Death and the Daleks

Posted in Audio by - August 08, 2018
Death and the Daleks

Released January 2004

‘Death and the Daleks,’ a tale originally known as ‘The Axis of Evil,’ continues the trend of Professor Bernice Summerfield’s ongoing adventures jumping between mediums, serving as a sequel/continuation to the novelised anthology Life During Wartime in which the Braxiatel Collection has been occupied by the Fifth Axis despite Braxiatel’s ability to travel in time and his presumed choice of its location due to ensured safety. With all of the series regulars in place as a military government takes hold, Bev has joined the resistance, Adrian is forced into a prison camp, Jason seemingly becomes quite comfortable within this new regime, and Peter finds himself constantly under threat, meaning that Bernice finds herself caught in the middle of several conflicting emotions and desires. That’s a tremendous amount of backstory for one audio to hope to encapsulate, and though a succinct ‘previously on’ montage tries its best to catch listeners up with these dramatic affairs, it does mean that audio-only Bernice fans will be at something of a disadvantage when it comes to understanding key supporting characters as lives are shattered and lost while Bernice’s past, Braxiatel’s destiny, and Jason’s love all come to the forefront.

‘Death and the Daleks’ represents the first feature-length story that character creator Paul Cornell has delivered for Big Finish, and his ability to bring emotion to the forefront is on fine display as he delves into the inner psyches of these beloved characters in these heightened circumstances. This is perfectly exemplified when Bernice realises that the leader of the Fifth Axis is none other than her own father, Isaac, and the resulting reunion is as dramatic and fulfilling as expected given the turmoil this shocking revelation causes. As Bernice and Jason rush to the planet Heaven- itself a nice nod to Bernice’s debut in Love and War with several of the events discussed even if not wholly relevant to the plot- to rescue Isaac from his captors, the two share an immense chemistry that hints at how these two could have fallen into love initially and why by story’s end they seem destined to be together again with Bernice finally able to let the past be the past after how much the preceding months have revealed to her.

Ian Collier is superb as Issac and captures many of the same mannerisms and quirks that make Bernice such a unique presence, and the pride that Bernice shows with her father once more in her life and able to help her is immensely satisfying. Sadly, the title and cover art completely give away the fact that the Daleks are the hidden threat associated with the Axis because it’s genuinely surprising when they do appear partway through the tale. Still, Nicholas Briggs gives an engaging performance as the iconic foes, and even if their dialogue isn’t the most ground-breaking, the Daleks have rarely been quite so fiendishly intelligent in their scheming. Though Bernice initially scoffs at the idea of the Daleks selecting her father to be the Axis leader due to his characteristics, the long game they play with the Axis and to get Isaac ever closer to Braxiatel and the TARDIS they know he must have is brutally cunning and plays on the very human emotions that they seem to understand Bernice and others will show given the stakes.

Considering that such grandiose battles are the backbone of these very intimate and emotional affairs, they come off as somewhat lacklustre after being reduced to screaming and distant sound effects. In fact, the ever-fluid leadership position on the Collection takes more precedence in this story than the war itself, something that does allow each character to step into the limelight but that does take away from some of the scope. There are also several characters who feature much more prominently with sterling development in the novel who simply fail to come to life in a dynamically meaningful fashion here. With Moskoff fighting to the very end and Marshall Anson confronting the Daleks as the truth behind the Fifth Axis is revealed, these two come off as quite stereotypical and standard characters in this story alone, and audience members who have not read the novel will be robbed of some of the emotional payoff of their actions. The same holds true for Peter who is no more than a standard toddler here after some great scenes on page.

All in all, Cornell has delivered an epic conclusion to a monumental event that has shaken the Collection to its core, and the larger cast helps to flesh out this affair immensely well. However, it does feel like something is missing since the voices given to the characters during the setup in the written medium don’t always perfectly mesh with those in the audio, the inherent risk of telling an interconnected story of two halves that encompasses both. Isaac’s resolution is a bit rushed in the end, but the incredible performances, strong direction, and excellent sound design make this a thrilling story in its own right with or without the requisite knowledge of what has come before.

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