Dreadshade

Posted in Audio by - September 19, 2020
Dreadshade

Released September 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Following a surprising and emotional restoration of the Dalek race, the Doctor and Bliss return to their own universe with a harrowing warning for the Time Lords in ‘Dreadshade’ by Lisa McMullin. Gallifrey is not quite like they left it, and however, and apparent total victory comes with a lingering sense of unease.

For better or for worse, one defining plot device that will forever be associated with the Eighth Doctor is amnesia, and it heavily focuses once more here albeit on a near-universal scale as the Time Lords cannot remember the Daleks as the foe they have vanquished in a colossal war. Given that two stories were just spent in an alternate universe and that there is only one story remaining in this Eighth Doctor saga, choosing this plotline is questionable at best since it means that the leads and the Time Lords as a whole are simply playing catch-up with little actual plot progression. All evidence rightfully points to the sheer scope and destruction of this brutal conflict, but having the plot hinge on remembering the Daleks as a race does ask a lot of the listeners who now must tread water as the baseline is re-established with little time remaining for any sort of dramatic fallout and resolution that doesn’t rely on stories outside of this set of sixteen stories.

Still, as Bliss tries to remember the facts from her research and to come to terms with the fact that her home planet has never existed, the mystery surrounding the importance of an agricultural world is an intriguing one to complement the main narrative back on Gallifrey. Julia McKenzie earlier made an immediate impact as the Twelve and a wholly distinct but worthy followup to Mark Bonnar’s iconic the Eleven, and waking from stasis to eventually find that the Twelve is the only Time Lord to remember her race’s eternal foe is an intriguing premise. This is only heightened by the fact that a neural inhibitor keeps her previous selves’ voices suppressed to intensify her focus as she takes control of a conscious weapon that can weaponize the fear of itself and others alike. The titular Dreadshade is perhaps a little too overdramatic in its fearful responses, but the Twelve knows all the right strings to pull to adeptly put her in precisely the position she wants to be. Keeping this plotline on Gallifrey itself allows for an effective setup of the Dreadshade, though, and it confidently adds to the ever-expanding arsenal of conscious beings used as weapons in this war. Although the resolution is quite predictable as truths become known while the Doctor assuredly tempers the emotions of those around him and Bliss attempts to find common ground, the culmination of the converging storylines does at least narratively end this story as a self-contained entity on a strong note.

Again, taken by themselves the first three stories in this box set have all been intriguing entries, but everything to this point almost seems like filler and background information given that neither the amnesiac period on Gallifrey nor the new established dynamic of the Daleks overtly features in future stories set in the Time War or beyond to this point. It is, of course, possible that Big Finish will extend this Time War banner for the Eighth Doctor that could continue to pay off on these developments, but everything has been leading up to a bombastic confrontation that could have been achieved just as effectively without rewriting assumed notions. Still, ‘Dreadshade’ is a very confident story that tells its story well and that features incredible acting, sound design, and direction, but it’s not hard to imagine just how much more effective this could have been with some tweaking if set at the very beginning of the Time War series while foreshadowing so many significant events yet to come rather than ambiguously recapping what has already occurred.

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