I was very excited about the eighth Doctor’s first encounter with his archenemies, and I’m sorry to say I came away from this story feeling enormously disappointed. The opening scene on the Dalek ship is powerful as the Daleks are test their “Time Extinction Device” unsuccessfully, the scene cut inexplicably with Don Warrington (who played the mysterious observer the Doctor ‘confessed’ to in “Seasons of Fear”) quoting Shakespeare. Things begin to make more sense as on board the TARDIS the Doctor is astounded to find out the Charley has never heard of Shakespeare, and after a little investigating it seems that (again) history is becoming unravelled. The TARDIS heads for post-apocalyptic twenty-first century Earth, the source of the problem, to try and put things right (again.)
On Earth the Doctor and Charley encounter General Mariah Learman who is under pressure from “rebels” to relinquish martial law. Learman is the megalomaniac dictator ruling Britain after the “Eurowars” of the mid twenty-first century. By the end of the first episode we find out that she is in league with the Daleks, conducting time experiments with them using mirrors (á la Theodore Maxtible) for her own ends – she is Shakespeare’s biggest fan, so she wants to erase him from history (sic.) After the mirth of hearing Daleks spout Shakespeare has worn off, things begin to fall apart. The relative simplicity of the science behind the mirrors in “The Evil of the Daleks” gives way to a hideous flurry of unintelligible techno babble, and Learman, in the ‘Theodore Maxtible’ role is characterised very poorly by Richards. Early on she comes across as perfectly rational and wanting to “restore democracy,” but by the end of the play it seems that she is utterly mad, her reasons for wanting to erase Shakespeare from time selfish and unbelievable; she wants to be the only person to be able to remember him and his works! She gets her due, though, in one of the best scenes of the story where she is mutated by the Daleks and locked into a Dalek casing, becoming one of them. It’s quite a horrific scene.
Learman’s actions, prompted by her ridiculous motive, open the door for a very complicated paradox which sees the Daleks established as the rulers of Earth through all time… then not so… then again… then not so. I don’t pretend to even understand, and despite the poor characterisation of the guest characters it is the overly complicated plot that is the story’s ultimate undoing. I can see what Richards intended to do – to establish the Daleks as a real machiavellian threat once more, paying homage to stories from the TV series like “The Evil of the Daleks” and “Day of the Daleks”, but there are just too many elements in the story, all thrown in together, which make it too confusing. Even the elements which do work in the story feel plagiarised from the classics. New stories such as “The Mutant Phase” - which had nods to “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” and “The Evil of the Daleks” – I felt worked much better because the new stories were original in their own right, not a couple of old TV stories (classics they may have been) cut and pasted together.
Of course it’s Doctor Who and the story does have it’s good points – new and original good points - although worryingly they are points that you can only really enjoy if you’re a hardcore follower of the Big Finish range. For example, the plot in this story is cleverly linked to the previous ‘Dalek Empire’ stories. The Daleks' ability to use time travel technology is a direct result of their attack on the library on Kar-Charrat in “The Genocide Machine” and their invasion of Gallifrey in “The Apocalypse Element,” both stories which have now happened from both the perspective of the Doctor and the Daleks. The immensely large scheme of the Daleks highlights their cunning, making them seem a much larger menace than in the latter days of the TV series, and looked at from a certain perspective it give us an insight into Dalek history. The “…crude and nasty…” time corridor technology the Daleks were first seen using in “The Chase,” could have stemmed from the events in this story…
I also liked how the story (as did “Seasons of Fear” earlier in the season) illustrates how all it takes is one stupid, misguided a-moral person to meddle with time for tiny reasons of cosmic insignificance for all hell to break loose!
Moreover, the larger ongoing plot surrounding Charley advances considerably in this story; much more satisfactorily than in “Embrace the Darkness.” To the Doctor, the Dalek’s time device is crude and unworkable, and yet it does work – and why? Because Charley, for some reason charged with ‘chronons’ was present on every occasion that the machine worked successfully… The story ends on almost a cliff-hanger, Charley asking the Doctor if she is at the centre of all their recent troubles, before telling her that she is scared. “So am I,” says the Doctor… With Romana and the Time Lords involved next time, I’m hoping we get a big payoff to this story arc…
“The Time of the Daleks” is at best a contemporary rip-off of at least three Dalek stories – “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” “Day of the Daleks” and most obviously “The Evil of the Daleks.” At worst, it’s a horribly convoluted plot with senseless techno babble and forgettable characters – with one exception, the insane dictator General Learman… who is unforgettable in the bad sense!
