Aah - The Apocalypse Element... I remember this one well! Quite a controversial release at the time (August 2000) and subject to a rather scathing review in DWM if my memory serves me right.
This is a pretty 'big' story (putting it mildly). It sees the return of the Daleks, Romana and Gallifrey. One, or all, of these is enough to make the story an event in itself. When you have Romana as 'President' of Gallifrey and a Dalek invasion of Gallifrey, this becomes more of a space opera/story of epic proportions. At the time, I think a Dalek invasion of Gallifrey was written off as fanw*** and the entire story was dismissed as being rather 'loud' and disappointing. Whilst some of these criticisms hold merit, I prefer to see the story as an attempt to really 'push' boundaries and put the Doctor into a more grander series of adventures than was possible on the TV (can you imagine this being an 1980s TV serial - it would be rubbish). Free from the constraints of poor budgeting and even poorer scriptwriting, the Apocalypse Element is one of those stories that fully demonstrates the power of the audio medium and the ability to tell a story on a much larger scale.
Following the relaunch of the series in 2005, it becomes clear how fundamental this story is to the entire premise of the Ecclestone, Tennant and Smith eras. It is obvious that Russell T Davies has relied on this story to set up the premise of a Time War between the Daleks/Time Lords (with some use of Genesis of the Daleks thrown in for good mix). As such, The Apocalypse Element becomes pivotal in linking the 'past' of Doctor Who with the future. Certainly, the fact that the story is used so heavily to set up the new series should be a testament to the esteem with which Big Finish was held by the new series production teams in 2005-2014.
As ever, this is a Colin Baker story and he shines in the role. Baker gets to play the Doctor as a man of action (akin in many ways to Jon Pertwee), particularly in the first two episodes which involves him trying to work out the peace conference and rescue Romana. He is certainly on top form when dealing with the bureaucrats at the conference and Baker seems to relish the scripting of his Doctor. I found the cliffhanger to part 1 particularly good - showing that the Dalek mutants themselves are just as dangerous as the weapons that their casings are fitted with! Stables works well as Evelyn, providing good foil for Baker's more hyperactive portrayal in this one. Whilst I think her pairing with the Daleks in Jubilee is better, Evelyn does bring some needed light hearted moments (especially following the invasion of Gallifrey) and helps to ensure that the Doctor remains grounded.
Romana comes across as an interesting character. I agree with mark687's view that she is rather cold here. Certainly, I'd not put this down to being a Dalek prisoner. I would certainly envisage that as having a negative effect on anyone's psyche. What was impressive here was that the script didn't waste time with Romana and the Doctor going over 'old times' as would probably have been the case had JNT been responsible for the script. The plot doesn't spend ages explaining how Romana became President and/or escaped E-Space, which is quite welcome. So, whilst there is a link to the past, it is not overdone. Romana is also authoritarian as President and is believable in that role - particularly in the patriarchal Time Lord society portrayed on screen.
Ironically, the Daleks are the ones who manage to solve everything by stopping the Apocalypse Element at the end of the story. Perhaps this shows the limits of their desire for conquest - what is the point of the Daleks if the whole universe is burnt to a crisp?
'Well now I know you're mad. I just wanted to make sure."
I think I may have shot myself in the foot with this one, metaphorically speaking, of course. I wound up setting The Apocalypse Element aside for quite a while, looking forward to it, because it combined three of my favorite things: Colin Baker's 6th Doctor and Evelyn Smyth and Romana.
Sadly this story doesn't quite live up to my expectations. I think the problem is that the cast is a bit too bloated and the story too unfocused: Evelyn barely has anything to do in this story, aside from launch a solitary incisive comment--"Tell me, are you Time Lords right about everything?"--and Romana spends too much of her time isolated from the others. The big appeal of this story, I'd've thought, would be having those three characters interact with each other. Instead this wound up being more of a generic Dalek Invasion story--the big appeal for this go-round being the target: Gallifrey.
Which... sure is interesting. This story was released in 2000, so it is obviously unrelated to the the time war RTD would introduce five years later... but I think an argument could be made that this Dalek invasion of Gallifrey--as easy as it apparently was to cover up--could mark the beginning of the time war.
Or, at least, a beginning. I've always been fond of the theory that, as the time war itself is basically shaped like an ouroboros set aflame, it has multiple beginnings--infinite inciting incidents, so to speak. And given that Romana uses this invasion as a justification to make Gallifrey more active, politically and militarily... yeah. It's very telling (and inadvertently prescient) that her last words in this story are, "We'll never be defenseless again."
EDIT: also I find it curious that, in retrospect, this feels so much like a crossover with the Gallifrey range--as it sets up basically everything that range would explore in its first season, from the Monan Host to the treaties to Romana's presidency. Gallifrey 1.1 Weapon of Choice wouldn't be released until 4 years later--and the path they set Gallifrey on here would lead very naturally into the time war, which didn't yet exist....
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