The return of Terry Molloy, after his excellent turn in Davros, is what excited me about The Juggernauts. It's the first Davros/Dalek story too - and they can work well together - just look at Genesis of the Daleks and Revelation of the Daleks for that.
Molloys sparring partner is once again Colin Baker - and that's as it should be. The 2 are brilliant together - one of the best Villain/Doctor flare-ups out there. No Evelyn in this story too, we have the joys of Melanie Bush - who appears (from the Big Finish Schedule this year) to be the flavour of the past.
Scott Alan Woodard was given quite a shopping list when he was asked to write this one - and to his credit he largely carries it off. Inclusion of all of the above, and the Mechanoids - that's quite a lot to cram in. What he doesn't try and do is create a complicated story, where each challenges the other for supremacy, and each goes beyond what we know of them from TV adventures. This is a good old-fashioned Doctor Who Story, and everything here is totally in keeping with the characters we know and like - and all the better for it.
The story farely rattles along at first. Mel is away working on the Mechanoids. The Doctor is waylaid, but gets there eventually (a 3 month gap tempting for other writers to fill). As a character study of Mel this story is pretty good. It continues the good work of previous Big Finish plays, where she is far more interesting to listen to, than to look at. There was a little excitement that Mel got to do some Computer Programming - but that doesn't make good TV or Audio. Her relationships with the Scientists and Miners are far more interesting.
The return of the Mechanoids give Big Finish another chance to shine in their sound wizardry. I know of no other robot/monster who sounds like these binary blobs. There voice is quite spooky - and they are a very fine addition to Big Finishs box of tricks.
Terry Molloy is brilliant once again as Davros, even though at first I wondered where he was (I gradually came to the realization of the truth minutes before it was revealed). Colin Baker, a master of these audio plays now, is magnificent once again - his plays remain the ones I most look forward to, and the ones which usually cut the mustard.
The Juggernauts is a fine return of the straightforward story, and I hope Big Finish will keep to this for the near future. If they alternate between the 4 Audio Doctors, mixing Companion teams, then each one will sound fresh and new when they appear again.
I'm confident that Big Finish will continue for a good while yet entertaining us. It seems virtually all our DW attention span is elsewhere these days - and there's nothing wrong with that, in fact it's completely and totally exciting - but its great to think that no matter what happens Big Finish has produced, and will continue to produce, excellent drama. 7/10
'The Juggernauts' had a lot to live up to; with Davros making his second Big Finish appearance after the superb 'Davros' and the news that this audio would be the first to feature the Daleks alongside their creator, expectations were high, and the fact that the Mechonoids would be putting in an appearance also merely added to the anticipation. Unfortunately, giving so many promising ingredients to another new writer for the range results in a disappointment on almost every level.
'The Juggernauts' is hugely derivative, and it doesn't help that the story it is most obviously derivative of is 'Revelation of the Daleks', the story from which it picks up Davros' story. Both stories feature Davros living secretly on a human colony in the guise of a well-respected scientist, and using the bodies of the dead to build his own private army of war machines. Both also feature two opposing Dalek factions, with those loyal to the Supreme Dalek closing in on Davros in the final episode and largely wiping out his faction. In this case, Davros is using Mechonoids instead of Daleks, but he's till putting mutated human heads inside them and as such they might as well be his Daleks. Indeed the Mechonoids are a completely wasted opportunity; their computer-code based voices work passably well in an audio format, but their appeal is largely visual and relegated to the status of Davros' drones they serve little purpose save for novelty value.