The return of the Daleks, and their first meeting with the 8th Doctor, made this highly anticipated. Written by Justin Richards, who certainly knows how to weave brilliant stories, this feeling was multiplied. The season of 8th Doctor Audios had, after a disappointing start, has blossomed - and the Daleks were here to enhance this sequence of stories that could very well turn out to be one of the best Seasons DW has ever produced - it is certainly one of the most varied and intriguing.
In Episode 1 we are confronted with an interesting premise. The Daleks are out to claim the 4th Dimension. They forge an alliance with General Mariah Learman, a Shakespearean enthusiast who also happens to have a position of power in the 21st Century. She also happens to have constructed a Time Machine made out of Clocks and Mirrors, with the help of a Professor Osric. Also brought in to the saga is Major Ferdinand, a noble trooper from the 21st Century. There's also Viola and a Kitchen Boy who seems to be pushed into the background. Add a few more assorted personnel from the 21st Century, Priestley and Hart, and you have a cast of Characters that is greater in number than usual. I felt the previous dramas, specifically Chimes and Darkness benefitted from the small cast, it was easier to distinguish the characters - and you could get to know each one more. Time of the Daleks goes for a bigger cast, but it does so with a confidence that ultimately is successful.
Justin Richards script is impressive. Here's a man who embraces the Time Travelling Science of the Doctor in a wondrous way. The story is full of anomalies and scientific treatise on Time itself. The story is replete with a vast amount of moving through Time, but is essentially set in the Vortex between the Historical Destinations. It is not so much about the different Periods of History, or indeed the people and monsters, but about Time itself.
The Daleks are superbly depicted, but we knew from the previous Doctor Dalek dramas and Dalek Empire series that Big Finish had the Doctor's major foes off to a tee anyway. Nicholas Briggs seems to be on some personal crusade with the Daleks - he directs them all, and I notice here he even did the Music too. Here is someone who really likes the Daleks, and brings them alive magnificently.
The leads are impressive throughout. The Doctor is central again (I think I've read that many books where he is not, it always is a great source of delight when he is the main player in the drama) and McGann again is brilliant. We have had enough stories now, where McGann has actually played the Doctor, for him to really to be seen on a par with the rest of the Doctors. He is no longer the George Lazenby of the Doctor Who world. Indeed thanks to these Big Finish Canonical Dramas, all the Doctors that had limited TV time, have balanced out the DW universe. All 8 actors have now have had time to really make a indelible mark on the legend of Doctor Who - and each time to make their portrayal different from the others, yet still the same eccentric Time Lord we know and love.
McGann is brilliant as the Doctor. Thanks to very impressive stories he has had it better than others, but his performances have shown enthusiasm and adeptness for the role. Philip Segal made an inspired choice for the 1996 TV Movie. India Fisher as Charley has less to do here than previous dramas, but does things very well. The large cast actually takes material away from the companion. The continuing arc that began with Storm Warning about Charley's being saved from Death by the Doctor, is evident again - and the conclusion leads nicely into the next release NeverLand. It's a saga that has rewarded those who buy all the releases, but it hasn't been too much to alienate the casual buyer - Big Finish have been spot on throughout.
Time of the Daleks is very inspired by the TV show. Evil of the Daleks is remembered fondly by many, and Richards Learman/Dalek Time Machine is very much out of that story. In evidence throughout is Richard's love of Shakespeare. Learman is the reason why this story is dominated by the Bard of Stratford-Upon-Avon - she is an enthusiast believing Shakespeare to be the biggest genius in World's History. The story cleverly includes Shakespeare, but contains that many twists and turns concerning his involvement that it is only by the end that you are sure where he really fitted in to the plot.
