Dalek Empire 3

Posted in Audio by - April 06, 2018
Dalek Empire 3

Released May – October 2004

Following two truly superb series laden with raw emotion and devastating consequences in an unending battle that inflicted so much pain and death, Dalek Empire 3 faces the incredibly tough task of replicating those highs in a new time featuring a wholly new cast of heroes and without the Dalek Supreme, the Dalek Emperor, and the data of the Kar Charrat bolstering the enemy forces. Some 2,500 years after the tense, devastating effects of Dalek Empire 2: Dalek War, Galactic Union envoy Siy Tarkov set off from the planet Valyshaa with information warning of an imminent Dalek invasion of the galaxy. Twenty years later as Dalek Empire 3 begins with ‘The Exterminators,’ the only proof that Tarkov ever existed is a garbled message calling for help in a universe where nobody is listening.

Humanity and the galaxy as a whole have been enjoying a prolonged period of peace under the Galactic Union, but cracks have started to develop due to the appearance and rapid spread of a mysterious plague ravaging the Border Worlds. Even with the passing of so much time, it’s unlikely that everything about the Daleks could ever be forgotten, but that is the framework within which this third series is set, and since Tarkov ended up in cryogenic storage instead of being able to share his information about the cause of the ancient Great Catastrophe that destroyed so much of the Dalek threat and universe along with it, the plague provides the perfect backdrop for the newest Dalek invasion. Writer Nicholas Briggs presents the eternal foes as somewhat more nebulous here thanks to the lack of galactic preconception about them as well as their development of a cure, and limiting the unfolding action at the ecological sanctuary on Graxis Major to the viewpoints of the patrolling wardens who try to cope with the arrival of a new team member and the disappearance of another helps to maintain the intrigue and tension even with the Daleks as the known antagonistic force.

As an introductory piece, ‘The Exterminators’ takes plenty of time to explain the events of the previous two series and what has happened in the interim, in this case using both a monologue from Susan Mendes and some riveting scenes between Tarkov and Head of Security Georgi Selestru that are delivered brilliantly by Steven Elder and William Gaunt, respectively. The Galactic Union, of course, does not take the threat seriously, but Selestru at least agrees to send an agent- David Tennant’s Galanar- to investigate the claims. The reluctant Warden recruit Kaymee played by Laura Rees seems set to be the new protagonist, and both Ishia Bennison’s Commander Saxton and she are brought to life wonderfully with superb performances and characterisation that keep the otherwise slower pace of action on Graxis Major from ever becoming too tedious. With five upcoming instalments to develop the many settings and characters, the slower buildup ensures that each aspect has the requisite time to breathe without feeling rushed, and so ‘The Exterminators’ as a purely expository piece must be deemed an overall success.

With the background successfully introduced, ‘The Healers’ delves more deeply into the primary three storylines that at this point remain quite disparate but which the flashback framing device employed assures the audience will soon collide under the intensifying Dalek threat. Tarkov, a determined man crippled by the devastating NFS plague who is fighting his very body to ensure that his message is meaningfully heard and acted upon even if the Dalek threat has been forgotten, is again played harrowingly well by Steven Elder, and the brief scenes in which he returns home to reunite with his daughter unfold emotionally and assure him that he has not yet lost everything in his long quest and that he still has a personal reason for continuing his fight. Meanwhile, David Tennant’s Galanar undertakes an espionage mission in the Border Worlds but quickly becomes trapped on a Dalek hospital world, forcing him to take on the guise of a doctor as he examines victims of the plague and tries to understand what exactly the Daleks are doing and hoping to achieve.

It’s on Graxis that the narrative thrust of ‘The Healers’ occurs as the Wardens quickly begin to uncover the true nature of the Daleks. The Daleks, of course, are no strangers to employing subterfuge and acting as benevolent forces of good when it suits their goals in the long term, but the foes on display here are so perfectly in line with the mannerisms and actions of their more destructive and ruthless nature that it’s hard to believe that anyone could be taken in by their ploy for any meaningful length of time. Their propensity for hatred and extermination absolutely makes for some riveting scenes, but it does detract from the verisimilitude of the munificent healer guise they are striving to achieve here. The Daleks simply can’t afford to exterminate everyone in their path, however, and so the Graxis Wardens become all the more fascinating as they begin to make choices that mirror the much larger scope of those made millennia ago, and the intimate scene in which they insist on stopping to bury their murdered colleague ensure that the personal nature of their burgeoning battle is never forgotten. Fractures are forming in the relationship between the Border Worlds authorities and the Daleks who proclaim executive authority, and the three-pronged narrative approach unfolding at different rates ensures that the audience remains invested.

