It has to be said the Daleks are a formidable foe in several senses of the word. Most certainly they are a foe to the Doctor, who finds his encounters with these genocidal maniacs a little infuriating.
To the little man, the Daleks are just a wee bit of a foe given such pedestrian fellows are the perfect fodder for chemical warfare, indoctrination, transformation, and occasionally, extermination. But most of all, Daleks are formidable beasts for all types of writers. Be they show-writers looking for new perspectives to re-use/re-hash mechanical pop-cultural icons, or writers of Dalek-based story reviews, desperate to find a vaguely interesting opening to talk about a race that has (probably) had far too much attention.
I said probably.
Big Finish have released the latest in their line of ever perpetuating pepperpot stories, the Seventh Doctor adventure titled We Are The Daleks, written by veteran Who writer Jonathan Morris and starring Doctor Who fans sworn enemy, Melanie Bush.
There are some Daleks in there too.
The main focus is the golden artisan era of video games, before the giants swooped into the playground and industrialised video games to the scale and complexity we saw in the next decade.
In the past few years, the traditional rhetoric from Who fandom has seen some much needed revisions. As with the Sixth Doctor, and maybe even Adric, Melanie Bush has seen a renaissance of appreciation from fandom, thankfully again due to Big Finish. Original cast members have the opportunity to show audiences they can bring to a part that might have been lost in translation in the 1980s. It could be an act of purification through retrospection; a chance to give a character a revisit in a production aware of past limitations with an intent to overcome past mistakes. I’m happy to say We Are the Daleks is good for Melanie Bush, and given that I imagine there will be some still caught in the stigma of her less fleshed out television appearance, we’ll start by talking about her character involvement.
There were two startling errors in the creation of Melanie Bush. First and foremost, she had no origin story; no point of reference for actor, character or audience to root and ground the character. Second, she was a computer programmer who never showed any indication of either computer competency or interest in computers. We Are the Daleks cannot help serve the first issue, but it does give Mel a scenario in which the character can explore some of her character roots.
We Are the Daleks is, as the behind-the-scenes explains, a Dalek story set to be contemporary to the McCoy era. While McCoy had the excellent Remembrance of the Daleks as his Dalek story, it was set back in 1963. Here we have a vision of the Seventh Doctor battling the Daleks in the materialistic 1980s.
The main focus of the story, beyond the obvious antagonists, is the golden artisan era of video games, before the giants swooped into the playground and industrialised video games to the scale and complexity we saw in the next decade. The Daleks become bound in the ideas of the growing gaming fever and crass capitalism, offering up a new perspective upon our old enemies.
By and large, this all works. There’s a little reflexive humour in there for Daleks and the 1980s alike, with the Daleks chanting “Daleks invest and return” opposed to their usual seek, locating, and exterminate, and offering in a Power of the Daleks/Victory of the Daleks in-reference, “would you like a prawn cocktail?”
We Are the Daleks plays home and away from Earth with a nice range of twists and characters to keep the audience entertained. McCoy plays his lighter version of the Seventh Doctor with comfort, and Langford gets good opportunity to give Melanie depth and range. The supporting cast give warmth to a few common eighties archetypes and Briggs brings his usual Dalek versatility to the story’s nemesis.
If there was to be one criticism, it never quite feels like a 1980s story. The production make comment how Remembrance of the Daleks looked back to 1963 as this 2015 production looks back at 1987. As such Remembrance may reflect the 60s, but as a story, it has the framework of a 1980s script. Likewise, the same differential could apply for We Are the Daleks. The heavy application of multi-player interactivity carries a contemporary topicality and little relevance to the games market of the era, though this is indeed noted in the story. Without visual imagery to remind the audience of the era, the application of contemporary video game concepts sometimes pull you out of the date setting, particularly as part of the story is already set away from Earth.
By and large, this is quite a conventional little tale that fits the characters and offers a smart little re-exploration of the Daleks and the eighties. There are some plot-turns in this story, though no massive revelations. The behind the scenes segment is worth a listen on its own as Bonnie offers some very candid personal criticism about her time on Doctor Who that I think is pretty damn brave and worthy of respect.
We Are the Daleks is not essential Who, but it embodies what makes interesting Who; it explores an era and its own creations dually through a retrospective lens in a manner that is entertaining and engaging. It may not offer anything particularly shattering in terms of Dalek or Who continuity, but as a stand-alone tale, it’s worth your interest, especially if you’re an eighties boy like me!
We Are The Daleks is out now on CD and download from Big Finish.