The Doctor helping the Daleks? Would the Time lord ever contemplate such a thing? This is just one of many questions posed by The Mutant Phase, an early entry in Big Finish’s ever expanding Doctor Who audio range. The Mutant Phase is the third part of a story arc called Dalek Empire, which also encompasses the Seventh Doctor audio adventure The Genocide Machine and the Sixth Doctor tale The Apocalypse Element.
The TARDIS becomes trapped in a deadly time corridor and the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and companion Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) are at the mercy of a mutating Dalek fleet. But why are the Daleks mutating? Could it be related to a decline in the wasp population?
The story references the 22nd century Hartnell tale Dalek Invasion Of Earth, mention is made of Robomen and the Bedfordshire locale of the Robomen camp, also name-checked in the Peter Cushing Doctor Who film. Some clever sound design evokes the Kansas field inhabited by noisy crickets and wasps in 2157 where the Doctor and Nyssa meet a reanimated cadaver keen for their co-operation.
Forced to revisit this scene later in the adventure, The Doctor and Nyssa encounter a time paradox which (as listeners of certain age would recognize) alludes to the Blinovitch Limitation Effect. This was first mentioned by Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor in Day Of The Daleks and explored in the Davison adventure Mawdryn Undead and more recently in Father’s Day when The Ninth Doctor and Rose attempted to save Pete Tyler’s life.
The disappearing wasps plot device is a curious one, especially in the light of the disappearing bees scenario in the most recent season of Doctor Who on TV. In the penultimate TV episode it was suggested the bees were returning to their home planet (some bees are alien according to The Doctor) aware of impending danger. A wasp mutation of a sort is featured in the Agatha Christie episode The Unicorn and The Wasp, perhaps influenced by The Mutant Phase or more likely by the famous Royal Jelly episode of Tales of The Unexpected wherein Timothy West becomes a bee.
The pairing of the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa was one Peter Davison felt worked well. Here the dynamic seems to have changed a little with Nyssa portrayed as a more confident and mature character, the impression conveyed is the two have travelled together for some time, accentuated by the way she becomes almost bossy when telling the Doctor to get some rest. Nyssa’s ability to repair parts of the TARDIS console (albeit with only modest approval from The Doctor), allows her character to develop. The Fifth Doctor seems more thoughtful than the breathless innocent familiar to Eighties TV audiences.
The Mutant Phase writer and director Nick Briggs is clearly enjoying himself as the various Dalek voices. Mark Gatiss makes a brief appearance as Professor Karl Hendryk and special mention should be made of Sara Wakefield as the likeable but sadly under-used cockney girl Delores. Although generally fast-paced, there is a reliance on characters like Professor Ptolem (Christopher Blake) and Nyssa to “report” great chunks of exposition which feels clunky.
The Mutant Phase is an enjoyable slice of retro Who although the original Ron Grainer theme seems out of place with Davison’s Doctor – something Big Finish rectified later. The sound design is excellent throughout and the story is engaging enough, the ending just feels a little flat.
Running Time: 110 minutes (approx) 4 episodes
Big Finish Productions – The Mutant Phase (can also be downloaded directly)