REVIEW | Doctor Who: Dalek Universe 1

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A new adventure begins for the Tenth Doctor! David Tennant returns in Dalek Universe: an all-new nine-part saga from Big Finish Productions and his first full series as the Doctor since 2008! Joined by Anya Kingdom (Jane Slavin) and Mark Seven (Joe Sims), the Doctor is thrust into a pre-Time War universe, and forced to contend with a whole host of old enemies… including the Daleks! Read on for our review of this exciting new boxset.

BEWARE! There are no major spoilers in this review, but everyone’s sensibilities as to what constitutes a spoiler are different. Of course I haven’t spoiled any big reveals or anything like that, but if you’re particularly spoiler-sensitive, I’d take special care when reading my review of episode 2, because it was very hard to talk about without dropping too many hints!


1. “Buying Time” by John Dorney

Dalek Universe begins with a two-part story by John Dorney, the first part of which is entitled Buying Time. This first episode sees the Doctor arrive on a jungle planet, where he encounters old friend Anya Kingdom as she investigates the wreckage of a Space Security Service spaceship. Before too long, the two find themselves under attack from an invisible enemy, while also experiencing strange time shifts that cause visions from the past and the future. Could billionaire genius George Sheldrake and his experiments into commercialising time travel be to blame?

Starting with a foreboding opening monologue from David Tennant, this story is relentlessly paced right from the get-go. There’s so much packed into the script that it never gets boring even for a second, though the plot is simple and easy to follow, making this the perfect opener to the series. Despite all of these exciting elements, however, the main success of this episode is the way it reunites the Doctor and Anya, picking up the pieces after the earth-shattering end to their adventures in 2019’s The Perfect Prisoners and cementing Tennant and Slavin as just a compelling Doctor/Companion pairing as Tom Baker and Slavin were in The Fourth Doctor Adventures.

As previously mentioned, the Doctor and Anya are joined here by Mark Seven, the android SSS agent played by Joe Sims, who was last seen earlier this month in The Dalek Protocol. He’s the perfect complement to their characters: a voice of calm and reason amid the Doctor’s chaotic excitement and Anya’s ruthless efficiency.

The guest cast is rounded off by Juliet Aubrey as Esther Malkin, Anya’s officious superior; Chris Jarman in a dual role as ill-fated SSS soldier Vesht and the mysterious Pastor of the Seven Suns; and Mark Gatiss as George Sheldrake, who only appears in a couple of scenes here but has a strong presence throughout the story.

As the first half of a two-part story, Buying Time does of course end on a cliffhanger… and what a cliffhanger it is! No spoilers here, but this is definitely something you won’t see coming, and is undeniably a huge game changer. Overall, this is a decent opener to the Dalek Universe series: a strong story in its own right, but one that will probably be remembered for its shocking conclusion!

(Also, given that I live just nearby, I was a big fan of the Bury St. Edmunds reference!)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

2. “The Wrong Woman” by John Dorney

The Wrong Woman, also by John Dorney, picks up right where we left off… after the earth-shattering cliffhanger at the end of the previous episode! I won’t go into any details, but that cliffhanger wasn’t there for the sake of a big shock: we really get to see its consequences play out throughout the first half of the episode, with the main characters coming to terms with the huge ramifications of what has happened.

And, if that’s not enough, just over halfway through the episode there’s another huge ‘what the hell?’ moment that was so surprising that I had to stop in the middle of my walk so I could come to terms with what was happening. Again, I won’t say anything more, but kudos to Dorney and the two actors involved in this particular scene for quite literally stopping me in my tracks!

While David Tennant puts on a brilliant performance in this episode, giving us what’s probably his best scene out of all his Big Finish plays so far, the star performer in this story has got to be Gemma Whelan. She gives us a barnstorming performance in her role as the mysterious Newcomer, who is a major player throughout the episode and who, fingers crossed, we might see again in the future!

Meanwhile, Jane Slavin and Joe Sims continue to show off their strong chemistry as they go up against the villainous George Sheldrake, played by Mark Gatiss. I was a little disappointed at how small Gatiss’s role in this was, given that he’s on the front cover of the boxset and this particular story, but… well, I can see why Big Finish cast him in this particular role, given which iconic Doctor Who villain he’s known for playing on audio. I have an inkling that, much like his character, Gatiss was cast as a bit of a smokescreen to hide the real villain of this story: a genius move that had me formulating all the wrong theories as to what was really going on. And that’s all I’m saying!

Overall, this story is very hard to talk about, but I hope I’ve done it the spoiler-free justice it deserves! And if not, here’s my verdict in just a few words: a fantastic conclusion to this exciting, game-changing two-part story!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

3. “The House of Kingdom” by Andrew Smith

The finale to this first instalment of Dalek Universe is The House of Kingdom by Andrew Smith. It’s a decidedly more lowkey affair than the bombastic opening two-parter, but it’s just as strong, with Smith eschewing big twists and showmanship for a delightful character piece that focuses on Anya in a way we’ve not really seen before.

The story begins after the Doctor, Anya and Mark are forced to flee from a space station after it falls prey to a group of brutal space pirates. Arriving on Neptune, they encounter a scientist by the name of Merrick… who just so happens to be Anya’s grandfather! As the episode unfolds, we learn about Anya’s tragic past and how she’s connected to the larger Kingdom family, who have been a presence in Doctor Who since its very third season way back in 1965, which leads to some welcome development for the character.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Mark discover that the events on the space station and Merrick’s experiments on Neptune have some sinister connections… and it involves some of Skaro’s deadliest flora: the Varga Plants! What follows is a fairly traditional but still exciting adventure that sees the Doctor, Mark and Anya on the run from someone who is determined that their dark secrets aren’t made public.

Kevin McNally stars as Merrick and puts in a suitably avuncular performance, though one not without its hidden depths. Meanwhile, Maria Teresa Creasey enters the scene as the sinister Dr Abigail Crane, an SSS scientist, and Nicholas Briggs reprises his role as the Mechonoids, who get some strong material in this script.

Overall, this is a great way to end the boxset, fleshing out the character of Anya and serving as a welcome return for the Mechonoids. Meanwhile, there’s a delightful cliffhanger that will leave the listener excited to hear Dalek Universe 2 when it releases in July. Fantastic stuff.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Overall

What a boxset! Packed with twists and turns, surprise reveals and reunions between old friends, Dalek Universe 1 is so exciting that I finished it in less than a day. This is truly an event release, and this is reflected in the strong guest casting (Mark Gatiss, Gemma Whelan and Kevin McNally!) and the impeccable sound design and music from Howard Carter. The stars of the show, though, have got to be David Tennant, Jane Slavin and Joe Sims, who make a fantastic team and put in some really fantastic performances throughout. Add to that some great direction from Ken Bentley, who does excellent work at directing this project despite the inconvenience of national lockdowns and remote recordings, and you get a boxset that is definitely far more than just the sum of its parts. Almost perfect.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Dalek Universe 1 is available now on CD and vinyl, or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com

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