One of the problems with an audio drama featuring the Daleks is they aren’t exactly the most exciting aliens to listen to for any length of time. Or heaven forbid you have two or even three Daleks carrying on a lengthy conversation that includes plot details or developments.
It’s not to say that I don’t like the Daleks. They’re my favorite Doctor Who adversary, but I think that in order to do them right in the audio dramas, you have to be a bit more creative than you would on TV.
Give props to Masters of Earth for at least trying to do something creative with the Daleks in the realm of Big Finish audio dramas. Arriving on Earth during the Dalek occupation, the sixth Doctor is ready to jump back into the TARDIS and leave to prevent himself or Peri contaminating his own personal time line. Seems he’s arrived a couple of years before his first incarnation will help overthrow the Daleks and liberate the planet.
But before you say “Exterminate,” the TARDIS sinks into a bog and the Doctor and Peri are caught up with the resistance on a cross-country trip that will include encounters with RoboMen, Varga plants and the Slyther. If you’re a fan of 60’s Who and in particular the Dalek stories from those early days, there are a lot of nice homages to that era.
But homages to an era do not a story make and it’s in the story that Masters of Earth really feels like it let me down. Because the Doctor can’t affect any change, there’s not a lot for he and Peri to do, besides avoid changing history and letting the Daleks know he’s on the scene. There are some interesting chases involving Daleks on gliders (an homage to the 60’s comics), but overall I can’t help but feel the story had more potential than was realized in what we got here.
In the fifteen or so years that Big Finish has been releasing stories, they’ve brought back just about every classic Doctor Who villain and monster imaginable.
There are a few exceptions which up until this release included the Doctor’s old nemesis, the Rani. But I suppose if the Swarm can get a sequel, then it’s about time the Rani made her debut in the Big Finish audio universe.
And like the previous installment in this trilogy, The Rani Elite is a case of a lot of potential squandered. A lot of this comes from the simple fact that the story includes the Rani’s name in the title but then follows the classic series pattern of keeping the villain’s identity hidden until the cliffhanger for the first episode. I can’t help but feel that the story squandered not only a potentially great cliffhanger but also the entire first installment of this story in a holding pattern, waiting for the Doctor and Peri to put together what the audience already knows — the Rani is back.
The Doctor is invited to a university to receive an honorary award. Suspicious, the Doctor sets the TARDIS to arrive a day early and begins to stick his nose into things to find out what’s going on. Turns out the Rani is on hand and she’s got a nefarious scheme that is, quite frankly, too much like the plots she used in her two television appearances to really be all that interesting. Once we get past the big reveal, the story feels like it’s just mimicking the two classic series serials that featured the Rani and not really doing anything new or interesting with the character.
It’s another case of Big Finish’s desire to emulate the classic series so much that the story squanders its potential to do something interesting or new with the material and characters.
Honestly, having heard the title of this one months ago and based on a character’s name in The Widow’s Assassin, I thought this story might reveal that the Rani had somehow been playing games with the Doctor and Peri for this entire trilogy of stories. (Or it could be that I’m putting more thought into connecting the dots on these stories than the writing staff is. But can you blame me when a character in Assassin is named “Princess Derani”?!?)
This loosely connected trilogy started with a solid story and ends with a whimper. It’s nice to hear Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant together again. But overall I can’t help but come away from this story and trilogy feeling like this was a huge missed opportunity.