HG Wells, the Martians being wiped out by the Common Cold there - a similarly simple infection affects the Daleks here - this time it's a wasp sting.

The Daleks have been excellent in these 3 Big Finish plays. Alistair Lock and Nicholas Briggs are true to the voice modulations of the past - and it's refreshing to not have to include Davros anymore. The emperor Dalek is chilling indeed. 3 in the first 15 Big Finish plays seems about right for their exposure.

The supporting characters are not very memorable. Delores is full of whinges and grates after a while. Albert is too wet and wooden. Ganatus and Ptolem are okay, but there is little to distinguish the 2 (except in Episode 4). You feel you have heard them before. Top of the pile is Mark Gatiss as Professor Karl Hendryk. He is only in 1 episode, but his eccentricity and madness are played to the hilt. The scenes in Episode 2 with him in the underground hideaway are the best of the whole story - the final fling of the human race.

The Kansas cornfields are well put across too. The buzzing of the wasps took me to the X-Files Movie - but it certainly creates tension. I found myself swatting away the wasps as I was listening (I really get into these things, don't I!). The scenes on Skaro are pretty good too. The Emperor is sufficiently bold sounding to distinguish him from the rest.

The memorable thing of this play is the story. Nicholas Briggs has clearly given it a lot of attention and for the intense listener - there will be plenty out there I expect who really like to get into a story, follow the explanations and marvel in their complexity - it could be the best of the lot. The difference between the 3 Dalek stories are staggering - they each tell a very different type of story.

Peter Davison as the Doctor is excellent, as always. He is always at the centre of the action - the real star of this audio. That alone makes it very good. Nyssa fulfils the role of companion. She'll never be my favourite, but she's okay. Thanks to these audios Nyssa has now become the archetypal 5th Doctor companion, and we understand more why Davison thought she was the best he worked with, for his Doctor. I personally would like to see Janet Fielding in one, but with Nyssa, Turlough and Peri we have plenty to enjoy.

Overall The Mutant Phase tells a complex tale very well. It will have its detractors because of its involved storyline, but it will also be very well received by a good number of fans. It's good, and it certainly packs a punch. 7/10.


The COMPLICATED PLOOOOOOOOOT by David Barnes 22/6/02

I have only recently started buying the Big Finish audios. After hearing how good they were and wondering what they were about (and after being put off by the free CD that came with DWM, The Ratings War) I finally decided to buy a few. My first was Storm Warning, a fantastic story that plodded a bit in the middle. Then Fires of Vulcan, an absolutly magnificant story. Then I decided to indulge myself with a few stories featuring some old monsters. I got Mutant Phase and Sword of Orion.

After not being impressed at all by Sword of Orion, I desperately wanted Mutant Phase to live up to the classiness of its trailer.

Well, it was OK I suppose.

The main thing I disliked was the plot, which I'll come to later. First the characters.

This was the first time I had heard Peter in one of these CD's, and he was very good. Obviously he sounded different from what he sounded like on TV but he put in a credible performance. Sarah Sutton as Nyssa was OK but was a bit too unlikeable at times. Still, the interplay between these two at the very beginning was magnificant.

There are not many characters in this story, and out of the guest cast, only Mark Gatiss as that wierd daylight-shunning scientist bloke had any significant impact. He was very creepy, and his speeches kept me on the edge of my seat. Ptolem was dull and his friend was equally boring. The two people who lived with Mark Gatiss didn't really have characters to speak of.

And the Daleks? If this story had featured an entirely new race of cyborgs I would have hated this story. The Daleks were the only things that kept me listening. The voices are perfect, although the Emporor sounded a bit too human, and they are certainly chilling. I always like it when Daleks go hysterical, and this is why I love the cliffhanger to part 1 ("The MU-TANT PHAAAAAAAASE!")

Now the plot. Some Thals have to help the Daleks cure a mysterious plague which is turning them into wasps. So far so good. But it was that terribly executed time paradox thing that didn't work. Normally I really like paradox things but the one in this story...

Nothing was explained very well. I had to look at several story synopses on the net to find out what it was all about. And the fact that one normal Earth wasp could wipe out the Daleks beggers belief.

And the less said about the American Roboman, the better.

