Big Finish: Doctor Who DALEK UNIVERSE 2 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who DALEK UNIVERSE 2 Review

Matthew Kresal reviews the second Dalek Universe box-set from Big Finish.
Dalek Universe has been shaping up to be one of the events of the year from Big Finish. Its first set was released back in April, combining perhaps Modern Who's most crowd-pleasing Doctor with Classic Who elements created for the epic 1965-66 serial The Daleks' Master Plan and its spin-offs. The second set, released this month, continues the adventures of David Tennant's Tenth Doctor with Space Security Service agents Anya Kingdom (Jane Slavin) and Mark Seven (Joe Sims), pushing both characters and narrative along.

Opening the set is Roy Gill's Cycle of Destruction. Gill's story focuses on Mark Seven, Joe Sims' android, offering something that is as much an origin story for him as House of Kingdom was for Jane Slavin's Anya in last set. In particular, Gil's script explores why Mark is the way he is and what happens when he discovers what he terms his "point of origin." How Gill does that is in a story that Terry Nation (Mark Seven's creator) might have done himself, a variation on the sort of robot story that Issac Asimov penned in the golden age of sci-fi. In the process, Gill and the entire production create an intriguing mix of those trappings and tropes with Modern Who's pacing, the result is an engaging mystery that reaches a satisfying conclusion.

John Dorney, the ever-reliable writer who penned the superb opening two-parter of the first Dalek Universe set, returns once more for Dalek Universe 2, scripting its middle entry. The search for a temporal scientist takes the trio to a military space station, where their curiosity gets piqued when its commander, Major McLinn (Blake Ritson), denies the scientist was ever there at all. And, of course, the Doctor's oldest enemy has a role to play. Or do they? Dorney's script is full of surprises, ones that this reviewer has no wish to spoil, especially given how much they took him by surprise. It's also darker in tone than the previous entries in this run, something that serves it well, particularly in its gut-punch of an ending. It marks the middle of this three-set saga and a high point of the run to date.

Dalek Universe 2 concludes with The Lost. Written by Robert Valentine, this third episode is as much a different kettle of fish as The Trojan Dalek was before it. Valentine trades action set-pieces for something quieter and more contemplative, a moment for our characters to deal with the consequences of recent events more fully. There's a certain Warriors Gate vibe to proceedings, mixing the high concept with the more emotional resonances of Modern Who, without the excesses of these very different approaches. The resulting hour is a powerful listen, one that moves the arc along while also giving the main cast some meaty material. Not to mention with a cliffhanger all its own...

As is often the case with Big Finish, the production is given a boost by its cast. As with Dalek Universe 1, there's a genuine sense that David Tennant has effortlessly slipped back into the role or perhaps never stepped away. More than that, Tennant's performance also imbues his Doctor with more seriousness and emotional aspects that were hinted at on TV but never fully explored, including his guilt and anger at past events. Indeed, both Dorney and Valentine give him those moments to play, and Tennant rises to the challenge without fail. Without question, the later episodes of this set represent Tennant's best work at Big Finish to date.

Beside Tennant we have what are, in effect, his companions. The chemistry between Slavin and Sims together and separately with Tennant serves the set neatly. There's a genuine sense of friendship between them and a still-budding chemistry with Tennant that sells the idea that they've been friends for years and how the Doctor works within that friendship. The focus on character moments serves them well, with Slavin, in particular, coming through strongly in The Lost as a result. Add on supporting cast members, including Blake Ritson, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Leighton Pugh, and a return appearance by Kevin McNally, and it boosts the performances of the entire cast across the set.

As with the first Dalek Universe set, an unsung hero of the production team is the sound designer and composer Howard Carter. Dalek Universe continues to be epic in scope, calling for a wide range of sound effects to bring its settings from an alien forest to a space station and a dimension outside of our own. 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 offering brief echoes of Murray Gold's TV themes in places. Without a doubt, it's something that adds to the strength of the set.

Dalek Universe 2 is a worthy sequel to its predecessor, full of strong performances and dramatic moments. Not to mention setting the stage for what looks to be an epic conclusion to the entire run. All told, Dalek Universe continues to be the highlight of 2021 for Big Finish, and the sooner you hear it, the better.

Doctor Who: Dalek Universe 2 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 October 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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