Big Finish Productions
|Written by||Robert Shearman|
|Continuity||Between The Trial of a Time Lord and Time and the Rani.|
|Starring Colin Baker and Maggie Stables|
|Also featuring Martin Jarvis, Rosalind Ayres, Steven Elder, Kai Simmons, Jane Goddard, Robert Shearman, Jack Galagher, Georgina Carter, Nicholas Briggs|
|Synopsis: Hurrah! The deadly Daleks are back! Yes, those loveable tinpot tyrants have another plan to invade our world. Maybe this time because they want to drill to the Earth's core. Or maybe because they just feel like it. And when those pesky pepperpots are in town, there is one thing you can be sure of. There will be non-stop high octane mayhem in store. And plenty of exterminations!|
Sympathy for the devil by Andrew Wixon 5/3/03
I'm not the conspiracy theory type, but look at this - the 40th jubilee year for our show and to kick it off Big Finish issue their 40th audio play, which just happens to be called - Jubilee! Whoooah! I mean, whoooaaahhhh! But, this serendipiticiousness (can't imagine Katy Manning saying that, somehow) aside, this is the first proper pairing of Colin Baker and Robert Shearman, two of BF's star performers, so obviously expectations are extremely high.
Well, to start with, the omens aren't that great as the TARDIS lands in a Britain ruled by a right-wing dictatorship, only to vanish down a crack in the space-time continuum. I was uncomfortably reminded of last year's too-clever-for-its-own-good Time of the Daleks, but soon enough Shearman's trademark mixture of jet black comedy, poignant characterisation, and thematic seriousness kicked in and I was left in no doubt as to the fact that this is one of the most intelligent and densely written DW stories I can think of.
What do I mean by dense? Well, I mean that the story operates on a plethora of levels and is about a number of things. This story probably wouldn't have made it to the TV screen (certainly not without some editing for content), because it's an extremely demanding listen if you're intent on catching all the ideas and references. It's about the human need to demonise our enemies, it's about the way the general public views the TV series and the Daleks, it's about the nature of evil and power, pressurisation to conform, free will... that isn't to say that this is a heavy-going or humourless play, quite the opposite. You can almost imagine the writer smirking as he came up with dialogue like 'Merchandise with Daleks on it always sells well, especially in jubilee year'.
Over ten years ago I was at a con where Steve Gallagher was doing a panel. Apropos of something-or-other he said he thought it would be interesting to write a story about what makes the Daleks tick, how one lone Dalek would behave in isolation. And in many ways this is that story. Shearman manages the remarkable feat of making you feel shocked and outraged on behalf of an imprisoned, brutalised Dalek, before going on to explore the psychology of the creature like no-one's ever done before. Maggie Stables gets most of the scenes with it and excels here and elsewhere, as do - well, pretty much the entire cast. Only towards the end does the tale falter, as the Daleks arrive in force and the story strays perilously close to Star Trek territory, both in terms of yet another (!!!!) time paradox denouement and a 'every villain has a spark of decency within' message.
Terry Nation would probably have hated Jubilee. His creations are spoofed and mocked for much of the story, not to mention presented sympathetically. But like the best previous Dalek stories, this doesn't merely feature them - it's about the evil that the Daleks represent, the effect it has on even those who would battle it, the tainting need for control and destruction that inspired their creation in the first place. Nation should have been proud, because this is one of the finest Dalek stories ever told, and an outstanding start to the jubilee year.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 15/3/03
Starting off the 40th Anniversary year, Jubilee perfectly shows why the audios are the best kind of Doctor Who we have ever experienced. It shows how wonderful characters, humour, drama and imagination combine to stunning effect. I don't apologize for my continued applauding of the Big Finish audios, but when they are as brilliant as this - then I have to laud them as the greatest DW of them all.
Jubilee is by an author I have so applauded for a couple of years now. From his magnificent debut in Holy Terror, through the ultimate Doctor Who story - Chimes of Midnight, Shearman has proven now with Jubilee that he really is one of the best writers to ever grace the series. Many have given us 1 great idea, one hit wonders dominate every field. But Shearman has now given us 3 classics and 1 humourous diversion (Maltese Penguin). That puts him firmly on the list of great Doctor Who writers, or even great writers to grace Doctor Who. His continued involvement in the DW world seems to be assured. From DWM articles, through direction on Jubilee - he is contributing much to what is great about current Doctor Who.
Jubilee is a story to get your teeth into, such is the script and the setting. It features the best audio companionship (which is quickly becoming the best companionship of Doctor Who, full stop), the 6th Doctor and Evelyn. They are brilliant throughout, and how many times have I written that. Yet again though I have to say it - they really do work so well together. Their early conversations about history, the wonderful affectionate speech towards one another in the middle. Whilst being great together they are also excellent characters apart. The one-on-ones with the Dalek, the way they interact with those around them. Jubilee features the best use of Evelyn since her opening story. She is a history teacher after all - and this is very much a warped historical drama. Jubilee is yet another monumental performance from Colin Baker - he just continues to revel in glory of Big Finish scripts.
The guest stars are very impressive, and they feature heavily. At nearly 2 and a half hours long, the story does have the length these characters deserve. That Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres are so excellent as the odd couple of the English Empire, is a tribute to both of these fine actors - and the writer who puts the words in their mouths. The other characters work well too, soldier types with a penchant for torture and following orders.
The main stand-out supporting character is the lone Dalek, played by Nicholas Briggs. He also directs the story with Rob Shearman, and his mastery of the Doctor's arch-enemy is now fully assured. Terry Nation and Ray Cusick may have invented the Daleks, but it is Nicholas Briggs now who is their mentor and champion. He knows them better than anyone, I suspect! Being alone for so long invariably leads to this Dalek being the most individual of all that race - a character in its own right. But the dilemmas that this Dalek faces are supremely well thought out.
The story revolves around this lone Dalek. The characters are defined by their reactions to it. There's paranoia in abundance. There's severe loathing. There's fear and dread. There's also compassion. It is most interesting discovering which of the characters adopt which stance.
The tone of Jubilee continually surprises, and not just the reactions of the English Empire to the Dalek. Black comedy abounds, but there is also a fair amount of allegory about the way we perceive villainy or evil in our society - this really got me thinking. Even though it shocks in places, it also makes you laugh - but you gradually get used to the dark tone, even though some scenes are decidedly squeamish. Many of the ideas presented are very adult, there's a definite uneasy undercurrent running all through Jubilee. The whole makes for an exciting edge-of-your-seat listening experience, full of surprises.
Big Finish have created another magnificent setting for this story. The English Empire is a fascinating idea, and the alternative 20th Century unique in the annals of DW Fiction. But the story succeeds on a more local level too - the palace the President lives in seems full of fascinating rooms, and it all seems to go on forever. It's not spooky, that belongs to the tower - an environment not unlike the authors own The Holy Terror. Every place in Jubilee has its own character. Also effective are the vast crowd scenes that dominate the Jubilee celebrations themselves, you really feel part of the crowd gazing up at the Doctor, President, Evelyn and the Doctor. The trip on the Dalek runabout is cleverly done too. It makes a lot of noise, but you can still hear the actors clearly. It's another brilliant AUDIO production from the masters at Big Finish, full stop.
I have only listened to Jubilee once so far. I suspect it will reward the duplicate listener though, like all great stories and productions do. There's a lot of great material in this play, and I'm sure further listenings will enhance the whole experience. For now Jubilee is another winner from Rob Shearman. If you like black comedy you'll love it, if you like a great story, with great characters, with top- notch production values, you'll love it even more!