Overall then, the Daleks are really the only good things in this, apart from Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton really trying to make the whole story seem worthwhile. But the paradox thingy just left me feeling dazed and confused. Alien Bodies pulled off time paradoxes a lot better. 5/10


A Review by John Seavey 8/12/03

Easily the least irritating of all the Dalek stories yet! It does have some good moments, such as the description of the arrival of the Mutant Daleks and the Daleks' panicked reaction to one of their own changing; but it's still pretty padded, it introduces a lot of characters only to kill them off right away, and it makes the same mistake the other Dalek stories do in trying to establish the Daleks as cunning and subtle plotters, when their real strategy is almost always brute force and plenty of it. Oh, and the American Roboman's accent is hilariously bad.


History swings on the most tenuous of pivots... by Thomas Cookson 1/11/06

The Genocide Machine was the first Big Finish audio adventure I ever heard. The Mutant Phase was the second. I was only really interested in hearing the Dalek ones back then. It was Christmas 2000 when I first put this in the CD player. I had my own flat then for the first time so I could play it as loud as I liked on my big stereo speakers, and I remember thinking that one of the most promising aspects of this story was its cinematic quality. From the noisy opening moments where the Thal ship nearly gets torn to pieces by the swarm and in the turbulence ends up thrown right at Skaro's front door, I could see it all on the big screen with flashy lighting and gigantic sights that loomed over the viewers. Whenever the Daleks came on the scene and announced their presence loudly, I felt like they were so up close and in your face that it was intimidating. I didn't quite get that cinematic feel from The Genocide Machine, so it seemed like Big Finish had honed their atmosphere a bit more.

The scene where the Doctor and Nyssa land on 22nd Century Earth is a titillating bit of fanwank which seems to exist merely to allow us to revisit The Dalek Invasion of Earth and get a taste of what things were like on the other side of the pond during the story's events and what a yankee Roboman sounds like.

The events involving the Thals are quite well done. I like how they keep up the mystery about who the Thals are in league with before a Dalek enters the room and announces itself like a shock to the system. The banter between the grumpy Daleks and the sarky Thals is pretty amusing but unfortunately one thing that is lacking from these scenes is full-blooded characterisation of the Thals. Which is surprising because there's only two of them so it's not like the writers have their work cut out for them.

Episode Two manages to keep things nicely afloat and there's a lovely sense of wilderness and loneliness to the Earth of the future. It's a bit like the atmosphere of The Brain of Morbius in that we see a limited few locations and meet a handful of characters and because everything is so desolate and primitive, we actually believe that they are the only remnants of life on the whole planet and that the whole of civilisation lives or dies with them. Dolores' insensitive quip about her dead mother is amusing and yet says a lot about how morally and emotionally stunted this generation of humans have become, like a comical version of "Threads". Mark Gatiss gets a really absorbing monologue "I remember, like a nightmare that won't go away", and I just lurve that accent.

It's a shame then that this bunch of characters gets so swiftly killed off by the end of Episode Two, and whilst I initially found the scene where the Daleks were trying to blackmail the Doctor into coming out of the TARDIS on the death of the humans to be quite riveting stuff, in retrospect it doesn't sit well with me how the Doctor stands his ground whilst Dolores is killed. To be honest, his reaction to her death is rather heartless, as though he barely noticed.

When we get to Episode Three, the writing does seem to decline in quality, and soon the story becomes very empty. It all seems to start with some atrocious dialogue when the Doctor chastises a Dalek for killing a human with the line "That wasn't necessary", which seems wildly out of character for someone who knows the Daleks so well.

Although the wilderness Earth setting is good stuff, we unfortunately can't stay there and have to move the action to Skaro. That's another problem I find with the story because it doesn't have roots or focus in a particular setting. This could have worked as a scenario where the future is so dangerous and apocalyptic and the threat of the mutant swarn so omnipresent and impossible to contain that all the Doctor can do is run away into the past, but it doesn't work because the focus is all wrong.

The Doctor's conversation with the Thals about the plague that the Daleks are afflicted with, seems to sum up what this story is aiming to do in honing the 'dark' Doctor from Power of the Daleks. It's a Doctor who is aware that there is evil out there, a 'moral underclass' if you like and so we see the usually pacifist-minded Doctor not only advocating violence, but advocating fighting dirty. It's the shade of a Doctor who would take satisfaction in the annihilation of the Daleks, a Doctor who is merciless, a Doctor that we don't get to see very often.

