Audio Review: Doctor Who - Energy of the Daleks / Director: Nicholas Briggs / Writer: Nicholas Briggs / Starring: Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Mark Benton, Alex Lowe, Lydia Harding, Dan Starkey, Nicholas Briggs / Release Date: Out Now (CD and Download)
Since 1999 Big Finish Productions have been rolling out regular full-cast fully-dramatised audio productions featuring all the surviving incarnations of the Time Lord from the original Doctor Who series (including, eventually, Paul McGann reprising his portrayal from the one-off 1996 TV movie). But the prospect of new audio adventures starring the most popular ‘original’ Doctor, Tom Baker, seemed unlikely as Baker continued to refuse approaches from Big Finish. But time mellows us all and last year Baker relented and signed on the dotted line to return to the role which made him famous (if not immortal) for a string of new adventures which began recording in April 2011. Plans to reunite the fourth Doctor with his most cherished companion, Sarah Jane Smith, were abandoned following the tragic death of actress Elisabeth Sladen but Big Finish were able to replace her with Louise Jameson, Sladen’s successor in the TV series in 1977 where she portrayed ’noble savage’ Leela for a series and a half.
Energy of the Daleks is the fourth Baker audio release from BF (although it was the first to be recorded) and offers the irresistible opportunity to enjoy a new battle between the fourth Doctor and the show‘s most celebrated and iconic aliens the Daleks. Baker’s Doctor had, of course, clashed with the pepper pots on two occasions on TV, in the classic Genesis of the Daleks in 1975 and in 1979 in the rather less classic Destiny of the Daleks. As a story, Energy falls somewhere between the two stools; it’s hardly as momentous as Genesis but neither is it as throwaway as Destiny. Told in two raucous breakneck 25-minute installments, the story has the pace of much modern Doctor Who in that it barely pauses for breath and, also like modern Doctor Who, it tries to give some of its characters some emotional depth, even if the Doctor and Leela themselves are much as they appeared on TV.
In Energy of the Daleks (a clunky title which can’t help but create mental images of Daleks enjoying a good work-out at the gym or trundling around a marathon course) the Doctor detects some unusual power readings (as he so often does) and the TARDIS arrives in London in the year 2025. There’s a satellite dish on top of the National Gallery and a base and giant solar panels on the moon. The GlobeSphere Corporation is making available limitless supplies of energy to the people of Britain - at a price. Caught up in a demonstration in Trafalgar square the Doctor and Leela are swiftly separated and, as the Doctor falls in with affable protestor Jack Coulsen (Mark Benton), Leela finds herself captured and at the mercy of the Daleks.
Writer Nicholas Briggs (who also provides the Dalek voices here and for the modern TV show) has crafted a simplistic, linear storyline which borrows heavily, if affectionately, from the canon of Dalek stories on TV. The Daleks’ human slaves the Robomen are back, the chief human bad guy is under the malign influence of the Daleks and the whole storyline - the Daleks are trying to shift the Earth’s axis in an attempt to destroy the planet - can’t help but bring to mind the 1964 story The Dalek Invasion of Earth. But of course the whole point of the Daleks is seeing them in action; here they’re just a lot of hysterical modulated voices and although it’s hard to imagine anyone out there who doesn’t know what a Dalek looks like, and we can picture them even as we listen to them, the story just misses that visceral thrill of actually seeing those familiar props gliding about randomly exterminating all and sundry.
Baker and Jameson are on good form, though. Considering they’re recreating a TV partnership which ended 34 years ago and this was their first audio recording together, they’ve both slipped back into their roles with ease. Their voices are a bit riper and occasionally a bit more breathless than they were in 1977 but otherwise they’ve effortlessly captured the Doctor’s twinkling, bohemian charm and Leela’s wide-eyed naivety in the face of things her primitive mind can scarcely comprehend.
These new fourth Doctor stories are really all about nostalgia - “It’s Saturday teatime in 1977 all over again” as Baker huskily intones at the end of the trailer for the next release. As a result the stories are more concerned with recreating a specific era in Doctor Who history rather than branching out in the creative new directions of the regular ‘old Doctor’ releases. And that’s no bad thing. Energy of the Daleks is a cracking little romp which suffers just a little by its brevity but can’t help but warm the cockles as it genuinely reminds us of that special time in the 1970s when Tom Baker had made Doctor Who more popular than ever and there always seemed to be fish fingers for tea.