Fugitive of the Daleks

Posted in Audio by - January 28, 2024
Fugitive of the Daleks

Released January 2024


Decades after departing the TARDIS to live with Troilus under the name Cressida that the Trojan King Priam gave her, Vicki finds herself back aboard the TARDIS in ‘Fugitive of the Daleks’ by Jonathan Morris. The Doctor is in desperate need of help, but the Daleks are never far behind as the two embark on a series of dangerous adventures.

The prospect of bringing an older Vicki back is naturally an exciting one, especially given the tremendous work Big Finish has previously done with further developing this engaging and sharp-witted companion. However, the means by which this is achieved here seems forced and, frankly, quite callous. While she sadly reveals that her husband has since passed away, Vicki still has children and grandchildren in this time, and her decision to immediately leave them behind with little more than a verbal goodbye to pass on makes it seem as though she has never fully invested in the life that she chose. This is, of course, not the case, but there is no internal conflict or any hesitation on her part, and though she is glad that her grandchild can at least witness the presence of the TARDIS to see that her mad tales of her past were actually true, it simply doesn’t ring true to the character that she as a mother and grandmother would so flippantly leave behind the life she has made for herself over so many years the instant the opportunity presents itself given the prospect of return is anything but certain. To Morris’s credit, the script does at least attempt to address it by story’s end when the Doctor directly ignores Vicki’s pleas to let her stay aboard the TARDIS and instead has the TARDIS somehow read Vicki’s heart rather than her mind to reveal that she truly does want to return to her family, but this is a missed opportunity for some tremendous character conflict and development that is swept away instead for the sake of allowing Vicki to return for one final adventure.

Naturally, when thinking about Vicki and the Daleks, ‘The Chase’ will naturally come to mind, and the cover synopsis for this story intimates that this story will be told in a similar fashion to that First Doctor serial as the dreaded denizens of Skaro continue their pursuit of the Doctor throughout time and space. Realizing that inserting the Doctor, Vicki, and the Daleks into a series of vignettes will never fully allow the drama of any particular setting to play out and reach a satisfying conclusion, Morris tries to insert further mystery into the script by initially showing the Doctor gravely injured and lacking memories since events on Mechanus. With a nod to Susan and the Doctor miraculously cured off-screen with no fuss and no discussion about what was ailing him, the intended audience of The First Doctor Adventures that assuredly is well-attuned to this era must at least be suspicious right from the start that this is not the Doctor at all but- in all likelihood given Vicki’s presence- the Daleks’ robotic duplicate from ‘The Chase.’ Unfortunately, it takes three episodes of dropping more and more overt hints before the story commits to this plotline rather than dressing it up and obscuring it with other stories and the Dalek pursuit. There is a brief moment when this Doctor reveals that there is some nefarious presence trapped in Vicki’s room aboard the TARDIS that the Daleks may be pursuing instead that offers hope that this is not simply an extraordinarily long period of time in which the audience is waiting for the script to catch up to what has be true, but the script instead doubles down on not overtly committing to this revelation for narrative purposes by even having Vicki go along with the pretense she learns of for another episode before finally delivering a lengthy synopsis of the robotic duplicate’s previous attempts to infiltrate and destroy the Doctor in ‘The Chase’ which, again, seems unnecessary given the target audience and which halts the momentum of the story at that point.

The brief stories presented such as those of robots who do not know their true identity, of Lieutenant Colonel Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and of a subterranean colony each have intriguing points to them, but the drama is hardly introduced before the Doctor again moves on from each of these locations. Along the way, however, a question emerges of just why the Daleks are acting so strangely non-aggressive and ineffectively. As is typical, Nicholas Briggs does superb work bringing many iterations of the Daleks to life, but the drama stemming from them is primarily produced by the Doctor and Vicki proclaiming their fear and instilling a sense of urgency since the Daleks themselves do little except show up and, indeed, directly avoid any type of hostility. Again, it’s not hard to assume that the true Doctor must in some way be guiding affairs as it becomes glaringly obvious that he is not with Vicki, and through some rather nebulous recounting from the Doctor about being lifted from his timestream and having been able to take advantage of the Daleks being disorientated and suggestible after another adventure to furtively assume the identity of the Dalek Supreme, this is rather audaciously proven to be correct. It’s still rather implausible that the Daleks as a whole would follow such strangely non-aggressive orders for so long without revolting, but the revelation at least makes sense within the confines of this story. Through another allusion to the past as the Doctor opens up the Dalek casing to reveal himself within, the true reunion between the Doctor and Vicki is wonderfully emotional and expertly highlights just how much these two mean to each other, and Stephen Noonan and Maurren O’Brien share a strong chemistry that brings forth that affection so effectively.  

All of this is to say that it’s only truly the final two parts of ‘Fugitive of the Daleks’ that truly tells the story as it really is, and it’s no surprise that these are easily the strongest two parts of the tale. With Dodo joining the adventure after being released from the robot’s entrapment, a surprisingly effective trio is formed as the travelers look to once again defeat the Daleks and this robot who has shown the ability to transcend his programming. Indeed, this latter aspect is one of the most fascinating and satisfying portions of the script, and it’s a shame that the robot’s struggle with sense of identity and free will is not leaned into even more heavily given the wealth of drama that could have resulted. There is a genuine sense of danger once the Daleks and robot reunite that carries the script through to its conclusion, and this is far more effective than what the early episodes relied on with the Daleks appearing and then the Doctor and Vicki escaping their grasps through any number of convenient outs. Either the script needed to overtly state from the beginning- or at least cut away to him being repaired in the first episode- that the Doctor aboard the TARDIS was the Daleks’ robot and have him lead Vicki ever nearer the Doctor proper or else dropped the robot aspect initially and more overtly introduced it later, but the repeatedly overt sirens that this is the robot that go unaddressed fully until the fourth episode with no true plot development during all of that time significantly weaken the overall affair despite the final two episodes and the robot’s bold plan to get the Doctor’s attention doing their best to overcome it.

Again, few will confuse the voices of William Hartnell and Stephen Noonan, but Noonan perfectly captures the cadence and mannerisms of Hartnell and clearly has an immense love and enthusiasm for both the role and the franchise and he has fast made the role his own. Alongside Lauren Cornelius who continues to excel as the oft-overlooked classic companion Dodo who quite bluntly asks the common-sense question of why the Daleks would create a replica of the Doctor to destroy the Doctor rather than creating a replica of one of his companions, this is quickly becoming another truly strong Big Finish audio pairing. With the always-youthful O’Brien joining and providing a firm tie to the past as this classic era looks to the future, ‘Fugitive of the Daleks’ and its immense sound design and performances certainly offer plenty of genuinely engaging and thrilling moments. However, there is far too much filler, unsuccessful subterfuge to hide plot twists, and purposefully dragging known falsehoods further before finally revealing and committing to a far more exciting story to keep it from becoming the epic is could have been. Given the infrequent release schedule for The First Adventures, it’s a bold choice to not have the Doctor feature for most of this story, a risk that reveals many drawbacks here and that makes the first four parts more akin to a full-cast entry in The Companion Chronicles range in which they also could have found immense success with a bit of tweaking.

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