Monday, 28 September 2015

Main Range 040. Jubilee by Robert Shearman (January 2003)

How terribly uncontroversial of me to say that fandom is right: Jubilee is an astonishing classic. Such classic status, in fact, makes it both incredibly difficult and incredibly easy to write about: the latter because there is, as ever with Rob Shearman, a lot to say, and the former because I haven’t the foggiest idea as to the order in which I should say it.

Let’s start with institutions. Jubilee may be in part “woo, yay, a Dalek story!” as advertised in the cold open trailer but it’s also a marvellously pointed, sharp satire of nationalism, patriotism, and the whole mythos of celebrating “key” historical moments (the entire point of a jubilee). In this regard the story is as rooted in Doctor Who’s 20th century British past as Spare Parts was – the fairy-lit, bunting-festooned Tower of London, prepared for the grand ceremony, is a terrifically potent image which makes us sick at how proud of it we are. The assessment that Britain could easily be as fascist as Nazi Germany (from which imagery the Daleks were born) is hardly comforting, but nonetheless welcome – see President Rochester confronting and bullying the Prime Minister of the United States: the classic “holding up a mirror to nature” referred to in Hamlet is enormously effective in inverting what we know and thus bringing out the real world’s strangeness more distinctly. Miriam’s distaste for Americans and their “awful accents”, her obsession with keeping the English race as pure as possible, is a nightmarish reflection of 20th century Social Darwinism. It’s a world in which sadism and torture hides behind triumphant parade – the sadistic team of Farrow and Lamb stake out the unpleasantness of the world pretty early on. The Doctor puts it best, with one of the most succinct skewerings of patriotic parade I’ve encountered: “There’s decorations and decorations. This way it looks like they’re trying to smother whatever’s underneath.” Perhaps the English Empire can put on a good show to keep its people happy and their hearts swelling with pride – panem et circenses, as the old saying goes – but the secrets it keeps in the Tower are nothing to be proud of.

It is in fact Miriam Rochester who puts it best, and I’m going to be quoting her speech in full: “The Doctor and the Daleks. The Daleks and the Doctor. Have you never thought they were both really the same thing? One invades, destroys, exterminates. The ultimate bogeyman. Good night, sleep tight, make sure the Daleks don’t bite! The other our fearless champion, the perfect hero who will protect us from harm. Just as the threat of the Daleks keeps us in our place, so the promise of the Doctor makes us happy to stay there. Together they are the ultimate tools of propaganda: both useless without the other. Since the Doctor and the Daleks are both different sides of the same coin, how can we not treat them the same? Celebrate them in public and torture them behind closed doors. It is time England emerged from their twin shadows. We must set them free, Evelyn. The Dalek and the Doctor. Let people see them as they really are, so we can move on at last.” Let’s talk about this equation, because it’s one of the most interesting things about Jubilee.

Rochester’s celebratory welcome of the Doctor, his adoration of him as their society’s “saviour” is, much like The One Doctor, a clever self-aware nod to Doctor Who’s own status and significance, and of course ties together the fact that Doctor Who is in itself a kind of establishment institution much like the monarchy – celebrating its own proud 40 year Jubilee in 2003 just as Queen Elizabeth II hit 50 years. And yet, much like the proud and ancient concept of monarchy, it’s an institution that is capable of yielding a horrifying, sickened, sadistic and misogynistic world, an institution that is capable of wrecking all the good crop of stories it can normally yield. Because one thing can be said about monarchy – however republican one may be, one can’t deny the existence of monarchy has enriched our literature and culture for the better these last 1000 years, even while it has been murdering its citizens (I realise how deluded that sentence sounds; fear not, it’s meant to be angry as much as it is appreciative). All Shakespeare’s history plays, to start with, and countless more besides. As an institution it is both a horrendous blood-soaked corruption and a spring of fascinating ideas and poetry. Similarly, the “noble destiny” of the world the unseen but oh-so-familiar Dalek adventure of 1903 creates is a fascist sham. Jubilee is a critique of Doctor Who itself, and we don’t like what we see.

Because Doctor Who is an institution now, and there will thus always be a tension in the dichotomy that the show wants to be on the side of the anarchists but must accept it has more than a mere foothold in the upper echelons. It is in one sense, and very much among other things, the Rochester of TV – the big old loveable ruler. I’ve read that Shearman is a big fan of The Two Doctors¸ which in part was a satire about how nasty Doctor Who can be, just nobody noticed. And this shows. Jubilee takes Doctor Who’s very own materialistic past – the creatures that have been used to sell merchandise right from the beginning – and ruthlessly interrogates our love of and obsession for the “ultimate bogeymen”. Much like The Chimes of Midnight, in which a house was fed such gore that it became evil itself, what would such a process do to us? What world could such a show create?

“Dalek juice” is Shearman’s most gleefully sickening idea since Mrs Baddeley was stuffed with her own plum pudding: a black fluid excreted by a boiling Dalek, collected and bottled and sold. Not just a world in which this occurs, but one in which atrocities help to sell toothpaste and soap, even if it’s just a merchandising label slapped on top – is not a world in which we want Doctor Who to be, however much of a (admittedly very funny) nod to cutesy 60s Dalekmania it is. And yet Shearman utterly rejects the possibility that Doctor Who is the antithesis of such a world. Doctor Who’s success is firmly based on both the acceptance and rejection of the monsters. We need the monsters for more stories but we want them to be reliably beaten and crushed. Well, so did the people of Jubilee. Look how that turns out.

Witness the transsolar disc sequence in Part Two, where the Doctor and Rochester soar over a ravaged London: this is the Shearman story with the biggest scale, and as Sandifer suggests we can trace a very natural progression in his ideas – from the nightmare world of one man in The Holy Terror to a critique of class hierarchy in The Chimes of Midnight and now an indictment of an entire society. Again, Doctor Who is uncomfortably on the establishment side – listen to the Doctor and Rochester in that scene, and they sound like two gentlemen discussing business. Shearman is very good at addressing uncomfortable dichotomies which we’d rather not look at. Miriam makes it clear that she thinks the Doctor will have been taken in by Rochester, and that it is up to her and Evelyn to sort the mess out.

What, then, do we have here? We have a story that is unafraid to metaphorically knock the Doctor – no, the show itself, and all its trappings, formulaic plots and BEMs – right off its Nelson’s Column pedestal, and show us what kind of things can happen when the cosy storybook logic becomes nightmare logic. And Shearman is an absolute master of nightmare logic: the perverse Dalek “toys”, bidding good night and asking Evelyn if she’d like to play with them, are reminiscent of The Time of the Daleks, but they’re much better integrated into the story aesthetically and thematically, and the revelation that Rochester has been hoarding dwarves from all over the world to make fake Daleks is another horror. The Part 3 cliff-hanger is a giddy thrill of madness, as the crowds roar outside for the Jubilee to begin and the Dalek’s new uncertainty about the world in which it finds itself takes hold. Or, if we’re just doing specific lines, one of the show’s nastiest jokes – “Do not worry, Doctor. I’m not really evil, I’m just pretending. I want to be a good man. You know that.” And then Rochester cuts another man’s hand off.

Although there’s a metatextual sophistication to Jubilee that means one can’t imagine it taking place in the Colin Baker era as it stands (having said that, Vengeance on Varos… I’ll just put that out there), much of the gory, violent, slightly perverse aesthetic is a good fit, and this is another strong outing for both Six and Evelyn. Colin Baker’s performance as the mutilated future Doctor, bereft of both his legs, is nicely different to his usual work, a little more subdued, a little more brow-beaten; he even gets to show off his mad-cackle acting-chops. It allows him to show some real range, and the story is the stronger for it. His scene with the Dalek where it orders him to give it orders is really something phenomenal. Baker’s last, weary “I’m not telling you what to do” is sublime. I admire the way Shearman neatly ties the Doctor and Evelyn’s previous experience in the Tower of London into its appearance here. Her arguments with him about history and the subsequent exploration of what history means make for very interesting listen; she shows a lot of bravery and initiative here, sneaking down to the Vault to speak with the Dalek, and her relationship to it provides the story with some much-needed heart.

Martin Jarvis, with that terrifically distinctive voice, is seriously good as Nigel Rochester. His opening scene as both he and his wife Miriam “rebelliously” speak to each other in contractions, the slightest of bastardizations of the English language forbidden under the Empire, is a masterstroke of downplayed horror. Everything about him is spot on: illusory phrases like “capital” reminiscent of Gatsby’s “old sport”, the ugliness underneath the sophistication. His rapport with Miriam, as played by Rosalind Ayres (his real-life wife), is as superb as you’d expect, and their carefully enunciated sentences, all patronising and smooth, are as unpleasant as any dictator’s ravings. They are both very well-developed as the story goes on, as Shearman carefully unravels layers to each of them, Miriam in particular being a much more fascinating figure than she seems. In her own way she’s as terrifying as Rochester, a woman who wants dominance and a terrifying, twisted vision of masculinity. Both of them are forced into playing roles “against their will” in what Webster called “accounting the world a tedious theatre”; the Dalek, too, plays its over-familiar part, as does the Doctor. Rochester must “pretend” to be a horrific tyrant, out of fear for what will happen if he does not.

