Jubilee was the 40th entry in Big Finish’s “Main Range” or “Monthly Range” of Doctor Who audios (released back in 2003), featuring Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor and Maggie Stables as audio-only companion Evelyn Smythe.
(Daily Doctor Who #229)
There are a handful of Doctor Who television stories that are inspired to a greater or lesser degree on other Doctor Who media. This includes Blink by Steven Moffat and Human Nature by Paul Cornell. But before either of those was Dalek by Robert Shearman, from the first season of the revived series. Dalek was a reworking of this story, Jubilee from Big Finish, which Shearman also wrote. For my money, Jubilee is far superior. Dalek spends much of its time trying to convince us that the Daleks are awesome, leading to what are for me some very repetitive action sequences. Jubilee is all together far more interesting. It deals with questions of history, and imperialism, and self-delusion, and the pointlessness of being a conqueror if there is no one left to oppress, all mixed together in a fascinating blend of plot twists.
The story features the Doctor and Evelyn arriving at the Tower of London and finding themselves caught in a anomaly which leads to an alternate 2003–one in which the British Empire continued to grow and consume the world. The current monarch, President Nigel Rochester, is a cruel but cowardly man who is preparing for the 100 year jubilee of his family’s reign, which started when the Doctor and Evelyn showed up and rescued everyone from a Dalek attack. But this turns out not to be an event from the Doctor’s past, or something from his future which he is yet to do, but rather, for the Time Lord, an alternate-present. The anomaly at the start somehow split the Doctor along two different time-paths, including one (only hinted at) which led England to be able to co-opt Dalek technology and assert dominance over every other nation. However, in one of the story’s more chilling insights, in the absence of a viable enemy to fight, their inborn cruelty turned on themselves, leading to a capricious regime where people can be punished harshly for petty crimes such as, amongst other things, contracting their words.
Part of the story is about the danger of dehumanizing ones enemies, and even turning them into playthings for children…illustrated by the popularity of Dalek-themed merchandise in the story itself. A big feature of the jubilee celebrations is the planned execution of the last living Dalek. This creature is a low-level warrior who has suffered without orders to follow for a hundred years, going completely insane in the process. It “befriends”, after a fashion, Evelyn Smythe, in a series of interactions far more complex than the parallel scenes with Rose Tyler in Dalek.
The main human guest stars are Rochester and his wife Miriam, effectively played by Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayers (a real life couple), who are both amongst the most despicable people the franchise has ever introduced. Both are unspeakably heartless, but deluded in the excuses they give themselves for why they have to act that way–Nigel insists to the Doctor that he is forced to pretend to be evil even as he is cutting off someone’s hand! This has the odd effect of making the imprisoned Dalek one of the story’s more sympathetic characters, while always remaining unsettling and dangerous. Nicholas Briggs, who has played the Daleks in like a million productions, gives some of his best performances in this story.
The story does a great job with the Sixth Doctor himself. I just wrote about The Twin Dilemma and what a dreadful introduction to the character that made. Here, Colin Baker has the opportunity to present a Doctor who has got his characteristic brashness and confidence, but is also deeply vulnerable and flawed. He even gets to play quietly insane, in the form of the alternate Doctor who has himself been imprisoned in the Tower of London for the past hundred years. And Colin Baker hits all of these beats well. His partnership with Evelyn has got a refreshingly grown up quality to it, a nice change from his relationship with his companions on TV.
So yeah, Jubilee is a strong story and well worth the $3.00 that Big Finish is asking for it these days.