Big Finish: Doctor Who DALEK UNIVERSE 1 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who DALEK UNIVERSE 1 Review

Classic and Modern Who collide, and Matthew Kresal is along for the ride.
For a while now, fans have been teased about an upcoming Big Finish series called Dalek Universe. From its epic teaser trailer, the combination of perhaps Modern Who's most popular Doctor with Classic Who elements created for the epic 1965-66 serial The Daleks' Master Plan offered something for fans of both sides of the series television divide. Now, following a Fourth Doctor prologue, the first set has arrived.

And oh, what a listen it is!

The set kicks off with a two-parter by the ever-reliable John Dorney. Buying Time brings together David Tennant's Tenth Doctor, without his TARDIS, with two characters that Big Finish listeners may know: Space Security Agent Anya Kingdom (Jane Slavin) and the android agent Mark Seven (Joe Sims). As a series opener, Dorney's script hits all the right notes bringing together the mix of Classic and Modern Who elements, all in a nicely packed and ever-moving story. The Classic Who pieces of the episode come with a hefty dose of Terry Nation flavor that arguably makes better use of his spin-off ideas than he ever would have. Yet just as listeners think they have a grip on what's going on with Mark Gatiss' George Sheldrake as the villain, the episode pulls one massive cliffhanger that left this reviewer wondering how on Earth they'd resolve it.

The answer is the second half, Dorney's The Wrong Woman. To his credit, and to avoid spoiling it for future listeners, Dorney doesn't go for "one bound, and they're free" sort of resolution that is something of a cliche in TV Who circles. Instead, Dorney has a field day with it, playing on audience expectations throughout much of what follows, right up until the moment he turns everything on its ear. But, to the credit of the cast and especially Gemma Whelan, it's something that everyone plays pitch-perfectly under the direction of Ken Bentley. Add on Gatiss' villain in the tradition of Kevin Stoney's great villains from The Daleks' Master Plan and The Invasion, and you have one of the most satisfying Big Finish listens of the year thus far, if not in Big Finish's entire twenty-plus year history.

Andrew Smith, whose Doctor Who contributions date back to the late Fourth Doctor era on-screen, rounds off the set with The House of Kingdom. If the idea of a Space Security Agent with the name of Kingdom rings a bell for Who fans, Smith's script offers up some neat tie-ins between the current series and its roots 55 years ago. The House of Kingdom, however, isn't merely an exercise in nostalgia. It's also an intriguing mix of thriller and family drama thanks to its thrilling opening minutes and the inclusion of Anya's grandfather Merrick (Kevin McNally). Bringing in the Mechanoids, another Nation creation with a long history in spin-offs, is just the icing on the cake, one that adds to the flavor without making it too much to enjoy. Like the opening two-parter, Smith's script is an intriguing mix of Classic Who elements with Modern Who's pacing, creating a delicious story in the process.

As is often the case with Big Finish, the production is given a boost by its cast. As with his previous stories for the company, there's a genuine sense that David Tennant has effortlessly slipped back into the role or perhaps never stepped away. Writing as someone who was (perhaps controversially) never a big fan of his Doctor, there's something about his performances here that captures the intelligence and manic qualities of his Doctor, but also with the seriousness that this reviewer always wanted more of on TV. Indeed, both Dorney and Smith give him those moments and offer up some fantastic moments for Tennant. In fact, I'd go so far as to say this set represents Tennant's best work at Big Finish to date.

Beside Tennant are what are, in effect, his companions. Jane Slavin and Joe Sims established their characters elsewhere at Big Finish, including The Dalek Protocol prologue, with the decision to drop them alongside a well-established and loved Doctor is an interesting one. But it pays off in spades, especially in the middle episode when they are as wrong-footed as the listener by events. The chemistry between Slavin and Sims with both each other and Tennant likewise serves the set well, bouncing off each other nicely, which makes the Kingdom family scenes in the third story all the more effective. With a supporting cast that includes the aforementioned Whelan, Gatiss, and McNally, it's a fine example of the strength of Big Finish's castings.

An unsung player of the set is the sound designer and composer Howard Carter. Dalek Universe is an epic, one that calls for a wide range of sound effects to bring its settings from jungles to Earth in the far future to life. It's something that Carter more than proves up to providing, creating an aural vision that is just as much a part of the storytelling as the script and performances. Carter's music score offers a fine soundtrack to action sequences and emotional moments alike, even without incorporating Murray Gold's TV themes (something that, perhaps for rights reasons, Big Finish has been reluctant to use). Both offer a showcase for Carter's work and Big Finish's standards of production.

From mixing Classic and Modern Who to epic cliffhangers, spot-on casting, and creating worlds out of sound, Dalek Universe 1 is nothing short of a triumph. Whether you're a fan of Classic or Modern Who or never picked up a Big Finish story before, this set has something to make a must-listen. With a second set to follow in July and the final release in October, Dalek Universe is shaping up to be the highlight of 2021 for Big Finish, and the sooner you hear it, the better.

Doctor Who: Dalek Universe 1 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 July 2021, and on general sale after this date.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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