Released August 2000
‘The Apocalypse Element’ is easily Big Finish’s most massive undertaking yet, brilliant in its audacity and unrelenting in its action and continuity. Featuring the return of the Daleks and set as a sequel of sorts to ‘The Genocide Machine’ from their perspective, ‘The Apocalypse Element’ is a race against time as the Daleks seek to destroy the galaxy with their knowledge from the library and an all-powerful weapon that seemingly dwarves the Hand of Omega in scale.
Most notably, Lalla Ward reprises her role as Romana after twenty years as a Dalek prisoner after returning from E-space at some point, and she joins forces with Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor and Maggie Stables’s Evelyn Smythe to try to bring order to the surrounding chaos as the hopeless Gallifreyan president panics and flounders. As can be expected, Romana does not have the same natural repartee with this new Doctor as did with the Fourth, but Ward absolutely captures the essence of everything that made her character so memorable and effectively conveys the turmoil of her lengthy imprisonment that has taken away much of her youthful optimism.
Colin Baker is on top form here, though, returning a bit more to his television persona than the recent audio outings. However, whereas previously his loud and bombastic nature have been used as moments of eccentricity and rarely serve the plot as a whole, the raw emotion he lets loose throughout this tale is warranted and, indeed a real highlight. The stakes have rarely been this high, and the Doctor is put to his limits. Evelyn, on the other hand, fails to live up to her superb characterization from her first two stories. This is a devastating, death-filled tale, and for some reason Evelyn never portrays that sense of foreboding or danger, instead always standing by with a joke or some other line that just doesn’t fit the tone. She does prove important in moving the plot along while resolving some of the Eye of Harmony issues from ‘The Movie,’ at least.
The plot itself is quite straightforward in that, after mining a planet for the powerful apocalypse element, the Daleks have stolen a time ship and tricked their way into Gallifrey. It’s not the most convincing ruse and it strains credulity a bit that the Time Lords would fall for it, but it still services the plot and allows for the long-waited invasion. Fortunately, the Daleks are at their strongest and most merciless, making for a terrifying confrontation while making good use of the Kaled mutants. For the vast majority of the story, it actually appears as if the Daleks are going to succeed, and seeing the sheer despair on the heroes’ faces as the potential consequences start to manifest is alarming. The power of the apocalypse element eventually overpowers them and leads to their downfall, but this is easily the closest to universal domination that they have come. The continual bombardment of explosions overshadow the Daleks to some extent, and their overall performance here isn’t quite as pitch perfect as in ‘The Genocide Machine,’ but this is still the second straight very strong Dalek story Big Finish has produced.
As can be expected given the described events, this is not an introductory story by any means, and perhaps its biggest detriment is simply that there is no time allowed for characters to gather themselves or to think. Every single line serves to advance the plot because there is so much to get through in such a short time. There are so many strong ideas and concepts flowing throughout ‘The Apocalypse Element,’ but it almost seems as though there is enough content to fully flesh out two distinct stories as some of the more intriguing concepts remain mostly unexplored. However, having Romana return to the Presidency at the story’s end is a bold move that will surely have future stories involved with it going forward. The end result is still a fantastic piece of continuity-laden science fiction for the fans, but there are still some story issues that keep it from reaching elite status.