All in all Jubilee fully justifies the decision to make many of these stories a longer length. It never drags, it's always interesting, and ends up a terrific, if bizarre, place to spend a few hours. 9/10
It's a celebration! by Joe Ford 14/4/03
This is the most thoughtful Doctor Who story in a long, long time.
After the disappointment of Church and the Crown and the bizarre and one off Bang-Bang-a-Boom! we needed something substantial, something meaty that proves that Big Finish isn't just rehashing the past and taking the mickey. Jubilee confirms the 40th year is going to be very special as far as BF are concerned. To start the year on what is surely going to be one of the best must mean they are going to give us some true delights later.
Rob Shearman is unlike any writer I've ever experienced before. He doesn't want to write safe stories, he wants to push the envelope in the most unexpected of ways. Upon hearing the trailer I was not sure what the hell he was going to deliver here. Daleks, the sixth Doctor and Evelyn, actors of the calibre of Martin Jarvis, a front cover with the TARDIS framed in stained glass and given Shearman's talent for the macabre and the insanely amusing what the hell was this going to be like? My friend Matt read the blurb and almost refused to be interested.
The Daleks have been utterly abused by society and it is brought up quite delightfully here. The way in which the Daleks are merchandised in this story, just like in the sixties is exposed as pathetic as it truly was. Rob Shearman is a master manipulator and the way he manages to makes the Daleks utterly terrifying and completely sympathetic, both in ways we have never seen before is superb. He takes on our expectations of the Daleks and twists them like a knife in the gut. And quite delightfully he manages to make them hysterically funny too. How...?
The scenes between Evelyn and the slave Dalek absolutely make the story. Maggie Stables' terrified, angry performance is quite superb in a script that gives Evelyn so much meat. She's met the Daleks before, she is aware of their evil and yet is human enough to sympathise with a creature in torment. She quite surprised me as she turned on the slave Dalek and forced him to see the error of his ways. The script constantly switches power between the two characters, learning from each other, refusing to see each other hurt and it is one of the most unexpectedly delightful uses of a companion I have ever seen. The slave Dalek is performed brilliantly, Shearman manages to make us like this guy completely without once forgetting he is a ruthless killer. He is a Dalek to the bitter end, a creature of evil as they were first intended and yet he is by far the most interesting Dalek character we have ever seen. Bravo.
The trailer for the story on CD one is just hysterical. I was really scared the whole story would be written in such a grotesquely comical fashion and undermine the fear factor of the Daleks but my fears were soon abolished. Let's just say the sixth Doctor and Evelyn have never been so sexy and the Daleks have never screamed "Scarper! Scarper!" before. But I'm glad they have now!
The story is so intelligent with so many nuances in the script it would be a horrible spoiler to name any of them. The world the Doc and Evelyn visit is a horrible parody of the worst of human kind. The Dalek influences over England are quite frightening (although the Dalek song is quite catchy!) and the reactions from our heroes are palpably horrific. Colin Baker never lets us forget that the entire story is WRONG in every way, it is another fascinating facet of this new improved audio sixth Doctor. The script even subverts our opinions of the Doctor as he quite close mindedly boxes all the Daleks in one stereotypical opinion. Is the Doctor a racist? Does he have the right to judge? His scenes with Evelyn crackle with tension and great dialogue, they are so well suited, opinionated to the point of obstinacy and they compliment each other so well. I shall be devasted when she leaves. Even better, the Doctor fails in every respect proving what a flawed hero he is. Does this sound like spoilers? Wrong. Listen to the CD and let its twisting plotline capture you.
The humour in the script is twisted but very funny. C'mon, the Daleks are funny aren't they? And who better to expose these absurd creatures but Rob Shearman. The Dalek's reaction to a marriage proposal left me in stitches. The way the comedy twists with the horror is quite skilful, I'm fairly certain John Scott Martin will never complain about getting inside a Dalek casing again (hahaha!).
A subtle commentary on the horror of mankind laces the story and it is quite scary to see just how bad things could get if we mimicked the Daleks ourselves. It's certainly not a world I'd want to live (especially with Rochester's hysterical reaction to the housing problems!).
Performances are perfect but the honours have to go to Martin Jarvis who throws himself into the bizarre script with real delight. Rochester proves to be a very interesting character to listen out for, he surprises in every way cruel, paranoid and gentle. And Jarvis' wife Rosalind Ayres is superb too, Miriam is delightfully shallow and intelligent at the same time! The script alone is a masterpiece but the actors really bring out the comedy and the horror.
It is not as emotional as The Holy Terror or as atmospheric as Chimes of Midnight but it has far more to say than either of those stories. There are so many little moments that delight and horrify, so much that is said here that really matters I would put this in the number one poll against these two. The script demands several re-listens to really get to grips with the different shades Rob Shearman brings to the story, much like Ghost Light it is stuffed to the brim with memorable dialogue and incredible shifts in personality.
Certainly I have never been left with so many thoughts rattling around in my head after listening to an audio. That is the best type of any media, the scripts that make you think. Jubilee lets you take something away with you, more than just morals. And that's Rob Shearman's gift to Doctor Who.
Density of the Daleks by Rob Matthews 18/4/03
I must admit that before I'd heard any of the Big Finish audios I had my doubts about how effective they would be as Doctor Who stories. I assumed that, in comparison with the main two Who media of television and books, they'd fall short - on the one hand there would be performances, but they'd lack the immediacy of those in televised stories because of the absence of visuals; on the other there'd be more complex stories and possibly more grown-up subject matter, but any real ambition would be curtailed by the need to constantly explain what's going on. I was discussing this with Mike Morris recently and he pointed out that the audio drama form seems a kind of halfway house between TV and books - which I think is true, but, as I've discovered from my little forays into audio territory, in a very good way; they kind of represent the best of both worlds, showing how post-TV series Who fiction - which I would characterise as more complex, more involved and more adult (in terms of attitude and outlook) - could be adapted to the time constraints of a TV-type story. I have a problem with BF's odd backward-looking fallacy of presenting these adventures in faux-episodic format rather than just embracing their own identity. But that's just a nitpick - Thanks to nifty scripting, strong performances, ambient sound effects and music that tells part of the story, the best of the audio adventures rank with the very best of Doctor Who. And none more so than Jubilee.
The aforementioned nifty scripting is in this case the work of one Robert Shearman, writer of the very good (if just a teensy bit overrated) The Holy Terror, and the probably-also-very-good-but-I-still-haven't-got-around-to-it The Chimes of Midnight. This Shearman fella is surely the Robert Holmes of the audios. I kid you not, this script is a work of art - for economy, for scale, for dedication to its themes, and not least for its blackly comic dialogue. I submitted a list of my own top forty Who stories to this site a few weeks back, and already it's obsolete; Jubilee is top ten material.
Did I mention I think it's really good?
Like Robert Holmes, Shearman's scripting appears to have some distinctive trademarks. With Holmes, I'd say those trademarks were double acts, meaty vocabulary, well thought-out story canvasses and characters motivated by greed and lust. With Shearman it's medieval-gothic settings, pitch black comedy, unhappily married couples who wouldn't be out of place at an Addams Family get-together, scenes of gruesomeness that he can get away with because it's an aural medium, and - slight spoiler here - events taking place within a mindboggling self-referential nexus. The latter element is probably the one Jubilee has most in common with the earlier Holy Terror and IMO it's done in a more dramatically satisfying way here - mainly because of what he does with the crowd in a climactic 'rally' scene.
Jubilee is of course a Dalek Story, and so carries a certain weight of expectation. For some time now the Daleks have been in need of a makeover. They're silly mechanical dustbins with sink plungers attached. They're the only thing about our lovely show that Joe Public is aware of, and Mr Public considereds them a joke, a kitsch irrelevance that - oh, my sides - can't go upstairs.
Dare I say it, I think that's the way a lot us fans think of them too (except for the stairs thing - we anoraks all know that Remembrance should have ended that joke). For my money there's nothing wrong with them conceptually, but superficially, in terms of their design, they're dated. We're lumbered with the notion that a Dalek can only be a Dalek if it looks like those trundling conical baubly things off TV. But frankly, if there were a Who TV series on the go right now I'd be glad - well, actually I'd be glad for them not to appear at all, but if they did - for them to be completely remodelled (I picture something along the lines of the facehuggers from Aliens driving around in the destroyer droids from the Star Wars prequels). Their presence in post-TV series Doctor Who fiction has done nothing to advance them or keep them relevant, with, I gather, John Peel going to ludicrous lengths to drag them back into the sixties, even to the extent of rescinding every story post-Genesis.
The good thing about Big Finish, of course, is that they're well aware of popular fan opinion on pretty much everything. They're fans themselves, after all. So they know that people think the Daleks got too robotic in the eighties (I'd dispute this myself, re: Resurrection), just as they know that the Sixth Doctor didn't get enough good scripts or opportunity to settle down in the role, they know that Mel was a screeching 2D pain in the ass on screen etc. And they also know that when you've got a Dalek story to do, you'd better make it not just good, but monumental.
And I think Jubilee is. Structurally it's excellent - slightly confusing on a first listen, I'll admit, but astonishing on a second or third one. And that shouldn't be seen as a drawback, rather a demonstration of BF's thoughtful approach to Doctor Who stories. We're paying fourteen quid for these things (perhaps more, if you're ordering over the net), we have a right to expect something more than a throwaway story that won't make it past a second listen.
First time round it works well, however, the story beginning with a conversation between the Doctor and Evelyn establishing a 'no such thing as history' theme - the tale then kicks off like a living demonstration of the Doctor's argument (but not in a completely contrived way like when Nyssa decided to have a casual chat about recursion to that baffled air hostess). The Doctor says something here which had me immediately warming to this story, since it so often goes unacknowledged in Doctor Who - "You have never seen history. What you've seen is someone else's present day' (something, say, Terrance Dicks doesn't acknowledge with his jolly WWII neverland), the 'sanitising' effect of history then being demonstrated as the TARDIS enjoys a shaky landing in the Tower of London, an atrocity-site-cum-tourist attraction.
After this allusion to very real 'historical' irony, the story kicks off with it's fantasy ironies, hooking us with a series of inversions-of-expectation - England as as a world superpower with the US in its thrall, a Dalek as a tormented victim of human sadism, humans who speak in 'Dalek grammar', the Doctor revered as a fascist idol, an apparently abused wife who in fact craves genuine full-blooded cruelty. Finn Clark mentioned in a recent review of The Domino Effect that the alternate-universe idea is old hat, but believe me, it's not when it's done as well as this. This is like Inferno painted in hues both darker and funnier.
There is, incidentally an echo of in the 'US Prime Minister's' words of some of the rhetoric spoken by Tony Blair post-9/11. Something like this has the potential to be massively offensive, but because it is only an echo and not a direct comment on current US/UK relations, I think Shearman gets away with it...
No actually, more importantly this is a story that is making an emphatic points about not ignoring the reality of terrible events, about not turning them into mere story, cause-and-effect. The last thing it is is thoughtless or thrown-together. That's why it can get away with, even very subtly, invoking certain real-world associations. On a very important level this story isn't pissing around, and it's as far away from mental bubblegum as Doctor Who can reach.
As the story progresses and we meet, for example, the other prisoner, the cleverness of Shearman's approach becomes apparent. His story very fruitfully uses a palimpsest idea which works in a number of ways. A palimpsest, incidentally being literally a document that has been written on more than once, with earlier script still visible - it was a central motif in a book called Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd, of which Jubilee, in its own Doctor Whoey way, very much reminded me. Also it's a concept Ackroyd (bit of a miserable sod) uses a lot in his non-linear 'biography' of London, which I'm currently ploughing through on the tube and thus am feeling a bit attuned to it at the mo...
Jubilee's 'overwritten' notion works primarily like it does in Ackroyd's writing - the story telling us that history repeats itself, but so strongly here that past and present actually merge together (in terms of the palimpsest metaphor, this would be like the new script precisely overlaying the earlier one so that they're indistinguishable). A second way in which it works is in directly linking human behaviour to Dalek behavior - the black joke being that as hil-aarious as these repetitive chanting monsters supposedly are, we human beings are actually far more ridiculous, far more monstrous than the Daleks - and Jubilee knows this. When Baker (typically sublime) gives that speech in episode 4, he acknowledges in his performance that we all know he's not really talking about the Daleks, delivering the nonetheless magnificent payoff as confirmation rather than revelation. And it scarcely needs pointing out that long before it was an loveable catchphrase from a kid's show, 'Exterminate' had become one of the twentieth century's defining words.
The third way in which the story is 'overwritten' is with the 'Dalek Invasion of Earth 1903' plotline. Or rather, non-plotline, since we find out neither why the Daleks invaded Earth or how the Doctor managed to foil them, we just get little snippets around the edges. This, I think, is a quite ingenious way of differentiating TV-era Doctor Who with post-TV series Doctor Who. The 'Daleks invade Earth and the Doctor foils them' plot is no longer interesting, we've seen it too many times (in the original Dalek Invasion of Earth, in the Peter Cushing movie, in Day of the Daleks, even - in a sense - in Remembrance of the Daleks). A Dalek invasion of Earth was relegated to a baffling throwaway line in Resurrection, but here it's chucked into the background altogether, in a rather brave way. So in a sense, Jubilee represents an old-fashioned 'Doctor Who in an exciting adventure with the Daleks!' type story with a new-fashioned thoughtful adult-oriented piece grafted over the top.
The captive Dalek we meet here is certainly the most fully characterised individual Dalek I've ever heard. In a way, I was worried that it would have too much personality - you know, and end up falling in love with Evelyn or something... well, nothing that silly, but you know. But that's an important point raised in the course of the story - Daleks are all sentient individuals, just like us. Still, the fact that it's barely said anything to its captors in a hundred years sounds about right, and when it makes that speech about the nature of power it's a really amazing scene.
This story is overflowing with amazing scenes, in fact - full of rhymes, resonances and poetry. Trying to be a bit objective, I could point out that the nexus thing is so precarious at times it seems like the story is going to collapse under its own weight, like a Dalek army balanced on the head of a pin. But since it never does collapse, that would just be churlish. And in any case, I admire ambitious storytelling.
It's just magnificent. Thoroughly, thoroughly recommended.
Graphic Violence Ruins This Promising Tale by Mekel Rogers 3/6/03
After hearing so many wonderful things about Jubilee, I purchased it with confidence, expecting to enjoy another Big Finish masterpiece. Unfortunately, I was horrified at the amount of graphic violence that had found its way into the production and had essentially ruined an otherwise interesting adventure.
The concept is novel enough in that the traditional "humans are good, daleks are evil" formula is blurred a bit. Martin Jarvis is convincingly dark and twisted as is Colin Baker in his imprisoned persona. Maggie Stables comes across wonderfully as the voice of compassion in this story and her scenes with the imprisoned dalek are well acted. Additionally, the cliffhanger to episode two is perhaps one of the most chilling ever. Unfortunately, things go down from here.
