Friday, July 26, 2013

Review: Doctor Who, "The Dalek Contract" and "The Final Phase"

The final two episodes of the Fourth Doctor's adventures with Romana on Big Finish's audio dramas constitute a two-part story that picks up where "The Sands of Life" and its sequel "The War Against the Laan" left off.

In "The Dalek Contract,"
The Doctor and Romana [and K9] find themselves in the Proxima System, where enigmatic Conglomerate CEO Cuthbert [David Warner, the professor in TV's "Cold War" episode] has been conducting his infamous 'experiment'. An experiment which might accidentally rip the universe apart.
Of course, it's no accident that the TARDIS arrived where it did: the Doctor once again turned off the Randomizer. Romana asks him, "Do you have a death wish?" But of course the Doctor has method in his madness, as he is concerned that Cuthbert's experiments have unleashed something very dangerous.

On Proxima Major, instead of a temperate climate the Doctor and Romana find a freezing planet - and a whole lot of people very unhappy about that fact. They (correctly) blame Cuthbert for moving the planet out of its orbit and they (incorrectly) believe that the Doctor and Romana are working for Cuthbert. Meanwhile, the resistance group has a bigger problem: Daleks.

It seems that Cuthbert's effort to subdue the local population involved a contract with the Daleks to provide a security force for him. Cuthbert seems to think the Daleks won't double-cross him because he has a contract with them. It does seem a bit unlikely that anyone aware of the Daleks would think this is a good idea.

As an aside, the name of Cuthbert's assistant, Mr. Dorrick (played by Toby Hadoke) sounds too much like "Mr. Dalek" - something unfortunate in a story with Daleks.

"The Final Phase" continues the story, pitting Cuthbert's ruthless interest against the Proxima System's freedom-fighting population as Cuthbert's plan begins to come to fruition. What is he interested in such that he would be willing to rip a hole in the universe? And what are the Daleks really up to? And what do they need from Cuthbert badly enough to pretend to be working for him?

Despite a fair amount of arm-waving when it comes to having the science make sense, these stories have been a pleasure to listen to. Warner's Cuthbert is a wily, snarky businessman, not particularly evil but used to getting his way and willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Tom Baker  doesn't seem to take things too seriously, having a chuckle in his voice throughout the production, even as his Doctor engages in his usual derring-do and plunges into life-threatening situations. Mary Tamm has just the right amount of icy detachment and exasperation in her voice, as though the situations she finds herself are somehow just a little beneath her dignity, even as she finds herself admitting that she has started enjoying the Doctor's company.

Among the pleasures of these stories are the small asides. For example, it turns out K9 has a "stealth mode," allowing him to move quietly when the situation requires. Romana asks, "Why didn't you ever do that before?" K9: "No one ever asked, Mistress." Indeed.

I look forward to next season's Fourth Doctor adventures, which will re-unite him with Leela.

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