Continuing the new trilogy of adventures for the Sixth Doctor and Peri, Emissary of the Daleks sees the pair coming face-to-face with their deadliest enemies once again on the remote planet of Omnia. Omnia has long been occupied by the Daleks who rule the population with a titular emissary. Of course, it doesn’t take the Doctor and Peri long to get involved with the resistance movement. But can they defeat the Daleks this time?
Following his success with the Cybermen in last year’s Hour of the Cybermen, Andrew Smith gets another chance to give us a cracking script with a classic Doctor Who villain. What made Hour of the Cybermen such a brilliant listen was how ruthless the Cybermen came across. And here is no different, Smith gives us one of the most ruthless Dalek adventures that I’ve heard in a long time.
The Daleks here are gloriously merciless and the story feels like it would fit in with the later classic-era Dalek serials perfectly. They exterminate without any degree of compunction and it is great that they clearly hate having to work with the Omnian emissary, Carmen Rega. Smith makes sure that this element of the story adds some great tension as you never know if the Daleks are going to flip and exterminate her or not. They are constantly looking for faults in her logic and plans in any hope of finally being able to really take over.
However, if you are familiar with The Dalek Invasion of Earth, then you’ll probably get what is going to happen here from the opening moments, Smith takes a lot of imagery from that serial including Dalek mines and the slaves used by them. But what is great is that Smith doesn’t pretend that he hasn’t borrowed those ideas. He just makes them even more fun and imaginative. We’ve got hints and nods to stories like The Magicians Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, Planet of the Daleks, Revelation and Resurrection of the Daleks and a fun appearance from the Special Weapons’ Dalek from Remembrance of the Daleks. While some fans might see it as a rerun of old Dalek adventures, it is actually very fun to work out which story much of this came from.
In typical Andrew Smith fashion, where the story really succeeds in its characters and world-building. Right from the opening story, we get a clear and vivid image of what Omnia is like under Dalek-occupation. It’s a tough and ruthless world where anyone can be your enemy. In many ways, it feels a lot like the old Big Finish series, Dalek Empire. Smith really makes you care about the characters we encounter. The Doctor finds himself imprisoned with two fellow prisoners by the end of episode 1, Kalib and Shayna. It is particularly heart-breaking when the pair are exterminated. For characters who probably only five-minutes of airtime, Smith does a great job of making us care about them.
There can be little doubt though that Carmen Rega, played by Saskia Reeves is the strongest member of the guest cast. You really get a sense of her conflicted emotions. She became an emissary of the Daleks to save her people, but the Daleks have twisted and warped her good intentions to fit their own dark purposes and so have placed her at odds with her son, Aldo, played by William Ellis. Ellis does a great job too and works especially well with Nicola Bryant, which is great as the story sees the pair together for much of the runtime.
As for the main cast, Colin Baker is excellent here, proving once again why he is such a great and under-appreciated Doctor. I’ve always loved the Sixth Doctor, there is so much more to him than his bright coat and audios like this continue to prove that. Baker seems to be having a tremendous time here, getting to square-off against his deadliest enemies once again.
But it is Nicola Bryant as Peri who really gets to shine here, getting to spend a lot of the story without the Doctor around, she shows us what she is really made of. She too gets some great moments facing off against the Daleks and she has an interesting pairing with Aldo. She works as an excellent foil for Rega too, as she tries to make her see the error of her ways. Like the Sixth Doctor, I’ve always loved Peri and would go so far as to say she is one of my favourite companions, and these types of stories, with strong writing and characterisations, really help to cement her as one of Doctor Who’s greatest companions!
Andrew Smith used to be a police officer and this allows him to be the master of the slow-burn. Nothing here is as it first seems and every small detail is important. While it might not be the big Dalek space-operas we’ve become used to, it does feel like a street-level invasion, dark, gritty and closer to home. And that really works in this story’s favour.