In episodes three and four, the tone shifts from an engaging dark melodrama to just plain morbid and psychotic. Then comes the graphic violence. A severed head, cutting into someone's throat, leg amputation, and most horrific of all, the slicing of someone's hand complete with squirts of blood! No! No! NO! This was unacceptable and totally gratuitious. These scenes did not further the story nor enhance characterization. They were there merely for shock value. Disturbing scenes such as these are not characteristic of the Doctor Who I know and love.
My enjoyment of this story was ruined, not enhanced, by the inclusion of these scenes and makes me question whether or not to purchase other audios that have been reported to be dark and violent in style. I realize Big Finish's desire to keep Who fresh and not turn out the same stories again and again. However, this trend towards needlessly graphic scenes must stop. Some of Big Finish's greatest stories have proven that violence can be introduced without being horrific (The Fearmonger, The Fires of Vulcan, The Marian Conspiracy, Primeval). Let's hope the creative minds of Big Finish (and there are many) realize this and can return to telling stories that warm the heart and chill the soul without the gore.
Bottom Line: Listen at your own risk.
Huzzah for the Jubilee! by Phil Fenerty 27/3/04
Let's get one thing straight: like all the best Dalek stories, Jubilee isn't a Dalek story. The Daleks (or, for the majority of the script, a Dalek) appear, it's true: but Jubilee isn't about them, as such. It just uses them as a mirror held up to the world throughout the story.
Most overtly, Jubilee has a lot to say about merchandising. In just the same way that anything with the words "Lord of the Rings" emblazoned on the cover will fly off the shelves at present, Jubilee uses the marketing appeal of the Daleks (both in the story and in reality) to point out the banality of the products which can be tied to an image. "Dalekade" ("Why, that's just lemonade with Daleks on the bottle!"), Dalek films (with an all-action-hero Doctor-figure), Dalek puzzles: all crop up during the course of the audio. President Rochester, in a sly jab at the BBC Marketing people, even comments that he needs to take care of the Quality Control aspect of the operation!
There is also a commentary on how war, and its aftermath, is viewed. The Dalek held in the Tower is kept as a memento mori of the victory, paraded out in front of the populace to disdain and terror. Kept isolated from the rest of the world, it is an icon of fear and hatred, an focus for the population's outrage. In the aftermath of the "liberation" of Iraq, and the capture of its former leader, the treatment of the Dalek prisoner written into the story is horrifyingly topical.
The biggest use of the Daleks, however, is how they affect the humans who won the conflict. They now adopt rigid, Dalek-like conventions: don't contract words, obey your superior, destroy those who do not conform. Jubilee shows the English Empire to be a poor relation of Dalek society.
Given that most TV Daleks spend the majority of their time using their guns to exterminate their enemies, it is gratifying to see Jubilee portray them as cunning and thoughtful opponents. Indeed, the prisoner's mind-games with Evelyn owe much to the subtle insinuation used against Lesterson in Power of the Daleks. By Episode Four, the listener's sympathies could (almost) lie with the captive Dalek rather than its human captors.
For the most part, the humans in the story are a thoroughly bad lot. President Rochester and his wife Miriam are engaged in a subtle power struggle. In the English Empire, women are expected to be pretty, vacuous home-makers, covered in make-up, abused and mistreated and in bed by midnight. Miriam, whilst in reality the power behind the Presidential Office, is trying to usurp her husband. Rochester himself is mad, driven to insanity by the weight of responsibility thrust upon him. He sees Dalek spy devices everywhere, and yearns for a simpler life. Captain Farrow is shallow and weak-willed, sleeping with Miriam in the hope it will bring him Power. But the Dalek teaches him the real meaning of power in a grim sequence. The Doctor's warning that Daleks don't require weapons to kill is brutally illustrated.
Only the lowly trooper, Lamb, is exempt from this criticism: trained to obey orders, he does so without thinking - the perfect Dalek example made flesh. His only desire is to do his duty and return to his wife and family: honesty and truth, if not compassion.
In fact, the most disturbing part of the play is not the way the Daleks kill and enslave, rather the way that the English Empire treats women. Labelled second-class citizens, kept "in their place", used as adornments and abused by the men, the women in this reality are more down-trodden and subjugated than they ever would have been had the 1903 Dalek invasion succeeded. The mere fact that Miriam Rochester not only accepts the treatment, but wants it to continue is terrifying.
There is an awful lot going on in this production. The complexities of the script (a TARDIS splitting into two different landing points, alternate realities, merging of events in 1903 and 2003) could mitigate against the casual listener. But the production values are high, and the presence of Jarvis and Ayres (two of the best radio actors in the country) lend the story an air of respectability. Shearman's pedigree in the audio format shines here: along with The Chimes of Midnight, Jubilee could almost be designed for a Radio Four broadcast.
Colin Baker is excellent throughout: listen out for his appearance in Part Three. Clues and hints dotted around Part Two are full of red herrings, but the revelation is quite logical once heard. Maggie Stables as Evelyn Smyth again proves her worth as one of the better companions to have accompanied the Doctor.
Jubilee has probably not received the attention it deserves. It is probably the best story featuring the Daleks, in any medium, since Genesis of the Daleks. It re-evaluates their threat and demonstrates that they can be a menace under almost any circumstance. Coupled with outstanding performances throughout, it demands to be included in any Doctor Who fan's collection.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 26/8/04
Thanks to Rob Shearman`s powerful script, the aptly named Jubilee comes across as more than just your average Dalek story. By largely featuring just a sole Dalek, the result is something a bit more in depth, as it delves into the psyche of the Daleks. This is in part due to the setting, an alternative 2003, where the English empire is still in existence, the Daleks are subject to ridicule and the Doctor is a being with almost superhero like qualities.
If anything this is the only problem with Jubilee; it's yet another alternative timeline story; something a little different wouldn`t go amiss. In spite of this the acting is great, Colin Baker and Maggie Stables both hitting their stride; although the story is stolen by Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres as the warped Miriam and Rochester and plaudits also to Nick Briggs for making the lone Dalek so believable. In short Jubilee is refreshing because it is intelligent and thought provoking, the best Dalek story in some time.
Purity is All by Mike Morris 4/9/04
Hmm. Jubilee arrived on my desk clad in a jiffy bag and heavy expectations. This, I had heard, was the proverbial it. Of course, I've learned since The Phantom Menace that great expectations must be quashed. Whenever I think something's going to be great, I approach it with an air of trepidation. I slipped the CD into the player with fear.
Well. It's bursting with brilliant moments, moments that leap out of the CD player into your gut and squeeze your stomach with an iron grip of brilliantosity, or something. It is a thoughtful look at the Daleks and who they are, and to my mind the Dalek featured is quite the most frightening example of its kind to feature in the series. Have them float up stairs and chant "Exterminate", and they're exciting. Have them locked up in a room being tortured, and refusing to even speak for thirty years - that's right, thirty years - and they are infinitely more frightening, disturbing, thought-provoking. The confidence of this move is breathtaking; but as the Doctor says, a Dalek doesn't need a gun to hurt someone.
Here are just some of Jubilee's scenes that are, quite simply, incredible: -
The Dalek's silent periods, in which it exercises power just by not speaking; the threats of torture; the scene where it attacks one of the guards; the soft, ominous sound effects. Bollock-tighteningly good.
Miriam's rebuff to the American President, which brings the fascism of the story into sharp relief - "you look the same us... but then you open your mouths and we see you're not actually like us at all." Marvellous.
Part One's cliffhanger is smart and incredibly well directed. Nick Briggs' voicework, as this creature speaks for the first time in so long, is wonderful. The shock has been deliberately signposted, but is all the better for that.
The scenes between Farrow and the Dalek are stupendous - "I will teach you all about power," the Dalek tells him. The Dalek's perfect reading of Farrow and position of dominance over its captor are incredibly interesting, and the final pay-off of "power is the strength to do what you would have others do" is breathtaking - as is Lamb's sudden emergence from figure of fun to a serious character.
The Doctor's point that "what the people here have done to the Daleks is not so very different from what yours have done to the Nazis" is one that really needs to be made, particularly in Doctor Who. I hope someone mailed a copy to Terrance "Oh what a lovely War" Dicks.
The Dalek's first encounter with Evelyn. Wow.
Part Two's cliffhanger. A great shocker.
Rochester's madness, incredibly played by Martin Jarvis. As you would expect. He's come a long way from a giant butterfly, hasn't he?
When the Dalek is finally taken to the Doctor, what transpires left me gasping with amazement. Colin isn't half in good form for this scene. "I cannot help you." Brilliant. And the ensuing scene with Lambe is extremely well-conceived.
The other Dalek/Doctor scene, on the nature of tyranny, is wonderful. "Until there is only one left. Just one Dalek survivor. All on its own. Quite without purpose. Quite insane." Gut clenching stuff.
That's ten great scenes, and I've probably forgotten some. And I use the word "great" with precision.
And yet, after all that, Jubilee is a disappointment.
This story is, in spite of numerous bouts of humour, very very serious and it treats the Daleks very very seriously. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but Shearman is using big themes here and is playing with the big boys. So what frustrated me about Jubilee was the contrast between the sharpness of the basic premise - that the humans become more Daleklike than the Daleks themselves - and the way it's bullied home with all the skill of a neurosurgeon being asked to work with a jackhammer.
Of course the Daleks are like us. That's why they work. That's why all horror works, deep down. The Daleks were created as fascists, inspired by human hatred. They work, on another level, because they serve as a metaphor for the human psyche; impenetrable and armoured externally, vulnerable yet ugly within. It's these similarities that touch a chord with us. To swing the discussion wider, vampires are representative of many things; repression, sexual urges, the baser instincts that lie beneath our civilised exterior. Of course, all your average Joe notices about them is that they're frightening, and then more analytical clever-dick sods like me blab on about the parallels. The subtexts are important... but at the same time they aren't, they're... subtexts. Certainly, they aren't new, and they don't have to be overt.
On the other hand, horror stories are often most effective when they are. Zombie films, for example. Look at Night of the Living Dead, when the death squads march slowly and uniformly over the land, in exactly the same formation as the zombies; the message is clear. We're the same as them, transformed into zombies by war. The sequel is even sharper, having the zombies wandering around shopping centres, drumming home its point about consumerism. Lately, 28 Days Later recast them to be about rage and mob-violence. The bottom line is that zombies are frightening because they represent dehumanisation, be that by communism, industrialisation, consumerism or war (or, in the case of Cybermen - Doctor Who's own zombies - technology). The closer the parallel, the more real, and by extension frightening, the threat becomes.
So yes, it's smart and clever to take a Dalek and show it, overtly, to be representative of the darker side of human nature. It's just that Jubilee does it so ponderously. Every single point it makes is spelled out again and again and again, and that point - that humans can be bad, you know - isn't exactly new or surprising. To muddy the waters further, Shearman throws in a whole bunch of irrelevant plotlines and twee, wordy humour that yanks the concept down from a clean, clever examination of the "Dalek Factor", for want of a better phrase, into a clunky parallel universe story that is far, far too unwieldy.
Things that could, and should, have been erased: the contractions business, certainly making it illegal; Dalek juice; clockwork Daleks; Rochester's memorabilia, and the flight over London; Miriam's apparent stupidity; the two time zones getting mixed up. That's just off the top of my head, and even though a lot of them provide good moments they simply get in the way of the main premise, and they aren't very strong ideas. The whole thing of abbreviations being banned is really just an as an excuse for a line in a speech by the Doctor late in, and some tediously mannered jokes. The Dalek juice is a throwaway reinforcement of the merchandising evil, and it doesn't add anything that wasn't already apparent (it feels like a remnant of an earlier plotline, where drinking Dalek juice turns people into half-Dalek or something). The clockwork Daleks are a reasonable joke, but one that deflate the story's tension and add nothing. Ditto Rochester's memorabilia, and the London cityscape isn't followed up on, it's just an excuse for a one-liner ("He lost interest, it happens" is a good joke but it doesn't go anywhere). Miriam's stupidity and rebellion is another strand that just isn't very interesting, and it's dreadfully overplayed - fine, women are second-class citizens here, I get it. It doesn't have to be constantly emphasised (there's actually an interesting parallel between Miriam and the Dalek - like the Dalek, she actively dislikes freedom and choices, and that applies to society as a whole - unfortunately it's not well achieved at all because of the OTT scripting). And the two time zones is... well, it gives a jaw-dropping moment, but I wish there was another way to do this. It's a big interesting sci-fi idea which doesn't really have room to breathe in the story, and ends up being a bit half-arsed.
The strand of the abbreviations leads on to the fact that the script is too bloody clever by half. I think the Rochester-Miriam partnership in the early episodes is supposed to work as black humour, but it's all underscored by an arch addiction to wordplay that doesn't the suit the story at all. This was a theme that was also very overt in The Holy Terror, but in that story it was extremely suitable - it was a story about manners, stereotyping. Shearman tries to perpetuate it here and in this environment of shadows, torture and social commentary it just isn't appropriate - it undercuts the "realness" of the world he creates. Instead, all the characters just talk too much, and they say "Is it not?" so many times it rapidly becomes irritating. Ultimately, Shearman says nothing that he didn't say better in The Holy Terror.
And the main theme itself is a further problem, it's positively bludgeoned home. The incredible scenes that abound in this story are uncomfortably sandwiched in with dull ones that explain exactly what they mean. It's all symbolised by the incredibly long, repetitive and boring crowd scene at the start of Part Four, culminating in the Doctor gives his big climactic speech. "I. WISH. TO. TELL. YOU. ALL. ABOUT. EEEEEVIL." shouts Colin, in a momentary throwback to the days before someone explained to him about microphones. As a listener it's hard not to throw your eyes upwards and mutter "no shit, Sherlock." The whole thing progresses exactly as we knew it would, taking the "People are like Daleks" theme that's been told to us five times already, telling us again, then adding a triple underline and a double asterix just to make the point. The moment when the crowd start chanting "Exterminate" should be incredible, but it's too predictable and has no punch at all.
It's the little things that do this. When Lambe asks the Dalek for orders, the irony is obvious, but the Dalek feels necessary to note "You are just like me," you know, just in case the audience is too stupid to notice. There's the final scene that should have ended after Rochester's death, but it goes on to a wholly pompous epilogue where the Doctor babbles about shadows for a while. Miriam keeps on referring to her pretty little head and how stupid she is, in her stupid voice, while she says stupid things - we get it! Miriam notes of Dalek merchandising that it's "Just ordinary lemonade with a picture of a Dalek slapped on the bottle" - Miriam wouldn't, ever, ever, have said "slapped", that's Shearman shouting "this is ironic, this is!" Or there are the jubilee scenes, where Rochester keeps noting the pretty buntings and the Doctor keeps going on and on about the burning effigies, like we haven't got it by now. All these scenes, and about 798 others, meant that I kept drumming my fingers and waiting for everything to move along. Towards the end I was feeling very impatient, and the story was starting to sound like an annoying drunk who keeps saying the same stupid thing over and over again because he thinks you don't understand it.
(Some of the faults are also a problem of the medium. A lot of the time the Doctor mentions objects and stresses them unnecessarily, whereas in a visual medium they would work brilliantly as items in the background. That's hardly an excuse though; you're stuck with the medium you have and you have to work a way around it.)
Finally, the performances. Rochester and Farrow are marvellously played. Except for the aforementioned speech, Colin is at the top of his game and is magnificent. But Lamb is given a terrible accent and feels like a parody of who he is, and Miriam is completely overlaboured. I have to say I wasn't keen on Evelyn either; I liked the character but I thought the delivery of the lines could be very ponderous. The first TARDIS scene, for example, is very stilted.
As far as the script goes, I'd actually place the blame more at the editor's door than the writer's. Ideas are organic, they grow and morph and evolve into something other than they began. Eventually, after a long time, you realise what you're saying, as opposed to what you think you're saying. And the person who helps is, ta-dah, the editor. He says, "Look Rob, I know you like this abbreviations idea but I don't think it's appropriate for this story. Keep it for another story, maybe." He says, "I don't think these clockwork Daleks are any good, they read like a dig at real-life Dalek merchandising, but that's a bit of a cosy point and certainly not worthy of what you're doing here." He says, "You don't need the epilogue, you're just overemphasising something which is already clear. Rochester's death is enough. Let's stop the story there, leave the audience gasping." He says, "This Miriam character just isn't good enough, make her real." He says, "Rob, in this scene you are moving effortlessly through thought-provoking themes with grace and precision, but in this bit you're just playing with your knob-cheese."
(Now, some writers are able to edit themselves to a large extent. However, I think a writer as wordy and witty as Shearman isn't the sort. He loves adding and complicating - just look at his dialogue. Taking things out of his script wouldn't seem to be his forte.)
It feels like Jubilee didn't even have an editor - was Gary Russell on holiday or something? It would have been a gorgeous, unforgettable hundred-minute story, but at 140 minutes it left me feeling preached at. What irritates me is that I've yet to hear a Big Finish audio that doesn't need tightening up. More rigorous and ruthless editing is necessary. I mean, there aren't many scenes in Jubilee that are bad; a lot of them are very good. The sad truth is that sometimes, good scenes have to be taken out. That's storytelling.
And overall? This isn't the great story is could have been. However, it's one that is positively awash with good scenes, has important things to say, and says them well; it's just that it happens to say them fifty times, and also says some rather unimportant things that hang pointlessly around the main discussion like toilet paper on a shoe. I'm reminded of Hitchcock talking about his films, about how the audience are swept along during the movie (that be clarity of storytelling, that be), and the true depths of the horror only becomes apparent long after the film has finished. Shearman himself achieved this in The Holy Terror, a fun comedy/horror/tragedy romp, with lurking themes of social etiquette that only came to me a long time afterwards.
Jubilee has no such subtlety. It batters listeners with its didacticism, until by the end I was feeling completely numb and shrugging my shoulders. Every single Doctor Who fan should listen to this, but it's still massively frustrating and very loosely edited. Oh, for a copy of the script and a red pen.
A Review by John Seavey 6/9/05
I can just imagine Rob Shearman writing Jubilee. I imagine him staging in his head the vivid scenes of the Dalek in the Tower of London, the unsettling way we're made to feel pity for such a pitiless monster. I see him coming up with clever ways to make the "evil madman" ruling the world a good part for Martin Jarvis, and fine dialogue for Colin Baker and Maggie Stables. I imagine him cackling with delight as he writes down the cliffhanger for episode one, a cliffhanger so fine they asked him to restage it for the new TV series. (But Jubilee does it better.) Then I imagine him getting to Part Four.
"Oh, crap," I imagine him saying. "I forgot to think of an ending."
And so, after three excellent parts, Jubilee goes well and truly off the rails in Part Four. Tedious speech follows tedious speech about how Daleks Are Bad and Humans Shouldn't Try To Be Like Them, which is a message that I think nips several unfortunate tendencies of mine in the bud right in the nick of time, and every character wipes each other out because we need to see how evil they are (and by the by, I've officially grown sick after three Shearman audios of hearing a character described as "quite mad" in that same over-emphasized fashion), and then the Dalek fleet more or less disappears up its own collective psychosis, and the whole thing peters out with another half-dozen twenty minute long speeches or so by the Doctor. (OK, the clock might tell a different story there. But it'd require going back and listening to the Doctor's last speech, and I'm just not interested.)
It's a shame. The first three parts are so very, very great. I could go on for a long time about how entertaining, yet creepy and unsettling, they are, and the ways that they built on each other. (The scenes between the Dalek and his would-be protege, Farrow, are genuinely chilling... especially the final one.) But really, Part Four is just a long breath of hot air.
A Review by Ron Mallett 19/8/07
Jubilee by Robert Shearman is certainly one of the oddest Big Finish Doctor Who productions, unique and ground-breaking in many ways. It is, for instance, the only BF production to date poached to provide a script for the new series. It is also a very dark story injected liberally with pathos, dark humour and horror creating a unique mix that leaves a strangely enjoyable, yet sour taste on the palate after digestion. The truth is that the audio production is a thousand times more enjoyable and sophisticated than its television imitation (although, arguably, Dalek was one of the better stories in the Buffy-generation-orientated tragedy that is the new series). If only the JNT team had been brave and creative enough to produce such a story in 1984, instead of the tedious Revelation of the Daleks (which I feel tried to achieve a similar result without the adequate vision and arguably, tools).
Shearman has skillfully weaved a drama which engages the mind on a number of levels. The situation presented is very original: the idea of a solitary Dalek locked and tortured in the Tower of London amidst a warped alternative, Imperialist vision of the present is astoundingly original and facilitates some wonderfully horrific (Farrow's torture of the Dalek) and also touching scenes (take Evelyn's compassion for the Dalek as an example). The humorous outlawing of contracted English to reinforce the stilted, racist, almost Nazi-like nature of the "English Empire" is incredibly clever. The grotesque sexual politics of this nightmare world is as equally disturbing as more straightforward violence: we are in fact witness to a sort of cultural, psychological abuse a thousand times more abhorrent than typical laser fire! The mock film trailer at the start of Part One, was also a nice surreal touch... immediately putting even the devoted Who fan off balance. Furthermore, even the traditional arrival is subverted with the introduction of the concept that the TARDIS might try to arrive in two places at once. In fact, one is almost too afraid to sit down and take the whole project apart for fear of spoiling the illusion and shining a light onto the intricate mechanics of the story.
Still, it is necessary and, once done, some disturbing concerns start to emerge - much like the feeling you experience a few moments after climbing off the roller coaster and your inner-ear starts to settle down. In a work so varied, there are always going to be elements that are unpalatable. Sometimes the humour is a little strained, the violence is a little too "graphic" and the events so surreal at points that they do not feel "real" enough. As the production proceeds, there's an all-pervading feeling that the "general situation" (a nightmarish alternative present stemming from a victory over the Daleks in 1903) is so convoluted that it feels too invented, conveniently engineered just so Sherman can create some bizarre scenes and be seen to be pushing the boundaries of the medium. Multiple playbacks can help to clear up basic questions about events which are bound to occur, but they can't erase the impression of the oddly chaotic nature of the work, which gives the story a slightly undisciplined feel: the device of a temporal paradox, for instance, seems to suggest that anything might happen and it does, but if everything can be so easily done and undone, it just makes whatever happens seem unsatisfying on a deeper level. But complementing an original script is a very strong cast, starting with the regulars Baker and Stables and boosted by the inclusion of Martin Jarvis who revels in the chance to play the demented Rochester. Rosalind Ayres is also impressive, almost providing two "rounded" performances as the duplicitous Miriam. Steven Elder also sends chills up the spine during the shocking torture scenes.