Writer Scott Alan Woodard misses out on a variety of opportunities in 'The Juggernauts'. There is some irony in the fact that the Daleks recruit the Doctor to prevent the development of a future threat to them given that the Time Lords set him a similar task in 'Genesis of the Daleks', but nothing is made of the fact. Despite Woodard's stated desire to explore more of Mel's character, her glib acceptance of a tracking implant is again something of a waste; she briefly mentions Orwell, but it's very unconvincing and I can't help wondering if she would really react so lightly to the prospect of having an implant forced upon her. It also seems highly unlikely that a computer programmer from the eighties is better suited to reprogram the Mechonoids than any of her colleagues from the future and feels suspiciously like an attempt to make Mel shine via a highly contrived piece of plotting. The implication is that she's a genius and has picked up new computer languages very quickly, but it isn't really convincing. There is also the matter of the Doctor's naïve attitude towards the Daleks; in Episode Two he enters into a deal with them with a healthy amount of skepticism, incredulously asking, "And once you're in the know about Davros and his latest piece of nastiest, what about Mel and I? Are we free to leave?" He clearly doesn't believe them when they reply yes, and yet in Episode Four he asks them, "Daleks, you have your fugitive in hand, and I have my friend. I presume we are free to go?" but seems genuinely surprised to learn that the Daleks are planning not to uphold their side of their bargain, preferring instead to take him to Skaro and nick his TARDIS.
'The Juggernauts' also suffers from some ill-judged scenes that simply don't work on audio, and a director as prolific as Gary Russell, who also presumably gets to edit the scripts, really ought to know better. Episode Four involves a great deal of running around the colony, which isn't terribly effective on audio, and neither is the Dalek/Mechonoid fight. Fortunately, some scenes work much better; there is a chilling moment when Davros warns Kryssen about "the accident" before it actually happens, his Daleks slaughtering Brauer's staff save for Kryssen himself. Also rather creepy is the scene in which Mel tells the Doctor, "This Juggernaut is leaking oil" only to be told, "That's not oil Mel, that's blood. Human blood." The revelation that the Daleks staged the freighter attack and diverted Mel to Lethe in order to persuade the Doctor to help them also works quite well, providing an nice nod to their habitual ruthless cunning.
'The Juggernauts' also suffers from some rather weak characterisation. Although Colin Baker puts in his usual decent performance for Big Finish, the Doctor doesn't actually do a great deal except explain the plot, be rude to Davros (whom Mel, not he, defeats), and get manipulated by the Daleks. He also gets some truly feeble quips including, "Daleks with legs? Daleks with fashion sense? Purple Daleks?" Mel fairs somewhat better and Bonnie Langford is superb here, especially during one of Mel's scenes Geoff, who fancies her, and gives her a music box. It's quite sweet, and Geoff's obvious sadness when the Doctor turns up is touching. Klaus White conveys Geoff's puppyish fondness for Mel very well, but the character suddenly undergoes massive revision later in the story when it becomes necessary to kill him off, and he rather bravely starts quipping, "Daleks to the left of me, Daleks to the right" as they're trying to kill him in a manner that suggests that he's been at Kryson's drugs. Suddenly turning into an action hero, he sacrifices himself to destroy Davros' Daleks, which are sucked out of the airlock onto the surface of the planet, all the while spouting macho bullshit in a gung-ho fashion. Speaking of erratic characterisation, I can' quite buy Mel's sudden transformation into angel of vengeance and found myself just as shocked as the Doctor sounds when she overrides Davros' control of the Mechonoids, horrified by his use of human body parts and his plans to use them to wipe out the colony, and turns them against him. I should also mention Paul Grunert's Brauer, a crass Russian stereotype who is loud and bombastic throughout and might as well talk about Vodka and capitalist pigs. He gets dreadful lines such as, "You're nothing more than a sniveling little toady, Kryson!" although to Grunert's credit when Brauer gets mad, he sounds genuinely scary. His fate is painfully signposted though, the moment he unwisely scoffs at the battered Daleks, asking if the Professor got them in a jumble sale, and then gloatingly threatens to collect the reward when Davros reveals himself. Guess what happens…
And finally, there is Davros, the single saving grace of 'The Juggernauts'. Although points are deducted for dialogue that includes, "From the bottom of my artificial heart, thank you all", Woodard scripts some interesting character moments for him, as the Daleks' psychotic progenitor impersonates a genial old man. "The Professor" comes up with a story to explain his condition, and what is intriguing about it is that his recounting of the pain and suffering both mental and physical might be genuine, assuming that Davros ever actually got pangs of survivor guilt. Molloy makes it seem eminently plausible, especially after 'Davros', and when Davros bitterly tells the Doctor, "It was never my intention to become the stuff of nightmares Doctor! I created the Daleks to bring order." He sounds sincere, as does he when he tells the Doctor that as the Professor, "They like me here", a concept that he seems to find genuinely appealing. Woodard thus manages to hint at further depths to Davros' character, whilst maintaining his winning combination of sadism and ruthlessness. When Davros finds himself opposed by the Outreach Corporation, which wants to protect its potential investment, he resourcefully sets about blackmailing Kryson, having perceptively spotted that he's a drug addict. He realises this because Kryson has worked out the truth about him (Davros softly asks him, "You know, don't you?") and he knows that his means of disguising himself doesn't work on drug addicts. Davros threatens to make Kryson's life "a living hell" if he doesn't cooperate and it is easy to believe that he would manage to do so. But despite moments of icy threat, Davros also remains as volatile as ever when faced with the Doctor, providing more snippets of insight about him; he gets very agitated when the Doctor tells him, "Every day you get and more like your creations" and when he asks why Davros wants to mass-produce the Mechonoids, Davros announces that he intends to make them "the ultimate Dalek killers", adding "I want nothing more than to be there on the day the Daleks are defeated." It is clear at this point that he's driven by revenge (as well as self-preservation), and it suggests that he deeply resents his creations' rejection of him.
