‘Doctor Who: Order of the Daleks’ reviewed

❉ Colin Baker is at his Big Finish best in ‘Order of the Daleks’. “Prepare to be terrified”, writes reviewer Kara Dennison.

The time-travelling Doctor and his companion Constance have just landed on Strellin. But they aren’t the only off-worlders to have come here. Inside a nearby monastery, the monks of the reclusive Brotherhood of the Black Petal are guarding a strange and terrible secret. Something that might bring disaster not just to Strellin, but to every civilised world in the galaxy!

Daleks are a double-edged sword in the world of Doctor Who. On the one hand, they are so closely tied to the show that it’s a bit like peanut butter and jam at this point. You have the Doctor, you have the Daleks. They are an intrinsic part of the show, despite the initial resistance against them at their inception.

On the other, they are a difficult card to play. Not only does their fairly narrow to-do list mean there’s only so much you can do with them, but we live in an age of much cannier, more demanding fans. If one brings back the Daleks, it must be for a reason. There must be a new story to tell and not just ‘Oh my God, the Daleks are back!’ as one could do in the early eras of the 21st century series when anything coming back was cause for celebration.

To that end, Dalek stories of any type will be judged and scrutinized by the fan base far more harshly. Because you have to get them right, but you also have to do something new with them at the same time. Between Big Finish and the new series, this has led to hyper-religious Daleks, good Daleks, Daleks spouting Shakespeare, and Dalek/human hybrids… each with varying amounts of success.

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The Order of the Daleks chose to play with the Dalek paradigm in a couple of different ways: one aesthetic, one more plot-based. And while it can feel a bit odd to talk about the ‘aesthetic’ of an audio drama, it is pretty much the lynchpin of this release.

The Sixth Doctor and Constance find themselves on the medieval planet of Strellin, confronted by the Doctor’s greatest enemy: people who don’t want him interfering. Auditor Pendle of the Galactic Census (The Visitation‘s John Savident in a role literally written for him) and his assistant Asta (Olivia Hallinan) are introduced right off the bat as foils to Colin Baker’s Doctor and Miranda Raison’s Constance, and are thrown into the whole mess with them.

The mess in question? Another intergalactic interloper has landed on Strellin (which the Galactic Census considers too underdeveloped to tamper with), and they are located at a local monastery. It only takes a look at the title to tell you who these intergalactic interlopers are, but they’re not quite what we’re used to – and that, you can see from a look at the cover, featuring Chris Thompson’s rendering of a stained-glass Dalek equipped with pikes.

Chris Thompson’s rendering of a stained-glass Dalek.
Chris Thompson’s rendering of a stained-glass Dalek.

The Daleks’ methods of repairing themselves on a medieval planet are gruesome, to say the least, but they don’t stop there. There are mysteries about the Brotherhood of the Black Petal that, until now, have been kept secret. But now that the Daleks have ready access to them, and it could change the way they carry out their Seek/Locate/Exterminate plan forever.

One of the key issues with reinventing the Daleks is the idea of reinventing them forever, which is something to shy away from – not because it’s undesirable, but because the fans will have you for it unless you nail it, and it’s very difficult to nail it. Isolated bands of Daleks adapting to extenuating circumstances is a far safer way to play it, and allows for experiments like the ‘snazzy’ stained glass Daleks of this episode. Without giving too much away about how they conduct their repairs, it also affects the tone of the Daleks’ voices… not just because they’re encased in lead and glass.

A fan who simply wants inventive stories and explorations of what the Daleks are will find things to love in Order of the Daleks, as will people who enjoy the idea of some Middle Ages-style sci-fi.

Constance is showing herself to be a fine companion, the sort that the Sixth Doctor works well against in audio. Putting the Doctor directly opposite his equal – be it as an intellectual, an adventurer, or a stubborn go-getter – can yield entertaining results. A character like Constance runs a definite risk of being played as overbearing and unlikable, but Raison walks the line admirably, and she comes across as confident and unflappable rather than unbearable.

Colin is at his Big Finish best, and it’s refreshing to hear him continue to be handed better scripts than he was afforded during his television run. The Sixth Doctor and his companions have evolved a lot via Big Finish, and I hope they’ll continue to do so.

The Galactic Census were an interesting touch, and an entertaining throwback (throw-forward?) to The Happiness Patrol. It was great to see Asta grow as a character… and as much as being monitored irks the Doctor, I hope we haven’t heard the last of her. That said, the two definitely had the feel of characters who could have been part of a mini story arc. I say that, but as much as I feel I could have stood to have them thwart the Doctor a bit more, this may well have been just the right amount.

Colin is at his Big Finish best, and it’s refreshing to hear him continue to be handed better scripts than he was afforded during his television run. The Sixth Doctor and his companions have evolved a lot via Big Finish, and I hope they’ll continue to do so.

While Mike Tucker can definitely write a Dalek story, it’s important to note that this one in particular has lots and lots and lots of implied gore and body horror. The upside is that you don’t have to see it, if you (like me) are too weak-stomached for such things. But an effective audio gives you plenty to work with, so this is quite unsettling in places. It would likely never make it on to the tellybox for many of the things it’s implied happen – but that’s the beauty of Big Finish, in many ways.

No Dalek story, no matter how inventive, will change the mind of a fan who believes the Daleks have now officially been overplayed forever. But a fan who simply wants inventive stories and explorations of what they are will find things to love in Order of the Daleks. As will people who enjoy the idea of some Middle Ages-style sci-fi. With atmospheric sound design and some crazy visuals already in your mind as you press “Play,” prepare to be entertained… and potentially terrified.


❉ ‘Order of the Daleks’ was released on 9 November 2016. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until December 31st 2016, and on general sale after this date.

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