Doctor Who: Emissary of the Daleks – Starring Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Bruce Alexander, Nicholas Briggs, Ray Cezan, William Ellis, Natasha Karp, Richard Keith, John Rayment & Saskia Reeves. Written by Andrew Smith & Directed by John Ainsworth – 2xCD / Download (Big Finish)
“I’ll tell you one thing. You do have a resistance problem on this planet, a serious one.
You’re looking at him“
Omnia, an isolated and vulnerable world, separated from its nearest neighbours by incalculable distances, is under Dalek occupation. It is onto its battle-scarred surface that the Sixth Doctor and Peri step some 12 years following the initial invasion. A world where reading, writing and even recitation of the old texts are considered an act of rebellion. It quakes in fear of ‘disappearances’ and works hard at its new master’s whim, with a puppet ‘Magister’ leading the people in obsequious servitude to the Daleks. It’s an age-old story to the Doctor and he’s going to do everything in his power to ensure Omnia lives freely once again.
Emissary of the Daleks, on the surface at least, has the feel of the tried and trusted ‘classic’ style Dalek story. It’s a tale of occupation, resistance, betrayal and collaboration. The Daleks are supremely Daleky, using their standard methods of invasion, mass exterminations (15,000 dead in just 8 seconds) followed by the subjugation and enslavement of the surviving work units to sap the planet of its mineral wealth. This is a story that sees the Sixth Doctor in something that could just as easily have been written for any of the first three of the Doctors incarnations, so it feels strangely ‘out of time’ for him, in a nice way. (I always wondered why we didn’t see the Doctor and friends encountering older versions of Daleks or Cybermen on TV as a kid, although of course there are lots of logical reasons why in boring old real life). Were it not for the Doctor being in it, it could also just as easily slot into the Dalek Empire series, having those same bleak and hopeless tones to it. Nicholas Briggs is on Dalek duty as usual and gives us the whole range of Daleks, meaning it is never difficult to visualise a scene, or which Dalek is speaking at which moment. His ability to add dimensions to the Daleks means that even when they have lengthier pieces of dialogue they are performed as characters, not just mobile props with flashing lights.
Where Andrew Smith brings this story to life and makes it shine is the humanity he brings to his characters, primarily the collaborating Magister Carmen Rega, played by Saskia Reeves and the young and principled rebel Aldo, played with exactly the right touch of terrified earnestness by William Ellis. Smith explores the morality of those who stand to lose everything. The people and planet they serve, the families and friends they love. He makes us put ourselves in their place and ask ourselves what would we do there? It’s a familiar theme, one which Doctor Who has explored before and in Dalek stories, but not always quite with the balance displayed here.
This is only enhanced by Saskia Reeves, whose performance as the increasingly overwhelmed Carmen Rega is one that is full of the truth of lost hope and honestly trying to do one’s best to ensure as many of her people survived. This is no quisling like the Controller in Day of the Daleks, it is only their position that is comparable on the surface. She is in an unenviable position, but if not her, then who?
An equally talented support cast bring the world of Omnia to life, populating its Under and Overcity with characters who you can believe are living through this occupation. Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are always a joy to hear together, especially when they are as well written and observed as they are here, and the whole story flashes past so that you barely notice its two-hour runtime. The sound design and filmic score by Simon Power add the finishing touches to John Ainsworth’s directorial vision.
While this may not be a story that redefines the Daleks, or takes them in a new or different direction, that’s not always what you want or need. Sometimes what you really want are the Daleks just being the best damned Daleks they can be and those who fall victim to them showing us the true face of that. Emissary of the Daleks provides that in bucketsful and is all the more glorious for it. Jeff Goddard