Many Doctor Who fans praise stories like An Unearthly Child, Power of the Daleks, The Silurians and Remembrance of the Daleks for introducing a morally grey area into the show where heroes aren't always lily white and neither are their actions and consequences. Something that gives the show more depth than the stereotypes associated with the cozy peacenik Pertwee era suggests. Some fans even say this has influenced a lot of 90's science fiction, such as Babylon 5, Deep Space Nine and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy is significant because it also uses this idea of vampires representing a predatory and merciless 'moral underclass' that must be erased rather than negotiated with, and for which we should spare no mercy. Since the vampires are an allegory for street gangs, I actually quite agree with its perception.

It's a tradition that many fans would gladly have seen upheld. Years before the New Series was even confirmed, people were talking of using Power of the Daleks as the perfect inspiration for future Dalek stories in how they characterise both the Daleks and the Doctor, and I strongly believe that the new episode Dalek was written to please those expectations.

But you know what, I don't feel it works here, mainly because we don't actually see the Daleks do anything which is that horrific. It's not really a gritty story at all, and so all the grisly slaughtering of the Daleks by the mutants and the Doctor's rather more mean nature brought to the fore doesn't have a moral foundation or gritty context and just comes off as ugly. If the Daleks were shown at their worst in significant points, like they did in Power of the Daleks, then it might have given some riveting conflict and backbone to the ethical dilemma of the Doctor's alliance with them, but this is not the case.

The main problem with Episode Three however is that it is blatantly trying to just kill time until the ending. The Doctor has the same discussion over and over again with both the Thals and the Dalek Emperor about the consequences of changing history once it's already been changed and whether he should help the Daleks when the answer to both questions is pretty obvious to all of us. Every time he stands his ground in an issue it's not riveting, it's boring and tedious. If it's trying to say something deep and intelligent, it just comes off as pretentious and anally retentive, and the Doctor hammers the issues to an unbearable level of heavy handedness. It is overwritten to a degree that's painful to hear.

It makes the Doctor seem like a docile idiot and you just want to shout at him to shut up and get on with saving the day, and it tries to make his decisions feel like monumental ones but it just doesn't work when we can see it coming and the inevitable decision is so obvious. His attitude to the situation comes off as utterly callous and even the line "I never thought I'd feel sorry for the Daleks as they face destruction, but I do" sounds so scripted that it can't work as characterisation.

The mutants invade and it's time to leave Skaro in ruins. Another intriguing location abandoned, but it's off to go on an adventure to find a Dalek who's been stung by a wasp on 22nd century Earth. A bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Hardly the kind of thing that would make riveting television, and certainly not riveting at all in an audio story.

Well en route to Earth, the Doctor becomes suspicious of Ganatus. First was the moment when they fled the mutants and reached the sanctuary of the TARDIS but for no reason at all the Doctor got complacent and decided not to take off yet. This made Ganatus panic and spill the beans about the Emperor's plan to destroy the Dalek city, which gives the first clue that Ganatus is sharing a consciousness with the Emperor. The thing is that it could just as easily suggest that he knows Dalek nature of old, like most Thals do, and anyone would panic if the Doctor was refusing to take off in this kind of situation. The fact that the Doctor has to keep the TARDIS stationary in the middle of the carnage in order to garner such a 'suspicious' reaction shows some appalling writing. But it gets worse when the Doctor becomes suspicious of Ganatus when he collapses in a particularly bumpy flight. He's convinced it was something else that made him faint, with nothing to go on but that, but the Doctor keeps pointing to it and saying "Look! That's suspicious! Notice it!" It's real scraping the barrel stuff and it doesn't work.

Before we get to Episode Four, Ptolem has a bit of a heart to heart with Ganatus while he sleeps. Again certain cliches about how "I've become cold and distant" show bargain-basement novel writing, but "It's been so long, I don't think I can change now" is an inspired little bit and gives us some belated characterisation of these ciphers, but it's too little too late.

Then in Episode Four things end up seeming even more rote and hollow. Not good, and the trend towards overwritten bits continues. Actually there's the odd good bit of dialogue that hints at how this was aiming to be an intelligent story: "History swings on the simplest of pivots", which makes me almost forgive how po-faced and pretentious the script is. The Doctor begins surveying the volatile nature of the paradox: "Imagine every atom everywhere accelerating to the point of destruction" and that's a fairly good moment of tension and intrigue, but then they have to go and carry it on unnecessarily: "the words 'fear', 'terror'... they don't even come close." There's absolutely no concept of subtlety present here and it's cringeworthy. Things get slightly worse when Ganatus tries to explain to the Daleks in this time zone the events of The Dalek Invasion of Earth and to watch out for the first Doctor. I mean why? Can't they keep things focused instead of trying to sound clever with all this fanwank drivel?

