“Congratulations Doctor, you may qualify as the Universe’s greatest optimist!”
In the 22nd century, the Daleks have occupied planet Earth. By the 43rd century, only a handful of humans survive. Still further into the future, a Thal scientist must choose whether to betray his heritage, or see the universe destroyed.
When the Doctor and Nyssa find themselves trapped in this deadly chain of events, they must decide who their real enemies are. What is certain, however, is that no matter where the Doctor turns…his arch enemies, the Daleks, will be waiting for him.
What could possibly be worse than that? The Mutant Phase…
When The Genocide Machine was released it was announced as the first in a loose trilogy featuring the Daleks. The Apocalypse Element followed and there was a brief reference to events in the earlier story, clearly putting the two into chronological order (at least for the Daleks). This then is the third in the ‘trilogy’ and features the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa.
The Mutant Phase has a lot to live up to after the relentless Apocalypse Element and it would have been a mistake to have two action-packed Dalek stories in a row, so they’ve taken the wise decision to have a slower, more cerebral story that makes you think about what’s happening..
Not that’s it too slow, the story is always on the move and goes backwards and forwards over three different time periods; 22nd Century Earth during the Dalek invasion (but this time in America), 43rd century Earth and Skaro even further into the future. Every visit to a different place or time poses more and more questions and you find yourself trying to piece it all together as you go along. It’s not too obvious though, things will happen quite early on but you won’t see how it’s relevant until much later (the wasp stinging Nyssa, for example).
By the end, of course, you find out what’s going on and how it all fits and it turns out that the whole thing hinges on a time paradox. Now the problem with time paradoxes is that it’s very easy for writers to get themselves into a big old mess and then be unable to resolve it without some massively contrived coincidence or ludicrous bit of luck. And, sure enough, when the Doctor explains it all to Nyssa at the end, you sit there and you think “but that’s silly, it doesn’t make any sense”. Where this story triumphs over others is that Nyssa comes to the same conclusion and says exactly the same thing, only for the Doctor to tell her that time paradoxes don’t make sense. It’s a stroke of genius that is both funny, true and a bit of a “so there” moment for people who have to have everything wrapped up all neat and tidy.
The multiple, and quite different locations, all give the production a sense of scale and while there’s a relatively small cast, the direction is handled well enough that at no point do you feel like there should be more people around.
Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are very good, as we have come to expect from their previous two outings and the partnership is working well. The guest cast are good, especially the actors playing the Thals, although I was less impressed with Mark Gatiss’ accent as Hendryk but since he was only in one episode it’s not too much of a problem.
There’s a welcome return for the Emperor Dalek; seen once, and only once, in the television story The Evil of the Daleks. and it actually has quite a large part to play too.
I struggled with Part Two but that’s probably because I found the characters of Hendryk and Albert unlikeable. Sometimes a character is supposed to be unlikeable and sometimes you just take a dislike to them, whether they deserve it or not; at the end of the day, neither character was important enough to really care about but I found myself losing interest when they were around and was glad when the story moved on
Having been introduced back in 1963 at the same time as the Daleks, the Thals were their first adversary and, as Genesis of the Daleks explains, one of the original reasons for their creation. They only appeared in three television stories and were never seen again after Genesis so there’s a definite feeling of nostalgia about their presence in this story. I also welcomed their return because there’s a history there. They’re perpetually linked, Daleks and Thals, and I’ve always felt that no matter how many others (including the Doctor) oppose them, in the end it will always come down to a fight between the two.
So aside from the fact that the story itself is a good one and the two leads are good and the guest cast are good, there are a couple of other things that are worth mentioning;
It’s nice to see an established event from a different perspective, the tv story about the invasion of Earth all took place in England whereas here we see another part of the world – at a different time too.
The way the Emperor Dalek implants himself into Ganatus’s mind seems like a more sophisticated version of what they did with the little girl in Remembrance of the Daleks and could even be an extension of their duplication technology.
I mentioned in my review of The Genocide Machine, that it was good to see the Daleks without Davros and now that all three Dalek stories have been released (one for each Doctor), Big Finish have successfully restored the Daleks to their clever, cunning, scheming, independent selves. Forget the 2010 redesign, these three stories have been the real Victory of the Daleks
Another good Dalek story and another good Fifth Doctor adventure (apart from the very first one, Phantasmagoria, none of the Fifth Doctor stories have been dreadful, the bubble has to burst soon, surely?). 4/5
The Doctor: Peter Davison | Nyssa: Sarah Sutton
With: Christopher Blake (Professor Ptolem); Nicholas Briggs (Dalek Voices); Mark Gatiss (Professor Karl Hendryk /Roboman); Jason Haigh-Ellery (Lieutenant); Alistair Lock (Dalek Voices / Technician); Jared Morgan (Commander Ganatus); Andrew Ryan (Albert); Sara Wakefield (Delores).
Writer: Nicholas Briggs | Director: Nicholas Briggs | Music: Nicholas Briggs | Release Date: December 2000 | Running Time: 2 hours 1 minute | Number of Episodes: 4
Set Between: Winter for the Adept and Arc of Infinity