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This week’s Retro Review takes us back to the early days of the Doctor Who Monthly Range, with The Juggernauts: a four-part adventure featuring the Sixth Doctor, Mel… and the Daleks! What better release to talk about with yesterday’s announcement of Doctor Who: The Collection – Season 24 boxset featuring none other than Mel herself!
Right from the off, what struck me about Scott Alan Woodard‘s script is how modern it feels. This story is very much like a post-2005 Doctor Who episode, giving both the Doctor (Colin Baker) and his companion, in this case Bonnie Langford‘s Mel, their own storylines and character moments. For example, Mel is separated from the Doctor for most of the first half of this story, employed as a computer programmer on the planet Lethe.
This leads to some really strong development for her. Not only do we get to see her computing skills in practice, but she also gets a love story with the character of Geoff, played with a strong performance from Klaus White. For a companion who was constantly underserved on television, this is one of Mel’s strongest stories, and is some of the best evidence of Big Finish’s incredible capacity to transform even the weakest characters into much-loved parts of the Doctor Who universe.
While Mel is otherwise occupied, the Doctor finds himself captured by the Daleks, who have a mission for him. Their creator, Davros (Terry Molloy), is performing terrible experiments on Lethe involving the Mechonoids, and they want him to stop them! Heading to Lethe, the Doctor sets about confronting Davros but is shocked to find that Mel, believing him to be the kindly Professor Vaso, is helping him! This means that Molloy gets to give two different (but equally as effective) performances as Davros and his human disguise, while also creating some interesting conflict between the Doctor and Mel.
This story is, overall, a very creative use of both the Daleks and Davros. While theDavros-as-kind-scientist storyline seems somewhat familiar, given that the same thing happened in last year’s Palindrome, it’s done just as well here, and obviously didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story as this came out first. Meanwhile, the Daleks (brought to life with suitably 80s era voices by Nicholas Briggs) are kept largely to the periphery here, only coming in full-force in the final episode, meaning that there’s less opportunity for them to stray into more familiar (and potentially more dull) territory.
Overall, The Juggernauts is a very strong story, with writer Scott Alan Woodard giving some much-needed focus to the character of Mel, while at the same time making sure not to sideline the plot or the other characters. It also brings back the iconic Mechonoids for their first (and, to date only) audio appearance. They’re set to return in this month’s Queen of the Mechonoids, and Dalek Universe later in this year too, in which I hope they’re used just as creatively here. Complete with strong sound design and music from Steve Foxon, this is a great story that misses out on a perfect score only due to a slightly weaker second half. Highly recommended.
Join us next week for another Retro Review, where we’ll be reviewing Doctor Who: The Last Post!