Whilst the finale to 2012’s run of Fourth Doctor adventures ended on an excellent high, it was only a self contained adventure. In 2013, writer and Executive producer Nicholas Briggs clearly wanted the Fourth Doctor and Romana to have more of a ‘series arc’ that we’re used to watching in the new era of Doctor Who on television. Seeds that were sown in The Sand of Life and War against the Laan are finally paid off in The Dalek Contract and The Final Phase and upon this reviewers word, the latter two are some of Briggs’s best ever work.
First things first, The Dalek Contract and The Final Phase are one big story that pits the Fourth Doctor against the Daleks. Yes, that’s an obvious statement but also an important one when considering whether you’ll purchase this particular adventure. Put simply, the two stories will need to be bought as one to be fully enjoyed, hence why this review is for both plays rather than just the one. But don’t worry; because the rewards will speak for themselves, this is Doctor Who storytelling at its most fun. The mad fourth Doctor, the resourceful and elegant Mary Tamm incarnation of Romana, K-9 finally getting to fight the Daleks, the return of the megalomaniacal Cuthbert and his lizard-like assistant Mr Dorrick and, of course, the Daleks. If you take all of these wonderful characters and place them in a rather epic plot then The Dalek Contract/ The Final Phase is what you end up with.
The Doctor and Romana finally find themselves in the Proxima System, first mentioned back in The Sands of Life, where Cuthbert’s mysterious ‘experiment’ is reaching its final conclusion. The ramifications of said experiment have had an adverse affect on the planet Proxima Major and the locals are none too happy with the company responsible of the foot soldiers that Cuthbert’s hired to keep everyone in line, of course it’s the Daleks.
What Briggs has cleverly done is make the Daleks cunning in this story, Cuthbert believes that they work for him; the listener (and the Doctor and Romana) know very well that this isn’t the case and that the tin pepper pots have their own agenda but the drama is in the finding out. Cuthbert truly believes that the Daleks are nothing more than his foot soldiers, mercenaries for hire but those who know the Daleks realise early on that its Cuthbert’s enigmatic experiment that they wish to hijack. As to why the Daleks want to do this is not revealed until the end of episode 3 but you won’t mind waiting to find out as this adventure is littered with moments of greatness that will keep you thoroughly entertained.
From K-9 bravely facing off against Skaro’s finest, Romana advancing her relationship with the Doctor by admitting that she’s grown quite fond of him (an excellent bit of writing from Briggs that also gives older Doctor Who fans more of a reason as to why Romana never went back to Gallifrey straight after all that business with the Key to Time), the Fourth Doctor on tremendous form against the Daleks with far more vitriol and venom towards them then he had in 2012’s Energy of the Daleks and last but not least, the Dalek Supreme. Briggs clearly demonstrates that he’s learned plenty from the school of Russell T Davies here; his version of the Supreme Dalek is stubborn, arrogant, clever, deadly and downright cunning. You can truly believe that this is the same Supreme Dalek who later ends up in a red casing and steals planets from the sky.
Where The Dalek Contract/The Final Phase really impresses is in its final episode. Cuthbert’s plans have been revealed and they’re not your typical megalomaniacs’ plans (or rather, they are but they’re presented in a new and interesting way), of course the Daleks have their own intentions and intend to use what he has achieved to facilitate their own plans. This reviewer won’t spoil anything for you but will conclude that it’s a powerful and satisfying ending to the 2013 run of Fourth Doctor Adventures that sets up a few more storylines along the way.
Forever though, this year’s series will always be about the wonderful Mary Tamm. Throughout the reviews of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, we’ve kept references to her sad passing out of the equation and focused on each of her new stories as they’ve been released so that her work can be celebrated rather than mourned. Now that these stories have finished their release cycle it has to be said that there is a final mourning period to be had as Tamm was simply beautiful with her portrayal of Romana in each of these stories. Her incarnation of Romana on audio was just as elegant, brave, witty, sexy and charming as when she played the role over 30 years ago on television. These treats (for treats they are) that Big Finish have captured are not only a huge step forward for her character after her one and only year on Doctor Who but also a wonderful set of examples of how to play a Doctor Who companion without being in love with the old Time Lord. Tamm will be sorely missed but thanks to these seven stories, we can enjoy more than just one encounter with Romana I.
Let’s hope that in 2014’s Fourth Doctor Adventures we get more of the series arcs that we’ve been given this year as it helps to give Tom Baker’s new ear on Doctor Who a far more epic feel and if the Dalek Supreme wants to menace the Fourth Doctor in the future at Big Finish, that would be no bad thing at all.
The Dalek Contract/The Final Phase is available from www.bigfinish.com now on CD for £10.99 each or via download for £8.99 each.