We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Energy of the Daleks, the fourth entry in series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. This audio drama was written and directed by Big Finish producer Nicholas Briggs, and stars Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor and Louise Jameson as Leela. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!
An astronaut named Damien Stephens is about to make a spacewalk from his shuttle to a base on the moon—but his vitals are not right. Nevertheless he plunges ahead.
In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Leela are preparing to land in 21st-century London. Leela has dressed for the occasion, at the Doctor’s direction, but the TARDIS’s sensors indicate something is not right about their destination. The Doctor lands them in the year 2025; for once they are noticed immediately, but the first observer they encounter is surprisingly nonplussed. The man indicates that a protest is about to take place, however, intriguing the Doctor, who takes Leela to watch. Aboard the moonbase, Stephens arrives and meets crew members Lydia Harding and Kevin Winston, who have made some minor adjustments to the control systems. Stephens is noticeably tired, and asks for his quarters to rest before the system’s test run. As he sleeps, he hears strange, mechanized voices in his head. Lydia and Kevin discuss Stephens’ strange behavior, and Lydia persuades Kevin to illegally access the security camera in Stephens’ quarters so they can monitor his health. They find him thrashing and mumbling in his sleep—“I must obey!”. The system mysteriously shuts off. Stephens finds himself transported back to his office in GlobeSphere Corporation’s headquarters, where he is confronted by Daleks. Shortly afterward, Lydia finds Stephens in his quarters, refreshed and ready to begin the test.
The Doctor and Leela find the protest, which includes thousands of people, all of whom are protesting the treachery of “Globesphere”, the GlobeSphere Corporation. The sight of a large holographic screen makes the Doctor realizes he has landed in the wrong time again; he was aiming for 2015, but has brought them to 2025. He locates an access terminal for the holographic internet; it doesn’t recognize him at first, but he uses his sonic screwdriver to gain access. He researches GlobeSphere, and learns that the date is 30 January 2025. The Earth, it seems, is in the grip of an energy crisis—but GlobeSphere, under Damien Stephens’ leadership, intends to solve it. The Doctor is distracted by an announcement from the protest—one Jack Coulson is about to take the stage. Coulson’s speech takes place in front of the National Gallery, which now has a huge energy receiver on its roof. Coulson’s speech is primarily economic, decrying the increased prices that are projected to accompany the transition to GlobeSphere’s new energy source, and the shortages that will result in the meantime, which may cause many deaths. Just before the crowd can become a mob, a private security force arrives to disperse the crowd, and the crowd turns to conflict, forcing the Doctor and Leela to separate. Leela is arrested by one of the security officers, whom she finds she is unable to hurt despite her best efforts. The Doctor, meanwhile, locates Coulson and shows him an energy reading coming from the National Gallery; he escorts Coulson away from the scene.
Leela is taken for processing, but she is unable to answer her captor’s questions, and finds that he behaves as though drugged. The man uses soundwaves to temporarily incapacitate her. A security scan reveals that she is a time traveler; and the men—the Robomen, to be precise—report it to the Daleks. She is taken before the Daleks, who use a cerebral probe on her to gain more information. They question her about her time travel and history; but she is mostly able to resist at first. However, she is unable to avoid revealing that she is with the Doctor. Meanwhile, the Doctor talks with Coulson about his history with Stephens; they used to be partners, until Stephens abruptly went off on his own to found GlobeSphere. Stephens’ advancements are brilliant, but perhaps too brilliant; in their past, Coulson was the intelligent one, while Stephens was the radical. Further, Stephens gave up his radicalism when he founded GlobeSphere. A news dispatch reveals that the protest has been dispersed. The Doctor decides to infiltrate GlobeSphere in search of Leela and the source of the anomalous readings. He gets Coulson inside the National Gallery via a WWII-era evacuation tunnel. He determines the energy readings are anomalously high for this era; and Coulson tells him the first test of the system is expected to start at any time. At the same time, the Daleks detect their entry, and conclude the Doctor is on the scene.
The test of the energy transmission system commences. On Earth, the Doctor hears the Daleks announce his presence to their troops in the building, and he realizes the energy readings are consistent with a Dalek timeship. On the moon, Kevin realizes the energy levels are far too high, much higher than anticipated; but Stephens assures them it is according to plan. Kevin and Lydia are not convinced; and suddenly a transmission comes through. The Daleks congratulate Stephens on doing well, and announce the beginning of the destruction of the human race.
Coulson is shocked to learn a little of the alien origins of the Daleks; but there is no time to discuss it. The Doctor and Coulson witness the Robomen guards, and the Doctor concludes that the timeship is small, with perhaps half a dozen Daleks. He realizes, as well, that Leela must have been interrogated, and will be inside the timeship. Coulson has little choice but to go with him; but first, the Doctor borrows Coulson’s “little TV” (a smartphone or datapad, presumably). Inside the timeship, the Daleks release Leela from her bonds. She insults them, and insists that the Doctor will defeat them; but they decide to have her robotized. They have the Robomen place her in the robotizing unit for conversion. She is at first able to resist the control wave, but the Robomen increase the power accordingly.