Briggs’ direction is tight and claustrophobic, particularly in the scenes with the caged-up Dalek. Keeping it silent for most of the first part is a great way of building up the tension, and a far cry from the space-opera antics of The Apocalypse Element. The initial appearance of the Doctor in the Dalek’s cell, and its finally coming to life, is every bit as good as one would expect (whether one has seen Dalek or not), and the same can be said of Evelyn’s terrific scenes with the Dalek in Part Two. This is an intelligent Dalek, no raving, ranting monster: it’s cunning and perceptive, able to tell how Evelyn feels. In fact I think it is the single best characterisation ever given to a Dalek in the history of the show, so full credit to Shearman and Briggs for revitalising the species.

Better still, for revitalising our relationship with the Daleks. I’ve waffled on for long enough now, but one more thing that should be discussed is how this story treats evil – not as something we should sweep away under the carpet, as the Doctor suggests in his lecturing speech in Part Four. It’s the fact that those hundred years lurk in the shadows that is precisely the problem. To not look at history, however atrocious it may have been, is a great crime, even if the one thing we can learn from history is that we never learn from history. Again, there’s a big chunk of the story worth quoting: “All that happened, the hatred, the fear, humanity at its worst, it’s still there… We haven’t erased the last hundred years. They’ll still live on, in the shadows, and people will pretend not to see them. Safer that way… tidier.”/“But once in a while, what those people were, what they could have been, they’ll creep out.”/“They’ll put their nightmares down to fantasy, not wanting to believe that they’re capable of the atrocities they dream. But we know they were. They are. The Daleks have gone, but the evil that men do will echo on forever.”/“But never as badly as we’ve seen. Doctor?”/“Not if they choose to remember, if they dare to look in the shadows, and take a warning from history.”

Like the crowd, if we want blood, blood is what we will get.

