Big Finish: Doctor Who DALEK UNIVERSE 3 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who DALEK UNIVERSE 3 Review

Matthew Kresal reaches the finale of the nine-episode epic adventure, Dalek Universe.
For fans of Big Finish's audio dramas based on Doctor Who, Dalek Universe has been something of an event among the company's various offerings. It's become a nine-episode epic, told across three box sets, bringing together perhaps Modern Who's best-known Doctor with Classic Who elements originated by Dalek creator Terry Nation. With this final entry in the series, Dalek Universe moves from Nation's sixties creations into the seventies with the promise of an epic conclusion. Can it deliver it, though?

Opening the set is The First Son by Lizzie Hopley. Hopley's script kicks off with the cliffhanger from the second set before approaching a full plate of story ideas to set up the finale. Namely, bringing in the Movellans, Nation's foes for the Daleks created for 1979's Destiny of the Daleks, his final contribution to Doctor Who. And adding to the mystery of the piece is a dreadlocked and white jump suit-wearing character with a familiar face and voice: River Song, played once more by Alex Kingston. Or is she? Like Roy Gill's Cycle of Destruction that opened the previous set, there's a sense of all not being what it seems in Hopley's tale, from who Kingston is or isn't playing to Matthew Jacobs-Morgan as Kamen. It does end up leaving the episode feeling convoluted in places, especially towards the end as things come to a head. It's a solid opening, to be sure, but perhaps not as strong as it could have been with fewer ingredients in the mix.

Dalek Universe ends as it began: with a two-parter. Matt Fitton pens The Dalek Defence and The Triumph of Davros, which, as the title may suggest, brings in perhaps the most famous Nation creation beyond the Daleks: their creator, Davros. Dalek Defense neatly sets up the return of Davros, and there is a particular thrill to be had from listening to Terry Molloy, perhaps the definitive actor in the role, acting alongside David Tennant's Doctor. One that also leads the arc to come full circle and builds to a genuine jaw-dropping cliffhanger.

And yet, the choice of Davros and the Movellans for this closing set also undermines Fitton's finale in The Triumph of Davros. After all, Davros is a character with a long history and just as complicated a timeline. Whereas earlier Dalek Universe sets took Nation's creations and could play with them free of continuity, by and large, there is no such luxury afforded here. As strong as Fitton's finale is, especially for the character arcs involved with the Tenth Doctor and Anya Kingdom, it's an oddly tension-free affair as a result of the elements at play, ticking off some missing pieces of Doctor Who's history along the way. Yet the character moments, especially with the Doctor and Anya, keep the listener engaged and perhaps offering the most satisfying conclusion to this epic.

Indeed, as a reviewer, I can't sing the praises of David Tennant and Jane Slavin enough. As with the earlier Dalek Universe sets, there's a genuine sense that 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. The chemistry between Tennant and Slavin serves the set neatly with a genuine sense of friendship between them that makes the finale's conclusion a bittersweet listen. Add on a supporting cast that includes a strong outing from Molloy's Davros and a different kind of performance from Alex Kingston, and it's a cast as solid as Dalek Universe has had.

As with the earlier Dalek Universe sets, 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, some quite familiar from both screen and other audios, 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 cinematic 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 and the entire Dalek Universe arc.

While perhaps not quite on the same level as the first two sets, Dalek Universe 3 is a worthwhile conclusion to one of Big Finish's most ambitious series in recent memory. From mixing Classic and Modern Who to epic cliffhangers, strong casts, and creating worlds out of sound, Dalek Universe as a series has been nothing short of a triumph. Whether you're a fan of Classic or Modern Who or never picked up a Big Finish story before, it's a series with something for everyone and a must-listen for any fan of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who: Dalek Universe 3 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 January 2022, 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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