The Fifth Doctor enters the Time War in Shadow of the Daleks, a two-part audio adventure released over October and November 2020. Conceived during lockdown and recorded virtually with a very small cast, this is undeniably an experimental release, and one that has intrigued me since it was first announced back in July.
As it’s all technically the same story, I decided to wait until both parts were out before reviewing… and now they are! So, without further ado, here’s my review of Shadow of the Daleks!
The first part of Shadow of the Daleks opens with Aimed at the Body by James Kettle, which sees the Doctor arrive in the wilds of Australia and bump into a cricketing legend. Trying to get back to the TARDIS, they not only discover a dead body, but also that the Daleks are somehow involved in what’s going on… It’s very much part one of eight, but it’s compelling stuff nonetheless.
Jamie Parker plays famed cricketer Douglas Jardine, imbuing him with a suitable mix of gravitas and pomposity. I don’t know much about cricket, but it was interesting to learn about Jardine’s ‘aim at the body’ strategy, and the ructions it caused between him and the Australian people. Dervla Kirwan and Anjli Mohindra also star here, playing a mother and daughter trapped in the desert with Jardine, and they put in suitably strong performances too.
After encountering the Daleks in Australia, the Doctor follows their trace to a spaceship, in Jonathan Morris‘s Lightspeed. Joining with a flight attendant and a priest (played by Kirwan and Parker respectively), he discovers that someone has hijacked the craft. But is it the Daleks?
Glen McCready joins the cast here, playing the ship’s ill-fated Captain and its sinister computer, Orson. Anjli Mohindra returns here as well, bringing the mysterious passenger Kathy Defoe to life. Her performance here is so different from her turn as Flora in Aimed at the Body that it took me a moment to cotton onto the fact that it was her, which is a testament to her skill as an actress.
All in all, this is a fairly straightforward story in terms of plot, but the execution and performances really elevate it. Along with some really great music and sound design from Wilfredo Acosta, this makes Lightspeed another strong instalment in this anthology.
We continue with The Bookshop at the End of the World, which sees an amnesiac Doctor arrive at the titular shop in search of answers about the Daleks. Falling in with a group of people sheltering from a storm (played by Mohindra, Parker, McCready and Kirwan), he discovers that things are not as they seem. To say much more would spoil the twists in this story, but this is the episode where the central premise of the Fifth Doctor in the Time War really gets going.
The first part of Shadow of the Daleks concludes with Interlude, written by Dan Starkey. The Doctor arrives in Italy, where he joins a group of players who are performing for a mysterious presence.
The story itself is relatively slight, and perhaps a little confusing, but this is the best showing for the Daleks in the set. Brought to life once again by Nicholas Briggs, the Daleks’ appearances in this story (and, indeed, throughout the entire set) are fairly oblique, and remarkably creepy. It’s great that Big Finish can still find new ways of making the Daleks scary, and the final scene of the first episode in particular is one that’ll stick with me for quite a while…
Overall, Shadow of the Daleks 1 is a very strong collection of stories, giving us a unique spin on the Daleks and four very intriguing plots, settings and sets of guest characters. We’re no closer to uncovering the mystery behind the overarching story by the end of this anthology either, which means there’s still lots to look forward to in the next four stories.
The story continues with Echo Chamber by Jonathan Barnes, which sees the Doctor take over an intergalactic radio show. But things are not as they seem, with oddly angry people calling in to give their opinions on the latest news. This tale focuses more on the Doctor than the other four cast members, but they still pop up in unexpected places. Overall, though, this is a pleasingly Doctor-focused story with a strong, audio-centric central conceit.
The next part of the anthology was my favourite in the entire collection: Towards Zero by Roland Moore. Not only does it have the best plot, with the Doctor solving his own murder in an Agatha Christie pastiche, but it also has the best performances and sound design in the set. I particularly enjoyed the little, 1920s-esque musical interludes by Wilfredo Acosta, which really help to set the tone for the story.
From my favourite episode to my least: we continue with Castle Hydra by Lizzie Hopley. Quite honestly, I don’t have much to say about this one apart from that it was very hard to follow. For the first time, Mohindra, Kirwan and Parker play multiple roles, which was just a little too confusing for me. Add to that a fairly substandard plot, and there’s not much to recommend here.
Luckily, John Dorney‘s finale, Effect and Cause, salvages things somewhat. Not only do we finally get an explanation for the strange events of the last seven episodes (which is a little underwhelming, but makes perfect sense), but the Daleks make a proper appearance for the first time since Interlude.
Overall, it’s a good if not great way to end the series, full of twists and turns, but lacking some of the strong characterisation of the previous stories.
Overall, Shadow of the Daleks is a great experiment, pulling the Fifth Doctor into the weird and wonderful world of the Time War before his time, and giving him a whole host of new characters (brought to life with barnstorming performances from Dervla Kirwan, Anjli Mohindra, Jamie Parker and Glen McCready) to play off against. It does get a little repetitive by the end, and the first half is definitely stronger than the second, but, all in all, this is pretty strong stuff. Recommended.
Shadow of the Daleks 1 and Shadow of the Daleks 2 are both available now on CD or as downloads from http://www.bigfinish.com