You know how the Last Great Time War was this unspeakable period of Time Lords versus Daleks plus all sorts of indescribable nasties that (until recently) we had no idea of what occurred? Well The Apocalypse Element is a story that could easily be taken as an early battle in the Time War like Genesis of the Daleks was the opening shot that started it all and Resurrection of the Daleks was the Daleks’ retaliation. This and The Genocide Machine fit very nicely as a backup plan for the Daleks. They were trying to build themselves an empire in The Genocide Machine while here they attempt to invade Gallifrey and try to take down the Time Lords after kidnapping the president a few months into her term. Yes if ever we got a story inside the Time War The Apocalypse Element is most definitely that tale. The plot allows its mystery of the council at Archetryx and the twenty-year long disappearance of President Romana to sink into the listener throughout the first part with the Doctor and Evelyn landing in the midst of the conference on a whim getting themselves entangled in events. By Part Two you see what Romana’s been doing as prisoner to the Daleks which has inevitably changed her from the wise-cracking know-it-all we knew from the Tom Baker era. As Lord President you would think that she’s become a politician, but no she still has her wits about her yet is hardened somewhat by her period in captivity. The final two parts of the story are Doctor Who as directed by Michael Bay minus all the sexism and racism as the Battle for Archetryx is in full swing and the Doctor, Evelyn, Romana and the Celestial Intervention Agency are taking full part in the proceedings.
Stephen Cole gives us a great script to work with that is brought to life masterfully by Nicholas Briggs in the director’s, sound designer’s and music composer’s chairs allowing for what can only be described as an aural feast as you consider every little detail shoved in. Brigg’s sound effects are reminiscent of classic Dalek stories such as The Chase, and The Daleks’ Master Plan. You can really feel what Briggs is going for and is using this script as the backdoor pilot for the Dalek Empire spin-off as things start to come together from The Genocide Machine and the echoes of the past just resonate as you listen.
The story also has a stellar cast and the best start of analysis is of Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. Now here is really where the redemption of the Sixth Doctor actually comes to fruition. It only took four total stories but it was able to get the character to become my second favorite incarnation of the Doctor. The Doctor here is immediately appalled when he finds out the Celestial Intervention Agency is involved with the conference especially with Coordinator Vansell having his hand in the pie. He finds Vansell and the CIA extremely arrogant for interfering for their own selfish game. When Evelyn suggests putting herself in danger he has a hard time allowing her to do it as he actually cares about what happens unlike some of the things we saw in his television career. Colin Baker gives the tour de force performance as he is trying to figure things out. Moving on to the companion of the piece, Maggie Stables’ Evelyn Smythe continues to be one of my favorite Doctor Who companions just under the amazing Ace McShane and Professor Bernice Summerfield. Evelyn is relishing being on another planet and tries to get into the space-lingo that is hilarious. She even allows us to visualize the different alien species of the conference. Her wit is the one that matches the Sixth Doctor and she could never work with any other Doctor. Of course I also have to mention how she is the one to save the day. Moving on to the pseudo-companion of the piece President Romana to round out our main cast who I’ve already touched on. She’s trying to make her best out of the world going to hell, but is unable to. Lalla Ward has barely aged a day from when she left Doctor Who and whenever she is in a scene she steals it from the other two of the main cast and just gets you right into the emotion of the story.
The supporting cast of the story is large with only three main important parts. First we have Anthony Keetch reprising his role as Vansell who gets much more fleshed out here. He is a scumbag through and through, but still has the best of intentions. He still seems like he has ulterior motives in what he does. Next you have the President, also making a return from The Sirens of Time and is obviously the man in charge of getting Romana to the Presidency. He wants to see Gallifrey get better, but wants to have Romana be the one to do it. Finally you have the Daleks, voiced by Nicholas Briggs, who are much better here than in The Genocide Machine as they kill and torture anyone they come across. They’re responsible for some of the more gruesome bits as people get their eyes torn out so the Daleks can continue in their invasion. You really feel their power.
While I’ve spent this review praising the story there is one flaw in it. This is that it’s caught in the trap of being part of a miniseries and obviously the best part. There are obvious plot thread set ups left for the sequels which causes a lot of problems for the overarching story. Also it flaws into the trap of using too much sound causing jarring transitions to dialogue scenes following big loud battles.
To summarize The Apocalypse Element shows just how much of a threat that the Daleks can be. The story is almost perfectly acted, written and directed, but falls flat in its transitions and trappings of its story arc. 85/100