Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Justice of Jalxar written by John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: They call him The Pugilist. It is the dawn of a new century and a vigilante is on the loose. The scourge of the criminal underclass. The saviour of the virtuous and the protector of the weak. The police are baffled, the public enamoured… but Professor George Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago are on the case. Or at least they will be when they've finished their beer. What is the source of The Pugilist's spectacular supernatural powers? Is he alone in his noble quest? And what is his connection to the spate of corpses discovered around London? As they descend further into a nefarious netherworld, the infernal investigators may be out of their depth. They're going to need help if they're to get out of this alive. The help of an old friend and his new assistant. The help… of the Doctor and Romana.

Teeth and Curls: There is something irresistible about the thought of re-uniting the fourth Doctor and his old pals Jago & Litefoot since their initial meeting saw both lots of character at their peak. I’m also pleased that they waited until the second season to pull off something this blatantly nostalgic (how could this have possibly have stood up against Daleks and the Master in the ocean of continuity that was season one?) and that they looked to make this Romana’s story rather than another encounter with the infernal investigators and Leela once again (since Big Finish have already ticked that box in seasons three and four of the Jago & Litefoot range). Obviously the Doctor has to dig out his old deerstalker (he was wearing it at the beginning of Destination Nerva too) to walk the cobbles and indulge in a good Victorian mystery. His driving is appalling and Romana most certainly isn’t afraid to tell him so. If he is going to be cut down by two psychotic Victorian criminals then the Doctor cannot think of two gentlemen that he would rather by his side than Jago & Litefoot. Clearly at the back of his mind (despite his irreverence) the Doctor carries a great deal of guilt around about the lives that he has failed to save because he manages to draw the Justician away from a crowd of Victorian no-gooders with his inward culpability. The story doesn’t dwell on that though and instead (and delightfully) sees the Doctor being chased around a Tavern by a stompy robot in what must constitute as a Doctor Who French farce! I was beaming throughout. He has a wondrous heart and can’t abide the idea of settling but he knows he will see Jago & Litefoot again in the fullness of time.

Posh Girl: It’s only a small thing but one that warms my cockles – the Key to Time season was so focused on its mission and its collection of fantasy worlds (Ribos, Xanak, Tara, Delta Magna, Atrios & Zeos…fabulous though they all were) that we were denied the simple pleasure of the Doctor and Romana materialising on Earth at random and stepping from the TARDIS into somewhere bustling and full of life. When they step from the Ship here into a busy Victorian street market I was in my element, it screams of nostalgia and a great setting for an adventure for the pair. Both The Auntie Matter and the previous five part epic saw the Doctor and Romana in the console room choosing to materialise wherever they ended up to service the plot…this is the first time it has been a completely haphazard event and it excites me because its precisely the sort of thing that Mary Tamm never got the chance to do until now. Okay so it isn’t an entirely accidental visit after all, but we don’t find out about that until the end of the first episode but the pretence was at least appreciated. She’s quite a spoilsport and the Doctor tells her that frequently. In the words of Henry Gordon Jago himself Romana is a ‘exquisite exemplification of elegance and élan’ and it stands as a fine epithet for both the character and Mary Tamm. Whilst Jago is enraptured by the apparent supernatural powers of the Pugilist, Romana barely bats an eyelid and explains away each of his abilities through science. Truly a superior example of the feminine gender. In the face of being mugged by a common thief Romana is delighted, as if she is witnessing the efforts of an animal trying to entertain her at a zoo! Two moments struck me as beautifully observed by Dorney with regards to Romana – the first being when she jumps in and handles the exposition when the Doctor struggles (like the third episode of The Pirate Planet) and the second when she starts psychoanalysing the villain of the piece (her party piece on The Ribos Operation).

Theatrical Fellow & Posh Professor: ‘These two are outstanding and extraordinary!’ I was just saying to a good friend the other day that the range I get most excited about listening to nowadays (the companion chronicles excepted) is Jago & Litefoot. I have already waxed lyrical about the pair of them and the current delightful state of their own series of late in my recent reviews of series five but needless to say they both still at the top of their game, so much so that this the second time they have made a successful leap back into Doctor Who without losing any of their star status or charms. Naturally Jago fancies the ass off of Romana (‘you certainly know how to pick them, don’t you Doctor?’) and the Professor charms her ineffably. As they rush into danger together the good Professor says with some passion that he has missed the Doctor and his machinations. Jago mostly provides moments of levity when things get serious but he is so good at doing that I don’t mind that this is one his less thoughtful depictions.

