The Talons of Weng-Chiang, but I’ve not had the funds to purchase your many boxed sets produced by Big Finish and although I do have your two Sixth Doctor stories downloaded, they’re sitting to one side until I’ve completed my Who rewatch like everything else that hasn’t been sent to as a review copy. Anyway, gentlemen, as I asked, how are you? You sound very well. Ebullient. Well set up as the classic Who equivalent of nuWho’s Vastra, Jenny and Strax. Now, wouldn’t that be a team up?
Anyway, so yes, having missed all of their other adventures, I’m visiting this reunion with the Fourth Doctor in much the same way as the Fourth Doctor, meeting some old friends who’ve been carrying on the good fight in mine and his absence. Set ten years after Talons they’re pressed into service to investigate the movements of The Pugalist, a kind of steampunk iteration of the Batman/Daredevil/Rorschach paradigm, scourge of the Victorian criminal underworld, dodging through shadows handing out justice via gadgets and toys aided by, as the cover and title rather give away, a giant robot with Dredd-like tendencies.
All of which suggests this is writer John Dorney simultaneously channelling Mark Gatiss, Robert Holmes and Alan Moore. Listening to The Justice of Jalxar in the wake of The Crimson Horror, it’s interesting to see a similar structure present itself, independent adventurers quite capable of holding their own, becoming secondary characters when the title character of the series asserts himself (both of his cameos in The Sarah Jane Adventures did much the same thing). But there’s nothing foul about this; judging by the greenroom larks in the post match interviews at the end of the cd, everyone enjoyed this excuse for a reunion, no egos bruised.
Dorney’s previously written for the spin-off and his experience with the characters really shows in annunciating their strength. Jago, the showman even away from the theatre, entirely enchanted by Romana at least until it becomes apparent that she’s an independent woman not easily swayed by his complements. Lightfoot, the scientist, principled, muddling through, slightly in awe but never cynical about the magic which reveals itself to him. Their double act, thanks to performances of Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter is a staggering piece of alchemy and it’s a crime that it never was repeated on screen. Thank goodness for Big Finish.
As the story elaborates, Dorney cleverly makes sure that it’s not simply about The Pugalist as an entity but his crusade and we’re called upon to consider if the ends ever justify the means. Small parallel is made between the Doctor with his gadgets and this vigilante as both face justice of one sort of another and Tom is at the top his game as he keeps the tone of his performance light whilst underscoring the horror of what’s occurring. Paul Magrs’s Starfall and Mark Morris’s Mr Invincible cover strikingly similar ground and this finds itself roughly between the former’s comic book tendencies and the latter’s gritty (well, gritty for Torchwood) realism.
Of all the stories so far, The Justice of Jalxar almost completely jettisons any attempt at being a recreation of the era with a Murray Gold style orchestral soundtrack and some rather grim horror, which under the Whitehouse gaze simply wouldn’t have been allowed back in the 70s. Good. Rather like the old BBC Books, although there’s a place for recreation, the writer should be allowed to take his story where it needs to go, maintaining the spirit if not the form. Plus if the plan was to advertise the thrilling adventures of Jago & Lightfoot to new listeners this more than succeeds and once I can afford to, it’s journey I’ll be looking forward to taking.
John Dorney's The Justice of Jalxar is out now. Review copy supplied.