Sunday, 15 August 2010

Jubilee written by Robert Shearman and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: 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! But never fear. The Doctor is on hand to sort them out. Defender of the Earth, saviour of us all. With his beautiful assistant, Evelyn Smythe, by his side, he will fight once again to uphold the beliefs of the English Empire. All hail the glorious English Empire! Now that sounds like a jubilee worth celebrating, does it not?

Softer Six: Oh this is just gold. The characterisation of the Doctor and performance by Colin Baker is at its height in Jubilee and aside from Jacqueline Rayner I would say that Shearman writes the strongest material we have seen for the sixth Doctor. It is the one thing I don’t think that is better achieved in the New Series rip off of this production and again that is simply because Christopher Eccleston is so good at bringing the Doctor’s anger and lack of forgiveness to the fore but if it isn’t better it is at least equal to the characterisation seen here. Like holding up a plump and gorgeous jewel you get to see every facet of this fascinating incarnation from his genocidal hatred of the Daleks, his love for Evelyn and willingness to protect her at the cost of his own life and his outright horror at the torture the humans have been subjecting the Daleks too. We get to see him at his theatrical best (that awe inspiring speech he gives) and his weakest (having lost his mind alone in the Bloody Tower) and Baker gets to play some wickedly uncomfortable moments (the Doctor’s hysteria as the Dalek asks him for orders). It’s a scrumptious performance in a script that gives the Doctor loads of great things to do. Bravo.

He has a habit of putting his foot in it but he thinks he managed to stop himself before telling Evelyn that her entire life’s work is useless. He finds history dangerous and you can just tell he enjoys a good, serious academic discussion even if it means upsetting the person he is talking with. Despite this there is a real sense of warmth between these two characters unmatched in Big Finish, especially during the ‘just making the most of the clues given to me’ scene. He dashes of to rescue the screaming creature and pushes his way into the Tower without a thought for his own safety. Rochester takes one look at the Doctor and refuses to believe that this is the man to whom they owe their lives! His horror as the Dalek screams his name from the darkness is a side to him that we rarely see. ‘What have they done to you?’ he asks almost pitying as he sees the damage they have caused. However he demands that the Dalek is destroyed and claims it doesn’t need a weapon in order to be a threat. The Doctor can remember the war in 1903 – he knows he and Evelyn are somehow in both time zones at once. Doctor’s Column – they rebuilt Nelson’s in his image with battered Daleks where the Doctor once was. In 1903 after defeating the Daleks the Doctor was locked up in the Bloody Tower with Evelyn and they told him that if he didn’t stop trying to escape they would cut his legs off, which they did. He asks Evelyn if she has come to kill him, he has gone utterly mad with loneliness and thinks that if he shuts his eyes he can travel in time and space. The humans took away his legs, his freedom and his reason – the only thing the Dalek can take is his life. The Doctor laughs piteously as the Dalek begs him for orders and condemns the creature to a life without orders. It shoots him in sheer frustration. The Doctor refuses to be turned into a fascist totem! Throughout his lives he has fought against everything that Rochester represents! The Doctor turns on the English Empire and tells them they are as evil as the Daleks. He feels he knows the Daleks better than anyone, that he has had a history with them but even he feels he has misjudged the creature by the end of this tale.

Learned Lecturer: Maggie Stables’ Evelyn Smythe is no ordinary companion. I think we all know that by now. Stables, one time French teacher turned actress injects Evelyn with real heart and intelligence that ranks her amongst the very best of the Doctor’s travelling companions. However it is stories like Jubilee where she steps from that role (and definitely in her next three appearances too) and becomes a fully-fledged protagonist driving the drama of the story. Stables is lucky in a way, companions are not usually offered quality material like this and she runs with it giving her best performance (of some already great performances) yet.

Evelyn has had years of people telling her that history doesn’t matter and she is more than ready to fight her corner and defend her profession. She tells the Doctor straight that she doesn’t travel in the TARDIS as a sight seer but a serious academic wanting to see history in the making. When she was growing up Miriam wanted to be Evelyn, or at least the Evelyn from their mythology, the only important woman in history. In true Evelyn style she shares her disgust that the English Empire has taken the evil of the Daleks and merchandised it (ahem). The Doctor tells her that she doesn’t need any beauty sleep; make of that what you will! Cheekily she refuses to stay out of harms way for him and can’t just hang around doing nothing. With her Tudor history she should know the Tower like the back of her hand! The scenes between Evelyn and the Dalek are terrific; tense and nuanced. She is terrified of the creature even though it cannot hurt so even though it is weaponless she is still its prisoner. The Dalek tells her she is a soldier, she belongs to the Doctor and he leads her into battle. Stables portrays Evelyn’s fear during these scenes palpably but Evelyn still stands her ground very bravely. She feels sorry for the Dalek because it is suffering, she thinks what they are doing to it is as evil as anything the Daleks might have done to their prisoners. The Evelyn who ended up in 1903 died in the Tower with the Doctor and her bones rotted before him. In a moment of heartbreaking drama Evelyn confesses to the Doctor that he is the best thing that has ever happened to her. He has given an old woman a new lease of life and it really captures the joy that the Doctor can bring to your life without any of the Russell T Davies’ style hero worship (you know all that applauding and ‘I’m the Doctor from the planet Gallifrey here to save the day!’ nonsense). Evelyn’s violent, almost suicidal anger as she confronts the Dalek for killing Farrow is devastatingly dramatic and expertly played. She refuses to make the Dalek talk for the public but it does so to save her life. Evelyn pleads with the Doctor to stop hurting the Daleks and questions whether they can be redeemed. She thinks by labelling all of the Daleks, as evil the Doctor is as bad as Rochester. He is constantly told to kill Evelyn, the one order the Dalek cannot obey and it drives the creature hysterical. She steps forward and realises she has to be the one to disarm the creature and kill it. She does so but with some sorrow. When she tries to sleep she remember the other Evelyn, starving to death in the cell bringing home the Doctor’s terrifying theory that the timeline they have erased still exists.

Standout Performance: Everybody acquits themselves very well I couldn’t choose. Martin Jarvis really crawled under my skin in the way few Doctor Who tyrants can and Rosalind Ayres really plays up the stupidity and sexist aspects of her character. Kai Simmonds’ Lamb is the closest the story comes to caricature but his monotonous delivery is oddly effective. Steven Elder rocks as Farrow, injecting some real relish into the role. But the crowning achievements of this story, performance-wise, are our regulars.

Great Ideas: There are very few Doctor Who stories with the sort of content Jubilee enjoys and what’s more it takes the Daleks and examines them in every way you can imagine. The script is transcendental, bigger on the inside than the out and it is injected with so much diabolical invention it leaves a lot of the other audio writers in the shadows. The spoof movie trailer opens the story on a really funny note (‘Oh no! it is the Doc-tor! Scar-per! Scar-per!’) and makes that delicious observation that you get more Daleks getting killed in big explosions (hey that’s the climax to Journey’s End!). Not to mention starring Evelyn ‘hot lips’ Smythe (whistle appropriately). The Doctor states that history is a version of the past we have chosen to remember, taking the past and tidying it up, putting it into perspective, making it safe. Even after being tortured the Dalek prisoner is still an awesome sight. The TARDIS lands in two places at once and somehow made its way into a stained glass window in the Tower of London (beautifully depicted on the cover). What on Earth has happened to the timeline, the American Prime Minister is a weak fool who toady’s up to the British President who wants to keep the English race pure. It is illegal to contract your words. Farrow threatens to slice open the Dalek’s optic nerve and its mutanous skin grows over his hand and burns him, refusing to let him go. The Dalek is kept in a room rammed onto the side of the Tower. Apparently this close to the Jubilee everybody is climbing out of the woodwork pretending to be the Doctor! Even without its gun the Daleks first aim is to kill the Doctor, it is inimical to human life. The English People are a pretty bloodthirsty bunch and fifty years ago Rochester’s father exterminated the second Dalek prisoner. In 1903 the Doctor will defeat the Daleks and somehow bring this fascistic nightmare into being. Dalek Juice – by electrifying the magnetic floor the mutant starts to boil and a black liquid bubbles from its body! They don’t get much and it is months before the Dalek has recovered enough to boil it again. Dalekade and Dalek Squash are just regular lemonade and squash with a picture of a Dalek slapped on (oh Rob you are naughty!). There is a clever use of Dalek mythology by trying to convince everybody that the prisoner in the Bloody Tower is Davros. The Doctor again criticises history for belittling and distorting a great evil, he suggests the Nazi’s are now token villains in spy movies. Rochester has a trans solar disc on the roof of the Tower. The city of London is all rubble and ruins, his father wanted to build a city from scratch, a shining Empire but he lost interest and the city has been left decayed. Miriam is sleeping with Farrow who she thinks will be a much stronger leader than her husband (somebody who will hit her and break the skin!). Rochester thinks he is only playing the tyrant, trying to fool the Dalek that is bugging the Tower. He is using the excuse that he is play acting to commit terrible deeds. The Dalek itself is a fascinating character, unsure of why Daleks do what they do as he just obeys orders. It hasn’t received fresh orders in 100 years and it has failed its last orders, to conquer or die. The Doctor is revealed to be the prisoner in the Bloody Tower, his legs cut off to mildewed stumps. He tells Evelyn it was very irresponsible of them to save the humans from the Daleks as it forced them to make decisions for themselves rather than living under Dalek subjugation. The Doctor and the Daleks are the ultimate tools for propaganda and they treated appropriately, kept prisoner and tortured. The Dalek would rather die than help the humans with their (genocidal) bloodless revolution. The Doctor can’t hold back the Daleks; they are bleeding through from 1903 to 2003 and murdering their way through the Jubilee crowd. In a moment of top drama Farrow attempts to negotiate with the Dalek and get it to murder Lamb and it turns the tables on the coward and tells him to do it and gets Lamb to murder Farrow when he can’t go through with it. Miriam is sick of plotting and scheming, she wants to return to the role of the painted butterfly but cannot do this until she has a man by her side who will beat her with enough force and subdue her (that is really sick). It is so interesting to see a Dalek lack anything that makes it a Dalek so it is forced to think, to have a distinct personality. In another top grisly moment we are introduced to Rochester’s toy Daleks. He gets the powers around the world to send him their smallest dwarves and shoves them into Dalek shells and plays with them! As the American midget does not fit properly Rochester cuts off his hand and shoves him inside (‘All the evil I do is someone else’s fault!’). The Dalek is honest about its lack of a plan and that it might not be able to resist killing everybody at the Jubilee, including Evelyn. The Doctor makes a powerful speech about evil, the Daleks are genetically engineered, human beings have a choice so ‘what excuse do you have?’ The Doctor is pulling the two time zones together; he can’t hold back the Daleks anymore. The Dalek gives its first order and that is for the invading Daleks to not murder Evelyn. In a delicious back stabbing reversal of fate Miriam murders Rochester telling the Daleks that she is the ruler of the English Empire but they only wanted to know so they could kill the ruler! The Doctor throws a fascinating idea into the air: what will the Daleks do once they’ve killed everyone except the Daleks? They will have to turn on each other, find some excuse to continue killing until there is only one Dalek left, terrified and alone. The Dalek turns on its masters and cries ‘You should have given me better orders!’ Absolute conquest destroyed the humans, the Daleks can only survive if they fail, they cannot be the masters of the universe. The Dalek kills the Supreme Dalek and orders the rest of the invading force to survive and die. With the invasion foiled history returns to normal but the fascistic last 100 years will live on in the shadows and every now and then the monsters that we were will creep out and haunt us. Brrrr.

Phew! The inevitable comparison with Dalek from the first series of the revived show takes place here. I realise this is a hotly debated topic and I have to put my tenpenny’s worth in. Personally I find Dalek (the episode) to be a good but not great instalment of the new series and not a patch on its audio counterpart. Everything about the TV episode is sanitised for the younger audience watching (and even that had complaints!) and the episode drops away all of the invention and delicious black humour that makes this story so damn uncomfortable to listen to. Rochester is a million times more frightening than Van Staten because he is completely psychotic, hilarious and uncomfortably unpredictable. The way he attempts to explain away the most violent of acts is diabolical. The torture scenes in Jubilee are far more effective and nasty, both psychological and psychical. The characterisation of all the characters is full of bite unlike Dalek that uselessly displays ciphers like Adam and Diana Goddard; Rochester is a coward, Miriam enjoys being beaten and Farrow is a power mad but impotent and yet they all play very different roles publicly. And with terrifying lines like ‘Sometimes Miriam I think you are too stupid to be true’ and ‘I have people killed! I do not do it myself!’ bringing these people to life so vividly the TV episode doesn’t stand a chance. Shearman paints a chilling dystopian England bewitched by the murder instinct of the Daleks; in Dalek he shoves all the action underground in an American bunker. And ultimately I find the scenes between Evelyn and the Dalek much more powerful than those of Rose and the Dalek because it snips away all the sentimentality and goes straight for the jugular – Evelyn terrified throughout but brave, the creature respecting her and refusing to kill her. Far better than all that tendril touching the sun nonsense. I don’t want to be too harsh (too late) because as an action piece Dalek is superb, it has punchy direction, the Doctor is beautifully brought to life and the Dalek manages to take control of things with terrifying ease but I just feel it lacks the acid humour and bite that made this story so uncomfortable and gripping. Had that story snipped away its stolen moments from this I would have had far more respect for it but I always feel the TV version is somehow a shadow of what we should have had.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Take care the Daleks don’t bite!’
‘The thing is I do not like the Americans very much. You see you look the same as us and you have the same language as us but then you open your mouths and that awful accent pops out.’
‘If it was a scream! It might just have been laughing at me!’
‘When we swallow our Dalek juice, we swallow a bit of them. It is the drink of victors!’ ‘And who would have thought that victory could be so tasteless?’
‘Anything with a Dalek on sells millions!’
‘You humans are so fragile, your lives so brief, tiny splash of brilliant colour against the time stream and then gone forever.’
‘You’re still my dearest friend. Still the best thing that’s ever happened to me. The places you’ve taken me, the wonders you’ve shared. I know that whatever happened to me along the way, even death, it was worth it.’
‘History shows the same mistakes happening over and over again until somebody has the courage to do things differently.’
‘You kill me because I ask why you wont kill me? What’s the matter with you?’
‘Are you frightened of me Evelyn Smythe?’ ‘More than I can tell you!’
‘We must die so we can survive!’
‘The Daleks have gone but the evil that men do will echo on forever…’

Audio Landscape: By far the best story Nick Briggs has directed (and paired with Rob Shearman) to this point, he brings this chilling tale to life and never holds back the horror making it a truly stomach twisting experience. The Dalek movie trailer is inspired and the he uses the gorgeous Cushing Dalek control room warble. The TARDIS has the paddy of all paddy’s in episode one and it really does sound as if time is being stretched two ways. The magnetic field has a very menacing hum. Drilling into the Daleks’ shell is as horrible as you can imagine, it has all the psychological fear of the dentists drill. The Dalek mutant is a mess of sticky, sluicing gunge. When the Doctor and Rochester head up to the roof they are assailed by violent winds and screaming birds. The sudden scream of the Dalek is a sickening shock. The tans solar disc roars over London and explodes spectacularly. The Jubilee is heralded by the screaming crowds of the people, which turns into a Dalek massacre, guns blazing, screaming their mantra. The singing Daleks have to be heard to be believed. We experience Rochester chop of the midget’s hand and hear the poor sod bleeding to death in the casing. I love the powerful PA system, which booms the Doctor’s voice far into the crowds. The point of the humans being as evil is made perfectly as the very human scream of ‘Exterminate!’ melts into a metallic drawl. Time suddenly snaps back into focus and the Doctor and Evelyn are surrounded by tourists.

Musical Cues: The opening episode features some very dark and scary music accompanying scenes of spousal abuse and torture. There is a lovely fluting score as Evelyn discovers the TARDIS in the stained glass window. When Rochester orders Evelyn’s death it sounds remarkably similar to the music in Ressurection when the Doctor threatens to kill Davros. Deliberate? Briggsy has really got the hang of this directing and scoring lark now, perhaps thanks to his sterling work on Dalek Empire and this is his most accomplished score yet.

Isn’t it Odd: Miriam asking to marry the Dalek was the one moment I thought this story stepped over the mark into something truly ridiculous (although I was almost sold on Shearman’s priceless line about meeting the in laws!).

Standout Moment: Are you joking? For me it is probably the scene where Evelyn discovers Farrow’s body and confronts the Dalek, it is so murderously played I had goose bumps but the whole story is loaded with standout moments from torture to merchandising to invasion.

