Initially it seems to be looking at how the 'Dalek Invasion of Earth' took place. Which is particularly obvious thanks to the title of part one being 'Invasion of the Daleks'. It would be quite a clever move too, as we know the Daleks reached Earth, but everything else about that invasion is a complete mystery. However, it is in a totally different timezone, the 42nd century to be exact, but Big Finish do seem to be addressing the fact that 'Dalek Invasion of Earth', the second ever Dalek serial, has the evil pepper pots acting in a very different manner than we saw after that.
There's liberal use of robomen, a process the Daleks didn't bother with for years after 'Invasion' until Moffat brought back the idea for humanised Dalek infiltrators. There's the forced labour camps, which modern day Daleks wouldn't bother with because the can just exterminate.
In many way it's a shame that it doesn't just embrace the Dalek invasion we saw the First Doctor deal with. After all, he only stopped one operation on Earth, there's got to be a lot more to that story.
And I know with 'The Apocalypse Element' and 'The Mutant Phase' I was sceptical of how it all tied together, and I admit even after 'Time of the Daleks' which did make sense of it, I was unsure how much they would effect this mini-series. The truth is they were laying the groundwork. Each of the previous parts all play a part. Though they're certainly not required listening.
The explanation that the Daleks managed to build a fleet that could just sweep across the galaxy is because they had their own galaxy. One they created in 'The Apocalypse Element' and had free roam to do what they like. The end goal is something they found out about in the Kat-Charrat library in 'The Genocide Machine' and another factor proving important in the big finale. Which is similar to the 'The Mutant Phase's' contribution as since that happens in an alternate timeline it can only give reveals in a general sense, and the Dalek Emperor's ability to control beings psychically is an important one. It does muddy the water just how it does it, but considering the new victim was also a Roboman mark 2, I guess enough handwaving was done.
But Big Finish go further than that. The Knights of Velyshaa play a very important role. A race of people first seen in “The Sirens of Time”, and they sounded pretty cool, but were cast aside as one-off bad guys from there. Now they're given pride of place where their back story demands they should be. We have one of them playing a major role, Kalendorf being one of the great minds behind the rebellion and basically being the big general that leads them to victory.
It does fairly jump around a bit too. The first episode take place as the Invasion begins, and over the course of four hours we cover a total of ten years. For such a long audio drama it actually feels like it needs it because what it's telling is so epic. I just wish it was a few thousand years early and a quick reference to Earth falling helped the rebellion gain a foothold in the conflict.
I have to admit that this is more like what I expected from "Cyberman 1". Which might explain why that mini-series took such a different route. I'm still not forgiving it though, they totally wasted the Orion War concept.
The other thing I need to talk about with regards to “Cyberman” is the actor. Mark McDonnell was Liam Barnaby, the main character throughout both seasons of that one. Since listening to that I've spotted him a couple of time in the main line, but never the lead, so I'm not going to begrudge Big Finish reusing minor actors. However, he's the main male lead in Dalek Empire too, and really that's just going too far. The lead in two of your big name mini-series cannot be the same person. Sure we can't see their face, but we can hear their voice and it just knocks you out of the moment.
In 'Embrace the Darkness' he was a least playing a totally different character with a very different background, but here he's like a washed up version of the military man he'd play in Cyberman. Once they've played a big role in a mini-series, I think you have to stop using that actor.
However, I enjoyed “Dalek Empire” far more than I expected to. “Sword of Orion” is a hundred percent responsible for me listening to “Cyberman” because I loved its setup so much. None of the preceding Dalek Empire's really grabbed me in the same way, and I only kept going because they were a gift that I got shortly after announcing I was doing this. They've restored my faith in Big Finish's mini-series', and unlike “Cyberman” I'm looking forward to the sequel.