Across the Darkened City

Posted in Audio by - May 01, 2018
Across the Darkened City

Released June 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The very concept and format of The Companion Chronicles allow characters and ideas to come to the forefront in manners not seen or attempted on television, its stories thus constantly treading into new and occasionally ground-breaking territory. With Steven separated from the Doctor and Vicki on the planet Shade as the energy-absorbing and amorphous Chaons invade and destroy entire cities, Steven must rely on the most unexpected of allies to traverse through the darkness and find his way back to the TARDIS, shaping the long history of Doctor Who in the process.

‘Across the Darkened City’ by David Bartlett features a dark and forbidding atmosphere from beginning to end, aided by the immense setting and visual uncertainty of the Chaons who alter their very genetic code and physiology but brought to life so expertly by the narration of Peter Purves who so easily demands and engages the audience’s attention with every word spoken and breath taken. The plot itself is quite simple with Steven marooned and having to rely on a lone, damaged Dalek to survive. With Steven providing mobility for the Dalek who claims to be a superior genetic variant who understands teamwork and the Dalek dutifully providing protection for Steven even against another Dalek, this tenuous alliance forms the basis for the story as Steven begins to truly think of the Dalek as a distinct individual. Of course, when Steven gives into his human nature and willingness to believe the best in others no matter their background when he comes upon a fully-functioning Dalek casing unit, the inevitable question pervading the story of whether a wounded Dalek is deserving of sympathy reaches its tipping point when his ally’s true nature is allowed to manifest. It’s surprising that this type of story isn’t more common given the inherent drama possible from it, and Peter Purves and Nicholas Briggs do immense work to make the burgeoning but uneasy trust believable and the tension palpable at all times.

Intriguingly, despite the immense danger, trust, and ultimate betrayal at the heart of this story, it’s a rare post-credits audio scene that is even more impactful. Despite arriving on Skaro in a different casing and almost being misidentified and destroyed, genetic variant two-one-zero is named the superior Dalek for having survived this ordeal and is placed inside an emergency container. Declaring himself the Emperor Dalek, he decrees that the Daleks’ prime directive will be to discover the Human Factor so that their enemies’ strength can be used against them. This not only ties into the overall continuity of Doctor Who in frightening fashion given Steven’s unknowing involvement in the creation of the ultimate menace that will result in so many deaths across the cosmos, but it also gives an unexpected but fulfilling closure to the Dalek scans at the beginning of the story. Steven calling the Dalek by a name and the Dalek returning the favour adds an immense amount of depth to this relationship, and seeing that relationship end with inevitable disappointment and surprising scope puts this story in an entirely new and satisfying context far beyond the entirely engrossing but straightforward material preceding it.

‘Across the Darkened City’ doesn’t necessarily explore Steven as a character in any newfound ways, but it confidently tells its psychological tale of terror with an unexpected two-hander that works to remarkable effect, exploring a period of Dalek history not yet explored and providing immense ramifications for the universe at large thanks to the steady and absorbing presence of Peter Purves that never once falters for even an instant.

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