Tony’s feeling justified.
In 2013, it was 36 years since Tom Baker, Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin had first made Doctor Who magic together in the Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe goth-classic, The Talons of Weng Chiang.
Since then, Benjamin and Baxter had recreated the inestimable Jago and Litefoot several times, first in a Companion Chronicle, The Mahogany Murderers, and then, having stormed listeners’ lugholes with the lively lucidity of their legends (sorry – obligatory touch of the oopazooticks there), had gone on into their own spin-off series at Big Finish, been reunited with Leela, met a future incarnation of the Doctor, Colin Baker’s Sixth, and gone off for adventures with him, finally graduating to the position of Tardis travellers. 2013 would even see them temporally dispossessed and getting groovy in the 1960s.
But before that, they would make a little history by reuniting with ‘their’ Doctor, as Tom Baker, relatively newly lured to the wonders of Big Finish audio, went back to the streets of Victorian London, this time with the First Romana in tow, to take on the Justice of Jalxar.
If you’re looking for an elevator pitch for The Justice of Jalxar, it’s pretty straightforward: John Dorney gives us Doctor Who Does Steampunk Taxi Driver. A human who’s decided to play by his own rules and clean the scum off the streets, inspired by a desire to keep a young lady of questionable repute safe from harm, and eventually to build her a future much brighter than she has any right to otherwise expect. A man trying to prove there’s virtue in the world by saving one life and, perhaps as importantly, one ‘soul’ from the hive of scum and villainy that London’s criminal underworld can be.
Except this particular Travis Bickle has got himself a little outside help. Setting himself up with a gloriously Dark Knight-tastic alter ego, The Pugilist, he also has a neat line in Judge Dredd riffs, courtesy of a machine that’s fallen to Earth – the Justice of Jalxar of the title. This justice droid is more than prepared to be judge, jury and executioner to anyone who transgresses The Pugilist’s sense of right and wrong, and it’s about to tear the criminal underworld apart.
So far, so good – the story’s strong, the influences obvious but well reworked into a story of steampunkery and high stakes. But we all know that’s more or less window-dressing for the real draw of this story. Jago and Litefoot and the Fourth Doctor and the First Romana, all together, is what we’re actually buying The Justice of Jalxar for – the reuniting of the Talons team with a new energy provided by Mary Tamm’s subtly comic ice maiden. What’s not to love?
Very little, as it turns out. Jago and Litefoot (and more to the point, Benjamin and Baxter) had had enough practice by the time they came to The Justice of Jalxar to re-inhabit their roles and their world with a great deal of conviction, playing the Infernal Investigators decades on from Talons, more assured in their own abilities when it comes to tangling with troubles and terrors, whether from beyond the stars or beyond the grave. That gives Jago and Litefoot in The Justice of Jalxar an energy that’s fundamentally different from that they had in Talons – it’s more united, more confident, and while technically, Justice is a Fourth Doctor story, their experiences mean Jago and Litefoot are able here to be far more active companions to the Doctor than they actually were on TV.
Tom Baker for his part – and indeed in his part – sounds like he’s on much firmer footing in this story than he had been for instance in the first series of Fourth Doctor adventures. He too had settled into the rhythms of his character again, and his Doctor sounds as though he’s thoroughly enjoying himself, getting the band back together. Meanwhile, Mary Tamm is wonderful, bringing her superb gift for comedy to the role of Romana on London’s streets – if you thought she was arch with stupid criminals on TV, you need to hear her in The Justice of Jalxar; Dorney gives her the lines and bang! Tamm gives you moment after moment of pure joy, proving on audio what she had only very occasional chances to prove on TV, the range of the First Romana’s character.
We called the solid story window-dressing, and that of course is monstrously unfair – you might come to The Justice of Jalxar for the Talons reunion with added Tamm, but if the story was useless, and if the characters weren’t believable, The Justice of Jalxar could have been that most heinous thing – a reunion episode where the reunion is the point. Fortunately, Dorney uses his inspiration well here, and the actors all the way down the cast make criminal London feel grimy and believable as the Justice and its ‘master’ set about carving a swathe through the underworld, with the two Time Lords and the Infernal Investigators on their tail. There’s some late-stage spinning to get to a resolution-point that makes emotionally satisfying sense, but Dorney, director Ken Bentley and the cast all feel sure-footed throughout this story, perhaps aware of the fan-significance of the reunion of the Fourth Doctor, Jago and Litefoot, or perhaps more simply trying to tell the best story they can. Either way, they succeed – The Justice of Jalxar has a solidity of storytelling purpose, a surety of acting talent and a brisk dark pulse in its direction that spins you through what feels like a quick story, but one which covers an amazing amount of ground. Is it moderately too pleased with itself? Possibly at the end, with the Doctor congratulating his friends, even though people have died – but if it is, we allow it, because such congratulation is true to the mood we feel throughout the piece: Jago, Litefoot, and the man with the ridiculously long scarf are back together, ably assisted by the ice maiden who, it turns out, is quite capable of looking after herself, thank you very much, and 36 years melt easily away.
The Justice of Jalxar is a great reunion story. More than that though, Dorney and Bentley make sure it’s a great Fourth Doctor story, a great Jago and Litefoot story, a great Romana story, and a great science fiction story to boot, with a philosophical and sociological moral tucked away like a blade in a cutthroat’s boot. Give it a spin today.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk