1 November 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Marc Platt

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £10.99 (Download)

Release Date: October 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

 

“England, 1400. Winter. Blood in the snow. Henry IV has usurped the throne, and deposed King Richard II languishes in Pomfret Castle.

Meanwhile the Doctor and his companions preside over New Year revels at Sonning Palace.

But Sonning is a prison, treachery is in the air and murderous Archbishop Thomas Arundel will stop at nothing to crush the rebellion.

As the Doctor and Barbara take the road to Canterbury, Vicki finds a royal friend and Ian is dragged into a dark web of conspiracy at whose heart sits that teller of tales, Geoffrey Chaucer.”

 

***

Chaucer! You either like Chaucer or dislike him with a fiery intensity that can set whole libraries aflame (just ask any English Literature graduate, we’re all the same).  Me personally? I really like him and think that The Canterbury Tales is fab through and through, and it has forever surprised me that the show never took the plunge and had our heroes meet him.  Well, until now, that is.

Two stories into this new Early Adventures range now, and we’re flung into The Doctor’s Tale, an historical adventure with all the ingredients one would expect from such a tale: shady characters, political shenanigans, someone famous from Earth’s history who one of the companions happens to know a lot about.  This is a far more ‘authentically’ 1960s-esque piece of Doctor Who than the preceding month’s adventure (though I stress again how much I enjoyed that story), and I suspect much of your enjoyment of it will depend on how keen you are on historical adventures, and quite possibly how much you know about Chaucer, though seeing as every effort is made by Marc Platt’s script to fill you in on the historical/political and, indeed, literary backdrop to the era in which this story is set, you shouldn’t struggle too much.

Taking its lead from the Crusade school of thought, Platt separates the TARDIS crew rather swiftly, giving us two separate strands of story that come together nearer the end of the tale.  It’s a neat move which allows the script to breathe more, and gives both William Russell and Maureen O’Brien, on narrating duties, some good, meaty material to really sink their teeth into.

One thing that did really strike me about this story though is how missed Jacqueline Hill is as Barbara.  The absence of Barbara in an historical story was always going to be notable, and never more so here, where we hear her fill in parts of the plot, take a central role in proceedings, and tick that ‘educational and fun’ remit which the show strived for in its formative years, even when she does take a week’s holiday for the third episode (a nice attention to period detail by Platt).  I’m not surprised, therefore, that Big Finish have announced someone coming in on Barbara-narrating duties for future adventures, and am curious to see how that pans out.  As it stands right now though, much like when Katy Manning takes on the Brigadier or the Third Doctor, you can feel a spectre in the room; a piece of the jigsaw missing.  Indeed, perhaps the most fitting tribute to Hill and her portrayal of the character is the fact that her absence is so keenly felt, here more so than William Hartnell himself, and that for this range and its stories to properly work, the gap is going to need to be somehow plugged.  That’s quite some legacy to be leaving years on.

Back briefly to the play in hand though.  Platt’s script feels very evocative of the era in which it apes, and you can almost picture the creaky special effects as people travel from A to B.  It’s richly enhanced by a stellar performance by Alice Haig as Isabella, who infuses her role with a ferocity comparable to Jean Marsh’s in The Crusade and for me was the standout performance in the whole play (no easy task when you also have John Banks giving it his all with genuine conviction), and, two releases in, the range so far.

The Doctor’s Tale may lack the Boy’s Own air of 1950s adventure serial that Domain of the Voord had about it, but stick with it.  It’s a damn fine story, clearly painting the brutality of life under a dogmatic and fanatical regime (in this instance, a religious one), a life with quite the body count by the end of it.  You’ll cheer for Chaucer, hate Thomas Arundel, and feel every ounce of Isabella’s frustration and pain.  And you’ll miss Jacqueline Hill.

What is a Hartnell historical without Hill? Good, but not Wright.

 

RSS Feed
News Key
News Home
General
The New Series
The Classic Series
Spinoffs
Merchandise
Site
Blog Entries
Reviews Key
Reviews Home
Books / Magazines
DVD / Blu-ray
Audio
Toys / Other
TV Episodes
Search
Ray Bayly