Image Credit: Big Finish (Fair Use)
Image Description: The cover of Mutually Assured Destruction
By John Salway
Name: Mutually Assured Destruction
Type: Audio Drama
Price: £10.99 on CD, £8.99 for download
Current TLV investment: £245.45
“Die Hard with Daleks’ is the pitch for this last instalment in Paul McGann’s Time Lord Victorious audio trilogy, immediately picking up from where All Flesh Is Grass left the Eighth Doctor. Hurtling through the time vortex in a Dalek ship he’s just exploded, can he Houdini himself out of one of the tightest spots of his universe-saving career?
If this is Die Hard, then the Daleks are Hans Gruber’s terrorist cell, a fractious bunch who are supposed to be working to the same ends, but with a widening gulf in priorities. Yet again, (and I may sound like a broken record at this point), the personalities of the Dalek Restoration Empire remain a highlight of the TLV range. Now in desperate circumstances, the growing rift between the Time Commander and Strategist finally blows apart as everything seems to be falling apart around them, courtesy of the Doctor’s stealthy tinkering. The pair finally enter direct conflict, ignoring instructions and forging their own paths to try and salvage the ship. Things are complicated even more by the Dalek Executioner, who is unwisely let off his leash and whose indiscriminate action serves to bring forward disaster. Even the Scientist gets a lot to do, sharing an uncomfortably close moment with the Doctor in zero gravity, brashly raving about Dalek intellect, and being far too confident in his own job security. It should be no surprise by now that I loved this material, and Nicholas Briggs’ excellent performance continues to make inter-Dalek dialogue both great fun and easy to distinguish for the listener.
While Mutually Assured Destruction does a great job depicting the Doctor scurrying about, disrupting the Daleks and stoking tensions among the hierarchy, there’s one important aspect of Die Hard that this release fails to capture: the struggle. John McClane goes through hell in his efforts to liberate Nakatomi Plaza, dodging death by the skin of his teeth, and of course making a memorable barefoot trip over a floor of broken glass. There are numerous counter-moves and reversals by the terrorists that force McClane to desperately improvise. But here, things are far too easy for the Eighth Doctor. He remains cool as a cucumber throughout, with no major twists or revelations to disrupt his plans, so there’s a major lack of tension. It takes about half the runtime for Dalek Command to even realise he’s still alive! Without that element of danger or strain, the tone wavers from Die Hard to more closely resemble Home Alone, with the Doctor a gleeful Kevin McAllister, setting booby traps and always one step ahead of those dastardly Daleks trying to track him down. This could even have worked to the story’s favour if they’d pushed it further, and placed the Daleks in the role of protagonists, telling the story from their perspective. Picture a sort of reverse horror movie, with the Daleks picked off one-by-one by the work of an unseen Doctor. But instead, a release that was pitched as a survival-against-the-odds story comes across more like business as usual for our hero.
There’s also a small sub-plot about a pair of Dalek prisoners who are defrosted from stasis, and aim to escape the ship with the Doctor. I must admit this angle failed to grab me, seeming more of a distraction from the Dalek-Doctor conflict that a meaningful addition. When one of the duo began to show signs of instability from previous Dalek torture, I immediately wrote him off for dead, and the story didn’t fail to disappoint.
If I seem a little too harsh in my appraisal of Mutually Assured Destruction, it’s only because the premise is such a killer, and an action-packed story should be a perfect match for the 60 minute format of this trilogy. As such, I can’t help but be disappointed that this story is merely good, and not a knockout. However, it has brought me lots more screen time (err, sort of) for my new favourite Dalek posse. Though the conclusion leaves the Dalek Time Squad in a rather terminal situation, I will continue to wish with all my might for the future return of these more individualistic invaders.
This has been an interesting trilogy of stories for the Eighth Doctor, which have all been adequate at worst and having no major story-ruining faults. But it also feels like a trilogy that is playing it safe, with only the middle (and best) instalment, The Enemy of My Enemy, really embracing its central concept. Both He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not and Mutually Assured Destruction are deliberately trying to evoke certain cinematic styles, but neither seems willing to bend the Doctor Who format much to do so. They should have more faith – Who has always been endlessly flexible and often works best when pushed to extremes, and the same is true for the Doctor.