Result: Alarmingly inventive and brooding, I adore this story. Doctor Who rarely has the capacity to make me feel genuinely uncomfortable but Jubilee had me in a cold sweat throughout, compiling one horror and dramatic set piece after another. The humour is jet black and quite inspired making the terror all the twitchier. It is full of strong emotional beats, highly atmospheric and leaves you with lots to think about when it is over. Evelyn gets a really meaty role and Maggie Stables excels in a powerful, angry performance topped only by Colin Baker’s agonising take on the Doctor tortured for 100 years. This story is a (not so) subtle commentary on the horror of mankind and it drives its point home like a knife in the gut. Rob Shearman’s greatest gift to Doctor Who is his ability to make you think in brand new ways about staples of the series we thought have become mere clichés. This is beyond doubt the most interesting exploration of the Daleks we have seen. And the wittiest. And the scariest. John Scott Martin will never complain about getting into a Dalek casing again: 10/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @


Paul M said...

More of a 2/10 for me.

Unknown said...

I agree excellent story... But has it been officially acknowledged that this is basically the TV story "Dalek?" The writers of this absolutely deserve some partial "story by" credit as the similarities are too great to ignore. And it's a very good review but it's kind of long... Reading it takes as long as listening to the entire audio play!

Anonymous said...

Mr. above poster, have no fears - the writer of this has more than a partial "story by" credit in the TV "Dalek". He has full credits, since both stories are written by the same man, Robert Shearman. RTD always intended "Dalek" to be a rough adaptation of some of the concepts in "Jubilee", and he invited Rob himself to write it.

Mike Smith said...

Took me ages to track a second hand copy of this so I'm really late to the party. My goodness this is the range at its best. Really and truly brilliant from all involved, I just wish RS has written about another 10 stories !! "Dalek, will you marry me?" . Ha. Just incrediblely subversive but engaging story telling, a masterclass and the leads are on top form.

Anthony Pirtle said...

In working my way through BF's back catalogue, I came upon this gem without really knowing what I was in for, save the publisher's humorous blurb, which led me to believe it would just be a bit of fun. This is, of course, way more than that. Of all the audio stories I've managed to get my hands on, this is probably my favorite. It's uncompromisingly hilarious, grim, and bizarre in equal measure, with the trio of Baker, Stables, and Briggs putting in some of the best performances I've ever seen (or heard, as the case may be) in a Doctor Who story.

I had no idea of the connection between this story and the TV episode, "Dalek," but I certainly connected those dots by the time the story was concluded. It also seems to me to be a spiritual ancestor of "Into the Dalek," from Series 8. As for which story I prefer, It's really, really difficult for me to choose. "Dalek" is my second favorite episode of the revived series, and was my favorite up until Series 9's Heaven Sent, so I obviously like that episode more than you do. However, this one, though it's less grounded and tightly knit a tale, gives it a run for its money. Full marks all around.

triem23 said...

Hello! Only been listening to Big Finish audios for, oh about a year and a half or so. I've beenbusing your reviews as a rough guide to listening order - since I'm buying download bundles from Big Finish I'll eventually listen to everything I've purchased, of course.

What finally drives me to comment is the fact that this story, for the first time ever when watching or listening to a Doctor Who story (since 1983), a scene was just so disturbing and creepy that I punched the fast-forward button... Rob Shearman's script and Steven Elder's performance during the initial torture scene with the Dalek was so genuinely horrifying that somewhere around the discussion of light entering the insiced optic nerve I actually found myself getting light-headed and I really didn't need to hear whatever noise Nicholas Briggs eventually made...

This was an excellently written, beautifully performed, but unabashedly NASTY story.

There's been discussion of the rape scene in "Nekromantia," but the way that sequence paces out my reaction was more of, "ok, that escalated fast... It's REALLY going to go there?" It's a gratuitously shocking moment, but shock isn't horror.

The first torture scene in "Jubilee," is the most genuinely horrifying moment I've encountered across all (extant) televised episodes, the War Doctor audios, the first two seasons of the 4DAs and the first 50 Main Range releases, bar none. And Doctor Who has certainly done its fair share of horror over the decades.

(and with that story finished, on to "Dust Breeding," as I rotate Drs 4,5, 6,7,8, closing in on the dreaded "Zagreus.")