Although these insights into Davros are quite effective however, I do have some criticisms. When Davros describes the Mechonoids as "the final solution to the Dalek problem" it harkens back to the Nazi imagery that Terry Nation repeatedly associated with the Daleks, but feels like a remarkably lazy piece of symbolism. Furthermore, given that Woodward makes an effort to explore Davros' character, he could really have afforded to make more of Davros' argument that, "Centuries ago when the Daleks left me for dead on Skaro, I severed all ties with them. I can no longer be held accountable for their actions" which might have made for an interesting debate with the Doctor. And then there is the ending: although we get the rare experience of hearing a terrified Davros begging for his life as he cries, "Melanie! You have condemned me! Please!" it is rather spoilt by the over-the-top finale, as he explains, "When my Juggernauts attacked me, they triggered my self-destruct mechanism." The resulting explosion is presumably intended to explain why he's virtually a disembodied head by 'Remembrance of the Daleks', but it sounds rather final, especially if the blast is powerful enough to level a colony…
In summary then, 'The Juggernauts' is a considerable disappointment; with 'Terror Firma' due for release shortly at the time of writing, I can't help but hope that Big Finish's next use of Davros builds on the success of 'Davros' more effectively.
After the success of Davros’ first Big Finish appearance, a follow-up was pretty much a certainty. Slightly surprisingly Colin Baker also returns as the Doctor to defeat him – it now seems that, as with the Master, the supposedly time-travelling Doctor has fallen into the habit of only ever meeting the character in strict chronological order (so here both the Doctor and Davros are somewhere between Revelation of the Daleks and Remembrance of the Daleks in their personal timeline) – in a dramatic sense this is fine, but it doesn’t make much logical sense when you think about it.
