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The Apocalypse Element

Reviewed by Peter Adamson

The return of Romana. A Dalek invasion of Gallifrey. The death of a returning character, and near death of the entire universe — no kidding. The Apocalypse Element is probably the best argument for extending Big Finish's routine four-part story format to fit an extra episode or two, and certainly, in less professional hands could have ended in premature burnout of cast and crew. There's an awful lot in this story. Three planets, two races with histories virtually as long as the series itself, and continuity between that might make the ‘casual listener’ back away in bewilderment. Throw in an old companion, plus an old companion, not to mention three previous acquaintances, and you have a full plate of a story to last a mere four episodes. There's a plot in there too, and it's a complicated one.

There are small mercies however, but they might not please the continuity enthusiast among us (that's not necessarily you, Jon!). Given that certain fatalities ensure, Apocalypse has made the previously conceived notion that The Sirens of Time is a Seventh Doctor adventure unfounded. There is no also explanation given for Romana's present status as President, nor her return from E-Space. Of course, such trifles were no concern of Gallifrey's most lauded architect, and indeed Apocalypse doffs its hat to Robert Holmes throughout, using his Gallifreyan society to underline not the strength and power of the Time Lords, but their weaknesses. And where these weaknesses reveal themselves, the Daleks are there, prepared.

Despite the appeal of Lalla Ward's guest status, Apocalypse is nothing but a Dalek story, with Gallifrey a mere backdrop, albeit a well-defined one thanks to audience familiarity and so much history already established in the TV series. For this reason, it comes across as somewhat easier to visualise than the earlier attempt in The Sirens of Time, an aspect furthered by a full arsenal of recognisable sound effects. As for the Daleks themselves, they are still in great form, undiminished since their debut in The Genocide Machine. This story's exclusion of the Emperor in favour of the Black Dalek suggests that the Dalek Empire series is not a story arc, but a loose series. It's a refreshing change, and I can only agree that after publicly ousting Davros from his chair, to try to better his stories with another convoluted miniseries would be a mistake. The Daleks are E.V.I.L in Apocalypse — brutal in a mid-'80s/mid '70s sense (listen to a certain scene in episode 2 and see if you don't believe me), no to mention deceitful and arrogant. It's as though after twenty years of obedient silence they have finally reclaimed their true voice — excellent! To counter this, the story features the largest cast yet of a BF production, few of whom are short-changed in the dialogue and character department. Both Colin Baker and Lalla Ward get some great lines — specifically Romana's fraught evocation of her twenty years of prison life, and the Doctor's righteous, frustrated anger at being confounded by his oldest enemies at every turn. Unfortunately, the casualty in this story (aside from some non-Gallifreyan supporting characters) is Evelyn, whose constant bemusement seems out of place. It's been a popular observation regarding Apocalypse, but an unavoidable one — Bloodtide will have to deliver in spades to correct the slide.

But grab a copy of this story. Like The Genocide Machine it's a well-told, self-contained adventure with some great villains and sound production. There's enough here for a repeat listening; just make sure you turn it up second time 'round!

This item appeared in TSV 61 (December 2000).