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WARNING: this review will contain spoilers for Dalek Universe 1, and minor spoilers for Dalek Universe 2.
Surprise regenerations! Reunions with old friends! Daleks! Mechnonoids! The Meddling Nun! Dalek Universe 1 (review here) was one of the most exciting releases of this year so far, and now, just two months later, it’s time for the much-anticipated follow-up: Dalek Universe 2! Promising to delve deeper into the three main characters, while pitting them against the Daleks for the first time in the series, this box set certainly has a lot to offer. But does it reach the heights of its predecessor? Read on to find out!
1. “Cycle of Destruction” by Roy Gill
Picking up from the shocking cliffhanger at the end of the previous set, which saw Mark Seven (Joe Sims) knocking the Doctor (David Tennant) and Anya Kingdom (Jane Slavin) unconscious, Cycle of Destruction sees our heroes arrive on a planet inhabited by voracious, bear-like creatures. With Mark having disappeared, the Doctor and Anya seek shelter in an isolated research base… but soon discover that this place has ties to their missing friend.
The first three quarters of this story, which is written by Roy Gill, are relatively pedestrian, seeing the Doctor and Anya arriving at the base and meeting its inhabitants. We are introduced to the officious Crispin Torr (John Banks) and the mysterious Mariah Six (Nina Toussaint-White), who, as you can probably guess from the name, is somehow related to Mark.
Both characters are well-written and performed, but don’t really get much exploration until the last quarter or so of the story, wherein we finally get some answers as to what’s been going on. Sometimes, mystery stories tend to fumble the ball when the mystery actually gets explained, but in Gill’s script, the explanation is where the story really kicks up a notch. We get some exciting revelations about Mark Seven’s past, while Crispin Torr and Mariah Six also get some deftly-handled exploration, with some twists that will certainly make this an interesting relisten.
Overall, this story has a slightly weaker first half, but once things really get going in the final act, it becomes far more enjoyable. Although the Doctor and Anya are somewhat sidelined, this is in favour of some great development for Mark Seven and the guest characters, all of whom have very satisfying arcs throughout the story. Good stuff.
2. “The Trojan Dalek” by John Dorney
In search of temporal scientist Arborecc, the Doctor, Anya and Mark Seven arrive on an SSS space station. After an encounter with an old friend of Mark’s, the gang split up to investigate, and each discover that all is not as it seems. The man in charge, Major McLinn, is acting suspiciously, and strange surgeries are being performed upon the injured. Oh, and there are Daleks on board!
While all of that might sound a little complicated, The Trojan Dalek is actually quite a simple story. As the story goes on, it becomes apparent each storyline, while seemingly disparate from the others, is actually connected, which makes this a decidedly straightforward listen. Sure, the story is pretty strong, with a novel core concept which (while maybe a little predictable, given the title) certainly isn’t something we’ve seen before, but there’s not really very much in the way of incident.
Once again, the character of Mark Seven is put under the spotlight, as we meet yet another figure from his past: the endearing Fliss (Pippa Bennett-Warner). Joe Sims plays his character’s material very well, imbuing his robotic character with a surprising (and yet still appropriate) amount of emotion. David Tennant also gets a good showing, furiously taking on the sinister Major McLinn (brought to life by Blake Ritson), making it only Jane Slavin‘s Anya who is a little underserved by this script.
As mentioned above (and on the cover), the Daleks feature in this story… but not in the way you’d expect. While they’re hardly a background presence, like in the first Dalek Universe set, they’re not going around shouting and exterminating people either; this is definitely one of the more creative Dalek stories out there. And that’s all I’m saying, for fear of spoilers!
Overall, this is a pretty good story, with a strong-but-simple first couple of acts, and an electrifying finale that culminates in a brilliant twist you probably won’t see coming. Good stuff.
3. “The Lost” by Robert Valentine
After the shocking ending to the previous episode, the team crash-lands on a strange world. Exploring, they discover a palace, inside which they encounter the mysterious Lost: a being who was cast out of his own society and left upon this beguiling planet. As he explains, the only way out is through a portal… but only one person can pass through it. But who will our heroes choose?
While the first quarter or so of this story entails the Doctor and his companions exploring this new world they’ve found themselves on, the meat of this story is really that decision: who gets to leave, and who has to stay? It’s really, really difficult to discuss this story without spoiling it, but writer Robert Valentine crafts a gripping, thought-provoking, ever-changing narrative that, despite hinging on such a tiny plot point, is constantly interesting and never gets old.
David Tennant and Jane Slavin put in their strongest performances yet, effortlessly bringing to life the script’s exploration of the various losses their characters have experienced. If you haven’t been sold on team of the Tenth Doctor and Anya thus far, this story is where that all will change, completely justifying the use of this pairing in the Dalek Universe series. There’s a point towards the end of the story where I got actual chills while listening. Breathtaking stuff.
Joe Sims also puts in a great performance, getting to play a slightly different role than usual (no spoilers!) while Kevin McNally makes a brief return as Anya’s grandfather, Merrick. But how, I hear you ask, given that he died in the last boxset? Well, you’ve got to listen to find out! The cast is rounded off by Leighton Pugh as the Lost: another strong bit of casting that really ties together an already-strong script.
Although the ending is a tiny bit rushed, the rest of this story is so good that I have no hesitation in giving it a perfect score. With strong performances; a gripping, emotional script and complete with some really fantastic scoring by Howard Carter, The Lost is not only the best story of Dalek Universe so far, but the best Tenth Doctor story at Big Finish. Flawless.
Another successful trip into the Dalek Universe! While packed with less twists and turns than Dalek Universe 1, Dalek Universe 2 is a strong collection of three character-focused stories, all brought to life brilliantly by David Tennant, Jane Slavin and Joe Sims. Culminating with the best Tenth Doctor audio story yet, and ending on a thrilling cliffhanger (spoilers, sweetie!), this set has left me very excited indeed for the grand finale, Dalek Universe 3, in October. Highly recommended.
Dalek Universe 2 is available now on CD, as a download, or on limited-edition vinyl at http://www.bigfinish.com