At the end of Revelation Davros was in the Daleks custody, being taken to Skaro to answer for his ‘crimes’ against the Daleks, so writer Scott Alan Woodard has Davros’ prison ship attacked en route (though frustratingly, in the first of today’s plot-holes, we never learn exactly who shot down the ship, or why), and forced into a crash landing on the mining planet Lethe. Rescued from the crash, and temporarily free of the Daleks, Davros sets about insinuating himself into the colony, and harnessing the power of some recently unearthed Mechanoids…
Going by the authors’ and producers’ notes in the inlay, The Juggernauts is the result of a classic JN-T-style ‘shopping list’ of demands: The 6th Doctor, Mel, the Daleks, the Mechanoids and Davros – oh, and we need to bridge the gap between Revelation and Remembrance: Scott Alan Woodard does a good job mixing these ingredients together into a four-part adventure, but the results are curiously predictable. With the Daleks gunning for him it’s obvious that the story is going to feature Davros either teaming up with or inventing the Mechanoids as a replacement for the Daleks – and that’s exactly the way the story pans out. Having Davros just happen across the Mechanoids here, ripe for the reprogramming, is rather unconvincing (let alone all this calling them ‘Juggernauts’ rubbish), but possibly this is due to story dating issues. What’s least impressive about this play are the Mechanoids themselves, as they never really feel like a major threat to the Daleks. Yes, there’s a great nostalgic fanboy thrill that comes from hearing their stuttering voices for the first time since The Chase all those years ago, but their dialogue is even more limited than that of the Daleks, and scenes of Mechanoids and Daleks blasting away at each other are obviously not suited to the audio medium. Somehow I don’t think we’ll be hearing calls for a ‘Mechanoid Empire’ audio series just yet…
However, despite the limitations of the Mechanoids, and the predictable greatest hits nature of the storyline, The Juggernauts does feature some good solid drama, primarily due to its compelling cast. Foremost of these is Terry Molloy as Davros, who once again dominates the play with his performance, outshining the Doctor himself to take centre stage. With his combination of quiet plotting and insane rants Davros is quite possibly the most enjoyable villain ever created for the series, and Molloy is now firmly in touch with the character, always just dragging Davros back from the brink of melodrama by instilling a sense of cold, calculating evil. If this story has a real weakness with the character, it’s that Lance Parkin’s ‘Davros’ play has stolen its thunder: having explored the history of the character to reveal the man inside the monster, The Juggernauts really has nowhere else to take the character. There’s an attempt to have Davros go ‘in disguise’ early on, but while this works well to set up the mining colonies ignorance of his identity, Davros’ later claims to have turned over a new leaf don’t convince for one second.
The 6th Doctor plays the role of an unwilling Dalek agent, acting under their instructions to stop Davros. It’s a nice spin on the Doctors normal relationship with the Daleks, but unfortunately the plot doesn’t stand up to close examination. What – exactly – is it the Doctor can do that an army of Daleks couldn’t achieve by simply exterminating everyone themselves? The story initially offers the explanation of a potentially dangerous atmosphere that stops the Daleks carrying out the mission, but this is later revealed to be a lie when they finally arrive in force. Also the Daleks already know all about Davros and his activities due to some mysterious Dalek ‘agent’ who has set up nanocams and a transmat in the colony. Who is this Dalek agent, where did they come from and where are they now? There’s a general lack of attention to detail with the basic set-up of The Juggernauts, and a little additional clarity to the basic situation would have strengthened this play.
Due to an early story split, Mel finds herself apart from the Doctor for the first half of the story, and settling into colony life as she awaits his return. It’s nice to see someone remembering Mel’s computer programming skills as she ends up working on the Juggernaut project, though I find it hard to believe that her 20th Century skills could be of any use in the far future – even after 3 months of training. Her relationship with the other colonists, particularly the understated not-quite-romance with harmonica playing Geoff Gatlin, is far more interesting, and having the scales ripped from her eyes regarding Davros’ true nature leads her into a tougher characterisation than the one we are more familiar with. The addition of the representatives from the Outreach Corporation also adds further complexity to the mix, and though Brauer’s Russian accent is comically thick, the drug addiction of Kryson is an interesting double-edged sword, as it both allows him to see through Davros’ disguise and provide Davros with the means of blackmailing the character.
All in all, despite a few creaky plot-points and a fanwanky premise, The Juggernauts is a good solid Doctor Who adventure, and highly enjoyable. The play’s big Achilles Heel is that it is bound to be unfavourably compared to Lance Parkin’s ‘Davros’. ‘Davros’ was one of the best Who plays Big Finish have ever produced, and The Juggernauts is, perhaps inevitably, a slightly disappointing follow-up in that it’s ‘merely’ very good instead of an instant classic. Forget ‘Davros’ though, the positive news is that following the dire fourth 8th Doctor season and a run of decidedly dull adventures The Juggernauts is the most enjoyable Doctor Who audio in a long while.
“There are many who consider my past deeds unforgivable. The only way for me to escape their castigation was through engineered deception.”
