The Dalek Occupation of Winter
The Dalek Occupation of Winter
Written by David K. Barnes
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Produced by David Richardson
Released by Big Finish: The Early Adventures 5.1, September 2018
Review by Miles Reid-Lobatto
When the Doctor, Vicki and Steven arrive on the cold and desolate planet of Winter, they discovers some old friends. But unlike every other planet, the Daleks aren’t here as conquerors, they’re here to help. They’re the ones giving the people of Winter food and supplies to help them make it through the five-hundred-year cold season.
There’s got to be a catch.
Of course there’s a catch.
This is honestly, without hyperbole one of my favourite Dalek stories ever. It’s incredibly well-written, our regulars are excellent and each given something to do and it manages to take a lot of traditional Doctor Who staples concerning the ‘Something bad’s going on in this space colony’ cliché and manages to twist it in ways that are surprising and shocking.
You’re still here?
Well, guess I better get into more detail.
I like when the Daleks are smart. I like when they manipulate and display their intelligence over their firepower and capacity for sheer carnage. Power, Evil, their first appearance into the Modern Era ‘Dalek.’ The trouble is, I think Daleks have a tendency to be put too much into the firepower and death-type of stories, where Daleks trundle down corridors en-masse, screaming Exterminate and gunning down rebels. Given their propensity to be brought back again and again in Big Finish (which I get, they’re a guaranteed sale and Nicholas Briggs probably snores the word ‘exterminate’ as he sleeps), but you really need to do something unique to make me feel interested in Skaro’s Merry Mutants. They’ve been overdone and as fun as it is, in that nice little childish thrill, to hear those terrible voices, I worry that we'll one day reach a point where there's nothing really worth doing with them anymore.
And this is it.
The First Doctor has definitely had some of the strongest stories from Big Finish, mostly from the pen of Simon Guerrier. The world the First Doctor explores on his many audio adventures feels a lot freer, a lot less constrained from the shackles of his own continuity. Yes, we know he’s a Time Lord and regeneration and what lies ahead for him, but it’s almost as if the Doctor himself is completely unaware of what is to come. The Doctor is just a traveller and his own people, his own world, are something to be left in hushed whispers and the universe is one of the endless possibilities of pulp fiction. Spaceships can look like rocket-ships, everything is black and white and William Hartnell is THE Doctor, not The First Doctor. So when the Doctor’s world of 1960s possibility hits the confines of our own time and space, of the struggles of the 2020s, it hits harder.
‘There is No Ethical Consumption Under Capitalism.’
In a way, the first truly haunting of the story (one of many) is when Steven has convinced his new friend, factory worker Amala Vost that the Daleks need to be destroyed and her response is- ‘But what about my job?’
Because her job is to build the Dalek casing on Winter so they can be sent off-planet to ‘help others,’ because that’s the only way she can put food on the table. It’s a far cry from Terry Nation pointing at the idea of pacifism and laughing at it.
When there’s very little in the way of work on Winter, when there’s very little in the way of anything on Winter, just trying to put food on the table is the ultimate struggle.
And sometimes, that struggle is more important than anything else, even if your labour is benefiting a race of galactic monsters who’re slaughtering the galaxy in endless wars, but you’re left alone because the rulers of your planet have entered into a contract with the real masters. The basic dignity of freedom in exchange for the lives of planets you don’t even know the names of.
Not really a contest. Especially as the cost of living is so steep and sometimes you’ve just got to swallow your pride and do whatever’s on offer. Sometimes, because there’s no-where cheaper to shop nearby, you’ve got to go to the Asda’s or Wal-Mart, even though you know their cheap prices come from overworked and underpaid staff and their clothes come from sweatshop factories. If there’s the choice between that and starving, not really a contest at all. To some of us, that’s a struggle that poses us to asks far more horrid questions than the Daleks usually do. ‘I could make a difference, or I could simply put my head down and not pay attention.’
For the people of Winter, that’s a question asked of everyone, from Amala to its Grand Marshall Gaius and Security Chief Varna (played incredibly by Shvorne Marks and Sara Powell) who either suspect the Daleks aren’t playing fair or know for certain and will happily look the other way. Varna is the latest in a long line of that classic Doctor Who staple- The Security Officer who has a disturbing fascination with violence and she might be one of the most frightening in that role, her lust for more power and position in Winter isn’t due out of megalomania, but quite simply, that basest of human influences.
And it’s that boredom and desire for something new that’ll lead her to her actions at the very end, one of Doctor Who’s most realistic endings and one of the biggest gut-punches I’ve had in a Who story in some time. And it’s that which really wants me to put this up there as not only one of the greatest Dalek stories we’ve ever been given, but maybe one of the most prescient as we face our own Winter.
Miles Reid-Lobatto February 2023