Big Finish: Doctor Who: EMANCIPATION OF THE DALEKS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who: EMANCIPATION OF THE DALEKS Review

Matthew Kresal reviews a future Bill.
Last July, Big Finish launched the Doctor Who audio novels range. Combining the audiobook approach of narrator-read prose with the sound design and music that have become hallmarks of the company's audio dramas, it was an intriguing step, as debut outing Scourge of the Cybermen proved. Followed by the Fourth Doctor and Adric tale Watchers earlier this year, Big Finish's third entry into the range is the first to feature a Doctor from Modern Who, and to its credit, it makes the most of it.

Written by Big Finish and BBC Books veteran Jonathan Morris, Emancipation of the Daleks makes for intriguing listening. Following a very Twelfth Doctor opening scene during his university set portions of series ten, Morris kicks the novel off with a seeming impossibility: Bill Potts receiving a visitation by an older version of herself. It's a rather daring opening move, as Morris admits in the extras, given what fans will know what Bill's eventual fate later on with the Doctor. How such a thing is possible is just the opening move as Morris takes the Doctor and Bills along in an eventual encounter into an alternate timeline with a Dalek-occupied Earth.

Or is it?

Across six hours and three episodes (notionally making this into the equivalent of a three-parter on TV), Morris plays with expectations for both the characters and the listener alike. It's apparent with his treatment of the Daleks, for example. It's odd that Peter Capaldi's Doctor never quite had a proper Dalek story, with Into the Dalek dominated by the malfunctioning Rusty and The Magician's Apprentice/The Witch's Familiar focusing more on Davros and Missy (despite having so many past Dalek types present). Morris consciously kept that in mind while writing this, something that's apparent throughout with the evoking of tropes from several Dalek stories along the way. It's what Morris does with them that's intriguing, from Robomen to shades of Robert Shearman's 2005 episode Dalek.

That said, what Emancipation of the Daleks resembles most is the Big Finish predecessor to that 2005 episode: the 2003 audio Jubilee. That's especially apparent in the middle section of the story as the dystopian alternate present is fleshed out, filling in the gap as to how it has come to pass. Here, Morris puts a less satirical spin on the idea, which gives it a more prescient feel. Exactly why it occurs isn't entirely made clear, especially with the continuity references Morris drops along the way, which slightly undermines things, the path from our recent past to an alternative dystopia is still powerfully portrayed. Factor in a certain degree of time travel shenanigans, and you get the most Steven Moffat Dalek story that Steven Moffat never wrote.

It's also in Big Finish tradition exceedingly well-realized as a production. Dan Starkey, best known as Strax and a reader of Doctor Who audiobooks for BBC Books, serves as narrator to superb effect. His takes on the Doctor and Bill are instantly recognizable, conveying everything from Capaldi's switch between mischievousness or frustration and spot-on delivery of Pearl Mackie's "Wot?" that became almost a hallmark of Bill as a character. Morris gives Starkey some solid prose to read, including some emotional stuff in the back 2/3 of the narrative where Starkey has a chance to show off his range. He's given backing by Nicholas Briggs voicing the Daleks, bringing Skaro's finest to life yet again, including a new type or two. Steven Foxon, who did the sound design and music for Scourge of the Cybermen a year ago, returns as well, heightening the atmosphere without ever getting in the way of prose or performer.

Combining the audiobook approach of narrator-read prose with the sound design and music that have become hallmarks of the company's audio dramas, Emancipation of the Daleks is a palpable hit for Big Finish's Audio Novels. For fans of the Twelfth Doctor and Bill, or the timey-wimey nature of the Moffat era, it's the Dalek story you never knew you needed until you heard it. And trust this reviewer when he says you'll want to hear it.

Doctor Who: Emancipation of the Daleks is avaialable to purchase from the Big Finish website.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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