The Early Adventures are back! Following on from a very successful year in 2017 with the adventures of the Second Doctor, Polly, Ben, Jamie and Zoe. The Dalek Occupation of Winter kicks the series off in high gear for what looks to be another successful entry of stories for the First Doctor!
The TARDIS lands in a city called Winter on a planet where the winter season is seemingly endless. Wandering around a fair, the trio of travellers soon learn that a lucky group of youngsters have won entry to the highly-regarded Scientific Research Centre.
But it soon becomes clear to the Doctor, Vikki and Steven that something else is working behind the scenes. The Daleks are also in residence. They have been for a very long time. But they seem to live in some-kind of harmony with the Human residents.
While the city leader believes himself to be in full control of the situation, the Daleks have been plotting and planning. This is the occupation of Winter and everyone is in danger…
The previous series of The Early Adventures had abandoned the use of narration amongst the dialogue because a large number of the cast are luckily still with us. Unfortunately, the First Doctor era isn’t quite so lucky. You can count on one hand the surviving members of the cast from the years between 1963-66. The Dalek Occupation of Winter has no choice but to go back to the use of narration. While it seems a little jarring at first, something that for me, ruined the debut series back in 2014, the story quickly becomes a masterclass in its unique format thanks to the brilliant script from David K Barnes and the always superb direction from Lisa Bowerman.
The title reveals the return of the metal meanies and of course, Nicholas Briggs is back on hand to give us the grating voices of the Daleks. He is always a delight to hear in the role both on television and audio and he sounds wonderful here, as the original Sixties Daleks who had a voice all of their own. The Daleks occupying planets is nothing new, they did it in 1964 when they invaded the Earth in, The Daleks’ Invasion of Earth, a story which said goodbye to Susan. But this story does something different. While the previous story had the human race working to rebel against their Dalek overlords on Winter, those in power know what is happening, they’ve excepted it. After all, the Daleks are their benefactors, what harm could they possibly pose?
You could draw plenty of comparisons between Invasion and Occupation, the way the people mindlessly work at constructing the Daleks isn’t all that different from the mindlessness of the Robomen. There are rebellions in both stories and the Daleks are at their most cunning.
It could have been very easy for Barnes to copy Invasion but where the two stories break their similarities it is in the characters of Gaius Majorian and Karna, played respectively by Robert Daws and Sara Powell. These two characters are genuinely vile and do some despicable things. As the story progresses you do have to wonder who are more evil, the Daleks or these two. But to feel such hatred towards two fictional characters is a testament to the fantastic performances from Daws and Powell who really shine here.
My favourite releases from this range are those that can effectively evoke an atmospheric feeling, The Forsaken and The Night Witches are perfect examples of this. A good use of musical cues can also easily evoke such a feeling and fortunately, The Dalek Occupation of Winter does this brilliantly. Toby Hrycek-Robinson has created an enjoyable guitar-synth soundtrack that manages to work brilliantly with the actors and doesn’t distract from them while helping to evoke the sheer bleakness of the whole piece.
The story also boasts a slightly-longer than usual runtime of just over two-and-a-half hours. Sometimes this can be a worry as, no matter how good the story might be, it just won’t stretch to that length. But David K Barnes has no trouble in keeping things interesting. In fact, he uses the extended run-time to his advantage, really allowing to see how poorly the people of Winter live under the rule of the Daleks.
Barnes keeps things mysterious and interesting throughout the first two episodes and gradually, the thin visage of the benevolent Dalek masters slips away and their endgame is brought to light. They begin to exterminate and destroy and it is glorious to hear. Barnes also manages to give us some new and fresh cliff-hangers, ones that are more interesting than an alien gun being turned on our main cast.
Everything gets kicked into another high gear in the second half. Once the real Dalek threat has been revealed, we get a shift in the action as the horrors of the Dalek research centre come to light and there is a rather unsettling mutation for a member of the cast. Matthew Jacobs-Martin does a great job as Kenrick Vost, someone who is paired with Vikki for much of the story. Martin and O’Brien have a really great chemistry, and their scenes together a real treat.
Paired with Steven for much of the story is Kenrick’s sister, Amala Vost, played brilliantly by Shvorne Marks. She does a brilliant job at going from someone who is … excepting their situation to someone who decides to stand up and fight for what is right. It’s a glorious character arc that Barnes takes this character on and Marks does a fantastic job of bringing Amala to life.
And what of the main cast?
Well, Maureen O’Brien and Peter Purves are just brilliant. Both actors are also on narration duty as well as playing their original characters of Vikki and Steven. Purves is also on hand to bring life to Hartnell’s Doctor. He does a tremendous job in the role, not copying his performance but instead, focusing on the character of Hartnell’s Doctor. It is always a treat when Purves is involved in a Big Finish audiobook and that continues here.
Maureen O’Brien is just fantastic as Vikki and she seems to relish getting a lot of the story to herself. Vikki is quickly separated from the Doctor and Steven and while on television, that pair got to show what they were made of, Vikki was always stuck to one of them. Here though, she gets stuck in on the action, fighting the Daleks and practically leading a revolution. She even says at one point that this isn’t the first time she has done so. Vikki has always been a favourite companion of mine but she is just bad-ass here. Maureen O’Brien is always a welcomed presence in these audios and with all The Early Adventures featuring both her and Purves, we’re in for a real treat.
I came to The Dalek Occupation of Winter a little while after it was released and I’d seen some of the reviews for the story. All seemed to agree that it was a brilliant few hours. They weren’t wrong. While I didn’t allow them to inform my view of the story, I didn’t need to. Newcomer, David K Barnes had the difficult task of giving us a Dalek story we haven’t heard yet and he rose to that challenge. I really enjoyed this story and there are some terrific twists in store for new listeners. I am looking forward to seeing what Barnes does next for Big Finish because this story was an absolute delight from beginning to end.
The TARDIS lands in the capital city of a planet deep in the midst of an endless winter. The population are celebrating a new crop of candidates winning roles at the scientific research centre. Those who go there dedicate their lives to continued service and are rarely, if ever, seen again. Not everyone is happy to see them leave.
As the Doctor, Steven and Vicki watch, the city leader – Majorian – invites onto the stage in front of the happy crowd their ‘friend who made all this possible’… and a Dalek appears.
The people of this planet seem to be living in perfect harmony with the Doctor’s old enemies. But the TARDIS crew know this cannot be true. So what’s really going on?
Written By: David K Barnes
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Maureen O’Brien (Vicki), Peter Purves (Steven Taylor), Shvorne Marks (Amala Vost), Robert Daws (Gaius Majorian), Sara Powell (Jacklyn Karna), Matthew Jacobs-Morgan (Kenrik Vost) and Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer: David Richardson
Script Editor: John Dorney
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs