Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review: Doctor Who, "Dalek" and "Jubilee"

After watching “Dalek” recently, I listened to “Jubilee,” the Big Audio drama that inspired “Dalek,” the following day. The juxtaposition made for an interesting comparison.

In “Dalek,” the Ninth Doctor and Rose respond to a signal that takes them to the museum of a collector of alien artifacts. The prize of his collection is a damaged Dalek, a survivor of the Time War. The Dalek is kept in chains and tortured to talk, but it remains resolutely mute until it identifies the Doctor, at which point its instinct is to kill the Doctor. When Rose touches the Dalek, it absorbs her DNA, which both restores it to working order and corrupts it. After a rampage through the museum, killing almost everyone there, the Dalek finds that it can’t kill Rose and is ashamed of how it has developed this weakness. Lacking orders from a superior Dalek, it asks Rose to order it to self-destruct. She does so.

In “Jubilee,” the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe land initially in England in 1903, though the TARDIS won’t stay there. Ultimately, the two are left a century later, in an England that has fought the Daleks in 1903 and, with the help of the Doctor and Evelyn, won. (They have no memory of it, however, suggesting the 1903 events may take place in their future.) However, this England is a fascist empire with a cruel President. The President has a damaged Dalek, captured in 1903 by the current President’s great-grandfather. That Dalek, like the one in the TV episode, won’t speak even under torture. Also like the TV episode, the Dalek has had no orders from its superiors for a long time. As it is a soldier Dalek, it can only obey orders, not give them, and the lack of instructions has driven it mad. The President, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the defeat of the Daleks, plans to execute the last one publicly. At the same time, the President’s wife has hatched a plan to kill her husband and, with the help of the Dalek, rule in his place. The events of 1903 begin bleeding into the present day, leading to a full Dalek battle fleet arriving in England. The damaged Dalek, despite new orders from the Dalek Supreme, is unwilling to kill Evelyn, the only human to have shown it mercy. When the other Daleks eventually kill it, the corrupted time line collapses.

While the TV episode focused on how Rose’s DNA caused the Dalek to mutate in a way that it found unacceptable, the audio drama was more interested in the question of free will (as well as showing how the Daleks’ motivation to extinguish all other forms of life was ultimately pointless, as a culture attuned to conquest would always be looking for the next conquest, even if it had to do so among its own people - the English Empire illustrated that).

Filming “Jubilee” with the Ninth Doctor and Rose would have been impossible in a single episode, so I understand why they drastically re-wrote the plot. Yet the extra time available for the audio drama and the freedom from having to appeal to children as well as adults created the freedom to explore issues in a deeper way. Ultimately, the issue of free will among soldiers is the more interesting one.

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