Dalek Empire 4: The Fearless

Posted in Audio by - April 07, 2018
Dalek Empire 4: The Fearless

Released October 2007 – January 2008

Dalek Empire confidently burst onto the scene with an immensely creative and wholly engaging take on Dalek warfare and the inevitability of its crushing advance, freeing the Daleks from the family-friendly restraints of Doctor Who and focusing on the very personal consequences and grasps at hope that those subjugated clung to as they struggled to survive and slowly turn the odds back in their favour. With alternate dimensions, genetically-modified individuals, and even legends of old coming to focus as the conflict spanned millennia, the first three series boldly wove the tapestry of its narrative over fourteen releases that overcame a few missteps in the latter stages to once more turn the Daleks into the ruthless foes they were always intended to be. With the third series ending somewhat controversially, writer Nicholas Briggs has decided for Dalek Empire 4: The Fearless to return to where the saga all began rather than continuing the narrative directly, returning to the height of the Angel of Mercy’s power to further develop the franchise’s initial Dalek invasion.

Like with every series so far, the situation for the Earth Empire is bleak as ‘Part 1’ opens, the Daleks advancing relentlessly and easily outmanoeuvring all of Earth’s defenses and strategies. Yet these are also the Daleks who successfully began to incorporate psychology as a weapon just as much as any physical threat, using Susan Mendes’s Angel of Mercy figurehead to offer the appearance of hope and even benevolence as living conditions and working rotations were altered to lessen fatigue, maximise slave efficiency, and minimise the desire for outright rebellion. Knowing that they are outnumbered and on the verge of total defeat, humanity has turned to battle armour that brings its wearers perilously close to becoming Daleks themselves, protecting them from enemy fire but completely isolating their paranoia and fear from anyone else. The quest is thus on to find individual Spacers who can fill the ranks of the so-called Fearless, and those selected who refuse to join will simply be forcefully conscripted instead.

Maureen O’Brien- Doctor Who’s First Doctor companion Vicki- stars as Agnes Landen, a well-spoken woman who is able to put on a friendly front to hide the dark truth behind her apparent desire to enslave people inside her suits to take the fight back to the Daleks on more equal terms. Her personal history with the Daleks who killed her children certainly provides the emotional impetus needed for such a course of action, but the calculated means by which she selects and pursues Salus Kade to join her is still frighteningly driven and again hints at just how dangerous she could be under different circumstances. Indeed, Kade quickly becomes the standout figure here thanks to the raw emotion on display from Noel Clarke who goes distinctly against the lighter tones of Mickey Smith on Doctor Who. This is a man clinging for survival who has seen his grandparents and father die with no help from Earth, and the thought of joining Earth’s fight is one that thus causes immense internal conflict that should continue to fuel the character going forward. The focus on these new characters again allows the combination of intimate and epic that the first three series balanced fairly well, and the board is again set for another intriguing series that further defines aspects of what has come before without yet overly relying on that continuity.

The Earth Alliance is on the brink of victory in ‘Part 2,’ but the true cost of these actions has yet to be calculated as Susan Mendes prepares for her latest mission. It remains a rarity to see the ever-resilient Daleks on the run with a semblance of fear breaking through their hatred-fueled mantra, and showing Earth’s capabilities to shatter the Daleks’ casing is a thrilling visual that perfectly encapsulates how the power balance has begun to shift. However, even with an individual Dalek captured alive with the hopes of gaining access to their vast network, the shockingly violent seizing of Kade’s family from him becomes the defining moment of this story, tapping directly into the inner psyche of this tortured but driven character and putting him on an unpredictable course fueled by his emotions. Landen proves quite adept at saying what Kade needs to hear to keep him focused and undertake her dangerous mission even as it becomes clear that she is harbouring her own secrets, and the precarious relationship that develops is certainly an intriguing one that should continue to develop as the dangers amass.