As ‘The Survivors’ begins, the Galactic Union remains wholly unaware of the true Dalek threat as they continue to help cure the lethal NFS plague that has claimed so many millions of lives, but it may already be too late to stop them now that they have finally started showing their true colours. The pacing has been more deliberate than in previous series up to this point, but the disparate threads introduced and followed thus far finally begin to converge with satisfying twists and turns. With a Dalek onslaught driving the Graxis Wardens off of the planet and almost wiping them out completely, there can no longer be any doubt that the Daleks have anything resembling peace on their list of priorities, and Ishia Bennison gives an utterly riveting performance as Saxton must do whatever she can to survive while heart-wrenchingly deciding to leave Kaymee behind. And although it does seem somewhat odd from a pacing and narrative standpoint that Selestru should at this time send Tarkov and his daughter, Amur, on a covert mission to find evidence against the Daleks when he has already sent Galanar to do the same, the truth behind Tarkov’s seemingly happy ending previously is wholly satisfying and this new course of action in which he is surrounded by a wholly more nefarious danger is sure to yield great results as the third series enters its second half.

The decision to focus on so many different groups and characters instead of solely following the exploits of a dominant pair like Susan and Kalendorf before does inherently mean that the audience is more privy to information than any single individual due to the different events witnessed and the different timeframes explored during the many narrative jumps, and writer Nicholas Briggs seems to be mitigating the potential for loss of focus by dedicating a more substantial time to a certain subsection of the overall narrative in each episode, the last story featuring Graxis and this one focusing more on Galanar who is anything but what he seems as he investigates the Dalek facility. The chase sequence through the building is wonderfully written and performed to amplify the sense of tension and danger, and the reveal of Galanar’s powers as well as the hybridized Dalek Supreme and Susan Mendes completely upend expectations while hinting at another connection to previous events that has yet to be explored. As such, ‘The Survivors’ marks a turning point in terms of pacing and story progression and successfully leans to the past to boost the present story.

The Galactic Union now knows of Galanar’s covert mission to find the Daleks in ‘The Demons,’ but with the Daleks poised to eradicate the NFS plague and the Graxis wardens adrift in Dalek territory, it seems as though the future may already belong to the Dalek Supreme. The pacing continues to pick up as the full backstory of David Tennant’s Galanar is finally revealed, providing an intriguing explanation of just what the alternate universe Daleks were doing at the medical station during the events of Dalek Empire 2: Dalek War and using the notion of imprinting in different circumstances to create some strong drama among Galanar, Tarkov, and Amur as they finally meet. Amur appearing to fight against her Dalek conditioning is perhaps a bit too protracted for the payoff afforded, but Claudia Elmhirts draws immense pathos from this confused character so beholden to her roots and gives a profoundly emotional performance alongside Steven Elder and Tennant to easily make the moments interspersed between flashbacks lastingly impactful. Buoying this portion of the plot are the impressive revelations behind the Daleks’ survival of Kalendorf’s brutal final attack that help to explain the seeming madness of this new Dalek Supreme, but Sarah Mowat does come precariously close to taking the character raucously over the top even as she occasionally but effectively brings in more sinisterly hushed tones.

The Graxis Wardens are very much limited to a background role at best here as they try to masquerade their ship as a different one to evade the Dalek patrols, and some of the choices and decisions made do seem a bit off given what has been established before this. Nonetheless, even while the payoff from Kaymee’s storyline remains unknown, the decision to focus so exclusively on the Galanar plotline in ‘The Demons’ makes for a much more streamlined and focused experience from beginning to end, allowing for more standard action tropes to stand out all the more effectively against the poignant conversations that continue to dominate this third series. This isn’t necessarily an instalment that progresses the overall plot in any immense fashion, a fact that may wear on some listeners hoping to see a steady momentum forward continue, but the information it affords is crucial both in fleshing out these current characters and events while also making the character of Morli from the second series all the more dynamic and comprehensible.