Standout Performance: Tom Baker is clearly having a whale of a time being reunited with his old pals Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter and gives a performance so sunny that you can imagine the Doctor walking through this adventure with his teeth exposed throughout. Benjamin and Baxter have their characters down to a fine art by now, providing drama and humour in equal measure and appealing to whatever audience they are playing to. After retreating into her snooty fox persona in Nick Briggs’ story this is a return to the exotic otherworldly charmer of The Auntie Matter and Tamm seems to be high on the presence of such esteemed Doctor Who guest actors. The four of them together make for an intoxicating brew.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A large collection of unidentified corpses’ ‘Unidentifiable, how so?’ ‘Well if I didn’t know better I’d say they’d been…’ ‘Yes?’ ‘Cooked’ ‘Oh lorks! Barkeep, cancel that steak and ale pie!’
‘Murder does have a habit of lowering an areas tone.’
‘When you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however sensational, must be the truth.’
‘Who needs intellectual rigour and wisdom when a thoughtful fist can express a thought so eloquently?’
‘Got some dazzling and dextrous device to dodge death no doubt?’ ‘What? Oh no no…I think we’re probably just going to get shot’ – Tom Baker’s insouciance at its finest.
‘It’s still the same muffin man!’

Great Ideas: Rather than offering up the usual (admittedly often stunning) photoshopped images of the main protagonists of the story (which in this case was four of them), Alex Mallinson manages to create a piece of artwork that stands up with some of Big Finish’s best also featuring a Freddie Kruger-esque villain threatening the observer and a gorgeous looking robot pointing a gun in out faces. How the cover incorporates all of these elements and doesn’t feel too crowded or busy but actually completely makes me salivate at the prospect of the story ahead is quite genius. This is a cover so good that it can stand up with some of the latest potent artwork that has spearheaded the companion chronicle range. It would seem that celebrity status was everything even back in the day - The Pugilist has caught the publics imagination (‘The vengeful vigilante and his preternatural powers!’), bullet-proof, faster than a train and one clout from his fist blasts you across the street! A high Tech creation that has become a steam driven nightmare and dressed up in a large overcoat this might be one of the coolest robots Big Finish has ever provided us with (the actualisation on the cover is delightful). Its driven by coal and belches steam…oh boy I would have loved to have seen this brought to life in the reliably stylish Hinchcliffe era. The Justician is programmed to uphold the laws of whatever planet it is located on and needs a partner to give it a breakdown of what those laws are and provide it with the parameters of local justice. It can read minds and access whether people feel guilt about anything and if they do it will put them out of their misery, which is why on Earth in particular it needs somebody to sift out the genuine criminals from those who have forgotten birthdays or had a stray sexual thought that isn’t about their partner. It’s a lovely conceit (although Red Dwarf had a decent stab at the idea too, but this has a very different vibe to it).

Given the form of the last seasons adventures I am really surprised (and pleased) that Big Finish didn’t go down the route of making this a sequel to The Talons of Weng-Chiang such as the story which climaxed the latest series of Jago & Litefoot. Had that been the case I think we would have been in continuity meltdown and nostalgia for the sake of it once again and I would have had something of an allergic reaction. As a result of saving the sequel for the sixties and embroiling the characters in a completely original story here it means that both nods to the past manage to feel sufficiently different from Talons to have stand up in their own right as fresh, exciting adventures. Bravo.

Audio Landscape: Horse on cobbles, handing over coins, bullet ricochet, electricity, a robot stomping through the streets of London, the TARDIS landing in a busy Victorian street, ticking clock, tavern atmosphere, a knife falling on the cobbles, the awesome robot voice (shades of the original Cylons), the lapping waves of the river, the bawdy atmosphere of the Jolly Rodger, hissing, steaming technology, the robot bubbling beneath the waters of the Thames, Big Ben chiming.

Musical Cues: Howard Carter’s music impresses me more and more of late and this no exception. He’s having fantastic fun indulging in the atmosphere of the period whilst also creating a soundtrack that is full of the lust of adventure.

Isn’t it Odd: As much as adored this little reunion I have to be honest and say that I thought the Sixie/Jago & Litefoot chemistry was something altogether more special. And fresh.

Standout Scene: Don’t ask me to choose. Pretty much anything that Romana does. One of her best stories.