The front cover (unfortunately the weakest for some time) should contain the phrase "Additional Material from William Shakespeare". Richards successfully includes a vast amount of quotes from the great writer in his dialogue. Learman's dialogue is heavily Shakespearean, and she is the top supporting character of the story. The Daleks too have vast amounts of memorable lines from every Shakespeare Play imaginable - there is a very definite reason too for this, and it works really well.
Whilst the majority of the story is set between Histories, with the 21st Century featuring prominently, the settings are a little confused. It's quite difficult to imagine where the action is being played out. Are they in Learmans Palace of the 21st Century, or are they back in the 16th Century? Are they in the Vortex or aboard the Dalek Ship? That's the only weakness I can see in the whole production, this ill defining of the different settings.
Like most of these Big Finish dramas the story demands that you listen to it again and again. I always do these reviews for Big Finish audios straight after hearing them once - after all that's how many times most people listen to them. I'm very keen, however, to listen to them all again. Time of the Daleks is complex, there is a lot of twists and turns that can leave you quite jumbled - but even on the first listen, it does fit together perfectly.
Time of the Daleks is another fantastic Big Finish drama. Nostalgia for the show is perfectly enmeshed with New Who, resulting in a cracking adventure. It is superbly put together by writer and production team, and it is always wonderfully entertaining and fascinating to be involved in. Very impressive. 9/10
‘The Time of the Daleks’ marked the much-anticipated (by me, anyway) first meeting between Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor and the series most popular foes, and it starts well. Opening with the Daleks announcing that they are ready to use their “Temporal Extinction Device”, it immediately becomes clear that they are plotting something big, and the juxtaposition with ominous Shakespeare quotes is eerily effective in grabbing the listener’s attention. Shortly afterwards, we learn that Charley has never heard of Shakespeare, and it becomes clear that something is badly wrong with time. Thus, the scene is set for an epic confrontation, but as events turn out, the result is not without it’s flaws.
I have several problems with ‘The Time of the Daleks’. There is a lot of standing around explaining the theory behind time travel using mirrors in Episode One, most of which is technobabble even if some of it is apparently rooted in arcane but genuine theories of physics. As the Doctor says in Episode Two, “Theoretically, none of this ridiculous set-up should work at all.” Some of the characterisation is rather pedestrian with the identikit revolutionaries being particularly forgettable, but the main problem in this regard lies with the traditional human Dalek collaborator. General Mariah Learman is a dreadful character; when she is initially established as a “Benevolent dictator”, it seems that she is a rather outdated parody of Margaret Thatcher, as she commits unconstitutional acts and insists on maintaining marshal law. This boring, well-trodden ground is soon overturned and writer Justin Richards makes her seem more reasonable with lines like “The sooner we restore the democratic process the better” but as her plans for Shakespeare are gradually revealed, it becomes painfully clear that she is ludicrously bonkers beyond even the confines of stock megalomania. In Episode Two she gleefully stands by and watches as Professor Osric is exterminated and later rants, “That’s the root of our country’s troubles. We can give birth to a genius like Shakespeare, but how many actually appreciate that genius… His genius is so far in excess of their ability to understand it. It’s wasted on the rabble, pearls before the swine. That is why Shakespeare must die!” her ultimate plan is erase Britain’s most famous playwright from history whilst retaining a shielded copy of his Complete Works so that only she will remember and appreciate him. This is a very silly motivation. In addition to this, ‘The Time of the Daleks’ is the third story in McGann’s second season for Big Finish to feature a time paradox and/or altered timelines; although the reasons for this will become clear in the following story, it’s still getting very boring, and I’m not convinced that the paradox used here actually makes sense.