While some BF work is obviously disposable, no Doctor Who library would be truly complete without the inclusion of this serial. If only Davies had more faith in the intelligence of his audience and the story had been allowed to be transferred to the small screen more faithfully. The entire pace of the new television version would have had to have been slowed to allow for some of the ideas to properly germinate and I fear the current audience would have been reaching for a glossy magazine after the first five minutes. So maybe he's right? Current TV audiences don't deserve to be intrigued to such an extent, but certainly the specialty audio audience certainly can. Like it or loathe it, this work is highly original and on that basis alone, it deserves to be regarded as a classic.
And they all came out of the woodwork on the day the Nazi died by Thomas Cookson 25/9/07
I very nearly gave up on Big Finish after listening to The Mutant Phase (though having listened to the excellent Dalek Empire series since, I'm now sure that Nick Briggs and I got off on completely the wrong foot). In fact, I never bothered with another CD release again for the next four years until I got told about Jubilee, which did get me back into Big Finish. BF has now become my preferred alternative New Who over the bitchy, patronising, insular, smug and shallow TV series that's currently on. Though, having said that, this review isn't going to be all gushing praise.
It should be said rather that Jubilee is in many ways a parody of the Dalek Empire series. Rob Shearman was a big fan of Dalek Empire and here he gives his own reinterpretation of sorts. Ideas and scenarios are lifted from the series: a Dalek being tortured by nasty humans; a Dalek showing a perverse interest in the female protagonist; the 'Death to the Daleks' speech to the crowd; the themes of Stockholm syndrome, of one tyranny being overthrown by another, and the power of history; the allegory between Dalek oppression and patriarchal abuse of women; and, ultimately, its musings on Dalek obedience reaching their destructive climax in a narratively clever way with a mutual Dalek suicide pact of 'victory or death'.
It also, incidentally, borrows from The Mutant Phase in regards to the TARDIS slipping through an alternative timeline and the Doctor being forced to confront his own hatred of the Daleks. I suppose, rather like The Mutant Phase, Jubilee also feels like an experimental prototype more than anything and certainly seems to suffer for it. Like Mutant Phase there is a sense that Jubilee overeggs its points because it isn't confident that they'll come across properly and that it is using the time paradox reset button to clean up quickly after itself in case it all comes to naught.
But that's really the problem with Jubilee. It's didactic, overwritten to the point of being verbally diarrhoetic and there's a sense that it's not sure how seriously it wants itself to be taken.
It's certainly didactic by its very nature. The Doctor is split between two realities. One in which he's in 1903, fighting off a Dalek invasion using the meagre technology of the time, the other in which he is having a circular debate about ethics with an obtuse, self-pitying tyrant. It's obvious which of the two storylines would be more fun and yet we get the boring one instead. Likewise the imprisoned Dalek has its capacity to kill restored, but it has a crisis of conscience instead.
It's overwritten to a headache inducing degree. The thing is, there are a multitude of scenes and lines that could have been cut out to the improvement of the play, but, as it is, it's fat, bloated and meandering. In regards to borrowing from Dalek Empire, it is such a shame that the patriarchy allegory - which Dalek Empire got across so subtly that it seemed accidental - is hammered to death here. Mirian is the long-suffering wife of the abusive President Nigel, who plays the stupid woman and secretly longs for a man who will beat her harder. In a way, this domestic violence subplot becomes a larger metaphor for a society that never got over the Dalek tyranny. Just like Dalek Empire II, it poses the uncomfortable question of what if we escaped from our oppressors only to find that we couldn't survive or function without them. But Mirian, and indeed her self-pitying husband, quickly become tiresome, and then they become annoying and eventually they become so cartoonish and badly written that you cease to have any empathy for them at all. Their final demise should be memorable but it isn't.
I think the key problem is that the writing is undisciplined and so the characters lack any dignity. When Martin Jarvis played the tyrant of Varos he managed to get across the burden of leadership very eloquently and with quiet pathos, but this requires him to play a far more whiney and self-pitying character who really grates and goes overboard.
The thing is, its message is actually very potent and very cohesive beneath all the fat. As a 1984 parody, it does draw on the idea of needing an imagined perpetual enemy and constant propaganda in order to keep a hierarchal society functioning. It goes one further and makes a potent point that this isn't merely about the workings of society but about human nature itself. We need enemies to define ourselves against, and in the tyranny of conformity of this society that need for some sense of self to hang onto is paramount.
The notion of desiring an abusive husband or the crowds wanting the Daleks back may seem far fetched but this is the kind of society we actually live in. One that's so insecure about violence, spree killings and sexual deviance that in a sense we are compelled to punish the misfits and demonise one another. By treating people as social pariahs, it's almost as if we want our neighbours to become deranged perverts, stalkers and killers and why we want to bait them, as if we can't bear for our fears to not become self fulfilling. Like New Model Army once said, "It's not a saviour that we want, just someone else to crucify."
And this is the kind of society that Jubilee depicts, a society that twists the Dalek's arm to force it to utter its catchphrase for the pleasure of the crowd, which makes a trivialising spectacle of its enemy and allows us to entertain that hatred through torture and humiliation. Men are expected to be strong and brutal to protect the women that they simultaneously abuse, and weak men are despised. The 'no contractions' rule takes the idea of conversational minefields to the point of absurdity, but still maintains a kernel of truth. Indeed a special point is made of the kind of strict etiquette governing male to female interactions, and the Doctor's role of chivalrous chaperone over his female companion is emphasised, trying to keep Evelyn from interacting with the Dalek.
The Holy Terror had already covered all bases about a tyranny of manners but this very much draws a greater extension of the damaging domino effect of such a tyranny. The Dalek itself has gone insane because it couldn't cope with its own tyranny of conformity. Likewise, even the past Doctor has his classic crusader spirit broken by this detrimental society. Incidentally, the old Doctor's predicament of having been locked up for 100 years, slowly going mad, is well conveyed by his soliloquy. I find that one of the most beautiful aspects of Big Finish stories like The Holy Terror, Davros and the Dalek Empire series, is the way they present this quite-heartbreaking sense of the passage of time and life stories. This is very much about the toll of years of isolation, which makes this tyranny feel intimately lived in, in quite an uncomfortable way. These are exhibited as freaks but in a society as berzerk and dehumanising as this, who can blame them for going mad when they lose all sense of self and purpose, and who are we to judge them?
But it again goes overboard, and the lack of discipline leads to a lack of sharpness. The references to death camps fail to be evocative in any way, and the gruesome demonstration of a decapitation is really too overblown to take seriously, In fact, it is numbing more than anything else. The 'history' angle is overegged in a sloppy way, and makes an appallingly written bookend. The Doctor joins in the condemnation of fascist Britain (a great 'punch the air' moment), but alas then Evelyn tells him he is just as bad as the British for (*gasp*) judging a mass murdering Dalek, and it briefly all seems to jump ship.