It must take a brave writer to tackle the return of three old monsters simultaneously in their first Doctor Who audio play, but that is precisely the challenge given to Scott Alan Woodard with The Juggernauts. Featuring Davros and his famous creations, the Daleks, it also mixes in another long forgotten Terry Nation creation in the bulky shape of the Mechanoids from 1965’s The Chase. These elements and the choice of regulars all create a heavy weight of expectation as Woodard’s play combines elements used with great success previously in other Big Finish productions. This is the first Sixth Doctor and Mel adventure since 2001’s phenomenally triumphant The One Doctor; it’s also the first (proper) Doctor Who Dalek story since Robert Shearman’s superlative Jubilee as well as the first to use Davros in a meaningful way since Lance Parkin’s masterful and intense character study of 2003. With all this in mind, can Woodard’s multiple-monster script hope to compete with these past glories?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. While the threat of excessive backwards looking indulgence in the history of the show is effectively sidestepped by focusing upon Davros and his plans for the Mechanoids, leaving the third part of this triumvirate of nostalgia lurking in the shadows, Woodard’s script suffers from a host of problems ranging including unoriginal ideas and significant plot inconsistencies. The script’s essential idea is pitched far too close to Parkin’s Davros, centring on the same premise of an apparently benevolent Davros seeking atonement through working for the greater good of humanity by the creation of his new service robots, the Juggernauts of the title who are, in fact, modified Mechanoids. As the third variation upon this idea (Revelation Of The Daleks did something similar first in portraying Davros as the Great Healer) the onus is on Woodard to provide something that distinguishes his play significantly from those that went before. While Saward’s script was typified by its terrific black humour and Parkin’s was perhaps the most complete character study the character of Davros is ever likely to have, Woodard chooses to tell a far more plot-orientated narrative, but because much it feels so familiar this is a play lacking in individuality.
The first episode of The Juggernauts nevertheless shows promise. Throwing the listener straight in, the drama quickly splits the Doctor and Mel apart after the space vessel they are visiting comes under fire. Mel escapes in a lifepod but as she drifts away, she witnesses the ship’s destruction unaware of whether the Doctor has been able to recover the TARDIS or not. Meanwhile the Doctor finds himself a prisoner of the Daleks, who claim not to have incarcerated him but to have recruited him to their cause. They want him to investigate Davros, who they suspect is up to his old tricks once more on the mining colony Lethe where he is plotting a new threat that could wipe out the Daleks forever
One of the inherent difficulties of using a character like Davros in a “past” Doctor story such as this is that the writer’s scope is considerably constrained by our existing knowledge of what will happen subsequently. Therefore, whatever happens in The Juggernauts, we know that Davros is en route to becoming the Emperor of the Imperial faction seen in Remembrance Of The Daleks. With this in mind, it’s strange that Woodard chooses to try to subvert expectations again by featuring a Davros who’s trying to atone for his actions when it cannot help but recall that there’s a superior play with similar themes out there. Whatever good intentions Davros has in creating a race of ultimate Dalek killers, we know he fails as it’s only a matter of time before his warped sense of ethics pushes him into committing an extreme act to ensure the success of his latest pet project. Nor does this story seamlessly setup the civil war scenario between the Daleks seen in Ben Aaronovitch’s serial although there is an attempt to differentiate between two Dalek factions that comes over very confused as the Doctor seems to refer to the main group of Daleks here as both “renegade” and “imperial.”
Although the premise is derivative, Woodard’s presentation of Davros himself is interesting as for once it is precisely what it appears. Rather than using the Mechanoids-become-Juggernauts as a means to augment his own powerbase, Davros is motivated by revenge upon his creations who have spurned his genius and offended his ego by outgrowing their maker. Helping humanity is simply the excuse and a secondary consideration for Davros. As with Revelation Of The Daleks and Davros, its his own lack of a reasonable moral code which pushes Davros’ scheme too far as he thinks nothing of arranging the death of one or twelve innocents if their demise will ultimately prove beneficial to mankind in the long run by improving the Juggernauts’ effectiveness. Thankfully, the Sixth Doctor is rightly outraged by Davros’ actions and doesn’t want to shake his (newly acquired mechanical) hand, whilst telling him to keep up the good work, this time. There are some good character moments for Davros such as the scene where he remarks that “You are nothing to me, just another pawn to push across the game board of my own design” as it is a perfect summation of his attitude towards life. He will use them in pursuit of his aims but once they have outlived their usefulness, they become expendable.
