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I've never been the biggest fan of the Judoon. Their design is brilliant and the episode they debuted in - Smith and Jones - still remains one of the best companion introduction stories of the new series. It never feels like the Judoon are used that brilliantly though. Whenever they appear they don't make much of an impression, yet the concept of space rhinos for hire is so great that they could easily be the focus of their own story (credit to the Sarah Jane Adventures episode Prisoner of the Judoon though for making great use of the species). Judoon In Chains proves that potential and is a much more satisfying Judoon story than their televised appearances.
Judoon In Chains follows the story of Judoon Captain Kybo (Nicholas Briggs), who fled the Judoon's attempts to terraform a planet currently occupied by the sentient life forms known as the Aetius (Sabina Franklyn). The sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) represents Kybo's defence in a victorian court and through Kybo's statement to judge and Judoon jury we hear of how he crashed to Victorian Era Earth and became a part of a travelling circus (with the Doctor as his translator), along the way forming a friendship with drawf Eliza Jenkins (Kiruna Stamell) and discovering a love for poetry.
Placing the Judoon in a victorian court is a neat concept and provides some much needed development for the race that hasn't been present in other stories featuring the Judoon. Whereas they may initially appear stiff and judgemental, the story highlights their importance in having to stick religiously by the laws of the universe. This is one of those courtroom dramas where you can see clearly understand the views of both parties: by abandoning his post Kybo was showing himself to be a liability but equally the right side of his brain was being influenced by the Aetius. The Judoon are loud, nasty and ruthless (especially in the way they attack Victorian England) but whilst their actions are unforgivable it is clear that they are doing it for the same reason we would: the fear of the unknown, the fear of something that is a Judoon but at the same time so very not 'Judoon'. Kybo's behaviour after encountering the Aetius is not Judoon-like.
This is further proved at the rapid rate Kybo's intelligence improves. For all their might the Judoon are usually small-minded...but here we have a Judoon who learns to read and write poetry within an extremely short period of time. This allows for a more sympathetic character than if Kybo had been a simple Judoon. You find yourself truly caring for the disgusting way Kybo is treated at the circus simply because Kybo demonstrates more human characteristics than his fellow Judoon. The story notes mention it as inspired by the iconic classic film The Elephant Man and it shows throughout not only in the way Eliza refers to Kybo as 'the rhinoceros man' but also in the amount of care treated by the writers towards the character. Kybo is quite possibly the best supporting character Big Finish have ever created and I hope at some point they bring him back.
It feels appropriate also for a courtroom drama to be the sixth Doctor story in this set. This incarnation of the Doctor has been seen in this setting before - for an entire season! - in 'Trial of a Time Lord' so to return to a type of establishment that is undoubtedly a big part of this incarnation's time in the TARDIS seems somewhat fitting. Colin Baker works extremely well in this setting, his speeches being suitably grandiose and excellently performed with an air of arrogance and self-righteous determination. Because of this, Judoon In Chains sees one of Colin Baker's greatest performances as the Doctor.
If anyone should be applauded for this release however it is Nicholas Briggs. To keep up that performance as the Judoon where he has to put on a throaty voice for the entirety of the audio drama is an amazing effort and something he must be applauded for. It must be extremely hard work on his throat and I really wouldn't want to be in his position attempting it. To manage to record a one hour audio drama with that voice required for 98% of the audio drama...that's dedication. The Queen's a Whovian: she should knight him for it. Arise, Sir Nicholas Briggs of Judooneese. You have done the Whovian fandom a great service in our entertainment needs.
Speaking of Judooneese, a worry of mine was that the Judoon were going to be speaking it for majority of the audio drama. Thankfully Big Finish have them use their communication device pretty early on and the ingenius concept of a Judoon with accelerated intelligence means that we get to hear him learn our language anyway. Judooneeese is fine in small doses but as a language can become annoying if heard for extended periods of time. This is also a problem with the Sycorax (which I will mention in the Harvest of the Sycorax review) that Big Finish have found a way round. It's nice hearing these alien languages rather than just English the entire time but equally we need our native language in order to properly relate to characters who are members of other alien races (something which is especially important in a story like this).
Overall, Judoon In Chains is a classic and should be listened to by Whovians and non-fans alike. It's a sweet and charming story that had it been made as a film would have undoubtedly won an Oscar for Best Picture. When people say the Big Finish stories are better than the televised episodes of Doctor Who then this is the audio drama they should use as an example of that bold claim. The dedication by Nicholas Briggs shows the amount of love and attention that has gone into this release and whoever came up with the decision to give the sixth Doctor a courtroom drama in the Classic Doctors, New Monsters set needs to be applauded for it. It's a very clever decision and helps this audio drama to make it one of my favourites by Big Finish out of the ones I have listened to. Judoon In Chains uses the Judoon better than the TV Series and its spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures; I am pretty certain that anybody who previously disliked the Judoon would soon be converted after listening to this hour-long story.