Shadow of the Daleks 2

Posted in Audio by - November 12, 2020
Shadow of the Daleks 2

Released November 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Coming near the end of Big Finish’s flagship monthly range of Doctor Who adventures, ‘Shadow of the Daleks 1’ arrived as something of an experimental throwback to the range’s early days where unpredictability was the only predictable subject. As the first of two releases to feature four distinct and yet intrinsically linked stories with the Fifth Doctor encroaching upon the Time War of which he should have no knowledge, the first set admirably set the scene with familiar faces haunting the Doctor in various situations, and ‘Shadow of the Daleks 2’ now looks to further expand upon and to satisfyingly explain and resolve the intriguing conflict at hand.

Jonathan Barnes opens this second release with ‘Echo Chamber,’ placing the kind-hearted and more gentlemanly Fifth Doctor in the middle of hate culture as he hosts a radio call-in talk show. This is, of course, an entertainment format that is only gaining popularity, and Barnes expertly provides commentary on both those who would call in to express their opinions and those who would simply listen to compare and contrast their own opinions. With the Doctor the perfect medium through which to provide an exploration of actual conversation, the obnoxious reality of this contained setting that all too realistically mirrors political and existential discussions pervading society today is wonderfully brought to life on all levels. The ending is fairly predictable given its placement in this anthology series, but the intriguing plot and the very dangerous alien presence at its core create a surprising hit that is both relevant and resonant. Though the ultimate connection to the Daleks is very much still a mystery even as pieces have begun to slot together to explain the recurrence of familiar faces around the Doctor, ‘Echo Chamber’ again proves the lasting potential of this particular conceit that very much puts its characters’ iterations rather than the Daleks at the forefront.

Veering into far more traditional territory with an homage of sorts to Agatha Christie, Roland Moore tasks the Doctor with investigating his own murder in an old country house in ‘Towards Zero.’ The proposed temporal component and lack of regeneration certainly do add an intriguing layer to this type of mystery that has been presented so many times before, and the brief exploration into the various characters and their motivations help this setting and dynamic develop quickly. However, while this concept is enjoyable enough, the script’s strongest components come when the murder mystery is overlaid with the truth that has been playing out behind the scenes as the Daleks slowly come to focus more prominently. ‘Towards Zero’ is hardly the most revolutionary script given the fairly derivative main plot and workmanlike sound design at its core, but it confidently presents another angle of intersection for this particular set of characters and continues to further hint at the true story that has yet to be fully revealed. It’s difficult to say if this story would have benefited from a more extended running time to more fully explore its ideas and characters, but the end result is a serviceable bridge to this release’s concluding half that will entertain if not necessarily resonate beyond its conclusion.

‘Castle Hydra’ by Lizzie Hopley is unquestionably the most ambitious story in this saga as the Doctor arrives at a prison housing strange scientific experimentation and apparently being subjected to some sort of temporal leak. The setting itself is eerily evocative and atmospheric, and the oppressive sound design helps bring to life these unique confines and the dark mysteries within. Indeed, with a cleverly constructed plot that doesn’t necessarily wait until its conclusion to wrap its tale, the resulting climax is suitably bombastic for its penultimate status and wonderfully reveals how the genuine construct is beginning to collapse after all of this time in order to set the scene for what is sure to be a momentous finale. ‘Castle Hydra’ is unabashedly unafraid of embracing strange and outlandish concepts, and although the script does sometimes get a little too bogged down with trying to defend and rationalize the need for this particular backdrop and its ideas that perhaps mirrors the turmoil the author expresses in the extras with trying to fit a particular idea into this context, the end result is certainly one of the more unique single-episode stories offered in recent times and proves how much variation even a shorter running time can deliver.

John Dorney brings ‘Shadow of the Daleks’ to a close with ‘Effect and Cause’ as the TARDIS collides with another time ship in the vortex that just so happens to be filled with several familiar faces. Almost by necessity, this is a story that features quite a heavy dose of exposition to put everything that has occurred before into context, and while this does perhaps take away from some of the action that including the Daleks and the Time War might otherwise suggest, the fragmented truth that reveals itself makes great use of the devastation and scope of the Time War without allowing that particular aspect to dominate the very character-driven drama that is wisely in focus. This is without a doubt the story that features the strongest performances from Peter Davison, Dervla Kirwan, Glen McCready, and Anjli Mohindra following seven preceding strong performances, and the heartbreaking sacrifice that fuels this saga’s resolution is a brilliant testament to what exists in each individual no matter what that person’s ultimate destiny may be whether at the hands of him or herself or through the actions of someone else. Yet while the Doctor’s expectedly more optimistic take on events stays in line with the character and the surprisingly lighter tone of this story overall, the very subtle inclusion of the Daleks as so excellently voiced by Nicholas Briggs as well as of the Time War and its effects are a definite strength that allow this clash of Doctor Who eras to occur wither due reverence to each. Thus, while this particular foray into the Time War may ultimately not have been completely necessary, the experimental nature of ‘Shadow of the Daleks’ ultimately proves to be a worthy investment with plenty to enjoy from beginning to end for fans of all eras of the franchise.

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