Doctor Who: The Early Adventures: The Dalek Occupation of Winter – Starring Maureen O’Brien, Peter Purves, Shvorne Marks, Robert Daws, Sara Powell, Matthew Jacobs-Morgan & Nicholas Briggs. Written by David K Barnes & Directed by Lisa Bowerman – 2xCD / Download (Big Finish)
Oooh, it’s a dark one!
We love a dark one!
The Early Adventures series of stories from Big Finish was launched with the aim of rounding out the kind of stories which had been told in the Companion Chronicles line, but with a broader scope and more voices, while still holding to the ‘narrated scenes’ style of storytelling, rather than the full cast, no-narration option of the Main Range.
That said, we open the fifth series of the Early Adventures with a story that’s at least mostly told through cast voices, and where the narration has a distinctly natural flow, mostly used simply to condense chunks of scene that could otherwise feel tedious. Five series in, Big Finish knows what it’s doing, and having found writer David K Barnes, has reached a place where the narrated scene format flows seamlessly over the length of a full four-part story.
As to the story…is it too much to say ‘Ooh!’ again?
There’s a Dalek on the cover art, and Dalek in the title, so there’s a good chance you think you know what you’re in for – shouty shooty extermination-fests ahoy, right?
Certainly not at first.
Think more Power of the Daleks than Resurrection of the Daleks. Think more political commentary than festival of firepower. Think about how, for instance, there was a time when we didn’t check our Twitter feeds every morning to see what 3AM absurdity had come out of the White House. Think about how normal it is to do that now. Normality is just the name for what happens every day. People can be conditioned by repetition to think the most absurd and gruesome things are normal.
Welcome to Winter.
Winter is the only real spot of warmth and brightness on a cold, ice-wasted planet. Winter is a city, with a leader (the superbly slippery Robert Daws as Gaius Majorian) conditioned to a pampered life ruling over the unwashed frozen plebs. It’s a city with a great manufacturing industry, geared to the production of one particular item, apparently in great demand in an eager cosmos, and a city which has a regular, Tripod-style selection of the best and brightest to join the research division that helps make the economy work. The research division that consumes their every waking hour for the rest of their lives, so they kiss their family and friends goodbye and go to serve a higher purpose.
It’s a society with Daleks. Non-exterminating, non-devastating Daleks.
A society where Daleks are good.
That’s really the point of the title – this is not The Dalek Invasion of Winter. No no, this is an occupation, insidious, inch by inch, changing what the ‘normal’ is for a whole society, then establishing a husk around that normal, so no-one questions it. It’s not that they don’t dare, just that there’s no reason to. A society working in harmony with the Daleks is just…normal.
And then out of thin air come the First Doctor, Steven and Vicki.
Dissenting voices, shouting that the (ahem) Dalek ‘Emperor’ has no clothes on. Dissenting voices, bringing a different way of looking at everything that’s normal – the manufacturing industry, the selection, the way the whole society of Winter is structured and run.
Steven finds himself working on a production line alongside Amala Vost (Shvorne Marks), whose brother Kenrik has proved himself the cleverclogs of the family and gone to the research division. Steven tries to overcome one of the central fallacies on which Winter survives, while Amala tells him that he’s utterly wrong, but even if he were right, she and many like her would still need a job in the morning or they’d starve to death – the norm is frozen into her bones and accepted there.
Vicki finds a friend in Gaius Majorian, tells him the truth she knows about the Daleks, which troubles him greatly…or does it?
And the Doctor, while feted by the city’s rulers, discovers someone perhaps as dangerous as the Daleks themselves, a person, who can watch the norms of their reality break down, and take dispassionate control of a crowd for their own bored and morally exhausted purposes.
Definitely a dark one.
For all that though, the darkness is like a slow, slow poison, and Barnes’ script, under the direction of Lisa Bowerman, takes us through the everyday highs and lows and freezing cold of Winter, giving us our lovely moments of character interaction, of friend-building, of shock and triumph and tragedy as we uncover the truth of what Winter is, layer by increasingly cold, dark layer.
There’s not a performance here that wavers from ideal – Peter Purves continues his unbroken run as the most evocative post-Hartnell voice of the First Doctor, while getting the chance to give us some Steven-as-would-be-revolutionary into the bargain. Maureen O’Brien conjures up the young, loquacious innocence of Vicki in a way that makes us feel for her heart when her confidence is misplaced. Robert Daws gives us a masterclass in political chicanery, Matthew Jacobs-Morgan as Kenrik conjures the vulnerability of a young soldier about to go into battle as he prepares to spend the rest of his life in the research centre. Shvorne Marks shows us the ‘ordinary people of Winter’ in Amala, their loves, lives, needs and concerns encapsulated in a performance that makes you smile. Sara Powell – oof, you want to pin back your ears to listen to Sara Powell as Jacklyn Karna, and Nick Briggs gets if not exactly to relive his Victory of the Daleks performance of a Dalek biting its theoretical tongue, then to come somewhat closer in this more rational script to the sustained, restrained Dalek malevolence of Power of the Daleks.
In short, The Dalek Occupation Of Winter is an absolute belter with which to launch the fifth series of Early Adventures, its energy strained like a high violin note, its life vivid in its ‘normality,’ and the performances slick and sharp and hopeful by turns as the arrival of the newcomers and the questions they ask brings the reality of Winter to the unwilling light of day.
Feed it into your ears today, and prepare to shiver. Tony Fyler