Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Main Range 065. The Juggernauts by Scott Alan Woodard (January 2005)

One of the things that most struck me about The Juggernauts was the simple fact of how dramatic and exciting it was. It’s some of Gary Russell’s best directing, creating as he does a highly convincing futuristic environment which feels lived-in and plausible (only the three cliff-hangers are relative duds). There’s definitely something to be said for action-movie Doctor Who on occasion, and The Juggernauts delivers it in spades – plunging us right into the thick of things, with explosions, alarms and the Doctor and Mel on the run; that opening sequence, with Mel in an escape pod hurtling toward the planet Lethe, feels just like a cold open from the new show. There’s a healthy dose of confrontations, exterminations, almighty explosions, Dalek-on-Dalek and even Dalek-on-Mechonoid action (oo-er) throughout, enough to ensure the pace rolls on as quickly as you can flip the pages of a Dalek comic, and there’s even the odd dollop of Revelation-esque sick ideas (harvesting hospitals’ leftover body parts), which shows a nice continuity in terms of Davros’ schemes.

And yet Scott Alan Woodard and Gary Russell also slow down the pace of the Dalek action movie when they need to, just enough to give us memorable performances like Terry Molloy’s turn as a kindly, benevolent Professor. I raved about Molloy’s performance in Davros, specifically how well he plays against Colin Baker, and he’s very strong here too, getting a chance to show his range by playing someone much more toned-down and, well, likeable than his usual ranting self (even if it is fairly obvious that Vaso is going to be revealed as Davros at some point, rendering the first cliff-hanger rather redundant). This post-Revelation Davros is, once again, set *against* the Daleks – a position in which he is always more interesting than he is when he is simply their mouthpiece or overlord; there’s an inherent tension to the creator vs the creations dichotomy which echoes Frankenstein and his monster, and that’s always welcome. The Daleks are like Davros’ wayward children, rebelling against his Skarosian Garden of Eden because they believe they know better. I find Davros an irresistibly fascinating character in the way the Daleks generally aren’t (unless they’re in the hands of a master writer), and his depiction here, trying to start anew and become someone else, is suitably strong. His anguished state in the final few minutes is particularly memorable. It’s not as good as Davros, but few portrayals of the character have been.

We haven’t actually seen the Daleks themselves since Jubilee, twenty-five releases and two years ago, and this feels like a suitable enough gap – what’s more, they’re placed in the underexplored position of needing the Doctor’s help (to which he responds, “I took you lot off my Christmas list a long time ago, you know!”). But we don’t just get Daleks: Woodard throws the Mechonoids at us, of all things, this time under the name “Juggernauts”. There probably wasn’t a huge clamour for their return – one is reminded of the low-key revival of the Macra – but their position as Davros’ ‘newest invention’ in the eager corporate world, in actuality a set of “ultimate Dalek killers” stitched together using human tissue, functions reasonably well (and my, their voices are a thing of beauty). I really like the way Woodard marries the Daleks’ 60s past together with their 80s past, and chucks in a few nods to Genesis while he’s at it.

Lethe (Greek for “oblivion”) is a cool setting: the Planet of Forgetting. It’s a really, really great cut from the action-packed opening to Mel waking up one morning as an already long-established member of the Lethean colony – a cut that bemuses the listeners, allowing the very concept of Lethe’s name to be present in the lacuna of that which we’ve just missed, that which Woodard simply skips over. This is a canny move on Woodard’s part, as is the notion of Mel joining a space colony in general – indeed, it’s possibly the single most interesting thing they’ve yet done with the character, turning her computer programming skills to good use like no one ever has before (no, really, no one ever has before) and making her an essential part of the colony’s technology department (it’s a small thing, but look at how she does the maths quicker than the Doctor does and is more familiar with the environs and equipment than the Doctor is; using her address as a Juggernaut override is a highlight). Langford gives a great performance throughout (is this really her first audio with Colin since The One Doctor?!), and her ignorance with regard to Davros and the Daleks is part of what makes her ingratiation into the setting work well. Her righteous anger confronting Davros in Part Four is great, and her final action in the story perfectly judged.

Her rapport with the harmonica-loving Geoff is excellent, just one in a long line of BF giving companions new characters to spar with (Evelyn/Rossiter also springs to mind) – their scene together in the canteen where he gives her the music box is a charming bit of characterisation brought to life by two likeable actors. “When you’re off wandering around space with the Doctor, far, far away from this godforsaken place, you can always open this thing up and be reminded of goofy old Geoff, stuttering Juggernauts, and flavourless protein shakes…” His tragic arc is thus pretty inevitable, but no less well-done for that – and despite being sucked out onto the winds of a planet named Forgetting, despite being a one-off character, he is remembered. Mel won’t forget him.