Then there’s the Daleks. There’s a fine line between homage and rip-off, and Richards crosses it as he blatantly riffs several Dalek television stories from the sixties in a way that might almost be described as plagiarism. He enthusiastically revisits David Whitaker’s Troughton Dalek stories, most notably ‘The Evil of the Daleks’, with theories of time travel that utilize static electricity and mirrors, and a carbon-copy of the scene from ‘The Evil of the Daleks’ Episode Two as the Doctor starts to realize just who his enemies are, just in time for a Dalek to glide out of the shadows and announce, “Doctor!” Richards has admittedly that one of his inspirations in allowing Daleks to quote Shakespeare was the unsettling sound of the humanized Daleks proclaiming friendship in that story, but he also apes the cliffhanger ending to ‘The Power of the Daleks’ Episode Two as the Daleks repeatedly and increasingly loudly chant Shakespearean quotes, drowning out the Doctor’s warnings that they will start killing people. As if this wasn’t enough, Richards also revisits ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’, as the Daleks try to change history and we get labour forces and the extermination of humans unfit to work in 1572AD instead of the twenty-first century.
Despite these misgivings however, I rather like ‘The Time of the Daleks’. Derivative it may be, but as in ‘The Apocalypse Element’, the Daleks are portrayed as a near-unstoppable force for evil and once more the whole of time and space is at stake. With the presence of Daleks in the story no secret, the familiar Dalek “heartbeat” sound effect is used to build tension as they lurk in the shadows in Episode One and it is undoubtedly memorable to hear them intone such lines as “The Daleks venerate Shakespeare” and “He is the greatest playwright in the universe!” As in the Whitaker stories, the Daleks are at their most manipulative and cunning, exploiting Learman’s desires to create the time portal that they need, and it is this very fact that makes those stories so effective in the first place. As they gradually play their hand, they become all the more ominous a threat, as they pass into Earth’s history, explaining the Dalek cameo in ‘Seasons of Fear’ in a way that nicely ties the season together, and the Doctor’s warning that they will create “Desolation and despair. Nightmare landscapes of ruin” is suitably chilling. This ultimately results in the memorable cliffhanger ending to Episode Three as they appear to have won and the Doctor solemnly announces, “This is the end of history as we know it and the start of the time of the Daleks.” My favourite moment however comes when the Daleks inform Learman that she will be their new pilot, and she impatiently notes, “I am not a Dalek!” Their chilling response is, “You will be.” And Learman’s fate proves to be wonderfully grisly, as they force her to mutate by shoving her down a time corridor filled with radiation. Although I can’t see why they still bother to honour their agreement and actually provide the Learman Dalek with The Complete Works of Shakespeare. I also rather like the trademark Richards twist, as the boy turns out to Shakespeare, brought into the future to protect him from Learman; I should probably have guessed earlier on, but since I didn’t I was pleasantly surprised.
Richards also handles the regulars well. The Doctor’s hatred for the Daleks is well conveyed as he describes the creature within the casing with the line, “Think of your worst nightmare, think of the most repellent disgusting nauseating thing you can possibly imagine, think of pure evil made malignant flesh” and then adds, “It’s a thousand times worse.” Paul McGann’s voice drips with contempt and loathing as he delivers this line, and he generally puts in his usual fine performance. Charley too is used well here; she’s assertive without being stroppy, and she is appalled at the actions of the Daleks. She’s also plucky without being cocky, taking the initiative and jumping into the mirror with Viola. She insists on helping the rebels, when even the Doctor favours surrender, reasoning, “If the Daleks shoot at me, they’ll damage their precious master clock. I’ll be OK!” India Fisher gives one of her better performances, conveying reasonably convincing emotion throughout, but especially at the end, as the revelation that Charley is a walking source of chronon energy paves the way for the season finale. The last scene is great, with Charley asking, “I’m at the centre of it? The heart of the problem? All our recent problems?” before admitting, “Doctor, I’m scared.” When the Doctor quietly replies, “So am I Charley, so am I” the scene is set for what is to follow…
After so many appearances in such a short space of time, the Daleks were starting to sound tired by their inevitable encounter with the 8th Doctor. Justin Richards attempt to give us the shock of the new unfortunately misfires however, as having a Dalek quoting Shakespeare isn’t ‘striking and frightening’ (to quote the authors note), merely amusing.
