No matter how good the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa are together, I really have a hard time getting past the Daleks. The Mutant Phase is the 15th installment in the main range of Big Finish Doctor Who stories and I’m beginning to feel the writers are going somewhere with the Daleks. The problem is, they are really hard to listen to when driving. What I had going for me is this new strategy I developed of not looking at the CD when I take them down off the shelf. I slip them into the car without knowing what’s coming. It’s a fair statement that I like trying to figure things out, so when we are introduced to Ganetus, my first thought was “gee that sounds like a Thal name!” Then someone says that it would take so many “rels” to do a thing and I cringed. “Oh lord, this is a Dalek story! Who else measures time in rels?! What IS a rel anyway!”
I am a complete sucker for continuity and time travel, so the fact that this story ties in with the First Doctor story, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, wins a lot of points with me. I mean, who would think to bring back the Robomen!? But here they are! So maybe this will be a slightly better story than the other Dalek stories. And the fact is: it is! There are a lot of things I liked about this one. First of all, the writers are really keen to let us know the companions are real people with skills. Nyssa is an accomplished scientist who works on the TARDIS without fear. She’s super smart. It’s a shame the television episodes didn’t illustrate that more. Doctor! Doctor?! Doctor? Doctor. Doctooooooorrrrrrrr…oooowweeeeeeeooooooooohhhhh. Etc…. So it’s nice having the character fleshed out a bit!
Continuity, one of those things I mentioned that I’m a sucker for… yeah, there’s that too. Nyssa comments on Alaska after the audio story Land of the Dead. More than that, when the Doctor appears willing to transgress the laws of time, she calls him out on it because, from the point this story takes place, this is not long after the death of Adric. She and Tegan were pretty adamant that he tries to save Adric. (I think the Doctor was trying to save the audience, but what do I know?!) He said he could not because to do so was against the laws of time. And here he is about to walk all over those laws! I guess beating the Daleks is more important than bringing back our Gold Star.
So Nyssa adds a lot to this story for her first encounter with the Daleks. The Doctor does too. Having met the Emperor Dalek before, the Doctor makes a comment that they’ve both undergone face lifts since their last encounter. This is a fun line but what struck me about this story is just how much this Emperor seemed to be the one Eccleston encounters at the end of the 2005 season, The Parting of the Ways. Remember, this story came out in 2000, five years before that modern classic.
The story takes place partly in 2258, right around the Dalek Invasion where the First Doctor will abandon Susan and 4250-something. This idea of an alternate history for Earth adds a new and exciting chapter to the Dalek plot. What will happen? Will this start a new phase? A … dare I say it…. a mutant phase?! No, of course not! But that does bring me to the cliffhangers. There’s no easy way to cut it: ending an episode with Daleks rambling on about “the-mu-tant-phase, the-mu-tant-phase, the-mu-tant-phase…” is not only lame, but evil because the listener wants to drive off a cliff to stop it. I mean, where are we going with it? (I imagine something that scares the Daleks is meant to instill Holy Terror in the audience. Oh, sorry, I couldn’t resist that either!) The Doctor stepping out of the TARDIS and saying “I surrender” and hitting the theme music immediately on that line was far more impressive. It was a gut punch I didn’t see coming. Which is, I guess, sort of the point of it.
But as good as this was, for a Dalek story, I come back to that: it was a Dalek story, and they are a bit tedious. I’m just glad we had a strong story with Davison and Sutton because they really do make it better, even when those monotonous tin cans are blasting out my speakers. Mu-tant-phase, mu-tant-phase, mu-tant-phase… Give it a rest for a few rels, would ya?! ML