Red or Dead?

Big Finish Folly, Part 101 – Brotherhood of the Daleks, by Alan Barnes

A platoon of Thals dare to pass through the Spiridon jungles… a fanatical scientist monitors experiments from within a belljar greenhouse… Charlotte Pollard’s future begins to catch up with her… and deep within a frozen planetoid, the Daleks dream…

Warning: this story is complicated. Ruminating on it without somehow spoiling it will be very difficult. Understanding what the breezy hell is going on in this story is difficult enough. Obviously the Daleks play a major part. So do the Thals. And the hallucinogenic spores secreted by the flytrap-style plants from The Mind’s Eye. And the First Law of Time.

Let’s see if I can aid the listener in distinguishing what’s going on without actually spoiling the plot. There are three distinct versions of the Thal platoon – one that is tramping through the jungles of Spiridon, one that is aiding the scientist Murgat (Michael Cochrane), and one that isn’t actually a Thal platoon at all. Their separate identities fold together and begin to collapse, memories – both false and true – mixing together when the Spiridon platoon encounters an odd-looking blue box.

Murgat, it emerges, is using Dalek technology (this is a base won from the Daleks in the latest round of never-ending wars) to attempt to create a sort of Fifth Column. Except that his overseers have different ideas. And into this role-reversal identity crisis walk the Doctor and Charlotte Pollard – if Charley’s identity was a problem before, then it’s a full-blown disaster zone now. The Doctor can’t trust her, and he’s trapped between the Daleks and his own future…

Ouch. My brain hurts. Alan Barnes has created a frighteningly complex tale that relies on plot elements from other plays as shorthand to allow him more time to f%^k with the audience’s brains. There are also audio tricks like false episode endings to thoroughly disconcert you. And Daleks, of course – Daleks never do things by halves. One can almost imagine the Black Dalek dismissing a planetary invasion as too straightforward and simple.

And as if there wasn’t already too much going on, Barnes adds more – we’ve had Gilbertian pirates and an ode to Black Bess, and now we get singing Daleks. Seriously. It’s a frightening concept, but it doesn’t quite come off. In fact it threatens to overshadow what ought to be the pivotal scene in the relationship between the Doctor and Charlotte, as she reluctantly opens up to him about who she really is and how she came to be here. It’s not the Doctor, however, and the moment is lost – for now… (That relationship, by the way, isn’t going too well – Charley’s snarky asides seem intended to irk the Doctor, while he is ungracious enough to describe her as being “horsey”. This is the episode of Take Me Out that ITV never showed.)

Frustrating. Even the finale, signposted as it is, just misses the bullseye by way of having a Dalek call for mercy. Ironically, it’s very much like modern TV Who – all the ideas, in one massive, slightly overcooked pot. And the big question remains unanswered – can the Doctor really trust Charley?
****

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