THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE PRIOR TO THE
NOVEL "THE CRYSTAL
A Knight’s Tale &
'KAMELION TALES' DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2738)
RELEASED IN JUNE 2010.
ENGLAND, MARCH 1215.
KING JOHN IS VISITING
THE CASTLE OF RANULPH
FITZWILLIAM. WHEN THE
ARRIVAL OF THE TARDIS
DISTURBS A MEDIEVAL
JOUST, THE DOCTOR AND
HIS COMPANIONS ARE
DEMONS' BY THE KING,
WHO SEEMS STRANGELY
INTERESTED IN THEIR
IT SOON BECOMES CLEAR
THAT NEITHER KING JOHN
OR HIS CHAMPION, SIR
GILES ESTRAM, ARE WHO
THEY PRETEND TO BE.
ONE OF THE DOCTOR'S
OLDEST AND DEADLIEST
ENEMIES THREATENS THE
FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY
ON EARTH, AND HE MUST
The King's Demons
15th march 1983 - 16th march 1983
Doctor Who’s twentieth season drew to a close in March 1983 with the broadcast of an outwardly inoffensive little pseudo-historical adventure from the pen of Terence Dudley, The King’s Demons. The run had originally been designed to conclude with Eric Saward’s fiery four-parter The Return, which would have seen the fifth Doctor finally lock horns with the Daleks, but sadly due to industrial action and remounts, the season had to be curtailed and the series’ resurrection of the Daleks postponed.
Nevertheless, with some sections of the story being shot on location at Bodiam Castle, this production has the lush feel of a season finale, if not the tone. The oft-luxuriant two-part tale
is fast and funny, fusing “Monty Python French” with wobbly sets and even wobblier robots. If one tugs even half-heartedly at one of its threads, Dudley’s whole damned tapestry is quick to unravel, but if squinted at from a hazy distance, The King’s Demons is rather a pleasant way to while away an hour.
In keeping with the anniversary’s season’s tradition of employing old foes, this story sees
the return of Anthony Ainley’s Master, who spends the preponderance of the first episode (Doctor Who’s six-hundreth!) behind the woefully transparent disguise of Sir Giles Estram, King John’s anagrammatic champion. The King’s Demons is actually rather a charming story for the Master though - his plan to sabotage the signing of Magna Carta is almost comically discreet when compared to the usual scope of his schemes, yet even with such
an uncharacteristically subtle stratagem the poor old rogue still finds himself thwarted and humiliated by the Doctor at every turn. Better still, whether they’re crossing swords mentally or physically, here Anthony Ainley and Peter Davison have a mutual spring in their step; an exhilarating chemistry that manages to be just entertaining enough to be able to divert the viewer’s gaze away from the flagrant historical inaccuracies.
Indeed, my only real beef with this story is Dudley’s patent lack
of research… or libertine dramatic license. Back in the 1960s,
Doctor Who was encouraged to enlighten and inform, but The
King’s Demons does the exact opposite, virtually spilling over
with historical half-truths and misinformation. I can forgive an Iron Maiden popping up a few centuries too early (particularly
when it’s the Master’s TARDIS disguised, not an anachronism
as such) but having the Doctor spout falsehoods isn’t cricket. Here, Dudley has the Doctor wax eloquent about how King
John wanted Magna Carta as much as nobles did, and just
how easily he could have thwarted the barons had he wished
to. ‘Tis rhubarb.
Thankfully the DVD release seeks to redress the balance, its flagship twenty-minute feature revealing the truth about Magna Carta. Presented as a History Channel-style documentary, Magna Carta sees a number of academics discussing the events leading up to the signing of Magna Carta (which John did virtually at swordpoint), John’s swift appeal to Rome to have it set aside, the gradual devolution of the Crown’s power, all the way up to the parliamentary democracy that we enjoy today. At times it gets a little topical and a little heavy, many of the contributors getting heated as they discuss the war on terror and its controversial revocation of “Magna Carta rights”, but for the most part it’s a blithe and insightful documentary, made all the more appealing thanks to the clips from The Crusade and The King’s Demons that have been lovingly woven into it.
Of course, The King’s Demons’ talking
point is the android whose image proudly
adorns both the DVD’s front cover and
the Kamelion Tales box set of which it
forms a part. Accordingly, the release’s
only other substantive special feature
charts poor old John Nathan Turner’s
purchase of Richard Gregory and Mike
Power’s prototype robot, Kamelion; the
inevitable problems that ensued when the production team realised that it didn’t work as promised; and the further problems that followed when Power was killed and nobody else could figure out how to get the accursed thing to work even as “well” as it did in The King’s Demons!
“Working with K-9 was like working with Lawrence Olivier…”
One really has to admire Nathan Turner’s ambition though - had Doctor Who been the first television programme in the world to boast a robotic star, it would have been a sensation. The fact that we’re nearly thirty years on from this serial’s production and androids still aren’t setting the television world alight is perhaps more of a testament to the erstwhile producer’s naïveté than it is his misfortune, but even so it’s a great shame that Kamelion didn’t work as envisaged. Big Finish’s in-house audio companion, C’rizz, is proof positive that a character who’s open to outside influences creates a multitude of riveting storytelling possibilities, but sadly they’re possibilities that are difficult to explore when you can neither stand up nor even deliver your lines in synch with the rest of the cast. In The King’s Demons, Gerald Flood is at least able to invest Kamelion with a little personality (even if it’s that of an excommunicated and absurdly arch King) but it does defeat the point, really, having your expensive android prop sat on the shelf for three-quarters of the story’s running time, only to appear at the end and unconvincingly strum a loot.
Yet, whilst this two-parter is one that doesn’t stand up to close inspection, it has just enough vim and vigour to entertain forgiving viewers. Any story that sees the TARDIS dramatically materialise in the middle of a joust can’t be considered a total write-off, and the puffed up performances of the cast are sure to raise a smile or two, even if it’s only an ironic one. And, speaking of irony, it’s hard not to appreciate that despite the public’s perception of 1980s Doctor Who being a never-ending parade of wobbly-walled spaceships, the series’ sets were always solid - unconvincing, but solid! - except for in this one story, which takes place almost entirely within the jabolite walls of a medieval castle!
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007, 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are copyrighted to the BBC and are used solely for promotional purposes.
‘Doctor Who’ is copyright © by the BBC. No copyright infringement is intended.