Wednesday, July 25, 2012
The Mutant Phase
What really makes this story work, is that it's a very different type of Dalek tale. While the Daleks are definitely still the villains of the piece, there is another monster that actually kills and terrifies the Daleks. This Mutant Phase represents a contamination of Dalek DNA, which mutates the Dalek creatures into a terrifying insect species which can natively travel through space. These creatures are so deadly they can pretty much swarm a planet and suck all of the life out of it.
The story takes place in three different locations and times. One is during the Dalek occupation of Earth in the 2150's (first chronicled in the classic serial "The Dalek Invasion of Earth"). Another is Earth in the farther future in 4250 where the planet appears to have been devastated (as we find out later, by the Mutant Phase) with very few humans left alive. Finally, some of the story takes place on Skaro in the far future with the Daleks under siege from the Mutant Phase creatures. Most of part one consists of the Doctor and Nyssa arriving on Earth in the 2150's. Nyssa is quickly stung by a wasp (which proves to be critical to the plot later on). It's a nice change of pace for the Doctor and Nyssa to escape quickly once the Doctor figures out where (and when) they are. Of course, they first have to escape capture from a Roboman and a Dalek. It's interesting to revisit this time, and it's fun for the Doctor to once again encounter some Daleks who actually don't know who he is. It harkens back to the show's earliest days.
Things really get interesting late in the first episode, when the story shifts to Skaro. Here some Thals are actually helping the Daleks try to understand (and find a way to eradicate) the Mutant Phase. It's fantastic when one of the Daleks begins to actually show signs of the genetic contagion and begins to mutate. The other Daleks go absolutely bonkers over this, and begin screaming their heads off in terror at what's happening in front of them. I never thought I would encounter a Dalek story where one of the episodes' cliff hangers involves the Daleks in peril! It really builds up the danger of these creatures since the Daleks are totally freaked out over them.
Nick Briggs wrote and directed this, and he's definitely the "Dalek expert" of Big Finish. I once again think his direction and music are outstanding. It sets a very sombre, tense, tone for the story as the Doctor in the far future devastated Earth keeps saying that things just don't seem right. This dark tone leaves a feeling of doom and that something really has gone terribly wrong. When the Doctor and Nyssa arrive in 4250 and encounter some of the few remaining humans, we are treated to a very creepy, disturbing performance from Mark Gattis as Karl Hendryk. Karl comes off as very sinister sitting in a nearly pitch black room and mumbling darkly about his devastated planet. It's fun when the Daleks come to capture the Doctor. He manages to make it to the inside of the TARDIS, but Nyssa and the remaining humans are stuck outside. When the Daleks begin exterminating hostages (and Nyssa only survives this by blind luck) which ultimately draws the Doctor out from sanctuary, it's another effective cliff hanger with the Doctor's quiet, "I surrender."
On the second CD the Doctor and Nyssa finally figure out what's going on. Somehow, the wasps from the 2150's managed to string and corrupt the DNA of one of the Daleks which ultimately leads to the Mutant Phase. The Dalek Emperor convinces the Doctor (and some Thals) to go back in time and prevent this from happening. Nyssa is appalled at the Doctor's willingness to go back and change "history", but the Doctor thinks he is actually setting things on the proper path. Of course, things aren't exactly as they seem. It's really quite funny when the Dalek Emperor of the future is trying to convince the Daleks on Earth that he's there to help him. It fits the Daleks' character perfectly that they don't believe him! The Doctor is great here too, completely undermining the Emperor's efforts. The ending then becomes one of those logic killing time paradoxes that's hard to wrap your head around. Even Nyssa flat out says that this is all bonkers in the story's final scene. The confounding, reset switch ending is the one sore spot that diminishes an otherwise terrific story. Still, the journey can often be more important than the destination, so this remains a very strong story, and still remains one of my favorite Dalek tales.