The Doctor is arguably less in the limelight than Mel is, which makes a refreshing change; that sad, we do get the pleasure of him being flippant to the Daleks throughout, almost to the extent that it feels like Woodard is writing for the other Baker at times: “Oh, of course. I should have guessed it was you...I can’t say I’m at all pleased to see you lot. Surprise party, is it?” Unsurprisingly, his scenes with Molloy’s Davros are great: two veteran stalwarts bouncing off each other superbly. Almost at the same time as Mel awakes on Lethe, the Doctor wakes up on an interstellar spaceship, to great use of the Dalek “heartbeat” noise, as ever (“awaking” from sleep is a key part of Lethe, of course). Another parallel is the way in which Brauer, the colonists and indeed Mel must “awake” to see Davros and the Daleks as they truly are; and the way in which Loewen awakens to find herself one of the new Mechonoids and her personality entirely wiped.

Ultimately, The Juggernauts is a mostly traditional tale after what have been a fairly experimental few years from Big Finish – and even a fairly experimental set of Dalek stories. And yet for once, tradition has won me over, in part because of the depth and intelligence of the characterisation on display. It’s a big old science-fiction movie which concludes with tinny, mournful Schubert echoing around a Dalek ship. Bravo.

Other things:
So we begin 2005: the year Doctor Who came back, and this time there were pictures! I couldn’t tell you a single thing about Big Finish during this notorious year – given almost all of the fandom’s focus seemed to be and, to an extent, still seems to be, on Eccleston & Tennant – so I’m looking forward to a bunch of audios about which I know practically nothing.
“Evelyn?” the Doctor asks instinctively upon waking, like Eleven’s “Rory!” in Vincent and the Doctor. But it seems she’s long since gone. Each Sixth Doctor release sees me fear for Dr Smythe’s fate more and more.
The Daleks have removed Sixie’s coat. I like the implication that they just can’t stand seeing him wearing it either.
“Don’t be fooled by their appearance – the classic styling betrays an extremely sophisticated service-bot within…”
“Oh, a transmat dais, eh? Very chic! And where, pray tell, will I be transmatting to?”/“A subterranean cavern!”/“Ooh, that makes a change…”
The Mel/Geoff dialogue is delightful and has a lightness of touch that (by necessity) was missing from Evelyn and Rossiter’s more sombre, mortality-tinged romance: “How’s that shake?”/“Like liquid chalk…”/“That good, eh?”
“Just a kiss. Don’t make a fuss. I like you, Geoff.” – Gotta love Mel.
An excellent point: “I never could understand how a man with such flamboyant taste in clothes could tolerate those drab corridors… you’d think in 900 years he’d have spruced the place up a bit!”
“I suppose that explains the change in your hairstyle.”/“I haven’t done a thing with it, actually.”/“Oh well, it looks very nice all the same.”
“Thank you, disembodied computer voice!”
Woodard comes up with a good set of supporting characters – not just the likeable Geoff and Davros’ alter ego professor, but particularly the drug-fuelled, sympathetic Kryson, who makes a strong impression (and gets a nasty death - “Feel the Juggernauts’ embrace!”).
“Time does not always heal wounds, Doctor.”
“Fate has cast its dice for you and the dots are in the shape of little Daleks… You can believe whatever you like, but you grow more and more like your creations with each passing day.”
“Mechonoids!”/“Juggernauts, Doctor! The name has been copyrighted.” Teehee, Nation Estate.
“Daleks? Where did you find these, eh? A jumble sale?”
Davros: “The time has come for honesty.”/The Doctor: “There’s a first time for everything.”
“Victory is most often achieved through the tiniest of manoeuvres.”
The “I don’t trust Kryson, do you” line the moment that Davros switches on surveillance of the other execs is hilariously contrived.
“I even doubt myself once a lifetime,” the Doctor confesses to Mel.
“The unflinching will of the status quo.” – as per, the corporations are villainous, the little people heroic.
We have mandatory organ donation in the future? Excellent.
“Lights! I said lights!”/“I think you’ll find a switch on the wall to your left.”/“Oh. Oh yes.”
Happy to wipe out female and male alike, the Daleks are “equal opportunity killers”(!).
“I can no longer be held accountable for the Daleks’ actions, any more than your parents can be held accountable for your actions, Miss Bush.”
“Goodbye Davros. I’m afraid I can offer no sympathy.”/“I expect none from you!”
“The time has come for us all to slip into the void. The fire grows within.” Anyone know how Davros survives this one? The Doctor Who Reference Guide suggests that the Davros head we see in Remembrance is similar to the decoy from Revelation, as opposed to the “real” Davros who dies here, but I’m unconvinced.
If I have one minor complaint, it’s the placing of a Dalek/Davros story right after The Next Life’s noted ending, which feels awkward somehow. But that’s a relatively insignificant quibble.

No comments:

Post a Comment