By the way I should say that Peter Davison sounds fairly tired in patches of this story and lacks his freneticness, which is probably why he comes across as apathetic in much of this. I don't know whether it's his performance or the lines he's given that are at fault, but I thought I'd highlight it.

Oh and then come the twists that blow the story out of the water and tear up whatever vestiges of substance it had so far (I remember how when this story was released, twist endings in movies were becoming obligatory). When Ganatus is revealed to be a brainwashed Dalek agent, it slaps off whatever handle we might have held on the character and makes him even more into a cipher because nothing we've learned about him so far matters anymore. It robs him of any kind of identity, and how exactly is Ganatus able to manipulate his voice to sound more Dalek-like and why are the Daleks so convinced by it?

And here's the other big twist. It turns out that in coming back in time the Doctor and the Thals have actually ended up causing what they were meant to prevent. It turns out that in original history the Dalek that got impregnated with the wasp's eggs was noticed by the commanding Daleks and the eggs were removed, ending the crisis there and then. But instead because the time travellers come back with an unworkable antidote, the Daleks use that instead and the eggs remain active in the Dalek creature, sowing the seeds for the mutant phase.

What? So is that it? But it is just full of holes really because it seems likely that if the antidote failed that the Daleks would remove the eggs anyway just to be sure. In any case, if Ganatus brought all this future information to the Daleks in this time, then surely it would be recorded and the source of the mutant phase wouldn't be such a mystery to the Daleks so we wouldn't have spent all these four episodes trying to find out how it started.

So history swings on the simplest of pivots, does it? I'd say that instead the story has the idea that history swings on the most tenuous of pivots and expects the listener to believe all of that.

And then it ends!

Ganatus and Ptolem vanish, the act of smashing the antidote vials seems to save the universe, the big reset button is pressed and even the Doctor and Nyssa admit to themselves that none of it makes a damn lick of sense. And here's the thin:- it's all a load of drivel about nothing. It's neither an event- or character-driven story because it has no roots in either and ends by negating both. By the end of it there are no consequences and nothing has changed because none of it happened: Skaro's destroyed, but then it isn't, the human race is extinct, but then it isn't, Ganatus and Ptolem accompany us on the journey and then they vanish and so does the big bad mutant swarn that threatened all life in the universe. Ultimately it's probably the most empty and hollow Doctor Who story you'll ever find.

To draw comparison to another BF audio, Jubilee is a paradox story and like The Mutant Phase it does suffer from some terribly overwritten material and the Doctor's stubbornness in that story again comes off as pointless time-killing and vain attempts to force a conflict and tension. But it's got a fair bit of weight to it: not only does it say some important and quite Orwellian things about human nature and society, but its resolution, although hanging on another reset button, actually also hangs on a character that develops and makes decisions that show that actually this is a story in which things and people change and evolve, and so it doesn't just invoke twists for their own sake. It's the same thing with the noble sacrifices of the Controller and Pete Tyler in the paradox stories Day of the Daleks and Father's Day respectively. We may get the reset button pressed at the end, but we've seen characters change and witnessed inspiring events. But all that happens here in this story is that an antidote vial gets smashed which puts everything right again, and that is so frustrating.

I'll confess that I still haven't listened to enough Big Finish audios. To this day The Holy Terror remains the only adventure I've heard that isn't Dalek related (a terrible thing to confess given that if anything should have encouraged me to branch out, hearing The Holy Terror should have). Nonetheless I wouldn't be surprised if The Mutant Phase turned out ultimately to be the worst Big Finish adventure out there. I mean the basic premise of the Daleks evolving into something that was a mutual threat to the universe forcing the Daleks and Doctor to team up was high concept and it might have worked if it wasn't all tied in with time travel, paradoxes and continuity references, but because it is, it just becomes an inconsequential mess that is impossible to care about.

The trailer is a good reference point for how good it could have been, how ominous, apocalyptic and subtlely horrifying it could have been had the focus been right and had so many aspects of the story not been so overblown, such as the grisly violence and ponderous, pretentious dialogue.

Sadly it remains instead a textbook example of an empty and hollow load of drivel.