Monday, 15 September 2014

Doctor Who: Big Finish's Jubilee

Big Finish Audio are a company that do audio-dramas, most noticeably Doctor Who audio dramas. They are responsible for keeping many of the older Doctors adventuring away, long after their on-screen incarnations died - and I mean a long time, what with all of them still going strong. The actors from the show are retained, with the former Doctors reprising their roles, and this, more than anything, is what makes the adventures feel like true additions to the Who mythos. Jubilee sees Colin Baker's 6th incarnation of The Doctor take on the daleks again, same old story, right?

In the first series of New Who, one of the stand out stories was a little gem called Dalek. Dalek, written by the writer of Jubilee Robert Shearman, was actually a screen adaptation of the audio play. And Dalek was no typical Doctor vs daleks story and, as it was to turn out, it was a bit of a shadow of it's source material.

The 6th and his companion Evelyn land in London, as they have done so many times. But something's amiss. Things don't, exactly, make sense. This is Edwardian London - they are quickly able to figure out exactly where they are. But their surroundings are not quite...right. Also the TARDIS decides it is going to pop off on a mission of it's own, which, aside from a little delirium fuelled mumbling, he does not seem to worried about.

It is an insane and brutal world that they have entered. Daleks are the mascot of the world, their image becoming a powerful tool of merchandisation. There are rules about women and language, and a horrible disdain for the lesser parts of the empire, like the US. The President of the English Empire is a tyrant and they have a prisoner, a dangerous prisoner, that they torture regularly.

The characters and the world they exist possess an insanity of Gormenghastian intensity, but never lose at the expense of depth. Both the President and his wife are characters that continue to surprise and challenge audience's expectations, while the soldiers Faro and, surprisingly, Lam have their own part to play in the drama that fleshes them out as more interesting people. Evelyn, a companion I have to confess ignorance of, was heavily involved here, more so than the Doctor. She serves, more than anyone else, as our main character in this play.

Jubilee is packed with ideas. There is horror here, but there also twists of dark comedy. Thematically, the story is about many things, about obedience and power and history, about the futility of hatred. Through the setting and characters, Shearman is able to convey a plethora of ideas, all explored but never answered, As well as themes, it is also a lot of great science fiction ideas, and stands as probably most complicated and interesting alternate universe Doctor Who story I have come across.

Shearman is always one step ahead - the story always has at least one card up it's sleeve, and one hell of a poker face. There are twists hidden everywhere, and surprises hidden in places where they really shouldn't be. It's a rare feat of storytelling, to be so far ahead of the audience, constantly springing surprises that makes sense in context and feel like they have real weight to them.

Jubilee is superb, shocking, perversely funny and rich with ideas hidden beneath the surface. It's a great story, and possibly one of the biggest influence of RTD's new Who (as well as Dalek, Journey's End also shows influence from Jubilee). Not given it a listen? You're missing out.

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