Doctor Who – The Dalek Protocol (Big Finish Review)

The Dalek Universe saga begins with aplomb in the form of The Dalek Protocol. This may be a one-off release, but The Dalek Protocol has a tri-fold mission: tell an era-authentic story featuring the Doctor, Leela and K9; act as a sequel to a classic Doctor Who serial while distinguishing itself as something new; and acquaint listeners with both Dalek Universe and the characters of Anya Kingdom and Mark Seven in particular.

As a sequel to the classic Third Doctor serial Death to the Daleks (a favourite of writer Nicholas Briggs, as evidenced by its ubiquity in the Big Finish Podcast), The Dalek Protocol sees a return to the setting of that story, the planet Exxilon, alongside its native inhabitants of the same name and a Dalek invasion force seeking to exploit its natural resources. Even a minor character, Bellal, recurs, now voiced by Nicholas Briggs (pulling triple duty as writer, director and actor).

Being full of references to the events of Death to the Daleks, and considering how the Fourth Doctor and Leela have also visited Exxilon in a previous Big Finish audio, the story is big on continuity and will no doubt prove quite the entertaining adventure for devoted fans of the era. But you don’t need to be a Terry Nation fan to relish in the story’s evocative atmosphere: the strange landscape of the planet’s surface; some great sound design for the power-draining beacon; and a fleet of Daleks silently observing proceedings with only their omnipresent thrum heard in the background.

 

The Dalek Protocol employs an intriguing structure: Exxilon is the setting for the first half, where interactions with locals are front and centre, before the action shifts onboard a spaceship for the second half and the Daleks take on a larger, though arguably still minor, role. The story also starts very slow as it develops separate storylines for three key parties: Doctor, Leela and K9; Space Security Service agents Anya Kingdom and Mark Seven; and a Marine Space Corps expedition intent on curing humanity of a deadly “space plague” by mining Exxilon’s value parrinium ore – a resource they are willing to kill to get (classic military!).

The story succeeds primarily for how we spend time with characters we care about. The release neatly picks up on the Doctor-Leela dynamic, whereby Leela very much holds her own even as the Doctor goes off on one of his trademark tangents. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are delightful together as always, still going strong after dozens of adventures together at Big Finish across the past decade. Baker’s performance, even as an octogenarian, thrums with energy and Jameson adds subtle touches of nuance and irony into Leela’s words that might otherwise come across as overly prosaic.

This is the third appearance of Anya on audio at Big Finish, and the second of Mark – both were in series eight of The Diary of River Song, and the former was a companion of the Doctor in the eighth series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures back in 2019. The presence of Anya – who previous travelled with the Doctor from her perspective, but whom the Doctor hasn’t yet met from his – complicates the situation considerably when it comes to shielding the Doctor from his own future. Jane Slavin knocks it out of the park as usual, playing Anya with a wealth of charm and emotional density. (I know the character is supposed to be potentially dubious, but Slavin is far too nice for that impression to last for very long!) And Joe Sims convinces as the straight-talking deadshot android and survivor of the Dalek Wars who secretly is an unwitting agent of the Daleks. Both are called on to prove themselves in The Dalek Protocol, and it’s entirely likely they’ll become even more distinctive characters as the saga ensues.

The Dalek Protocol is a compelling prologue to the ambitious Dalek Universe. The Doctor’s interplay with Leela and K9 rarely disappoints, and it’s a fitting sequel to Death to the Daleks. Beyond that, this story links to the broader saga via the presence of Anya and Mark, who pop again next in Dalek Universe 1, featuring the Tenth Doctor – which you can read about here at We Made This this week.

Doctor Who – The Dalek Protocol was released in April 2021. It will be exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 May 2021, and on general sale after this date.

Extras

Stick around after the end of the story for a suite of behind-the-scenes interviews with cast and crew, offering an insight into what went into creating the adventure (which was, inexplicably, recorded way back in July 2018!). Nicholas Briggs firstly runs us through the “poisoned chalice” of incorporating so many disparate elements, and reveals the story was initially conceived as a quasi-standalone tale before later being directly incorporated into the Dalek Universe arc.

“It’s absolute magic,” says John Leeson, a sentiment echoed by Louise Jameson, Joe Sims and everyone really. Sims relishes the opportunity to play against type, Jane Slavin admires the acting skills of Tom Baker, and script editor John Dorney runs through the wide-ranging storytelling possibilities opened up by Death to the Daleks.

There’s also a trailer for the Fourth Doctor release The Doomsday Contract, the most recent instalment in Big Finish’s Lost Stories range, and a fourteen-minute music score from composer Jamie Robertson – extra treats to cap off a first-rate release.

Synopsis

The Earth mission to Exxilon is nearing completion after many long years. Enough parrinium has been mined to stop the spread of the deadly space plague. But suddenly, the power-draining beacon from the Exxilon city is inexplicably reactivated, stranding the humans.

The Doctor, Leela and K9 are stuck too, right on top of the remains of the city – under attack!

Somewhere nearby, the android agent Mark Seven is enacting his secret orders while the Doctor’s estranged future companion, Anya Kingdom, is hoping for redemption.

And heading inexorably towards them all… the Daleks!

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor)
Louise Jameson (Leela)
John Leeson (K9)
Jane Slavin (Anya Kingdom)
Joe Sims (Mark Seven)
Nicholas Briggs (Barnard / Bellal / The Daleks)
Jez Fielder (Gislen)
Anna Mitcham (Ellasi Craig)

Credits

Cover Art by Ryan Aplin
Director Nicholas Briggs
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs
Music by Jamie Robertson
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Sound Design Jamie Robertson
Written by Nicholas Briggs

Suggested Listening

Doctor Who – The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 8 Vol 1

Doctor Who – The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 8 Vol 2

The Diary of River Song Series 8

Doctor Who – The Exxilons

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