Result: Looking back and taking everything into consideration (plot, characterisation, dialogue) it was John Dorney’s The Wrath of the Iceni that was the standout story of the first season of 4DAs. It was the only tale that tried to do something completely original with the fourth Doctor (stranding him in a Hartnell historical) and Leela (having her turn her back on the Doctor for the sake of her beliefs) and the overall story (whilst erring on the side of convention within the historical genre) managed to surprise and thrill. It was the standout achievement of the season and given his status as one of the best writers of the Jago & Litefoot range as well (Beautiful Things is one of my most re-listened to stories of any range) I was expecting great things off this second crack at the whip (although he is up against some stiffer competition this year with Morris’ The Auntie Matter and Briggs’ The Sands of Life providing some top notch entertainment). I shouldn’t have doubted him for a second. I thoroughly enjoyed this from the first second to the last and its tick list of elements (the Doctor & Romana, Jago & Litefoot, the foggy Victorian setting, a ultra cool robot, a nuanced villain) all worked as individual pieces to the puzzle but brought together assembled something that was impossible to resist. It is one of the better paced 4DAs with the first episode providing some memorable set up and reunions whilst catapulting the four protagonists into an adventure of machiavellian machinations whilst the second part wastes no time exploring its ideas and whipping up a satisfying resolution. Dorney’s real skill comes into play when it comes to handling his characters – he has already proven himself as one of Big Finish’s brightest script writers in terms of imagination and perfectly crafted stories but it is how he manages to bring so many different Doctors and companions to life with such legitimacy that always surprises me, giving them lovely things to say and revelling in their strengths (this extends to Jago & Litefoot here too). It delights me that Mary Tamm enjoyed material of this calibre in one of her final Doctor Who appearances. Whilst The Justice of Jalxar might not share the same rudiments as sixteen (with its historical trappings, continuity and Earthbound skulduggery) it does have one thing in common that screams of authentically capturing the tone of the period – the zest for adventure and lust for life. John Dorney has tapped into something extremely addictive and if you don’t come away from this adventure with a smile on your face then you are resisting something that is trying to make your life a more cheerful place for an hour and why would you do that? If you have been avoiding the fourth Doctor Adventures because of mixed reviews then check this one out. I promise you wont regret it, it is the best story of the range yet and another feather in director Ken Bentley’s cap too: 9/10


Anonymous said...
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Joe Ford said...

Balls! I meant to reply to your comment and clicked delete by accident...note to self, never head to the computer after you have just woken up! Sorry! I'm not sure what the placement of this story is chronologically but there is no mention Sixie or their recent trip to the future so I'm assuming this is still early days for Jago & Litefoot.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I'm very fond of your reviews, they are very well structured and give clear and deep picture of every play you have listened. I'm new to BF productions and loving them already. Loved "The Emerald Tiger" and "Winter for Adept", love most of Lost Stories ("Foe from the Future" was a very well-paced), also have listen all the First Doctor's CC's. Not fond of Seventh Doctor's stories and usually avoid them. Would you like also to cover Torchwood audio-plays and SJA audiobooks in your blog?

Joe Ford said...

Really glad you are finding it useful, it always makes me smile to hear that it is helping people choose which BF plays to buy. Sometimes I fear that I do waffle on a bit to much but that's just me in a nutshell! The Emerald Tiger really was superb, wasn't it? And The Foe from the Future is my rainy day story that I am saving because I have an inkling that is going to be really good. I'm not a massive fan of Seven's stories either but even I have to admit he has had a run of form of late and I am excited about the return of Klein later in the year. And in response to your question yes I definitely plan to get around to the Torchwood and SJA plays (I've been reviewing the two series sporadically) but I really want to complete all the Big Finish stuff first. How I plan to do that when they are constantly bringing new stuff out I shall never know! :-)

Anonymous said...

What about non-BF and non-BBC audio spin-offs like Kaldor city?
And yes, if you would like to chat or exchange thoughts about Whoniverse then I have added you at google+

Tf80 said...

At first I was not sure about the 4th Doctor audios, on the first season with Leela, there were some poor stories in which I only enjoyed Tom Baker and Louse Jameson performances, but anything else due the dull plots
These secon season with the first Romana are a delight!

I wonder if Toma Baker and Lalla Ward cannot still be in the same room... they could do great stories with Four and Romana II, if just this couple could be able to work together!! specially since 2 of the Four Doctor's companions are sadly dead (Lis and Mary), he only will be able to do audios with Leela, or create another companion for the Four Doctor in the time he was travelling alone pre The Face of Evil

Your reviews are GREAT!

Joe Ford said...

Tom Baker and Lalla Ward together again would be great! I won't hold my breath, though! I'm pleased there is somebody else like me enjoying this second season after struggling with the first - I thought Jalxar in particular was a delight! Many thanks for your kind words about the reviews.

Kevin said...

Strangely I decided last week after a re-listen to the Fourth Box Set that I prefer Valley to Foe now! Foe is fantastic but the thw first half of Valley is perfect to me!

You don't waffle - you're a national treasure!

kurumais said...

this was a pleasure to listen to. i adore romana 1. outstanding and extraordinary, is correct.