Briggs’s script for Energy of the Daleks is also idiomatic of two other periods in the show's history. The story, about the search for an infinite, free power source at a time when natural resources are critical bespeaks the environmental concerns of the Letts/Dicks era, especially with its central friendship built at college between two idealistic geniuses one of whom, Damien Stephens, becomes darkly enamoured with commerce over the philanthropic potential, the other, Jack Coulson, leading occupy-style protests on the day of reckoning. But the setting of 2025 is very much nuWho with smartphones, the internet and secret headquarters in famous London landmarks. Coulson is even played by Rose’s Mark Benton (with Dan “Sontaran” Starkey in other roles).
Then there are the Daleks. Often keen to experiment, Briggs sometimes modulates the sound of his favourite enemy differently in these audios than television. Here we have the full on Briggs Daleks still capable of being terrifying in audio, especially when listening through headphones with the curtains drawn. As ever their underlying aim is utterly bonkers but the details are where the creepiness lies, the implications of the creation of the robomen, a comedy set piece in Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., utterly repulsive here. As Briggs has rightly noted elsewhere, the Daleks are at their scariest when there’s a thought process, when they’re sly, when indeed they’re not simply Davros’s bodyguards and he puts all that well into practice.
This was the first of these new adventures to be recorded but already Tom and Louise are in their element, the old chemistry re-ignited after twenty-odd years, perhaps helped slightly by this not being their first attempt at recreating the characters. Benton is also a perfect straight man for Tom, filling the Duggan role as the dopey human usefully blundering into situations, drafted into bravery because the alternative is nastier than death. The rest of the cast is also pretty impressive. Along with Starkey, there’s Caroline Keiff (who was in the original stage cast of Wicked) and Alex Lowe (a regular in Ken Branagh's ensemble and “Barry from Watford” on various radio shows) as potential victims (to say much more would be to say too much).
They can all sense that at its core this is an old-fashioned runaround, with the Doctor chasing energy signatures between rooms and Leela attempting to take down robomen with Janus thorns. After a relatively sober couple of adventures, it’s nice to hear the series returning to first principles and even if there’s a familiarity to some of the situations, Briggs isn’t adverse to affectionately offering a critical nudge about some of nuWho’s apparatus, not least the preponderant utilisation of the sonic screwdriver. Not that it isn't just possible Briggs is noting how much of old Who was narratively extended because the even the sonic couldn’t get through such and such a door.
Doctor Who: Energy of the Daleks is out now from Big Finish. Review copy supplied.