What this ubiquity means is that across the audios, because Briggs intimidating omnipresence is so familiar, it’s become a non-visual replacement for Raymond Cusick’s designs. On screen, a quick shot of the eye-stalk and straight away we know that the next (insert story duration here) minutes will be horrible. Now, on audio, Briggs’s guttural monotone, always so alien in comparison to whatever else is happening elsewhere in the sound design, sends chills even through the most seasoned fan, or should I say even this most seasoned fan. Which is probably why, when they’re combined on screen, even in the multi-coloured humped variety of Dalek, they’re now so utterly frightening.
It certainly elevates this audio book version of John Peel’s 1989 Target adaptation of the 60s Hartnell story, The Chase in which the Dalek Empire chases the Doctor and his companions across time attempting to destroy them through a series of convoluted plans. On screen, this a bit of a ragtag mess of a story, oscillating between charming and charmless, deathly slow in some places, zippy in others. But with Briggs’s impeccably scary performance threaded throughout Maureen O’Brien’s reading, we feel every moment of the TARDIS team’s peril, tensely wondering if they’ll survive as they’re separated from each other and reunited, the Daleks hot on their trail.
That’s one reason to listen to a story with a two and half hour screen time spread across twice the duration. The other is Peel’s adaptation which turns Terry Nation raggle-taggle selection of incidents in search of a story into the embarrassment of magical riches the television version aspires to be, more akin to one of Big Finish’s Short Trips audios or a collection of fairy tales about a mad man in a box. The patience trying Morton Dill incident becomes a quite melancholic meditation on a wasted life that goes out of its way to explain the character’s bizarre behaviour and the haunted house section, though perhaps slightly overlong, feels like being hit in the head with a Hammer.
Later on, during the nineties, Peel would try my patience with two continuity heavy eighth Doctor novels which felt entirely out of step with what the other writers on that line were trying to achieve. He’s in similar mood here in the late eighties, adding retrospective mythology to the story, but in this case it's rather charming as are his efforts to increase the complexity of the characters with Vicki in particular benefiting from the exploration of her internal motivation. Hopefully it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that he manages to find the perfect textual analogy for one of my favourite scenes in Doctor Who’s history, the Chris Marker-like conception of Ian and Barbara's return to their own time.
All aided by Maureen O’Brien’s beautifully appointed reading which in the best traditions of these audio books has the qualities of a bedtime or fireside tale. As seems to the mode in recent AudioGos, the reader doesn’t attempt direct impersonations of the characters, but does access Hartnell, Russell and especially Jacqueline Hill, her now mature voice often quite uncanny. In places, it also sounds as though O’Brien's rewatched the television series as a reference; when she offers Steven’s sceptical “Oh come on …” late on, it’s almost exactly the same performance as Peter Purves in the role. But always, when she gives way to the Daleks, Briggs, aided by some faithfully sources mechanical whirs and buzzes, can't help but steal the show.
Doctor Who: Daleks: The Chase read by Maureen O'Brien with Dalek Voices by Nicholas Briggs is released by AudioGo is out now. Review copy supplied.