Cel-e-brate! Cel-e-brate!

Big Finish Folly, Part 87 – Jubilee, by Robert Shearman

JubileeAaaaand we are back. Casting off the hiatus like Lazarus and his crutch, let us dive headlong into the first of a new batch of stories featuring Old Sixey and Evelyn Smythe. Well, I say new, but Jubilee dates back to January 2003 and is actually the seed from which the ’05 Nu-Who TV story Dalek was germinated. So hang on tight chums, as we explode down an alternate timestream – we are off to an almighty celebration!

It is an odd one, this. With the Tardis attempting to land in two separate timezones, the Doctor and Evelyn are propelled into an alternate timeline where the British Empire is just about to celebrate the centenary of its final victory over the evil of the Daleks. A timeline where the Doctor and Evelyn themselves are venerated as Heroes of the Empire. But the President of the English Empire, Rochester, has things hidden in the dark of the Tower of London. And his wife is plotting his downfall. And the Dalek in the cage is awaiting orders…

Shearman was responsible for the two Frobisher tales in the range, both of which contained some good ideas and yet were not quite the sum of their parts. Jubilee is much the same – a dystopian, corrupt empire, a warped mirror image of our own world, fixated on the glory brought by a long-ended war, where the English language itself is kept pure through the prohibition of contractions and the ruling elite yearn for the good old days, desperate for something new with which to prop up their terrifying regime.

That terror is summed up by the scene in which Rochester and his wife swap illicit contractions, as well as the reveal of the imprisoned Dalek (it is not a spoiler – the damned thing is on the cover, after all…). The torture of the Dalek will curl your toes; the revelations in the third episode will bring you to the edge of despair. Rochester has a real desire to be a Dalek. Even the idiot David Cameron would never go that far (he would miss the visits to the den of Miss Whiplash for starters). But since the Doctor has to deal with unstable timelines as well as a real and unreal Dalek invasion of Earth, the play does actually lose focus once the Dalek is brought to the Jubilee celebrations.

The alternate timeline business negates some of the anger the Doctor is allowed to display, as well as the perceived death of one of the characters in the third episode (sorry, no spoilers…). The adapted TV episode does not have this problem and the Time War setting keeps the focus squarely on the Doctor and the Dalek itself – although to be fair it also removes the terrifying desire of Rochester and his elite to emulate and better the Daleks, which is such a vital part of the core plot of Jubilee.

Martin Jarvis is wonderfully unhinged as Rochester, as is Rosalind Ayres. Maggie Stables, for her second outing opposite the tinpot terrors, gets far closer to them, psychologically speaking, than any other sane person would ever want to (knocking the performance of Billie Piper in the TV adaptation quite into the shade). Colin Baker, unlike Eccleston, gets to show the full range of emotion, from rage to pitiable insanity – it is only a shame that the alternate timeline business renders so many points moot by the end of the play.

Oh, and did you notice? Not one grammatical contraction in the whole of this review… 🙂

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