Today we’ll be discussing the first of a quadrilogy of non-canonical adventures of the gaslight duo – or perhaps more to the point, those falling outside the official Big Finish Jago & Litefoot range.
First up (though technically last in both recording and continuity), is the Justice of Jalxar, a Fourth Doctor Adventure from this past March notable for reuniting the legendary Tom Baker (generally accepted as THE Doctor by generations of Whovians) with his erstwhile one-time companions at a remove of nearly 40 years (!)
While Big Finish did indeed tackle Magnus Greel and Peking Homonculus Mr. Sin (which said adventure will be reviewed at a future date herein), this story takes quite a different tack.
Rather than the Fourth Doctor Adventures first season steady companion of Leela (who was similarly present for the trio’s initial meeting way back in 1974, in the legendary Talons of Weng Chiang), Justice of Jalxar brings the late Mary Tamm’s Romana I to play, in yet another instance of intergalactic intrusion into the Holmesian Victorian setting where reside both West End coroner George Litefoot and thespian and quite East End theatre owner Henry Gordon Jago.
A dash of fashionably modern steampunk is on display herein, when a symbiotic mindreading justice from a distant galaxy crash lands in old London and finds itself repaired into working order making use of the materials at hand – a coal powered, steam driven alien robot assassin, anyone?
Taking on a local right wing vigilante type as a replacement for its initial adjudicator symbiote, the two dispense a particularly fascistic, NSA level of “justice”, with “the guilty” accusing themselves for the most absurd and minor of “offenses” by dint of their very consciences – and a quite final sentence, without appeal to reason it is.
Charred bodies turn up all over London, attributed to the mysterious “Pugilist” – everything from pimps and pickpockets to trespassers find themselves marked as fair game for their peculiar brand of “justice”. Even the Doctor himself, for sins of omission and failures to save those he took on as voluntary charges, finds himself under sentence…
At this point, it’s only fair to break for a spot of full disclosure. For both my fellow Whovian father and myself (who introduced the man to what turned out to be reruns of the Tom Baker series way back in 1983), the only true Romana was Mary Tamm.
While Lalla Ward’s take on the character was certainly playful and obviously quite fetching, her generally execrable dress sense (how many variations of cliche “little girl” clothes did she cycle through?) and more youthfully coy flirtations were simply no match for the stylishly sexy Tamm version, who tapped into 1930’s and 40’s Hollywood fashions and relationship dynamics.
Bar the lolikon fetishist, could anyone out there honestly dispute the blatant and obvious superiority of the sort of adult relationship and sly banter the likes of famed pairings such as Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire or Carole Lombard with either Clark Gable or William Powell had to offer in so many classic Hollywood efforts? Case closed.
Let’s put the final nail into the coffin of this putative argument, by paring this down to brass tacks. And herein is where the core difference lies: Ward’s Romana, for all her bluster, was clearly the pupil. Tamm’s was an equal if not better, and make no mistake about it, both she and the viewer knew it.
Thus it was with some anticipation that I learned of her short lived stint with Big Finish, reuniting her with Tom and company.
Unfortunately, not only was her time in Who audio per se cut short, but her interactions with the Doctor prove all too brief in the tale under discussion here, primarily due to both the busy nature of the story itself and the presence of three such attention grabbing and chatty leads hogging the better part of the effective running time.
While her contribution is never less than notable (and quite welcome for its very existence – Tamm’s participation in the season turned out to be very much a last minute coup, at it happened), one is forced to bemoan that there simply weren’t more of her on display.
All that aside, what we have here is a fairly lightweight if enjoyably fast moving vignette of a tale, featuring four quite dominant personalities of a preeminently voluble nature. Just reading off the cast list is enough to decide whether you want to dive in or not…and if no, I must confess to being unsure as to why you’re spending your time reading the present missive in the first place.
Every one of Big Finish’s Doctor Who releases play at core on a mixture of nostalgia and progression – a window to the past that plays out as an ongoing road through the present and towards an imagined future. The best of them tend to bring back a number of players from prior televised adventures of yore to recreate the same interpersonal dynamic that made them so memorable to us in the first place. And in that respect, Justice of Jalxar is an example of a Big Finish audioplay of the first order.
Leave the deep thought and heady exploration of underlying metaphor behind for an hour or thereabouts, and enjoy a cracking bit of fluff circa 1974…by way of 1978…by way of 2013.