An Audio Drama by Big Finish (Number 40 in the Main Range)
When Doctor Who came back in 2005, I recall everyone stating that the episode Dalek was going to be loosely based on this audio drama. At that time, I never got around to listening to Jubilee, but here we are 17 years later and I’m finally listening to it. This one is always fondly recommended alongside Spare Parts (or at least back then), which I absolutely loved, and is perhaps my favorite audio drama up to this point – how will this one fare? At surface level I was initially confused, as it starts out pretty different to that story, but slowly but surely I saw what folks were talking about. Some of the more pivotal bits of dialogue in the TV episode are basically lifted from here. Don’t fret, however, there should be no surprise as Robert Shearman is the writer for both!
“Hurrah! The deadly Daleks are back! Yes, those lovable tinpot tyrants have another plan to invade our world. Maybe this time because they want to drill to the Earth’s core. Or maybe because they just feel like it. And when those pesky pepperpots are in town, there is one thing you can be sure of. There will be non-stop high octane mayhem in store. And plenty of exterminations! But never fear. The Doctor is on hand to sort them out. Defender of the Earth, saviour of us all. With his beautiful assistant, Evelyn Smythe, by his side, he will fight once again to uphold the beliefs of the English Empire. All hail the glorious English Empire! Now that sounds like a jubilee worth celebrating, does it not?”
The setting for this episode is The English Empire, an almost Handmaid’s Tale-esque patriarchal fascist state that has arisen after a pivotal battle where The Doctor apparently led an offensive against an invasion of Daleks in 1903, defeating them once and for all. Now, in 2003, The Empire rules the world with an iron fist and celebrate the day The Doctor vanquished the Daleks with huge commemorative statues, parades, and an almost obscene amount of streamer flags taped to almost every surface. This year, however, it appears there is a VERY special program for Jubilee – the execution of the LAST Dalek!
With how rough the last Dalek story we got was, I was somewhat apprehensive going into this, but thankfully, this was pretty well done. Much in a similar way as the aforementioned TV episode, this story is basically a “what if” scenario of what would happen to a Dalek if you take everything away from it that makes it a Dalek. In both cases, the answer is that it grows mad by virtue of growing as a creature – almost having a sliver of compassion. In this case a remnant from a way band of invading Daleks is taken alive and tortured for over 100 years. It becomes the source of numerous marketing cash-ins, festivals, and grotesque food products. After all this, all it wants is release from its life.
I’ve stated many times that The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe are perhaps my favorite “team” in the entirety of these stories, and this story is no exception. My favorite thing about Evelyn is that she commands authority due to her age and zero-F’s given attitude. If The Doctor tells her to stay somewhere and be still, you better believe that she will be immediately ignoring that and doing her own thing before he leaves the hallway. Maggie Stables plays a amazing companion as Evelyn, and I was pretty sad to discover she had passed away in 2014 – not too long ago.
I honestly feel like this story is too long, it naturally climaxes at one point towards 3/4 of the way into the story, and keeps rolling on into more story. Having a sole Dalek that changes through years of torture, isolation, and the inability to be what a Dalek is supposed to be, get orders, or exterminate others almost makes you feel bad for the little guy. It’s almost as of he has grown a conscience to a degree. However, this is upended a bot when a Dalek fleet shows up at the very end and takes the whole story over. Yes, we get to see how different this Dalek is compared to a “normal” one, but I feel like it somewhat takes the wind out of the story a tad.
I also felt the “alternate timeline” aspect of the story was unneeded. Due to your everyday Tardis shenanigans, The Doctor and Evelyn have been warped into a parallel dimension. The story somewhat never really sufficiently explains this, nor does it seem necessary. I know this trope was pulled about because we see an alternate version of The Doctor in the play, one that has been locked away in The Tower of London for 100 years. Legless and aged, The Doctor has been driven mad by Evelyn withering away before his eyes and the only thing keeping him going is his clinging to his past unsure of it’s reality. I still think it could have been better without it.
That said, I enjoyed this story quite a bit, although it’s not one of my favorites. I can see why a lot of people like this story as much as they do, but I think some of that is probably because of the TV episode elevating everyone’s opinion a bit. Overall, its well above average for a Big Finish play, but hardly the instant classic that some make it out to be. It’s well-acted, has great sound design, interesting Dalek writing, and a great setting. Highly recommended despite its few flaws.