Big Finish Folly, Part 136 – We Are The Daleks, by Jonathan Morris
It’s 1987, and Britain is a boomtown economy! Yet there’s trouble afoot – deep in the heart of Bradford, an electronics factory has been taken over by mysterious new owners who are pumping out a massively advanced computer game called Warfleet. And in London itself, reclusive entrepreneur Alek Zenos is offering Britain a New Deal with his equally mysterious business partners. Actually, not that mysterious – but utterly terrifying: the Daleks want to give the Conservatives an economic miracle? We’re doomed…
There’s normally two things that stand out about any given Dalek story: one, that they don’t turn up until the end of the first episode; and two, that unless they are surprise baddies the story title is legally obliged to be “Something Of The Daleks”. Well, Jonathan Morris trashes both of those pretty much straight away. I’ll get to the title in a bit, but the Daleks are flagged up from the very first scene, announcing their presence via a Dalek-shaped skyscraper. Be prepared for the tinpots to be doing things very differently this time around. Morris is out to challenge the standard portrayal of the Daleks as single-minded creatures of war. Creatures of mono-manaical hatred and bigotry, yes, that’s still there…
It’s a fast-moving story, whipping from cut-scene to cut-scene – London to Bradford to London to Skaro to an asteroid belt – fast enough to stop you thinking about the convenient coincidences in the narrative that allow the Doctor to get from London to Bradford and back again so quickly. There’s a packed cast too, and it’s a pleasant surprise to find that you don’t get bogged down in wondering “who are you again?” on a regular basis.
The characters are lightly-drawn, but given the pace and the packed dialogue the sketches really are all that is needed. Alek Zenos comes across as facetiously bland, but surprisingly well motivated, and he even turns out to be much less of a villain than Celia Dunthorpe, one of the politicians willingly jumping for the Daleks’ slaughter knife.
Nuggets in the script include pokes at online gaming, the internet itself, and the culture of 1980s Britain, and they pass by so quickly and irreverently that you don’t want to laugh in case you miss the next one. Doctor Who is always at its best when riffing off genre and culture, and if Warfleet doesn’t make you think of Ender’s Game then you’re missing out. But by far the most interesting aspect of the script is the overtly political thread running through all four episodes.
Celia Dunthorpe is one of those horrible MPs who hate the “little people” they feel they are forced to govern, a thinly-veiled and piggishly venal caricature of the heartless Thatcher. By setting We Are The Daleks in 1987, and making Dunthorpe a government minister, Morris labels the greedy, grasping, pro-Dalek MPs as Conservative. They want primacy over Europe, over the rest of the world, they want the map re-coloured pink, and they don’t care about the cost – whether it be financial, moral, or human.
“Who needs Daleks when you have politicians?” muses the Doctor at one point. Blink and you’ll miss it. Morris doesn’t stop at taking pot-shots at the vile Conservatives (I can visualise Cameron and IDS eagerly licking the skirts of the Dalek Supreme in their willingness to sell out the rest of humanity, and it puts me off my food); instead he goes so far as to implicate all of us – we can be cruel, warlike, unempathetic. We are the Daleks. It doesn’t take much for us to descend to their level; the fucking Tories are only a signpost along that road.
The extra interviews make it clear that Sylvester McCoy enjoyed taking part in this story – “It’s a very political play. I’m a very political person.” I highly recommend it, it’s a perfect encapsulation of what Doctor Who can be and should be – education wrapped in entertainment, the very thing that the shitbag Conservatives hate.