❉ This release fills an obvious gap in the Doctor Who world, and provides closure for questions fans have had for years.
“Carole Ann Ford is on double duties as both the narrator and performing the part of Susan. She does well to differentiate these two voices with the narration coming in her natural voice while she makes some effort to sound more youthful when playing Susan… an impressive attempt at rolling back the clock fifty-six years.”
Big Finish have become known in recent years for their countless Doctor Who spin-offs but, with the latest release in The Early Adventures range they take a spin-off worthy concept and play it out over the course of a single two-hour story. In After the Daleks we get to hear what happened to the Earth and to Susan Foreman in the immediate aftermath of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. While other stories have picked up on Susan’s story later on in her life, this is the first direct sequel, featuring recast versions of other characters from that story: David Campbell and Jenny (given the surname Chaplin here, although she didn’t have one on screen). An early scene shows us Susan and David’s very first conversation after the TARDIS dematerialised at the end of episode six of the television serial. We can only imagine that if they’d delayed those credits on screen for another minute this is what we might have seen in 1965.
Despite maintaining The Early Adventures range’s usual composition of four half-hour episodes, featuring a combination of narration and full cast drama, this release feels very distinct. While the range usually seeks to emulate the narrative structure of a Classic Doctor Who serial, this story makes use of frequent time jumps in order to tell a more sprawling tale. Although some scenes do work to establish the story’s overarching villain, the first episode almost feels like a series of vignettes. It’s an effective way to pick up on the worldbuilding already present in The Dalek Invasion of Earth and see how things are adapting in the aftermath of the Daleks’ defeat. Different scenes show us agricultural developments, the attempted treatment of the still brainwashed Robomen, and the existence of armed looters. With a more stable world quickly established, the question of leadership soon arises. It’s from this that much of the story’s conflict, both emotional and otherwise, comes. While David encourages Susan to run for leader, she herself is reluctant, and Jenny warns of the risks Susan may face if the public learns she is not from this time and place. Our villain, Marcus Bray, who is introduced at the start of the story as the owner of the last remaining Dalek, is keen to seize power, and seems to have the political experience and charisma to do it.
While Marcus is on the one hand a fairly conventional villain in terms of his motivations and actions, the political context grants him some more depth and intrigue. His argument for being leader: that he is the only living democratically elected individual. Although the story does play out with an election narrative, it’s clear that Marcus believes his prior status entitles him to power, and rather than villainy or cruelty, it’s that entitlement that proves to be his most defining characteristic. No doubt a commentary on our contemporary political landscape. Likewise the way the story introduces a growing xenophobic political climate (albeit directed at alien ‘outsiders’ rather than human ones), that Marcus charismatically plays upon and exacerbates for his own ends, has its reflection in our own society.
Outside of dealing with the story’s antagonist, we spend plenty of time exploring the emotional fallout of the television serial. It’s long been pointed out by fans that Susan doesn’t get much agency at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, with a cynical view on the final scenes being that her grandfather dumps her with the first man she expresses a romantic interest in, but this story goes some way to redress this. As well as further developing her relationship with David, it goes out of its way to engineer a situation in which she has a choice to stay on earth or return to the stars. While for the audience it may be fairly obvious which way this dilemma will be resolved, the debate is well set-up throughout the story as Susan is often found longingly staring at the stars, and it shows David’s respect for her as he encourages her to make the decision herself.
If there’s one criticism I have of David in this story, it’s that he’s perhaps a little too perfect, but then again it could be said that he’s encouraging her to make this choice herself so that she doesn’t grow to resent him or the earth in the future. Part of Susan’s development in this story is also about her attempting to fulfill the narrative hole left by the Doctor. She regularly remarks that things she says are like what the Doctor would have said, but also struggles in his shadow, feeling she can’t live up to his way with words when she is given the opportunity to make a speech. Once again the story is cleverly constructed in such a way as to give her an opportunity to make a very ‘Doctor-ish’ speech by the end, more than proving herself as his equal, but also her own character.
Elsewhere the story’s other key emotional thread comes from Jenny’s relationship with her brother, a Roboman. Despite the Robomen now being free of Dalek commands, breaking their conditioning proves more complicated, and Jenny’s attachment to this task is made personal by her own brother’s situation. Especially when he runs off from where the Robomen are being treated. Although seemingly separate at first, this element of the plot comes together with the main story very effectively in the final half, and proves to be at least as emotionally compelling as any of the stuff with Susan and David. There’s no feeling during the subplots that you are treading water waiting for it to return to the main thread. There’s no filler here.
The three characters from the television serial who feature here are all well characterised and well performed. Carole Ann Ford is on double duties as both the narrator and performing the part of Susan. She does well to differentiate these two voices with the narration coming in her natural voice while she makes some effort to sound more youthful when playing Susan. Naturally this isn’t a one hundred percent perfect recreation of her voice during her time on screen, but still an impressive attempt at rolling back the clock fifty-six years. And to some extent Susan does feel more mature in this story than in much of her time on-screen, which is in keeping with her characterisation in her final story, so the performance sits well in that regard. I must admit that the narration did jar slightly at times, being so used to Big Finish stories that are entirely full-cast, but it’s not overused for the most part and I soon got used to it. That said, given this story doesn’t feature the Doctor, it’s hard to see a reason why they couldn’t have dropped the use of narration, other than because it wouldn’t be in keeping with the style of the range.
Both David Campbell and Jenny Chaplin have been recast well here. Neither actor attempts to give an impression of the character as portrayed on screen, and the story is all the better for it. Sean Biggerstaff as David does a very good job of playing a romance opposite an actor more than twice his age, meanwhile Lucy Briers — the daughter of original Jenny actor Ann Davies — brings a pleasing authenticity as someone with intimate knowledge of the actor she is taking over from. The cast is rounded off by Oli Higginson bringing an impressive sincerity to Jenny’s brother Victor, and Jonathan Guy Lewis who chews the audio scenery as Marcus Bray.
All in all this release fills an obvious gap in the Doctor Who world, and provides closure for questions fans have had for years, all while still providing a story that moves with pace and doesn’t languish in the details. It’s a more than satisfying exploration of the aftermath of a well regarded television story, and it delivers everything that it sets out to. This would normally be the part of a review where I call for more than this sort of thing in the future, but in this instance I’m happy to see such a big concept explored in two hours, and kept contained in a way that Big Finish narratives aren’t always allowed to. That said I would, of course, love to see more from all the creatives involved here in future Big Finish releases. Perhaps what’s most impressive, but something we often take for granted as fans, is that almost sixty years since her debut people are still finding new and original things to do with Susan Foreman, and Carole Ann Ford is still doing a sublime job playing her.
❉ “Doctor Who – The Early Adventures 7.1. Doctor Who: After the Daleks” was released in August 2021. It will be exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 September 2021, and on general sale after this date.