One of the worst things about political correctness and our womanist empathy culture is that it is suddenly regarded as a sin to be judgmental. Yes, I said that I hate the lynch-mob talk shows and the way that society demonises misfits, but that doesn't mean being judgmental is automatically wrong. There is always a right to judge, there is always a time to judge and there are evil people out there who deserve to be judged and censured. It can be argued that being prejudiced is a bad thing, but don't we even have the right to trust our instincts anymore, especially when they're invariably right about people who turn out to be nasty pieces of work? We all know a thug when we see one, after all. But then we're told it is not our place to judge people even if they do terrible and vile things. This is the point where its morality is simply going neurotic and seems to drift into the annals of man bashing where even the Doctor has his balls cut off for thinking in such arrogant, masculine terms and being an affront to our womanist society of empathy and refusing to accept that anyone's really that bad.
It's ironic in some ways, given that much of our womanist culture inherently breeds this mindset. The kind of lynch-mob TV of gritty soaps and trashy talk shows is very much aimed at women, and certainly the drama queen behaviour of going out of your way to make a scene and run away screaming from the 'scary guy' is the mentality of obnoxious bitchy schoolgirls. Mind you, the progressive side of post-feminist society is frequently undone by the bitchy pettiness of its beneficiaries. Like how the sexual double standard is largely maintained by women's gossip anyway.
A shame really, because, apart from that moment, Evelyn manages to be less annoying than she usually is (I'm a Charley kind of man). This seems like her kind of story, as an investigative, dialoguing kind of companion rather than an unconvincing action woman with terrible, embarrassingly flirtatious one liners. But having witnessed the Dalek ordering a decapitation before her horrified eyes, she still, a few minutes later, treats the Doctor like a judgmental prick (to say nothing of her memories of the Daleks obliterating an entire galaxy, but I'll hold back that continuity hound). Just like Warriors of the Deep, the excess violence just shows up how obtuse and stupid the protagonists are for laying their sympathies so blindly with the monsters as though none of the atrocities have happened.
Also like Warriors, it is almost a sad reflection of how the show's philosophy of an altruistic quasi-religious compassion for even the most evil of creatures that worked well enough in the Pertwee era, Genesis and Tomb of the Cybermen has failed to be workable or competently done since then. Furthermore just like Warriors, there is a sense that the moments of moral outrage are there to switch on and off. So many scenes begin with the Doctor or Evelyn getting started on a condemnation, getting cuckolded into going along with the promise of change or revolution and then in the next scene having another bout of righteous indignation for the sake of it. It's clutching at straws at times.
Still it does lead ultimately to an unforgettably sincere exchange between hero and villain.
Doctor: I'm sorry, I misjudged you.Now that I come to write all this about its potency of message, side by side with its overkill, I don't want to dismiss this out of hand because it so frequently hits bullseye. But it's often throwing its darts at random and a lot of points just end up bouncing off the wall and landing in someone else's pint of beer. For instance, Mirian's verbally diarrhetic point that the Doctor and the Daleks being one and the same thing in how the bogeyman and the protector knight play a dual role in fear-based complacency is a horrible piece of scripting. Then there's Mirian's red herring clues to Davros being locked in the tower. "You might say he created [the Dalek]" she hints, except that it's proved to be nonsense when we see that she was actually talking about the Doctor. Some bad lines I couldn't bear to lose, such as Mirian's "Dalek, will you marry me?" but really the whole thing could do with a lot of pruning.
Dalek: No Doctor, you judged me correctly. I am a Dalek.
In terms of Dalek logic, it is very competent, or at least is consistent with what Big Finish have presented us with so far. The Genocide Machine had hinted that Dalek drones weren't inherently evil, but simply followed orders, and that if they were educated to ethics or new things, they may defy their evil masters. Here, we get the idea of what isolation and insanity does to a Dalek's ethics. Having a compassionate, sensitive Dalek that even has the capacity to cry in one given scene (which is a lovely turning on the head of parody Daleks with an evil villain cackle) does break some fan consensus taboos about how the Daleks should be presented, but it also makes for something groundbreaking and riveting. Once you realise the rules have changed, it has an irresistible intrigue and uncertainty. Make no mistake, in a first listen, this is a story where you really don't know how it is going to end, and once you start sympathising with the Dalek, you find yourself really dreading the conclusion.
Incidentally some fans have slagged off the sentimental approach to the Daleks in the New Series episode Dalek. Much is argued in the way of this being 'political correctness gone mad'. What the fans seem to really forget is that the new series is a reboot and is in many ways recovering its old starting grounds, and it should be remembered that the first 1963 Dalek serial portrayed them as quite tragic villains. Besides, the King Kong-esque tale of a monster redeemed by a woman's beauty and compassion is actually very old fashioned.
Mulling over Genesis of the Daleks, I cottoned on to the way that there was a sequence to the way the Daleks exterminated other species as their margins of racial conformity narrowed. First the Daleks try to kill the Doctor, who is the most alien, and they only decide to kill off the Kaleds, their closest blood cousins, at the very end. From there, it follows quite aptly that once the Daleks have cleansed the universe of all other life forms they will probably start turning on each other. This is the same philosophy of Jubilee in its sense of a failing empire turning inwards and finding new underdogs to keep itself going. In that regard, the Dalek's speech to its fellow Daleks is inspiring, even if it shows the contradictions of madness and broken faith.
This was something of a 40th anniversary story, and I liked picking up on the little nods to Dalekmania, the homage to The Underwater Menace and even the opening discussion about witnessing history in the making reads as a reference to the show's roots as an educational series. But in a way this isn't a celebration of Doctor Who, or even a parody. It's actually something of an attack on Doctor Who, an attack on the pulpish, conservative, good-versus-evil crusade aspect of the show, the way it trivialises evil and homogenises alien cultures. These things are pointed out as contributing to our self-righteous, judgmental and WASP patriarchal outlook. I may think it drives its politics rather far but I respect its intelligent attack on the old series far more than I do the New Series with its petty sneering fan-baiting, ageism and anti-intellectualism.
The best way to picture this story is like how The Comic Strip Presents would have parodied and attacked Doctor Who in their brand of savage guerrilla postmodernism. Indeed, the opening trailer sounds like something from the GLC episode. Similar kind of comical portrayal of the eccentric aristocrats, absurd violence and gore and some political allegories loosely grafted onto it (in this case we get a Dalek in Guantanamo Bay). In that regard, it is far more political and intelligent than any of the Comic Strips, but alas it is also far more cartoonish and that's the real problem. It's riveting to listen to on a conceptual level, but the hypnotic lone Dalek aside, you never go away believing that any of the exaggerated, melodramatic characters were ever real people, so it loses some of its effect.
It's the problem that it lacks smoothness and lacks satisfaction, and in some cases it becomes desensitising and inconsequential. The brutal death and dismemberment of Farrow garners Evelyn's outrage for one scene and then gets forgotten about (and that's just one example). In terms of this ugly society, we come to see the Dalek as an avenging angel, a bit like King Kong, except with a warrior's honour. But it never delivers its revenge, so there's no payoff or justice to the torture sequences. Likewise, the final scene with Nigel recognising the Doctor is very nearly a chilling final moment, but the overlong discussion scene kills it.
So, rather like The Sea Devils, what we have is a story that is riveting and thought-provoking on first viewing, but didactic and headache-inducing any other time. But if you haven't heard it I still recommend you should. Maybe it had to be overwritten to break itself out of the box. Still, I do remember how back in 2004 it really made me look forward to the revival series being on TV, hopefully delivering similarly meaningful stories to the masses. You can imagine how farting aliens and an obnoxiously shallow and cliquey Doctor and companion team was such a disappointment to me.