Is it wrong of me to be glad to be done with the Divergent universe and have the Doctor and company back in our universe? I think Paul McGann is both a really nice guy and a great Doctor but the Divergent universe was Doctor Who’s foray into what I consider Star Trek: Voyager territory. It promised something different but delivered the same as what was delivered in our universe. (With some exception, to be fair!) To discover I was getting into a Colin Baker story next was a joy. Baker is excellent in these stories but I was stunned to find that Maggie Smith (Evelyn) was not the companion in this, but rather Bonnie Langford as Mel. Well, this might be a breath of fresh air!
The Juggernauts opens during an attack, and not for the first time, I wondered if I put the wrong CD in the drive. When the Doctor wakes from having been knocked out, his musings about Evelyn, before realizing he’s traveling with Mel, made me aware that I was on the right disc… and that the writers were aware of the continuity of these stories. (Well done, Scott Allen Woodard!) As the story unfolds, Mel has been separated from the Doctor for nearly 3 months and in that time, has found a fellow who she is becoming very fond of. She has also begun working with Professor Vaso on a project: to bring the Juggernauts to life. The Doctor, meanwhile, is captured by Daleks and recruited to aid them. As the two stories collide, we discover that the truth of Professor Vaso and the Juggernauts. And I thought we had yet another horrendously missed opportunity!
One thing that Doctor Who writers need to get their heads around is that Doctor Who deals with time travel. I don’t know why this concept is so hard for the writers to grasp. It’s revealed that the Juggernauts (“The name has been copywrited!”) are really the Mechanoids; that classic era villain from the Hartnell episode, The Chase. The episode goes out of its way to remind the audience that Mel was a computer programmer; they even specify the languages: Cobol and Fortran. I remember those! But no computer programmer of the 1980s was going to program for a space-age project with those languages… unless, maybe they could! How unbelievably magnificent would it have been to create the origin of the Mechanoids and find out that the reason they speak the way they do, was because they were programmed by Melanie Bush using one of our old computer languages. <Stop. Zero. Stop. Mechanoid. Zero.> But this story misses that window and instead has them found on this planet and revived by Professor, or as I think of him, Dr. Vaso. Why Dr? Because then we have all the letters needed to make Davros. And that’s the other missed opportunity. When I take my CDs off the shelf these days, I try not to look at them, but this time, I did. So from the outset, I knew Davros and the Mechanoids were in this story. Any hope of a surprise was lost before the CD went in, and that’s a big let down!
Oh, look if I can get past some real losses like that, I acknowledge that the episode is strong. Melanie asks the Doctor why he hasn’t defeated Davros, and I was reminded of Batman too. Why not actually end the threat? The Doctor says it’s not as simple as that, but the sad reality is, maybe it should be. Davros and the Daleks are agents of mass murder on an utterly unbelievable scale. The story doesn’t dwell on it, but it’s a good subject: why can’t the Doctor really stop the evil? Equally, Davros points out that he “never meant to become the stuff of nightmare.” What “bad guy” does, barring maybe Freddy Kreuger! There are good concepts here that could have been mined more than the caves on this planet! On top of that, the character development between Jeff and Mel is really strong stuff. The music box he gives her adds a layer to their relationship that Mel is even willing to risk her life to keep.
There are even some funny moments, one where the Doctor talks so much, the Daleks seem like they are pleading with him to shut up! And I enjoyed the Doctor telling Davros he was “in the era” and thought he’d drop by. Lastly, I actually love those Mechanoid voices; they are so much better to listen to than the Daleks! I think there’s a parallel world out there where the Mechanoids were popular and the Daleks were not; Big Finish in that universe has a whole series called Mechanoid Empire, and its so much more pleasant on the ears!
Contrary to the comments I made, mostly out of being disappointed that two opportunities were squandered, I did like this episode. I liked the moral ponderings, and I like that Mel shows remorse for some difficult decisions. I do wish there was a happier ending and I really don’t see any way Davros would be able to survive this story, which makes his predictable return annoying but it was still a good story. Best of all, Big Finish delivered: they brought us back to our universe, and if there’s one constant we can always count on, it’s Daleks. ML