Based on a story by former Doctor Who script editor Christopher Bidmead, Renaissance of the Daleks is a sci-fi extravaganza that starts with the Doctor being drugged, abducted and strip-searched by nasty futuristic Americans who want to prevent the Daleks from invading Earth.
Trouble is, it's 2158 and the Daleks were supposed to have invaded the previous year so that William Hartnell/Peter Cushing can stop them. What's going on? Why is Nyssa back with Knights Templar in the 14th century, armed only with a prototype of Rose's mobile phone plug-in that's named after something from This Island Earth? Why are toy Daleks appearing on the market when no one's seen one yet and BBC Worldwide is probably long gone?
And more to the point, did we really need a story that has continuity not just with Logopolis and The Krotons, but also with the effing Space Museum?
Plot (but is it the plot that was on the Big Finish web site or an alternate one?)
A random landing in London and a trip to the Savoy Hotel yield unexpected results for the Doctor. Tea, scones, an American general who knows far too much, and the threat of a Dalek invasion of Earth.
Meanwhile, the Doctor's companion Nyssa is in Rhodes during the time of the Crusades, where her position proves to be distinctly precarious.
It seems the Doctor's deadliest foes have woven a tangled web indeed. And in order to defeat them, he must cross the forbidden barriers of time and walk into the very centre of their latest, most outlandish scheme of conquest.
Is it any good?
It certainly starts well, even if Nyssa's medieval adventures are odd and a bit pointless. All the same, unlike certain Big Finish productions I could mention, this was engrossing from the beginning.
I don't want to spoil too much for you, but there's a bit more time travelling involved that ends up with a whole host of motley companions joining the TARDIS crew. The Doctor does a bunch of stupid things that turn out to be quite wise, thus whipping the rug out from underneath your expectations and giving you something surprising to look forward. He also turns out to have a nifty line in sarcasm and one-liners.
Things start to fall apart slightly as the Daleks' plot emerges. The leaden hardcore sci-fi that lifted season 18 into a stratosphere of adulthood that only season seven had previously aspired to but which also crushed all the joy out the show here threatens to engulf the most of intellectual of all the Doctors again. Certainly, you can only hear “actinidal energy” so many times before you wish they'd just call it “energy” or “McGuffin gas” or something. Ditto “pocket interocitor”. But it's at least a well thought out plot with some interesting concepts: nice to see old Bidmead still has what it takes.
The eventual conclusion is as typically downbeat as an 80s Dalek story, but lacks the emotional punch you might have hoped for, swamped as it is with sci-fi bricks round its ankles. All the same, quite a treat after Year of the Pig and Nocturne and definitely better than Circular Time.
Definitely one to listen to, but be prepared for slight disappointments by the end.
PS Why do Big Finish keep picking North American actors that sound like they're faking US accents? It's most disconcerting. Even in their interviews, you're thinking “You're putting that on, aren't you?” Course, most of them are Canadians, not Americans, so maybe that has something to do with it.
Listen to the trailer (Windows Media format)
The Doctor (Peter Davison)
Nyssa (Sarah Sutton)
General Tillington (William Hope)
Sergeant (Stewart Alexander)
Wilton (Jon Weinberg)
Mulberry (Nicholas Deal)
Floyd (Richie Campbell)
Alice (Regina Reagan)
Daleks (Nicholas Briggs)
Writer: From a story by Christopher H Bidmead
Director: John Ainsworth
Price: £14.99 (£15.50 international)
Available from the Big Finish web site