Written By: Stephen Cole
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Colin Baker (The Doctor); Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe); Lalla Ward (Romana); Karen Henson (Monitor Trinkett); James Campbell (Assistant Monitor Ensac); Andrea Newland (Commander Vorna); Anthony Keetch (Coordinator Vansell); Toby Longworth (Monan Host); Michael Wade (The President); Alistair Lock and Nicholas Briggs (Dalek voices); Andrew Fettes (Vrint / Captain Raldeth); Neil Corry (Alien Delegate)
Produced by: Justin Haigh-Ellery and Gary Russell
Originally Released: August 2000
The Apocalypse Element, made in 2000, makes for remarkable listening eighteen years on. It’s not just that it features the Daleks and the Time Lords at loggerheads, either. After all, Genesis of the Daleks sees the Time Lords attempting to kill the Daleks in the cradle, while Resurrection of the Daleks sees Davros’ children return the favour by attempting to assassinate the High Council. The Seventh Doctor even makes sure to declare he’s acting in his capacity as Lord President before he blows up Skaro in Remembrance of the Daleks. All of these and more haver latterly being subject to attempts to pinpoint them as the start of the Time War.
No, the truly astonishing thing is the way in which it all feels so very like the modern series’ vision of what a Time War is like. The Daleks fit so perfectly with their recent appearances, it’s difficult not to picture their bronze, rivetted travel machines as they carve their way through Gallifrey’s Capitol, exterminating everything in sight. They have a relentless, unstoppability rarely seen on TV in the 20th century but very familiar to viewers in the 21st. A scene where they destroy the lights because, after all, they can see in infrared and their prey can’t could have come straight from Dalek or The Parting of the Ways, five years after this was released.
The counterpoint to this, though, is that the Time Lords are a far cry from the battle hardy cynics whose very name terrifies or enrages those caught up in the War unwillingly, but are much more like their predecessors as seen in the likes of Arc of Infinity – people who talk a good talk about their own power but go hopelessly to pieces when the pressure’s on. In fact, this may be the least flattering depictions of the Time Lords yet as here even their paranoia, distrust and disdain towards the rest of the universe goes to the wall and they actually let the Daleks in by accident, during a hair brained impulse to steal another species’ time machine and see if it’s better than theirs. Though even this depiction winds up feeding into the modern revival of Doctor Who via a conclusion that sees the Time Lords swear to toughen themselves up and prepare for the inevitable rematch.
The Daleks’ over-arching scheme, like all the best Dalek schemes, is utterly bonkers. They’ve found a way to destroy the entire universe (thanks to the ‘Apocalypse Element’ of the title) and are now approaching the problem of weaponizing it from an unusual angle – finding a way to use this technological terror without wiping out themselves too.Near the end, there's a little "We totally meant to do that!" explanation for why the Daleks would pursue such an obvioyusly flawed plan, but it's about as convincing as a small child expounding on exactly how that crayon got up its nose, and how it was actually all a completely reasonable idea.
It’s possibly this type of melodrama which allows The Apocalypse Element to succeed where many other attempts to create a grim and gritty tale in the style of 1980s Eric Saward stories have failed. It never tips into true nastiness, even in the scenes revealing Romana has been a Dalek slave for twenty years, slowly being worked to death, and doesn’t revel in any kind of nihilism. While it pulls in just enough of the silliness present in all the best Doctor Who as an antidote to masses of death and destruction without letting it collapse into farce.
Now that Big Finish are increasingly playing in the sandpit of TV’s Last Great Time War, with the sadly ended War Doctor range being followed up by ranges featuring the Sir Derek Jacobi's Master, the Eighth Doctor and Romana herself, The Apocalypse Element seems more relevant than ever and a must for those wanting to see where it all began.