Elsewhere the plot is a mishmash of warmed up old Dalek stories – the mirror time travel technology of Evil of the Daleks; the ‘pretending to help the human scientists’ plot of Power of the Daleks; the ‘misguided human rebels causing the very threat they’re trying to avert’ paradox from Day of the Daleks – bound together with oodles of fanwanky continuity references and pseudo-scientific gobbledygook. While the story contains some interesting ideas, Richards’ script is a complete mess, over busy with barely comprehensible jargon, yet short on action. Episodes 2 and 3 suffer particularly badly from obvious padding as the cast run around in circles through mirrors without achieving much – capture, escape, capture, escape – while the background of Leman’s world and the Daleks plans are underdeveloped.
What this story could have done with is cutting out all the Shakespeare material in the first place. Not only doesn’t it do anything for the Daleks it also gives the Doctor some appalling dialogue (“Tsunami or not tsunami – that is the question”, “Lay on Mac Dalek”, etc), and the identity of the mysteriously verbose kitchen boy is blatantly obvious from the beginning. We also have Learman – a villain with the worst motivation EVER in Doctor Who – ‘I’m Shakespeare’s biggest fan, no-one else can appreciate his genius as much as me – so I’ll have him erased from history’. Oh pu-lease! I’m a big fan of Doctor Who – does that mean I’d want to wipe the entire series from history so no one else could enjoy it? Good grief – who comes up with this rubbish?
At least on the acting side this is a quality performance, though the one area the production slips up on is the rebel army of two. During the attack we are expected to believe that there are loads of rebels due to the “keep back you lot!” style dialogue, but they are entirely absent from the soundtrack – not even a few footsteps. Even the two that do have speaking roles – Priestly and Hart – are characterless and indistinguishable from each other.
With its convoluted dialogue and complex plot The Time of the Daleks makes for reasonably diverting entertainment – it’s just a pity it’s not very good. Still, it’s an improvement over Embrace the Darkness in that it does at least end on a high note thanks to its satisfyingly uroboric ending. It’s somehow highly appropriate for this story to disappear up its own backside.
'We'll restore democracy to this country and we'll get back Shakespeare.'
If the title hadn't already given it away, given the prevalent theme of this season of Eighth Doctor adventures, it would come as no surprise to discover that Justin Richards The Time Of The Daleks, is all about time. As the penultimate story for this season, it begins to sow together some of the threads of 'the bigger picture' and sets in motion events which seem certain to form the basis of the forthcoming NeverLand. But of more immediate importance, is the fact that this marks the first meeting between Paul McGann and the Doctor's deadliest enemies - the Daleks...
In the two years since Richards' last audio, the less than spectacular Red Dawn, he has given the Eighth Doctor novels a new, dynamic direction since he became their range consultant, and listening to this story he seems to really relish bringing the Eighth Doctor alive through this very different medium of audio. In order to do this, Richards blends a familiar style situation with the unusual and the results are impressive.
Don Warrington's fleeting cameo at the commencement of the drama sets the tone of immediately as he ominously recites from various Shakespearean plays, foreshadowing the catastrophic events which may soon engulf time itself. Intertwined with this is a scene which gives the first inkling of what devious plans the Daleks have hatched on this occasion. It all makes for a very effective method of starting the story, drawing the listener into the story immediately with this example of high drama.
The Doctor's involvement in the main story comes about after he makes a clever allusion to Shakespeare and Charley doesn't pick up on it and when he goes on to explain it her he can't believe that she's never heard of him at all when she's heard of other contemporary playwrights. Soon him and his Edwardian Adventuress companion are on their way to twenty-first Century London to track down a time fissure which might erase Shakespeare from history completely.
The backdrop to the London of the story that they find is never really explained properly, which is a shame in some ways because an exploration of how General Mariah Learman was able to seize control for her benevolent dictatorship might have made the story even more satisfying, but a lengthy exposition on the history of the area would almost certainly have dented the pacing of the drama which is excellent and facilitates a sense of excitement building throughout each episode as it proceeds forthwith towards it's conclusion.
From reading Richards' debut novel Theatre Of War his love of all things Shakespearean was evident, and by bringing this to an audio story he has managed to create one of the most bizarre images ever to be heard within Doctor Who in the Shakespeare venerating Daleks, demonstrating their appreciation by quoting from such plays as Hamlet and MacBeth. As fun as this is to hear, Richards acknowledges that the novelty might wear off quickly if overused, and this aspect is kept to a minimum to maximise it's effect when deployed.
