Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 6/20/17 1:47 am
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In the second story of Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor, Volume 02, Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) has been taken prisoner on a Dalek (Nicholas Briggs) ship. Staging a rebellion, he eventually crashes to the planet Shade where, after being saved, he teams up with Dalek Variant 210 as they try to cross the city to get to the transmat on the other side. However, a race of creatures even the Daleks fear has occupied the city and threatens to destroy the two unlikely allies. Steven and the Dalek must make their way through these perilous traps, but is there any guarantee that they won't betray one another in the end? Across the Darkened City was probably one of my most anticipated stories from this year. How could I not be excited for an early Dalek story featuring Steven, one of my favorite First Doctor companions? The end result of Across the Darkened City is a strong, solid story. Featuring a fine performance from Peter Purves, and a surprisingly nuanced performance by Nicholas Briggs, as well as a solid script by David Bartlett, it's a solid story. However, it does have it's dull moments here and there, and I found that the ending, while effective, could've been done a little better.
Peter Purves returns as the companion to the First Doctor Steven Taylor. Purves sounds inevitably older as always as Steven, but I'm always surprised at how he's able to make his voice seem a little younger with every story. I quite liked Purves' performance in this story as Steven as well. Purves portrayed Steven as a man conflicted about what to do throughout the story, anguishing over everything. I particularly liked the standoff between the Dalek and Steven, as well as the final scene where Steven realized that the Dalek had always intended to send him off into deep space. The latter scene in particular stands in stark contrast to the rest of the story, which features Steven wondering that age old question, about whether it's possible to have a "good" Dalek. Nicholas Briggs also stars as the Daleks in this story, giving a surprisingly nuanced performance. His performance as a "good" Dalek works well in the story, and gives Briggs a chance to do something other than scream "EXTERMINATE" at the top of his lungs for an hour. I liked Briggs' performance here as a grateful Dalek, even if it did end up being a pretense all along.
David Bartlett, an occasional Big Finish writer, was tasked with writing an interesting story that gets to the heart of the Daleks, as well as showing quite a bit about Steven. The script excelled when it focused on Steven's development, but it faltered a bit when it focused on the Dalek itself I found. I particularly liked the story's focus on Steven and what it meant to work with a Dalek, and how to encounter a Dalek that seems to be good. By the end of the story, it's obvious that this isn't the case, but during the story it brings out a curious side of Steven, one I can't recall ever seeing, of someone who feels remorse and pity for the Dalek, enough to try and resuscitate it, and to carry it through the city quietly. A lot of his actions are born from a selfish desire to leave the planet, but nonetheless it makes for an interesting development. I also quite liked Bartlett's creation for this story, the Chaons (Helen Goldwyn, who's nearly unrecognizable). The Chaons reminded me a lot of the Star Men, from the eponymous Monthly Range story. They're a race of creatures that are seemingly indestructible and are able to match the Daleks in terms of destruction. They were an interesting creation, and one I'd like to see make a return at some point in the future.
However, I felt the story faltered at one key part: the ending. At the end of the story, Steven and the Dalek are being attacked by the Chaons as they try to escape Shade. The Dalek, demanding that it be sent to Skaro before Steven, is dying, and so Steven decides to put it in one of the nearby Dalek cases, in the hopes that it survives to send him back to his friends. I'm sure you can guess what happens here; the Dalek double crosses Steven, attempting to kill him, and then leaving him stranded, about to be killed by the Chaons. Even the Dalek's last action, giving Steven the transmat coordinates to the Doctor's location, was a lie, as it would've sent him into deep space. It just felt like such an obvious ending to the story, that I'm frankly disappointed that Bartlett went with it. It's the ending to nearly every "good Dalek" story on the planet, and it's not an ending that I particularly like. It could've gone further, examining the juxtaposition of the scores of rotting corpses the Daleks left in Shade with one act of goodness from a Dalek, but instead, it went for betrayal. It's not the worst ending for the story, but it's certainly far from the best way to end the story.
Overall, Across the Darkened City was an enjoyable, solid story. Peter Purves and Nicholas Briggs both shined as their respective characters, sharing an excellent chemistry with one another. Similarly, David Bartlett's script was a strong affair, doing some excellent work showing Steven's doubts about the Dalek, and the horrors that the Daleks had inflicted on Shade. However, I felt that the story's ending was weak, as it went for a tired ending that's so common among so many "good Dalek" stories. It was disappointing that Bartlett didn't try to do something a bit more unique here, instead opting for a rather boring ending. But overall, the story was a strong affair, the ending aside, and that certainly made for an enjoyable story in the end.