Released June 2013
The second run of Big Finish’s The Fourth Doctor Adventures comes to a close with a two-part Dalek tale scripted by Nicholas Briggs that also serves as a sequel of sorts to the Cuthbert storyline introduced in the earlier Laan double release. ‘The Dalek Contract’ begins the finale as the Doctor, Romana, and K9 attempt to discover the truth behind Cuthbert and his infamous experiment as well as just how the Daleks fit into his conniving plans in the Proxima system.
It’s apparent from the beginning, especially regarding the Daleks themselves, that this will be a fairly straightforward and traditional tale as many familiar plot points are recycled. As the Daleks stay more in the shadows to watch their secret plan unfold, a group of rebels on an oppressed world fight for their rights and freedom, and business and profits trump decency and the common good, there is little here that hasn’t been done elsewhere before. Instead, the intrigue stems from Cuthbert’s involvement with the denizens of Skaro as he plans to hire their services as a security force, a role which they clearly intend to use to their own advantage. Some nice set pieces result even if some of the exposition is rather clunky, the scenes of K9 blasting a Dalek and the Daleks working their way through an avalanche particular standouts, but this very much is simply set up for the true conclusion in ‘The Final Phase.’
Rather than the plot itself, though, it’s the performances that elevate ‘The Dalek Contract’ to something more meaningful. The Fourth Doctor here is at his unpredictable best as he inspires hope in those oppressed and becomes accused of committing acts of terror against the Daleks, and Tom Baker gives a mesmerizing performance as he sidesteps others’ malice easily. Mary Tamm likewise gives an utterly convincing performance as Romana comes face to face with death and is unafraid to psychoanalyze and condescend to the very end, even as she is forced to admit that the Doctor and she are perhaps not the greatest traveling companions due to their differences. Of course, fans of David Warner’s Cuthbert and Toby Hadoke’s subservient Dorrick will be pleased to note that their intriguing work relationship is again captured perfectly, and Warner joins a select group of antagonists who are able to stand on level ground with the Daleks as Cuthbert callously disregards their inherent threat and believes he can control them.
With this run of adventures about to close, it’s clear that Big Finish has been attempting give the original Romana something of a more traditional run of adventures after her only televised season dealt with the search for the Key to Time segments. Without indulging too much in nostalgia as happened with the first audio series, the incredible shifts in tones and settings has highlighted what a gifted actress Mary Tamm was. Although this release is unfortunately not the most inventive when it comes to the Daleks themselves and will inevitably depend upon ‘The Final Phase’ before it can be fully judged, ‘The Dalek Contract’ does successfully continue the tale of Cuthbert and his experiment while keeping anticipation high for the concluding events.