DW: Shadow of the Daleks 1 Review

The first half of Shadow of the Daleks is here! … What is it? It’s… well, it’s something that has come into being thanks to the Pandemic. It’s a series of eight half hour stories where the Fifth Doctor has accidentally found himself feeling the effects of the Time War his future selves are fighting, and as a result is meeting the same few faces in very different locations. Basically, two Main Range audio slots had to be removed and so they came up with a way to make new ones by re-using the same few actors/actresses who have good enough at-home recording set-ups. Does it work though? Hmmm… it’s a mixed bag…

Synopsis:

Something is very wrong. The Fifth Doctor is lost in the Time War, heading for an encounter with his oldest and deadliest enemies… the Daleks!

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

As something created by necessity I’ll tip the metaphorical hat in that this was a clever way to get two (sadly of the last) main range stories out there with minimal effort and expense. On the flip side I find 30 minute stand-alone stories more miss than hit and sadly in this case two of the four are a miss for me…

The good ones? The first story, “Aimed at the Body”, is a good introduction as The Doctor meets famous (or infamous?) cricketer Douglas Jardine (Jamie Parker), his love interest Flora (Anjli Mohindra) and her mother Mrs Calderwood (Dervla Kirwan) in 30s Australia. Douglas was a hated figure in cricket at the time as he instructed his team to aim at the body, getting them wins but potentially hurting the opposing team, a move that wasn’t considered sporting (I gathered all this from the story, I have literally zero interest in cricket…) Anyway! The Doctor soon becomes confused as the very topography of the land itself starts to shift, Douglas starts talking like a Dalek and generally things get a bit weird. The Doctor sees an image of a Dalek that confuses him (“all bolts and bronze, is it a new model?”) before his three new friends vanish entirely. The Doctor begins to follow the trail of the Dalek, not knowing that the trail leads to a raging Time War two of his future selves are stuck in. It was a good mini-story, and set the scene well.

The next story, “Lightspeed”, is also a good bit of fun. The Doctor is on a space equivalent of a passenger plane that not only has a hijacker on board but the ship AI has hidden code from some villain The Doctor thwarted in his future that means it wishes to kill everyone on board apart from the Time Lord in order to make him “live his worst nightmare”. This where The Doctor realises that several of the crew and a passenger all look like the trio from Australia (and are played by the same people!) but other than that it’s an airline disaster movie in space, with some fun scenes and The Doctor saving everyone by tricking the A.I. into thinking he was the only person on board. There is a little bit of Dalek in it, but not much (which given the title and premise, makes sense!)

The Bad:

It’s very nearly false advertising, featuring Daleks so heavily on the cover!

I wasn’t sure where to put story #3, “The Bookshop at the End of the World”, because it was really well written, but for whatever reason I found it more boring than exciting. The Doctor arrives in a bookshop full of the usual cast (but in different roles, obviously!) and everyone is perfectly happy, but The Doctor has complete memory loss. After some conversations (and annoying documentary-style interviews with those in attendance, I always hate that sort of thing, completely takes me out of it) The Doctor figures out that a thermostat was artificially keeping people happy and making them forget about “a terrible war”, one that sounds like distant thunder to those in the shop. Two of the customers remember that they fled the war and leave the shop despite knowing a horrible fate awaits them, and The Doctor soon joins them. It’s a really good premise and has great dialogue (as you normally get with Simon Guerrier writing, to be fair) but for whatever reason I sort of… tuned out for long periods of it. I started writing this in the “Good” section, but I think I’ll stick it in the bad (or I guess I already have by the time you’re reading this!) because no matter how good it was technically, it still failed to engage me…

The final story, “Interlude”, was… not that great. The Doctor, still hazy, ends up joining a theatrical group on the verge of performing in front of the great leader of an Empire now spanning most of Italy and probably beyond. While performing he notices entrance-ways shrinking and guards vanishing and eventually he spots a Dalek as the ruler’s executioner. After a brief performance he approaches the Leader and gets killed by the Dalek, only for the up-to-this-point-mute Leader to reveal himself as … The Doctor. The other Doctor fades away and the real one mentions some worse-than-usual technobabble to do with pocket dimensions and time bubbles and then buggers off. That’s it. It was… really weird, but not in a good way, instead it was just… nothing much followed by a crap ending. Not the best end to the set, basically!

The Continuity:

Beyond connecting to the Time War (and I’m sure as hell not listing all the Time War stories here…) this doesn’t share continuity with anything. The Doctor is travelling alone which once upon a time used to be tricky for the Fifth Doctor, but now there are at least three, if not four gaps to easily slide this story into…

Overall Thoughts:

Shadow of the Daleks 1 starts off strong, but soon leads to some average or worse mini-stories. The 30-minute format is hard to nail at the best of times, let alone throwing an interesting but tricky concept like the Time War rippling backwards into the mix. Sadly it’s not really right to rate them individually because you’d be a bit lost if you listened to one in isolation, I guess I’ll add them all up to a middling score… Let’s hope Part 2 can nail it better…

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