Energy of the Daleks

Audio There was always something slightly cruel and bit unusual about the fact that Leela, the one warrior companion who would have been the perfect foe for the Daleks never actually appeared with them on television. Indeed, as Nicholas Briggs, voice of the pepperpots and writer of this story explains in the supplementary material, the Fourth Doctor only every had two exciting adventures with the Daleks and both of them focused on their creator Davros rather than providing a more typical romp. So in keeping with the rest of this series of audio adventures, he had in mind to redress the balance and produce the kind of story the contemporary production team were unwilling or at least unable to put before the camera.

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.

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