The plot of The Time Of The Daleks develops very logically and the pacing of the revelations comes at precisely the right times. The first episode in particular works extremely well in this respect because it develops the situation slowly and by playing with the perceptions of what the Daleks are like, namely by making them appear benevolent, it adds an air of unusualness to the story where it may not have existed otherwise. Richards keeps the twists and turns coming and manages to keep most of these under wraps until he's ready to reveal them (although one of them is telegraphed a little too strongly early on through repetition so strong suspicions about it have formed well before the truth is exposed) making this a very satisfying story.
Paul McGann proves once again how good he is as the Doctor, with yet another top rate performance. The subtleties of his Doctor are once more evidenced through a measured performance, shown in particular by his final scene in this story (amongst others), and as well as his boundless enthusiasm for life, his unswerving ability not to be fazed by what's happening around him. India Fisher is similarly impressive with her consistent portrayal of Charley, although for a lot of the time of this story, she isn't involved as much as she could have been. That said her role within the story turns out to be of crucial importance during the later episodes and these in particular give Fisher the chance to shine in the manner which she often done in the past.
Richards introduces his cast of characters carefully, with the Doctor and Charley slipping easily into their assumed roles as Learman's PR Agents, and finding out more about where they have arrived and discovering that it isn't only Charley whose forgetting Shakespeare. Dot Smith's Learman is the stand out performance of the guest cast from the moment she first speaks, with her steady, unswerving voice which forms a very commanding presence and invests Learman with the gravitas which strengthens the idea that she is a character who could obtain the position she has done and is unwilling to let it go. Smith conveys Learman's obsession with Shakespeare perfectly through her enthusiastic quotations and there is a real sense that she'll do anything to accomplish her aims.
While the majority of the guest cast seems to form an Embrace The Darkness reunion, with all four cast members of that play returning here, in actuality they all demonstrate a great degree of versatility which renders their performances sufficiently different from before for it to be credible that they are different characters and this emphasises that the decision to use these actors again was not a mistake. Nicola Boyce has the biggest role of the returning cast as Learman's niece, Viola, and underplays her well. Viola is trapped by wanting to help the rebels against her Aunt, but at the same time feels a duty to the country and Boyce brings this out well. Mark McDonnell restrains his distinctive vocal tones for this story and as a result his performance as Priestly is quite different from his previous Big Finish roles and comes across as being very determined to succeed in his mission to restore democracy and return Shakespeare to the people. Lee Moone's Hart forms a likeable enough double act with McDonnell's Priestly, although again he seems to suffer from a lack of involvement in the story, but when called upon, he performs well. Ian Brooker's Professor Osric does come across as a bit of a disappointment - not really because of Brooker's performance, but because the character doesn't have any real substance to him and feels very routine.
The cast is completed by Julian Harries and Jem Bassett. Harries performance as Learman's right hand man Major Ferdinand is good, with him showing devotion to his duty, but aware of the greater needs as they become prevalent. Bassett plays the kitchen boy and is deliberately kept as a peripheral character for much of the story, but as the story develops the performance given is entirely appropriate and very convincing.
The Time Of The Daleks breaks two long standing traditions when it comes to Big Finish's Dalek stories. Firstly in their performance, The One Doctor co-writer and current DWM editor Clayton Hickman steps up to the microphone to join Nicholas Briggs as the voices behind Skaro's finest in place of Alistair Lock, and this does give the Daleks a slightly different feel to usual, and when this is combined with the atypical dialogue that the Daleks have during this play and the effect is magnified considerably. But it works magnificently and makes the Daleks of this story very memorable indeed.
Secondly, this story is the first Dalek story where Nicholas Briggs hasn't produced the sound design for the story, with that task falling to BF newcomer Ian Potter. He achieves a good range of sounds which add a lot to the drama, especially in the scenes within the Hall of Mirrors where he conveys the scope of the hundreds of clocks particularly well. While Briggs might not have been creating the sound effects for this story, he composed the score for this story which, whilst not his liveliest one so far, provides a compelling accompaniment to the unfolding drama.