On the moon, the test ends, and Lydia and Kevin question Stephens about the high energy levels; at that level, and worldwide, they would be a hundred times the amount of energy needed by humanity. However, Stephens has set the controls to maximum, and started the countdown. In the National Gallery, the Doctor encounters some Robomen, and uses the television device to overload the microwave control signal, disabling them. He and Coulson disguise themselves in the Robomen uniforms and make their way to the chamber where Leela is imprisoned, encountering more Robomen along the way; it seems Leela is causing trouble with the robotizing process. The Doctor again uses the TV device to disrupt the control wave, and frees Leela from the machine, introducing her to Jack. He discovers a Janis thorn in the back of a dead Roboman; the Doctor scolds Leela for using them, but not harshly, as the Robomen are mostly dead already. The Doctor searches for the energy source, and finds it is close by, about a hundred yards away. However, a Dalek enters the room and catches them; the Doctor, Leela, and Jack get the Dalek into the robotizing unit and activate the machine at full power. The Dalek becomes briefly compliant under the effect of the machine, and the Doctor interrogates it. It reveals the Daleks are there to use the solar energy—focused from the moon—to destroy humanity. It reveals a teleport (transmat unit) nearby, connecting to the moonbase. The machine overloads and explodes, disabling the Dalek.
The Doctor, Leela, and Coulson hide from the Daleks in Stephens’ office; the Doctor reveals that the transmat unit is in the office—specifically, built into Stephens’ chair. As the Daleks break in, the Doctor activates the unit, teleporting the three of them away. They arrive on the moonbase, in Stephens’ bed; Stephens is also there, but unconscious. The Doctor disables the transmat, preventing the Daleks from following. However, before he can do anything else, Kevin and Lydia discover their presence and take them into custody. Lydia recognizes Jack, giving the Doctor an opportunity to explain; he accurately describes the current situation. On Earth, the Daleks take their ship and set course for the moon to exterminate the Doctor. En route, they send a signal to reactivate Stephens. As Stephens awakens, the Doctor reveals that Stephens is a high-functioning Roboman. Stephens recognizes the Doctor, lending credence to the Doctor’s explanation; this makes Kevin hesitate at obeying Stephens’ order to kill the Doctor. Jack tries to get through to Stephens, but is unsuccessful, and the man runs from the room to obey his Dalek orders. As the others follow, Kevin gets a message from the control center of the base, stating that the Daleks have arrived—and moments later, the control center crew are exterminated. Shaken, Kevin leads the Doctor and the others to the energy transfer controls, where Stephens is accelerating the process. Kevin and Lydia evacuate the rest of the crew while the Doctor deals with Stephens. Leela convinces the Doctor to let Jack talk to Stephens again, as she knows it is possible to resist the Robomen control wave.
Jack distracts Stephens while the Doctor examines the layout of the transfer system. Jack successfully breaks through to Stephens’ buried emotions, but he is unable as yet to stop him from his work. Meanwhile the Daleks are advancing on the transfer control room. The Doctor realizes that the system, when fully active, will put a force field around the Earth; but why? Stephens manages to reveal the Dalek plan: the overpowered energy source will counteract gravity, expelling the moon from orbit, and thus causing massive meteorological changes that will exterminate humanity. The Daleks arrive at that moment, and confirm this; they state that the controls are locked, but the Doctor insists on trying to stop the plan anyway. Meanwhile, Leela can hear the sound of the Dalek timeship nearby. The Daleks can’t fire on the Doctor, for fear of destroying the controls. Stephens tells the Doctor to access the power grid of the directional controls, and the Daleks immediately exterminate them. They threaten to kill Leela to get the Doctor to stop, and he is forced to do so. The countdown reaches zero, and the transfer begins. Exultant, the Daleks explain that they came back in time to ensure the extinction of humanity before their many future battles with the Daleks. The Doctor orders his friends to cover their ears, and he activates the same sonic wave he used on the Robomen, disrupting the Daleks’ concentration and impairing their vision. The Daleks retreat, still confident they have won. The Doctor reveals that yes, the beam will still fire.
As the Daleks prepare to leave, they discover that the beam has been redirected at the timeship’s power source. The ship explodes, destroying the Daleks and damaging the base. The Doctor tells the others what he has done, and credits Stephens with the final clue that allowed him to redirect the beam. Jack mourns Stephens’ death, and the Doctor admits that he does not know if Stephens could have survived had he not been exterminated. He reflects that there is a lesson to be learned from Stephens’ desire for a shortcut to the future. He sets to repairing the transmat for return to Earth.