Woodard makes his intent clear to explore Mel’s character from the outset and he does this mainly through integrating her flawlessly into the community of scientists and miners present on the Lethe colony. But by setting her first scene there approximately three months after her parting of the ways with the Doctor, Woodard glosses over many opportunities to add some extra substance. Mel has often been portrayed as a one-note cipher, but separating her from the Doctor for this prolonged period could have been a chance to show her vulnerable side as she faces the prospect that her existence on Lethe, far away from anything she knows as home, might now be her future. Without exploring the transition more thoroughly, her unswerving belief the Doctor is on his way to rescue her seems a little too optimistic – even for Mel – and her friendships with her colleagues never seems quite genuine enough. Her acceptance of everything as stated is a typical Mel trait, but by not showing any sort of doubt in her mind about her inevitable rescue, the chance to add another facet to the character is lost. The rather sketchily-drawn supporting characters befriended by Mel could have done with being fleshed out themselves as it would have made their roles within the story – particularly Mel’s almost romance with colleague Geoff – much more interesting and engaging.
Langford’s performance is certainly acceptable enough but you can’t help but feel that more could have been done here. In some respects, Woodard does subtly show the development of Mel through how she deals with people, but is reluctant to take it that much further than her onscreen persona. Mel’s instincts are important to her as she prides herself on being a “good” person, so the situation she finds herself in when her oldest friend tells her a man she has come to admire and respect is actually a diabolical megalomaniac is an intriguing dilemma. The powerful confrontation between Mel and Davros in the final episode shows how plausible the evolution of Mel has been as rather than just decry him as “utterly awful”, she stands up to the crippled Kaled and faces him down in a way the Doctor often shies away from. It’s quite disturbing to hear this much more aggressive side to Mel, particularly as there isn’t that much foreshadowing for the severity of it, but as an instinctive reaction to lies, death and betrayal it works. The way Woodard scripts it is certainly a good example of how to actually show character growth as opposed to, say, the previous (full) Doctor Who release where one companion spends fifteen to twenty minutes telling the audience how much she’s changed.
The Juggernauts is couched in very traditional terms, and this contributes significantly to the failure of its concluding episode that also mortally undermines the lightweight but agreeable tale constructed during the first three quarters of the play. There seems to be an unwritten convention that the Daleks’ means of achieving their goals has to be something ridiculously convoluted. Paul Cornell memorably drew attention to this in his Professor Bernice Summerfield play Death and the Daleks and one of the reasons why Nicholas Briggs’ Dalek Empire series has been so successful is that he’s played against this view with an uncompromising portrayal of Daleks who use their might to eliminate all resistance. Woodard’s justification in keeping the Daleks in the background, the “potentially lethal toxin,” is credible – despite all those oh-so-conveniently placed observation devices – and it puts the Daleks into the fascinating position of having to turn to their best enemy to assist them. This is certainly a sound basis for the plot, but the revelations Woodard feels are needed in the final episode to show the Daleks have had more influence upon the story show these Daleks as perhaps the most hare-brained of them all.
There are two aims the Daleks wish to achieve, capturing Davros and thus ending his Mechanoid experiments being the primary focus. Their secondary aim is to capture the Doctor and extract the mechanics of time travel from his mind. Rather surprisingly, they achieve the first part of the latter in the first ten minutes of the play, but rather than getting on with probing the Time Lord’s secrets, they let the Doctor go free as they need him to go to Lethe and stop Davros.
Except, as it turns out, they don’t need him at all. Once the Doctor calls in the Daleks it transpires that – surprise, surprise – there is no airborne poisonous-to-Daleks toxin in the atmosphere on Lethe and Daleks can function there without impairment. They steam roll in, capture Davros and exterminate “with ease” several Mechanoids. Things get even sillier when they admit orchestrating the whole scheme by separating the Doctor from Mel and guiding her escape pod to the mining colony as this shatters the basis of the story. Why would the Daleks be content to observe Davros for over seventy days (this timeframe also begs the question of what they were doing to the Doctor when he was taken at the same moment Mel escaped) when there was nothing to stop them going in and getting him themselves? Why create an elaborate convolution of a plan involving the Doctor when he was superfluous to it in the first place? And if they have a time-scoop capable of plucking the Doctor and his TARDIS off an exploding starship, why not simply apply the same technology against Davros to bring him into their power?
