Doctor Who Audio Book Review: #11 – The Apocalypse Element

Written By: Stephen Cole
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Featuring: Sixth Doctor, Evelyn and Romana II
Release Date: August 2000

Big Finish Summary:

When the planet Archetryx is threatened by a Dalek assault squad, the Doctor and Evelyn become embroiled in an ever-deepening mystery. What has become of President Romana, missing for twenty years? What lurks in the vast gravity wells of Archetryx? What is the secret of the ancient element the Daleks are synthesising – and how does Gallifrey feature in the plans?

The Doctor finds that if his oldest enemies cannot conquer the universe they will watch it go up in flames…

The second Doctor Who Big Finish audio adventure to feature the Daleks is definitely a blockbuster listen, combining them with the Time Lords, Gallifrey and Romana to create a story that can’t be forgotten in a hurry. Colin Baker and Maggie Stables also continue to be my favourite TARDIS team with great performances here.

Listening to this story, the most prominent thought I had was how poorly Colin Baker was served in terms of stories when he appeared on the TV version of Doctor Who in the 80s. His era was the most panned across the history of the show, yet he has been magnetic so far in the audio adventures I have heard. This episode could well be his best performance yet. His range is brilliant, from the way he seamlessly fits in with an alien society with humour, to showing immense concern for those in danger. However, his best moment comes towards the end of the story, when he unleashes the frustration and rage towards his companion when she seems unable to comprehend the scale of disaster that they face. Baker’s Doctor has been the most nuanced and multi-layered in these audio adventures and it only makes me wish that he had received better written stories in the series. The other main cast also fare well. Lalla Ward returns to her role as Romana II, now President of the Time Lords, albeit having spent the last twenty years as prisoner of the Daleks. She feels more real than in the TV series, more ruthless to do what it takes to rid the universe of the Daleks. Since the murder rate is high and the threat bigger than the usual Big Finish story, Maggie Stables once again brings some much needed charm and humour as Evelyn.

The narrative itself is probably the most action-packed and dramatic to date – maybe too ambitious by the writers, considering the Big Finish Doctor Who adventures have only been going for around a year. It doesn’t take long for the mass battle to begin on Arcehtryx, before the Daleks’ plan is foiled and they head to Gallifrey to invade and destroy the meddling Time Lords. This story is effectively split into two parts, though I do wish that the Archetryx plot could have lasted for longer, as it is the more exciting in terms of narrative. There are some interesting ideas on show here, including a gravity well full of exposed Dalek creatures flailing about and attacking anyone who goes into there, which made for a brilliantly icky scene at the end of Part 1. Upon arriving at Gallifrey, the action does become a bit more one-note. The stakes are much higher now that the Daleks are destroying the Doctor’s planet and looking for the powerful Eye of Harmony.

However, I was listening on headphones and Dalek weapons and explosions can only happen so many times. A more varied amount of action sequences during the battle would have made these more interesting and less noisy to listen to. I do feel like the Daleks were written much better here than in “The Genocide Machine“; their hunger for destruction is much more pronounced and they feel like a genuine threat who would be capable of destroying the universe. Looking into the notes for this episode, it appears that this story is the second in a Dalek series started by the one above and that this will continue in a future audio book featuring the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa. I hope that this future story finds a good balance between destructive action and quieter moments where there are good character and narrative development.

“The Apocalypse Element” is one of the most ambitious Doctor Who adventures Big Finish have released so far. Bringing together the Daleks and the Time Lords, including the return of Romana II, to battle in the citadel of Gallifrey was certainly a big statement to make about the capabilities of this medium. Even though some action sequences were too noisy and lengthy, this is definitely a story I would recommend if you are curious about what Big Finish can produce.

Star Rating: 4/5

The next Doctor Who audio adventure in this series will be “The Fires of Vulcan”, which sees the Seventh Doctor and Mel visit Pompeii just before it is destroyed by Vesuvius.

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