02 August 2016

Audio Review: Doctor Who - Judoon in Chains

The second story in Big Finish's new range of stories featuring twentieth-century incarnations of the Doctor and races created for the post-millennium TV series is Judoon in Chains. I much preferred this to Fallen Angels, which for all its temporal gimmicks was essentially a standard adventure serial, because here Simon Barnard and Paul Morris do something interesting and new with the Judoon.

Barnard and Morris were perhaps at a slight disadvantage as the outer-space law enforcers - in many ways the modern Ogrons - first appeared in one of the strongest Doctor Who stories of all time. But whereas in Smith and Jones, they were arguably window dressing against the introduction of Martha Jones, here the entire episode is centred around them - and one in particular, Captain Kybo.

Kybo is presented to us immediately as a deserter, and the following hour or so is spent examining how this came about. Due to something that happens to him before we meet him, Kybo is a really interesting character. Once we realise he has a greater intelligence than your average Judoon, he doesn't simply become a character who happens to speak like one. The great thing about this story is that it explores all the implications and consequences of Kybo's situation. Having landed on Earth, he is promptly recruited as part of a travelling freakshow. 

This whole story is presented with the framing narrative of a courtroom drama, something Colin Baker is familiar with - though thankfully this is a much more successful use of the format than The Trial of a Time Lord. As the whole plot is revealed, we learn still more about the Judoon - this episode really is all about them. It's a great use of the species, giving way to a gripping and entertaining hour or so. Both the Judoon and the Weeping Angels are pretty one-note (in the best possible sense; they're both great) but Judoon in Chains looks at what happens to the former when who they are is fundamentally changed, and as an examination of their moral conduct it's a revelatory instalment.

Colin Baker is as excellent as ever here, really getting to the core of his character. He sounds invigorated and energised by every scene, giving it his all. What a shame his Doctor has such an undermining exterior. His scenes with Kybo and Eliza are engaging, hilarious and touching in turn, with Nicholas Briggs and Kiruna Stamell both giving strong performances. The rest of the cast are all great too, with Tony Millan standing out as the judge presiding over Kybo's case. The story is given a lift by some great music and sound design too, resulting in one of the strongest single audio dramas Big Finish have released in a while. 

An unexpected gem, Judoon in Chains ably demonstrates that a series of this nature has legs. Much better than a story costing a fiver has any right to be.

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