Galanar and Elaria have learned that they were transformed into genetically augmented warriors over two millennia ago, created to destroy the Daleks but now facing a Dalek execution squad in ‘The Warriors’ just as the Graxis Wardens penetrate deep into Dalek territory without a plan and as Kaymee finally uncovers the truth behind the NFS plague and its cure. With only two stories left in this series, all of the many plotlines begin to fully unite, and it’s wholly unsurprising that the Daleks have remained true to their ruthless roots despite the many attempts to hint that there may be a shred of decency spurring them on so far, here by creating the NFS plague and then offering the supposed cure which in itself offers a fate far worse than death. Still, with Kaymee left behind with the NFS plague, the scenes that play out between Carneill and her are unnervingly effective as she realises the truth behind the deal made and slowly descends into the terror of her new reality. It did for a time seem like Kaymee would be a forgotten plot thread, but Laura Rees does incredible work in a short space of time to truly deliver the horror underlying the Daleks’ acts of apparent munificence.

As always with Dalek Empire, it’s the raw emotion behind the loyalties, betrayals, and honours that provide the narrative backbone, and so while the grand space battle sequences as the Graxis Wardens take the fight back to the Daleks are quite riveting in their own right and certainly drive the story forward, it’s scenes like Tarkov’s acceptance of the true identities of Galanar and Elaria that are all the more impactful. And although the prolonged sequences in which Galanar must once more discuss his own past to gain Tarkov’s trust do bring out some aspects of repetition that eat up precious time in a galaxy where every passing moment is crucial, Steven Elder gives perhaps his most immense performance yet as his character must cope with an incredible scope of emotion as he loses faith in everyone and everything and his paranoia continues to grow. With the conclusion fast approaching, Tarkov is the only one who knows the location of Valyshaa where the evidence to convince the Galactic Union of the Daleks’ motives rests, an expedient but also convenient course correction for the series to take as events come full circle.

The Graxis Wardens, Galanar, Elaria, and Tarkov are heading for the planet Valyshaa, but the Dalek Supreme’s forces are in pursuit with greater firepower and numbers as the largest Dalek army in history is being created in ‘The Future.’ Depending on which side finds the promised truth about how the Daleks were previously defeated, ultimate victory or defeat for the protagonists is fast approaching. The end result will forever be a divisive one, however, as after Mietok tells Selestru that he is convinced humanity must once more take the fight to the Daleks, the end result is distinctly ambiguous and goes somewhat against the oft-stated fact that the Daleks represent the ultimate evil that formed the basis of this entire franchise right from the start. This entire third series has been predicated upon the audience knowing more than any individual character, and that separation remains all the way to the end even as the mysterious voice that Galanar has been speaking to throughout is finally revealed but fails to deliver the same impact as the same narrative structure employed to close out the second.

There is plenty to enjoy in ‘The Future,’ however, and the decision to leave the final conclusion rather open-ended as the separated characters all have different ideas about what happened will certainly appeal to some more than others. Emotion fuels each and every scene, and the conclusion of the complicated relationship of Galanar, Elaria, and Tarkov is an undoubted highlight before Tarkov succumbs to the worst imaginable fate given all that he has been through. The final battle may be quite rushed, but the bravery, loyalty, and compassion on display are superb, and the Graxis Wardens get a fitting send-off as well that brings a fitting sense of closure to their lengthy and difficult journey. It’s clear what ‘The Future’ sets out to achieve, but the ultimate outcome is a somewhat unsteady and uneven one that is unafraid to pose difficult moral questions and showcase wonderfully human moments but that also becomes uncharacteristically fatalistic as it fails to maintain a steady pace and afford a true sense of closure that meshes with everything that has been established.

Writer and director Nicholas Briggs absolutely must be commended for the bold direction he took with Dalek Empire 3 after the staggering success and popularity of the first two series, tying into those previous events but telling a wholly new story with a wholly new cast and backdrop to revitalise and reinvent the traditional Dalek threat without offering a universe-changing conclusion as has come to be expected. The story here very much remains the antithesis to Doctor Who’s usual optimism, but still the very human notion of perpetual hope pervades, this time as humanity tries to accept the kind benefactors at face value and to not accept the mounting evidence of the true evil the Daleks present. Unfortunately, the fact that the Daleks have become much more easily defeated here does inherently take away some of their menace, and the naivety of the cast of the characters given their separation does sometimes seem like an artificial means of prolonging the drama that ultimately heads back exactly to where it began. Still, the immense charisma of the actors involved and some genuinely emotional moments as each must confront his or her individual truth carry the overall drama and manage to create an intricate, poignant, and bombastic journey that doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessors but still remains engaging from understated beginning to controversial end.

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