Of course, the obvious answer is that there wouldn’t be a story otherwise but by hideously overcomplicating matters this twist renders the script absurd and spoils any hope of a satisfying conclusion. Woodard’s take on the Mechanoids is limited by their nature (their stunted vocabulary hardly making them the most interesting old monster for an audio play) but the unexpected combination of them and Davros together should have been enough to create something inventive. Big Finish have served the Daleks well (mostly) in the past, but The Juggernauts would have been much better off without them as the attempts to justify their presence cause the script to loose its logic, rendering the plot highly dubious.
The performance of the three leads is the most consistently enjoyable aspect here. The greater focus on Mel and Davros ensures a disappointingly limited role for the Doctor, but the script’s leanings towards the television’s characterisation of the Sixth Doctor proves an unexpected delight as it enables Colin Baker to play the role more flippantly and curmudgeonly than the softer version that has been developed in this medium. While the vocal arrogant swagger he used to possess has mellowed with age (just listen to Slipback, if you can brave it, to see the difference), it is fun to hear him sparring in this manner again. Terry Molloy offers good value too as Davros but it lacks the intensity of his Davros appearance as the script just doesn’t afford him the same depth. Some impressive touches allow Molloy to show a different side of his acting abilities, again, which gives the first episode a pleasant twist that the cliffhanger doesn’t quite make enough of.
The supporting characters are rather anonymous with only Paul Grunert’s arrogant investor Brauer adding any real spark although Peter Forbes is agreeable enough as Kryson, inheritor of the standard mantle of becoming Davros’ unwilling accomplice. Bindya Solanki is likeable but suffers from being in a thankless role while Klaus White is far too flat to convince as Mel’s nearly-beau Geoff. This deprives his scenes with Langford of any frission, which makes it difficult to care about their relationship at all. Solanki and White aren’t helped by their big escape subplot in the final episode involving neither the Doctor nor Mel, as it just seems like a sideshow distraction to the main drama.
The Juggernauts feels as if it needs a further redraft as while it has interesting, if unoriginal, ideas not enough thought has been put into exploiting them to their full potential. It was always going to be difficult getting the right balance for using three old elements. Woodard wisely spends most time developing the most interesting of them in Davros, but his take on the Mechanoids is far too generic and the Daleks are handled badly, as the final episode makes them seem incompetent and impotent rather than an implacably malign force of evil. Despite its many flaws, there is some fun to be had with this play but the plot is so fragile that if you begin to think about it the whole thing unravels in a spectacular fashion, leaving far too many inconsistencies to be ignored and not enough substantive drama to be appreciated.
Davros, the Daleks, the new sixth Doctor, Mel and the Mechanoids…I cannot think of a Big Finish story I have eagerly awaited this much in about two years. Only the name Gary Russell written in the sleeve niggled at me but despite the usual weak direction even he can rise to the occasion (The Wormery, Faith Stealer) in recent times.
It should be wonderful, the sort of Doctor Who story we are talking about for years but it isn’t. It certainly isn’t bad and it is a great deal better than anything Big Finish have released in ages, certainly the best release since The Harvest. It gets all of the core ingredients right, provides some smashing moments but for too long the story seems to take an easy path. Episode four is excellent, the best of the lot where the struggling plot threads suddenly reach a dramatic crescendo that the story definitely needed earlier.