It’s here that Susan Mendes, the original conflicted protagonist of Dalek Empire, makes her triumphant return, and Sarah Mowat recaptures the conflicted bravado and emotion of the character who has dedicated her life to striking an uneasy balance between the Daleks and their human slaves even if that balance only serves to further the Daleks’ plans. Her sections of the story are a bit tonally jarring compared to the tense and dark drama surrounding Kade, and Ollander as a character doesn’t quite deliver the impact needed given her supposed insight into the psychological destruction the Daleks can leave in their wake, but the convergence of the two storylines at the end as the mission to kill the Angel of Mercy is set into motion is played well and expertly hints at the trajectory of the back half of this fourth series as the individual characters very much remain the focus of this vast saga.

The outcome of the war against the Daleks hangs in the balance aboard the star cruiser Amorist in ‘Part 3,’ but truth and fiction aren’t quite so easy to tell apart as Kade nears completion of his mission. Kade and his men have been ordered to kill Susan Mendes, a mission ultimately known to be futile given earlier releases set in the future in which she survives. Accordingly, this is perhaps where the writing talents of Nicholas Briggs are best on display as, given that this mission will be unsuccessful and that the means by which it fails are telegraphed fairly early, he still manages to create a tense and wholly engaging action-oriented piece aboard the confined ship that culminates in an exciting twist with a proclaimed trap that brings back a sense of exciting unpredictability going into the conclusion that proves that this instalment has been anything but a simple hunt for Susan.

One of the more fascinating underlying narrative currents of this series has been how the technological enhancements have driven the Fearless to becoming ever more like the Daleks, and that reaches its natural zenith here while simultaneously portraying Landen as something of a Davros-like figure given the brutal extent to which she has interfered with Kade’s life and emotionally scarred him to craft her perfect soldier. As with the very best human drama, it’s not the technology itself that necessarily draws the humans closer to their foes in terms of cruelty and violence but the emotional state of the person inside the suit instead, and the very personal nature of Kade’s conflict and motivations unquestionably makes him the most interesting and dangerous figure in the series, taking on an intriguing antihero role of sorts in which he is neither entirely likable nor sympathetic. Noel Clarke continues to excel with a hauntingly effective performance that captures the bravery, bleakness, and grim determination needed for Kade to plausibly come to life as a multi-dimensional character rather than becoming a generic action lead fighting the good fight, and he fully deserves the many plaudits that this series should afford him.

‘Part 4’ marks the conclusion of Dalek War 4: The Fearless and brings to a close the intertwined tales of Landen and Kade who have both lost everything in very different circumstances. Landen’s motives have been simple but effective right from the start, and it’s fitting that her single-minded determination to create soldiers who are free from all morality and emotions other than a need to kill Daleks like herself has created a new enemy she never saw coming. O’Brien and Clarke have given powerhouse performances throughout, and their final argument carries all of the emotional weight needed to lend perspective to this series as a whole as Landen justifies her actions to herself given the tortured past that has formed her very being. This fourth series hasn’t necessarily delved into the deeper philosophies of its characters as much as the previous three, instead relying on a quicker pace and some truly staggering action sequences that mark the very best of the audio medium, but this acceptance of the hand fate has dealt without an uncharacteristic change of heart to create a happy ending is a fitting finale for these two characters who are so similar and yet so completely distinct.

Dalek Empire 4: The Fearless was always going to be a series that divided its audience simply because its setting during the first series meant that the overall narrative of the saga would not be pushed beyond the open-ended conclusion of the third. At the same time, however, Nicholas Briggs manages to tread the line carefully by including Susan Mendes at the height of her power without relying on that character or past events so much as to detract from the new story being told, keeping this set perfectly accessible for those who have followed Noel Clarke’s star billing. There have been some that have claimed that this series is simply a vehicle for Big Finish to ride the popularity of Noel Clarke after his stint as Mickey Smith alongside Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant’s incarnations on screen, but that does a disservice both to the company and the actor who have combined to tell the story of a haunted individual whose motivations are much less hidden than he would like to believe and thus so prone to external influence. There aren’t the many moral complexities at play and the action-oriented tone and quick pacing are radically different from the previous instalments of Dalek Empire, but this look at a different aspect of the unending war lead by a flawed man does not forget the darker and more character-driven moments in a future where the military is every bit as determined and like-minded as its aggressors.

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