It’s that time again: the Daleks make their first appearance in the Fourth Doctor Adventures! It’s not a bad Dalek story, either, serving as Leela’s first encounter with them. It’s very much in the classic mold; there’s no universe-sized threat here, but the destruction of Earth is at stake. The moonbase seen here—operated by energy research company GlobeSphere Corporation—is suggestive of the titular facility from the Second Doctor serial The Moonbase, but it can’t be the same, as that serial’s base was established in or around the year 2050, some 25 years after this story. Still, it indicates that the world’s space programs are well underway, and humanity is taking its first tentative steps outward from Earth.
We don’t delve very deeply into the science at stake here. The energy source being channeled to Earth is suggested to be solar, reflected by and collected on the moon; but it begs the question of why the moon is needed—wouldn’t it be more efficient to collect sunlight directly on Earth? Nor is the plan to negate the Earth’s gravity well explained—in fact, it hardly gets a breath’s mention in the dialogue. There’s no time to worry about it, however, because this story moves at what passes for breakneck speed in the Fourth Doctor era—the entire story, with the exception of GlobeSphere CEO and lead scientist Damien Stephens’ arrival and nap at the moonbase, probably covers no more than two or three hours.
The Robomen, first seen in The Dalek Invasion of Earth (and again in The Mutant Phase), appear here. We learn that they are controlled by a microwave carrier wave, and that this can be disrupted by certain sonic frequencies; as well, it can be resisted by a strong mind, with mixed results. We get a glimpse of the process by which humans are converted into Robomen, but it is interrupted before completion. Robomen have appeared in different forms in various stories; this story is the chronologically earliest appearance, but it’s not the earliest development of the technique, as the Daleks here are from an unspecified point in the future. Unlike the Dalek Invasion of Earth Robomen, the ones seen here can visibly pass for normal humans in a crowd, leading me to suspect that they are the later and more advanced version seen in the audio dramas The Human Factor and Project Infinity (which I have not yet covered). If this is the case, it would place these Daleks as originating after the year 4162, as noted in The Human Factor. Interestingly, Davros and Skaro get no mention here (a first for the Fourth Doctor’s adventures with the Daleks); you can interpret that as you may wish with regard to the Daleks.
Although it’s not the first story of the series, this is the first recorded; and as such it’s Tom Baker’s first appearance for Big Finish, as he does not routinely appear in the Main Range. He’s clearly enjoying himself, and his performance here is similar to the BBC Audio Fourth Doctor Adventures (Hornet’s Nest, Demon Quest, Serpent Crest), which were recorded around the same time (2009-late 2011). As well, this is a better story for Leela, and the usual air of condescension between the two characters is greatly toned down. Susan Jameson doesn’t get a lot of dialogue here—Leela’s part is more minimal than in some of the other entries in the series—but she carries it well, getting at least a few good, humorous lines:
Coulson: Are you as barking mad as the Doctor?
Leela: I do not “bark.”
Coulson: …Oh. Right, then.
The supporting actors are good here, especially Mark Benton in the role of protest leader Jack Coulson. There’s an appearance by Dan Starkey, who is better known as the Sontaran Strax; here he plays a Roboman and also moonbase crewmember Kevin Winston.
Continuity references: Leela is still carrying and occasionally using Janis thorns (The Face of Evil, et al); here she uses them ineffectively on the Robomen, whom the Doctor states are nearly dead anyway. She mentions her previous visit to London (The Talons of Weng-Chiang), and refers to the police as “Blue Guards” (many stories, but beginning in Talons). The Daleks refer to various human defeats of the Daleks in the future, which may include The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Daleks’ Master Plan, and many others, though it’s not specified. 2025 in London is a busy time for the Doctor, as he will reappear there in his seventh incarnation in Project: Destiny, and again in Black and White.
Overall, my impression of this story is that it’s very believable. I read in another summary that it seems Nicholas Briggs intended to evoke the Baker era, “with union protests, energy crises and general civil unrest”. That may well be, but in a similar fashion, it’s fitting for today’s world as we approach 2025—less than a decade away as I write this! We have a renewed focus on solar energy, research being made into wireless energy transfer, talk in recent years (here in America, at least) about returning to the moon, an internet that is on the verge of adapting to holographic technology, portable devices that can serve as televisions (among many other functions), and widespread protest movements. It’s not so farfetched to imagine this world arriving soon, sans Daleks and Time Lords of course. But there’s hope to be had, both in the real world and in this story, and the Doctor, as always, embraces that fact. This story doesn’t try to play the fear angle for the Daleks, instead focusing on the threat angle; and it works. The result is a good story, and possibly the highlight of the series (two-part finale pending).
Next time: We’ll get to the aforementioned two-part finale—and revisit another old foe—in Trail of the White Worm! See you there.
All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions. This story’s purchase page is linked below. This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.