Rather surprisingly both the packaging and the notes indicate that The Time Of The Daleks is the fourth part to the 'Dalek Empire' Doctor Who audios featuring the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors (and not to be confused with the stand alone Dalek Empire series). While this was unexpected, the links to these previous stories make sense in the context of the story and give the idea that the Daleks are working to a much bigger and wide ranging plan on audio than they ever did on television greater credence which adds an extra layer of enjoyment to this story for those listeners who know what happens in those adventures, and won't affect the enjoyment of those who haven't.
The Time Of The Daleks is ultimately a production of a high standard. With an inventive and clever script, Justin Richards and director Nicholas Briggs have forged a gripping and compelling story which showcases the Daleks perfectly (this is almost certainly their best appearance in a Doctor Who audio yet) and makes for terrific entertainment with it's unusual blend of elements and fine performances.
At one point in "The Time of the Daleks," the Doctor declares that the plot to erase Shakespeare from history is just a side-show compared to the larger danger of the Daleks becoming masters of time. But you get the impression that, for writer Justin Richards, Shakespeare is the pivot on which almost everything else in this story turns.
In a tale of paradoxes, the script explores the Bard as perhaps the most puzzling paradox of all. Shakespeare and his position in British culture has always been something of a conundrum. On one hand, Shakespeare has long been a rallying point for a narrow and often rabid patriotism - the creed of the Little Englander. Indeed, it was Shakespeare's worth as a symbol that brought his work back into fashion, after decades of relative neglect, during Britain's wars with the French. Yet at the same time, his plays touch on those emotions, motivations and frailties that transcend race and national boundaries - indeed embracing a nature that is truly * universal*, if The Time of the Daleks is to be believed.
In a similar way, Shakespeare has always occupied, somewhat ambiguously, a central position in two very different domains - both the inner-circle of the pampered and powerful elite and the more democratic world of the common man. In his lifetime, the Bard's plays were performed to both classes; to the humble "groundlings" at the Globe Theatre as well as to the elevated personages at the Royal court.
It is these contradictions that establish the major themes driving The Time of the Daleks. Learman is both a little Englander and a Shakespeare elitist, leading the fight to break with Europe and being incensed at the thought of sharing the Bard with the unwashed masses. Indeed, it is her ambition to take Shakespeare away from those who "cannot appreciate him" that gives the lie to her protestations that she was working on behalf of the people.
On the other hand, Shakespeare's work - which transcends all attempts at containment - is the one common factor across the warring factions. Learman, the rebels, the Doctor and even the Daleks bow to the Bard, with the Daleks' choice and delivery of suitably menacing quotes showing just how much they, too, relish the apt Shakespearean line.
While it is the time paradox involving the Daleks that takes centre stage, the more understated and implicit paradox surrounding Shakespeare himself is at least as intriguing and, in many ways, more satisfying. The Bard, brought to the future while still a boy, gets the chance to sit and read his own plays - which he then will return to the past and write, at least partly, from memory! Here at last is an answer to the long-standing puzzle among Shakespearean scholars as to how a child of relatively humble beginnings gained the education and experience necessary to not only write history's greatest drama, but also to describe life across the continent. The answer, of course, is he didn't - he just memorized the text from his own work!
Justin Richards is clearly a Shakespearean aficionado and it is fascinating to watch him work through these themes in what is overtly a story of the Doctor's now familiar struggles with Daleks. Other parts of the production work less well - the endless jumping in and out of temporal/spatial tunnels, for example, gets very old, very fast. In contrast, the trip back to 16th century Britain is badly under-used - an episode with Charley and Viola trapped in the past, with perhaps history changing and rechanging around them, would have been a welcome break from the ultimately pointless machinations of the rebels.
All told, "The Time of the Daleks" is a somewhat uneven tale - not quite first rank, although entertaining. But it remains a treat for we Shakespeare addicts who will not long forget the thrill of hearing Daleks intone: "Cry-havoc-and-let-slip-the-dogs-of-warrr!"