When it comes to the Doctor Who extended universe, everyone has their favorite Doctor and Companions. It becomes almost a badge of pride to carry your favorite Doctor close to your chest and finding others who share the same sentiment feels like winning the lottery. While Matt Smith is my favorite Doctor, it’s a bit harder to choose my favorite companion. So many of the companions were not only relatable but start to feel like friends. One of these individuals, and the reason I jumped at getting to listen to Doctor Who: Emancipation of the Daleks, was none other than Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) from Capaldi’s era on Doctor Who.
[Note: While I am reviewing this audio drama independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Big Finish for the purpose of this review.]
As someone who dislikes change and loved Clara Oswald (Jenna Louise Coleman) more than anything, I was apprehensive when Bill Potts was first announced. However, Doctor Who was in the midst of a soft reboot, so when she was finally introduced in “The Pilot” I was instantaneously smitten by Bill.
She was the perfect companion to the Doctor who was rough around the edges with her expansive energy and go-with-the-flow attitude. So when I was scrolling through the available stories from Big Finish, I was stopped when I saw a cover that featured not just one, but two Bills. I was intrigued by the picture alone, just what was going on that there would be two Bills in this story. My excitement got the better of me and I just had to know what exactly takes place in this story.
[Warning: Spoilers from Big Finish’s Doctor Who: Emancipation of the Daleks are below!]
Bill’s future pays a visit in Emancipation of the Daleks
The story begins with one of the most interesting aspects of Capaldi’s final season, with the Doctor stuck on Earth and forced to experience time linearly. When we met the Doctor once again in ‘The Pilot’ (which served as a sort of reboot after Coleman’s departure) the Doctor was teaching at a local college as a Professor. It was unclear how long the Doctor has been doing this, but in Emancipation of the Daleks, we come to understand that it has been quite a bit of time that the Doctor has been stuck.
What is also unclear is where this story takes place, although it seems that Bill Potts has been traveling with the Doctor for a bit. The relationship between the two is strong already, indicating to me that this is somewhere between the middle and end of Bill’s time in the TARDIS.
Speaking of the end of her time with the Doctor, fans of the show know that Bill has a definitive ending. While the Doctor and Bill don’t know what is to come for this companion, we as the audience know that Bill’s time is short and quickly approaching. So how exactly is there another Bill who’s about twenty years older than our Bill appearing on present-day Bill’s doorstep?
Confused? Well, hold onto your hats, because the beginning is the least confusing part of this wild Doctor Who adventure. Future Bill, as she’s called thankfully, arrives at Bill’s apartment with little to no explanation, for fear of creating a paradox. She’s there because she’s supposed to be.
The Doctor arrives in his usual Twelfth Doctor grumpy manner, annoyed and confused as to why there are two Bills where there should only be one. That’s when the TARDIS bells begin to sound, the signal that danger is approaching
Dalek ships and changing futures
As the Doctor, Bill, and Future Bill run into the TARDIS, a damaged Dalek war saucer is traveling through the time vortex, on a path that would crash right into the blue police box. The Doctor, being the clever Time Lord he is, is able to avoid the crash, however, his doing so causes the ship to crash in the recent past, changing the future completely.
All of this comes to light after the Doctor and two Bills travel to the future to discover a world that is almost unrecognizable to our Bill’s world. Bristol has been leveled completely, Daleks have been made slaves by humans, and there is a unified government that rules through control and fear.
Throughout part one and part two, you start to empathize with the Daleks, even though we also know they are killing machines. These creatures become weapons for the humans, forced to do their bidding. This is where the third Bill comes into play as she and her group of friends wish to save the Daleks.
You read that right, a third Bill, one from this current timeline where the Dalek’s crashed landed in Bristol, joins the adventures. From this point on, the adventure becomes complex, with The Doctor and now the three Bills working together to right the wrongs and set the timeline right. If and how they accomplish that is something that should be enjoyed as the story unfolds, but let me tell you, it’s completely worth it.
The ups and downs of Emancipation of the Daleks
Of the three audio dramas that have reviewed so far from Big Finish, Doctor Who: Emancipation of the Daleks was the first not recorded by a full cast. Instead, this audio novel was narrated by Dan Starkey, who has played Sontarans over the course of NuWho.
Nicolas Briggs also returned as the voice of the Daleks. Part of me was worried about how easy it would be to follow along as one person did all the voices in the story, but Starkey truly did an amazing job.
I’m not sure how, but Starkey provided the voices for The Doctor and Bill that were so close to Capaldi’s and Mackie’s that I was completely transported. When I first heard him speak as the Doctor, I thought that Capaldi must have returned for the Doctor’s parts. Even every Bill sounded similar but also had something distinct about their voices that made them stand out from each other. That to me elevated this from a basic audio drama to something spectacular.
The story itself was very interesting, especially getting to explore Alt Bill’s life early in the second part of Emancipation of the Daleks. It reminded me of ‘Turn Left’, an episode featuring Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), where at a key point in her life she makes a different decision and her life is completely different. Alt Bill’s story is tragic and polar opposite from our Bill’s, which provides an interesting comparison between the two.
One of the biggest issues with this story is its complexity. Doctor Who is already a smart show, with the stars talking quickly and at times topics that can easily feel overwhelming. However, in audio dramas, everything has to be spoken, therefore some things you cannot show but have to explain in more detail. There were some points where I had to pause and reflect on what just happened. There’s also a bit of timeline jumping and learning how the Bill exists in relation to each other that if you aren’t paying attention, you may just get lost.
Final thoughts on Doctor Who: Emancipation of the Daleks
This Big Finish audio drama was a good entry into the Doctor Who lore. For those who did not care for Capaldi’s Doctor because of his gruffness which sometimes came off as rude, it paints the Doctor in a new light. You see a bit of that carefree attitude usually associated with David Tennant or Matt Smith’s years as the time-traveling alien.
Through the writing, you also feel completely immersed in this adventure, with descriptions and dialogue that paint a world you can easily see in your mind’s eye. However, this is also a story that gets easily complicated if you get distracted from the story. This drama is almost seven hours long, which I would not recommend attempting to listen to in one sitting. instead, breaking it up into an hour or ninety-minute increments worked best for me and helped build the anticipation.