Lets start with the good…it is marvellous to have Bonnie Langford back in a story that exploits her character to the full. She is a star performer and it is clear now she was treated dreadfully by the TV series, the material she is given by Big Finish is far superior to anything she got in season Twenty-Four. Here we see a very different Mel from before, one who makes friends easily, who has a fantastic technical brain, who has a very moral sense and who can survive just fine without the Doctor should it become necessary. Bonnie Langford shines here with none of the annoying squeaky cleanness that made Mel so unbearable to some; she has a relaxed banter with her new friends Sonali and Geoff and she provides the climax with a real emotional core when she confronts Davros for all the horror he has caused. This scene impressed me no end, to see a once on dimensional cipher suddenly come alive and get her hands dirty in a way even the Doctor couldn’t in his past lives was very impressive. I had shivers down my back as she gave the order for Davros to be killed…
One of the problems with re-inventing the sixth Doctor’s era and thus giving him a strong set of companions to work with (Evelyn, Mel) is that this gentler, kinder sixth Doctor gets shuffled to the background in favour of them. The Juggernauts is another in a long line of Big Finish stories (…and the Pirates, Arrangements of War) that put the companion first and the Doctor second but he is still a very reassuring presence, the Doctor’s presence a constant reminder that something very wrong is going on. The very notion of him working with the Daleks is laughable but they pull it off her with an intriguing idea of him infiltrating Davros’ new life on Lethe to see what the hell he is up to. Colin Baker is typically good although I wish the writers would spend more time putting him through the wringer than his companions, Baker is never better than when he is pushed to the very limit and whilst there are a few tense moments here I never got that feeling that he has much a stake.
For someone who was getting in a terrible tizzy about the overload of continuity in Big Finish during 2003 I was shocked at how much I was looking forward to a story that dipped into the archives this much. I was under the impression that it was the continuity that was sucking all the imagination out of the releases two years ago but I have to admit I was wrong. 2004 was an even worse year for Big Finish (I counted four out of twelve releases that I enjoyed) and it is was practically continuity-free.
The trouble with the overload of past elements in The Juggernauts is how writer Scott Alan Woodard tries to put a new spin on them all. I will always salute effort and it is present in spades but by trying to give everything an interesting new spin it means the story is overly talky for its first three episodes. The Doctor working with the Daleks? Gosh! Davros trying wipe his own creations out? Never! Human carcasses installed into the Mechanoids! Yuk! The story is extremely interesting when you look at the clever things Woodard tries to do but it does seem to plod for a while whilst all the appropriate explanations are given. You would think that a Dalek/Mechanoid story would be terribly dull because of all the boring gunfights that would entail but it is not until they start blasting at each other that the story really picks up. As I have already mentioned the fourth episode is very good, where the plot moves quickly with the action not giving the audience a second to think before the next dramatic showdown takes place.
Although lets not forget it is fourty years since we last heard of the Mechanoids and the bravery and vision to resurrect them now is all credit due to Big Finish. Their silky voices are perfect for audio and their new status as henchmen for Davros gives them a hook they never really had in The Chase. I don’t mind continuity being used when it has a good dramatic reason and can be utilised as well as the Mechanoids are here.
I wish Big Finish would phone up Terry Molloy and give him his own Davros series, as he is such a fun character to listen to. He is the ultimate reason I would recommend The Juggernauts, the silky voiced monster is back and he’s even sicker than ever. I love it when Davros tries to rationalise his plans to the Doctor, with numerous deaths on his conscience and utilising their remains for his own ends, as he comes across as more perverse and insane than ever. This is one of his better schemes for some time and is quite well thought out, preying on the greed of humans to advance his Mechanoid building schemes just as the Daleks have done in the past (Power of the Daleks). The fact that he could supplant one race of brutal killers for another is hilarious especially after all those rants about who the Daleks are the supreme rulers of the universe! How he expertly weaves Mel around his finger in the early episodes is unsettling, far more interesting than his usual screaming and his final decision at the stories climax allows us to see through the cracks in his insanity and see the man he once was. I would recommend The Juggernauts over Davros as a look at how he thinks because it is a scheme that takes in his scope of vision and reveals how deep his lunacy is at the same time.
Bombastic, memorable and catchy, Steve Foxon’s score is the best I’ve heard in a while. He certainly gives the dynamic last episode a real push and his ‘tingling of madness’ score for Davros gave his justifications a disturbing edge.
Overall I really rather enjoyed The Juggernauts, it builds to an impressive climax that will leave feeling that you have listened to another Dalek that actually felt different. It is a shame there couldn’t be more action earlier on because I could imagine a TV audience giving up on this story before it kicks into gear. A shame because you would miss some cool Davros action, some good development for Mel and a worthy re-invention of the Mechanoids.
Flawed but well worth listening to.