The Doctor has always admired the work of William Shakespeare. So he is a little surprised that Charley doesn’t hold the galaxy’s greatest playwright in the same esteem. In fact, she’s never heard of him.
Which the Doctor thinks is quite improbable.
General Mariah Learman, ruling Britain after the Eurowars, is one of Shakespeare’s greatest admirers, and is convinced her time machine will enable her to see the plays’ original performances.
Which the Doctor believes is extremely unlikely.
The Daleks just want to help. They want Learman to get her time machine working. They want Charley to appreciate the first-ever performance of Julius Caesar. They believe that Shakespeare is the greatest playwright ever to have existed and venerate his memory.
Which the Doctor knows is utterly impossible.
The Time of the Daleks feels impeccably researched, or at the least like the writer showing off his knowledge about Shakespearean plays. Whilst the idea at the heart of this story is undoubtedly a good one, ultimately, the story is not the strongest. It is to the credit of Nicholas Briggs, the director, in making Paul McGann’s first meeting with the Daleks not be an unmitigated disaster, and the central premise is sound enough to see this through.
The idea at the core of this one is pretty solid – William Shakespeare has been removed from history, causing humans in New Britain and Charley to gradually forget him. It is a plot that would only work for a story set in this location, as the concept of remembering Shakespeare is almost weaponised. It is certainly powerful enough to convince the opposition to General Learman that the poet and playwright disappearing from history is a plot by the ‘benevolent’ dictator and a side effect of her attempts to develop a means to time travel. As bizarre as it sounds, hearing the Daleks, and in the opening moments, Rassilon, quoting Shakespeare as Skaro’s famous children prepare to detonate their temporal extinction device is really quite powerful and well done. This is probably the most verbose we ever hear the Daleks and I appreciate that this probably won’t be for everybody but I rather enjoyed this aspect of this story. I think that it’s good to see different things attempted with the Daleks, and although this does eventually and inevitably dissolve into traditional Dalek action, it is at least to this story’s credit that they try and do something a bit different. The idea of time travel through mirrors is a nice one, if a bit silly, and something that we would see on the television in Turn Left. My favourite moment was probably the transformation of Learman into the Dalek mutant and the suicide of a ‘failed’ Dalek to include her in their plans. It’s a lovely moment, almost like body horror in audio and is executed really well.
Nick Briggs’ direction of this story does help it slightly, especially with the sound design and background music. There is a nice bit of piano that teases the arrival of the Daleks, and of course we get the traditional Dalek heartbeat. One of my favourite things in this story was the effects used on the voices of Viola and Charley as they attempt to use the mirrors to time travel, distorting their voices, which is a really nice way of realising this on audio. His key role of course, is the Daleks, which it feels obvious to say that he does well here, but having a solid presence in a story like this is always useful, playing the usual Daleks and the Supreme. He also has a lot more work to do than normal, given the fact that the story gives the Daleks more to say than usual.
I feel that the first two parts are good, but starts to fall down in the concluding two parts. It almost feels as though there is enough material to be put into two stories here – one, with the Daleks invading Earth through its history, and the other with Shakespeare (and maybe other famous literary figures) disappearing from time and the impact on time and the present. I will never criticise a writer for doing their homework, as it were, but Justin Richards feels as though he throws every possible Shakespearean reference at this and not all of them work. Part of the problem might be that there are too many characters, and certainly the majority of the guest cast don’t make much of an impression. The exception to this is Mariah Learman, played by Dot Smith, who ultimately wants to be the only person who can remember Shakespeare as she descends into insanity, bemoaning the fact that his skill is taken for granted. Smith is really good in the role and makes the most of this part, but I don’t think the other guest characters are written as well, and so this causes them to feel quite similar.
Whilst Paul McGann and India Fisher do put in decent performances, this isn’t the greatest Eighth Doctor and Charley story ever. In fact, I think this story could work with any Doctor/Companion pairing, with nothing really to tie it to these two other than the final scene, which links into the ongoing arc surrounding Charley.
Verdict: I actually managed to talk myself up in the course of writing this review. There are some interesting ideas in The Time of the Daleks, but a promising start leads to a bit of a convaluted ending. 6/10
Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Dot Smith (General Mariah Learman), Julian Harries (Major Ferdinand), Nicola Boyce (Viola), Jem Bassett (Kitchen Boy), Mark McDonnell (Priestly), Lee Moone (Hart), Ian Brooker (Professor Osric), Nicholas Briggs (Dalek Voice), Clayton Hickman (Dalek Voice/Yokel), Robert Curbishley (Marcus), Ian Potter (Mark Anthony/Army Officer/Tannoy) & Don Warrington (Rassilon).
Writer: Justin Richards
Director: Nicholas Briggs
Behind the Scenes
- This story marks the first credited appearance of Rassilon in an audio story. He appeared at the end of Seasons of Fear, but was not credited.
- The first Dalek story for Paul McGann – despite the Daleks briefly making an audio cameo at the start of the TV Movie, the Doctor and the Daleks did not share any scenes.
- Whilst the Doctor has met Shakespeare on a number of occasions, this is chronologically the first meeting between the two.
- Dot Smith appeared in Dalek Empire as Milvas.
- Julian Harries also appeared in Bloodtide.
- Nicola Boyce appeared in Embrace the Darkness and would go on to appear in Neverland.
- To hide the fact that Shakespeare was being portrayed by a woman, Jemma Bassett was credited as Jem.
- Mark McDonald would go on to appear in Neverland, as well as featuring in the War Doctor audios and had previously appeared in Embrace the Darkness.
- Following on from his appearance in Embrace the Darkness, Lee Moone would go on to appear in Neverland.
- Ian Brooker had previously appeared in Embrace the Darkness.
- Clayton Hickman designed a lot of DVD and Big Finish CD covers.
- Robert Curbishley has appeared in numerous releases across the Main Range and UNIT releases.
- Ian Potter has written a number of stories for both novels and Big Finish.
It’s a strange partnership where they do all the work and we get all the reward.Major Ferdinand