Funny story: I put in the first disc of Jubilee and it started with a “coming soon”, so I did the natural thing for someone who doesn’t want to know what’s coming next. I clicked the “next track” button. But I could tell we were already mid-story by then. So, I went back and listened to the coming soon and found out it was a spoof! A red herring! A trick! Designed to sound like a glorious movie coming attraction with the Doctor and Evelyn “Hot Lips” Smythe, I realized I was in for a special episode. And in many ways, I was not wrong. For the most part, I was impressed because the Daleks, for a change, did not assault my ears in the usual fashion. Hell, part of the plot is that the Dalek won’t speak until it meets the Doctor! (Although I loved a moment when one of the people torturing the Dalek to get it to speak says “it says it will only speak to the Doctor”. How did he say that, exactly, without speaking? Yeah…)
Anyway, the moment the story began, I was amazed how much part one was right out of Chris Eccleston’s 2005 episode Dalek. Now, I’d call rip-off if not for the fact that this is also written by Rob Shearman, so if you can rip yourself off, then ripoff is a fair accusation, but I don’t think that’s strictly possible. Recycled, sure, but not ripped off. But the story changes after the first cliffhanger so it’s only partly recycled material anyway. Is it as good as Dalek? No, but that’s a tall order for anyone no matter who was writing it. Considering this was released in 2003 (two years before Dalek would air), it is still a worthy story. That said, I still have to lodge some complaints…
First, when the Doctor and Evelyn are observing a stained glass window and notice the big blue box in its center, one expects that the CD cover and insert containing a stained glass window with a big blue box in its center to match. But the box in the center is not blue and only because we’re fans would we attest this is the TARDIS anyway. Ok, it’s a minor quibble, I admit, but at least make the effort! Shearman seems to be willing to make the effort with the story since he brings back those flying discs that the Daleks traveled on since the early comic strips. In fact the entire story feels like a tribute to the Dalekmania that existed after their first appearance in England in 1963.
A lot of the story is actually a bit disturbing. It depicts a society run by maniacs and peopled by sheep who follow the madman in charge of the country. Rochester is the President of England and he’s an utter madman. England has a seriously low opinion of the US too but I found it ironic that the US no longer has a President but rather a Prime Minister. (If you have such a low opinion of us, why copy us? Don’t worry, I’m not really upset about it – especially with the current fiasco going on on this side of the pond!) Come to think of it if this isn’t allegorical, I don’t know what is… Rochester is difficult to listen to because he does some truly horrible things under the pretext that he wants to be a good man. When he smacked his wife, I cringed but later when he lops the hand off a dwarf who could not fit it in a Dalek casing, I was even more horrified. (Although I could not help wonder if this guy’s hand was abnormally large because how would he not fit it inside a Dalek??) Speaking of his wife though, her “Dalek, marry me!” was laugh out loud funny because of the absurdity of it but after a moments of thought, I was horrified by that too because of how utterly twisted everyone is in this tale. (And the more I type about it, the more I remember why I avoid local news too!)
However, my biggest issue with this otherwise compelling story comes from the Doctor and Evelyn. The story starts off with the TARDIS trying to land, then failing to… anyway, it’s not entirely clear so, long story short, the premise is built around the idea that the Doctor and Evelyn were in England 100 years earlier and defeated the Daleks, hence the titular jubilee. Of course, that hasn’t happened yet and as the listener, we understand this must happen in the future. All good so far, right? But the Doctor keeps having flashbacks (which typically can’t happen for a thing yet to come) and at one point, the human crowd turns into Daleks because past and present are merging and the explanation the Doctor offers in a nutshell is “sorry, that’s my fault”. That’s it! No “due to the quantum entanglement” or “I reversed the polarity of my own timestream with the hypotenuse of the triangle with a mouse…” Just, “whoops, that was me!” It wasn’t a smell that warranted a “oh, sorry, beans you know…”, but rather a massive plot point and yet it’s treated with cavalier disregard for the listener. In effect, “oh, just shut up and accept it.” No. I can’t. I want the quality of the writing to be up to an intelligent standard. This had all the makings of an outstanding and deeply disturbing episode but falls into a pit from which it could not emerge simply by having a resolution that just… happens!
Beyond that, this story was incredible from the perspective of a truly disturbing foray into the human psyche but when a resolution hinges on a non-existent ending, I lose respect for it. I’d call it deus ex machina but it’s more like deux ex scripta. (I made that up to represent a sudden appearance of a magical solution in the script that saves the day!) The cast is as stellar as ever, so don’t turn this one down because my rant takes away from their acting! Turn it down if you want to see the Doctor come up with an amazing last minute save that makes any kind of sense whatsoever. Hell, maybe I yawned and missed something. But I really don’t think so. I did a little extra research on this story before I sat down to type and found I was not alone in my assessment. Just when I find a Dalek story that doesn’t grate on my ears, I find one that grates on my brain instead. Some days you get the Dalek, some days the Dalek gets you… ML
Recycled stories in a lengthy franchise like Dr. Who, Star Trek or The X-Files can often be justified unless you reflect on Red Dwarf: Bodyswap or Enterprise: Cogenitor. Sometimes SF shows get in creatively challenged situations where they might feed off themselves as the classic Twilight Zone tentatively did halfway through. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, it’s indeed worth sharing feedback on in our Junkyard reviews. So thanks, ML.
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