Released March 2007
‘Renaissance of the Daleks’ breaks the traditional mold of a Doctor Who tale, comprised of a series of vignettes tied together by a grand and complicated Dalek plot. As the Doctor and Nyssa experiment with trans-temporal communication, Nyssa ends up in the fourteenth century during an invasion by the Knights of Saint John while the Doctor ends up in 2158, a year after the Daleks’ original invasion of Earth.
To the Doctor’s surprise, however, the Daleks have not yet arrived. Instead, the Earth is preparing for the imminent arrival of the Daleks, known because of a group called the Time Line Technicians. The leader, General Tillington, also knows that the Doctor will prove vital in the Earth’s defeat of the Daleks but wants the Doctor at his side now rather than in ten years as originally stated. Yet as both sides continue their statements of fact, the Doctor knowing that this timeline should not exist, the Daleks have a far more insidious temporal plan and have already arrived on Earth.
‘Renaissance of the Daleks’ is actually based on a story from Christopher Bidmead who was script editor for the programme after Douglas Adams left, but he requested his name be taken off of it when he found that there had to be some substantial changes to it to have it make sense and flow logically in the audio medium. The core of the story is an immensely intriguing idea; the Daleks have built a city out of disparate strands of time tracks from where they can send whispers throughout all of time. While the visual of a city littered with decaying Dalek shells is striking, this city also provides the impetus for Nyssa to consider trans-temporal communication and also allows the Daleks to send subliminal messages of hate and brutality to anyone at any time. That messaging and a plague on the molecular level provide the basis of the Dalek plan for this story, and miniature Dalek toys are the plague’s physical delivery system. This ends up being a clever riff on human culture as people literally buy into their own destruction, but it also helps to maintain a certain sense of levity throughout the increasing tension.
The Doctor and Nyssa thus hop around from one point in time to another as they attempt to stop the greater evil. These provide some unique settings and introduce several temporary friends and companions, but none of them truly stand out as incredibly memorable because each one’s time is so brief. Nicholas Deal plays a Rhodes knight who heroically sacrifices himself to save the TARDIS from the threat of a bomb, Richie Campbell plays Floyd the intelligent but uneducated black Confederate soldier, and Regina Reagan plays another more bombastic soldier type in Alice, and each character certainly serves its purpose in the respective vignette. A note must unfortunately be made that the accent employed for Alice is incessantly grating, taking the worst stereotypes of an American accent and exacerbating them to the extreme. The bi guest star, William Hope, is very strong as General Tillington, a man who will do anything required to protect the Earth while still maintaining a degree of scope and realism even in the extraordinary circumstances.
With everything going on and so many characters involved, Sarah Sutton doesn’t get quite as much to do as Nyssa as in other stories. Even with her role more reduced to asking about and explaining the plot for the audience and finding herself in distressing situations, Sutton is still a joy to listen to as always. However, Peter Davison easily steals the show as the Fifth Doctor. His character can’t resist the mystery of the diverted timeline, and his response to the Daleks’ commands that he deliver the final plague to Earth is brilliant, defiantly deciding to wait them out while he does nothing and subtly passes on his plan to his companions whom he has begrudgingly let aboard the TARDIS without letting the Daleks know.
Given all of the behind-the-scenes turmoil that plagued ‘Renaissance of the Daleks,’ it’s a testament to everyone at Big Finish that it comes together rather well in the end even with its flaws in the loosely-connected plot and lighthearted ending. This is not a story that will be remembered as a prime example of what Big Finish can do, but the unique Dalek threat and Peter Davison’s strong performance certainly make it enjoyable enough in the short term.