Other thoughts:
The piss-take of Big Finish’s own trailers (as voiced by Nick Briggs) is great fun, repeating all the tropes of pulpy sci-fi battle films and old Dalek stories (laughing Daleks are so great; “What is that ominous sound?”; “Daleks. I hate these guys!”; “SCARPER! SCARPER!”; “More action. More excitement. More Daleks getting killed in very loud explosions.”; and the wonderful Plenty O’Toole/Evelyn “Hot Lips” Smythe joke).
“All praise the glorious English Empire!”
“You’ve as good as told me that my entire life’s work is useless!”/“No, I’m sure I bit my tongue before I went that far.”
“You’ve never seen history! You’ve seen someone else’s present day. History isn’t the past, Evelyn, it’s a version of the past we choose to remember. It takes the past and tidies it up. Inexplicable horrors explained, the most obscene atrocities reduced to cause and effect… putting the past into some kind of perspective, making it safe. And we’re both experienced enough to know there’s nothing safe about it.”
“For a hundred years we have studied. We know how to inflict pain. Talk now, and allow us to be humane.”
The Rochester/English Empire nightmare world is a much more fascinating creation than the slightly drab American bunker we get in the TV version.
The TARDIS painted on the stained glass window is another lovely detail (one so nice RTD nicked it for The End of Time).
“At least you got it to scream. That’s a step in the right direction.”/“If it was a scream. It might just as well have been laughing at me.”
These Daleks are as devious as they’ve ever been: “Bring the Doctor to me, and I will teach you all about power!”
 “When we swallow our Dalek juice, we swallow a bit of them. It is the drink of victors!”/“And who could have guessed that victory would be so tasteless.”
“You’ve taken something which is wholly evil and merchandised it.”/ “Privilege of the conqueror, I’d have thought.”
“The children have got to have their fun, have they not?”/ “And if they can learn of the superiority of their race at the same time…”/ “Quite so. Entertaining, lucrative and instructive all at once.”
“But then I look into that face of yours, that piggy little face with those dull black eyes and thin pasty lips, and I cannot see a spark of intellect at all. Not a jot of it… Be careful. I’m fond of you really. I’d hate you to go the way of my first wife.” Rochester is a real monster.
“The winning side distorts their enemy, belittles them and mocks them for fun. What the people here have done to the Daleks is not so very different to what yours did to the Nazis, the token villains of war movies and spy novels.”
“Ask the man in the street which he would rather, a roof over his head or a nice big public execution; he will always choose death. The English peoples like death, Doctor. It is our culture.”
“I cannot hurt you, and yet you fear me. In a way you are my prisoner.” I think this is the finest vocal work Nick Briggs has ever done, amid some stiff competition.
“You belong to the Doctor…The Doctor has had many such friends. He leads them into battle against the Daleks. You are a soldier. We are both soldiers. That is the Earth term. We both receive orders from our commanders, and kill each other accordingly. I know you, Evelyn Smythe. I KNOW YOU.” This critique of the way the Doctor fashions his companions into weapons is obviously a strong influence on Davies’ writing of the new series; I had no idea quite how influential Shearman had been in the long run.
“I do not know why Daleks do as we do. I only know to obey my orders.” There is a disconcerting sense that the Dalek comes out of the story with the moral high ground over figures like Lamb, Farrow and Rochester, parading tyranny as panem et circenses. The Dalek is manufactured to be a killing machine.
“They removed my self-destruct mechanism” – no easy way out here like in the TV version!
The prisoner “skulking about in his wheelchair” who “created” the Dalek – a nice Davros red herring. And the Part Two cliff-hanger, wow, what a chilling moment it is.
The Doctor as an English Empire storm-trooper with rippling muscles on the top of Nelson’s Column is a very potent image, and a nod to the huge bust of the Sixth Doctor in Revelation of the Daleks.
“You human beings are so fragile, your lives so brief. A tiny splash of brilliant colour against the time-stream, and then gone. Whereas I … I just go on and on and on and on and on…”
The Doctor asserts it might have been better to let the humans lose, because then at least they would have had orders to follow, rather than trying to arrange their own destiny like Nietzsche’s Übermensch – in David Mitchell’s words, “the cruel tyranny of not living in a cruel tyranny”. The Daleks and the human beings are one and the same: they need to be told what to think. The Dalek is utterly uncertain of its future once it is armed and able to make choices.
Evelyn tells the future Doctor that he is her “dearest friend” and affirms “whatever happened to me along the way, even death, it was worth it.”
“I must be the greatest man in England. The problem is, Doctor, I do not feel very great. Sometimes I think I am a weak man.” Rochester is a blubbing, ineffectual fool who keeps up “evil” as pretence, as a necessity of circumstance.
“You told me it was going to be a bloodless revolution!”/“It will be. Dalek guns do not puncture the skin… There will be a lot of bodies though.”
The scene between Farrow, Lamb and the Dalek in Part Three is a powerful reminder of what power means and the ruthlessness of following through on one’s threats; the way the Dalek psychologically manipulates these two men is properly chilling. “I said I would teach you about power. Power is the strength to do what you would have others do.”
“I do not know silence!” The Daleks as imposition of rhetoric, an aggressive, belligerent urging of words into a space where there are none.
“You know the history of the Tower?”/“I AM THE HISTORY OF THE TOWER!”
The decapitation scene is stunning, calling to mind John the Baptist as well as it does the long and bloody history of our own country and the way traitors to the crown were punished.
“I already have a wife!”/“No matter, the Dalek can exterminate her!”
“Take the head, will you? I hate having things lying around which remind me of my exes.”
“There are nothing but choices. I see that now.” The examination of free will is also interesting in a story that puts a lot of emphasis on “enforced” roles.
“How much we have envied our ancestors.”
“In many ways, the Dalek is father of us all.”
The insanity reaches fever-pitch levels in Part Four, as Miriam proposes to a Dalek in front of a crowd of bloodthirsty nationalists chanting “Exterminate!” over and over.
“I wish to greet my new in-laws!” I submit Miriam Rochester as the most insane person in Doctor Who’s long history.
The scene between the Doctor, Evelyn and the Dalek prisoner in Part Four is one of the story’s very finest. Each empire needs to find new people to oppress – based on skin colour, beliefs, and whether they contract words or not; otherwise they cannot continue to expand. It also addresses the question of what will happen when the Daleks succeed and there is nothing left but Dalek life: when everything else is dead, they will have to kill each other “until there’s only one Dalek left. Just one Dalek survivor. All on its own. Quite without purpose. Quite insane. You know how that feels, don’t you?”
The Dalek’s relationship with Evelyn provides a wonderful, if perverse, heart to the story. The screams it utters as it is unable to kill her are completely chilling. What a remarkable person Evelyn is, that she should inspire such a reaction in such a creature.
Evelyn gets to question the Doctor’s belief that no Dalek can ever be redeemed, and sees him as completely prejudiced: he is rewriting history to suit his own beliefs, too. There’s a real influence on Into the Dalek here, too. The 21st century treatment of Daleks owes a lot to this audio.
“To be all-powerful, the Daleks must not be all-powerful. To be masters of the universe, we must never be masters of the universe. The Daleks can only succeed if they fail. The Daleks can only survive if they die.” The great paradox: we must reject this evil and yet we must not.
“Once again… I am alone,” says the last, original Dalek, and then, to Evelyn: “Do not be frightened.”
“I’m sorry, I misjudged you.”/“No, Doctor. I judged you correctly. I am a Dalek, and I die for the greater glory of my race.”/“I’m sorry anyway.”
Wonderful moment when the hawker is selling Tower of London souvenirs with Anne Boleyn’s face on. “Take a little bit of history home with you!”

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