THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
BIG FINISH AUDIO
DRAMA "THE COUNCIL OF
NICAEA," AND THE
"THE GATHERING" AND
THE FIFTH DOCTOR, PERI
AND ERIMEM SEGMENT
OF "THE VEILED
THE TOWER OF SECRETS,
THE BLOODY TOWER &
THE MYSTERY IN THE
BIG FINISH CD#81
RELEASED IN APRIL
the Doctor becomes
mixed up with
Richard the third
as he tries to unravel
problem of who
exactly killed the
Princes in the Tower.
MEANWHILE, Peri and
Erimem encounter a
from the Doctor's
own past. Someone
who shouldn't really
be there at all...
So who did murder
the Princes in the
Tower? Perhaps it's
best not to ask a
question like that.
You might not like the
answer. . .
Now here is a play to silence those who say that Big Finish have gone off the boil. “The Kingmaker” is absolutely amazing from start to finish; from the minute I pressed ‘play’, for over two hours I was completely engrossed in this enchanting and hilarious story. The genius that penned “Omega” has really excelled himself this time!
Oddly though, when Big Finish published the blurb and the original front cover on their website there was not really anything there that made me think “here comes a classic...”, though in fairness Jon Culshaw’s name did not go unnoticed. When the CD arrived with a slightly different front cover my interest was piqued – a Doctor Who Discovers Historical Mysteries book cover bearing the image of the fourth Doctor had been added. The fourth Doctor? Jon Culshaw? Did they not say that they would never do that…?
To begin with, Nev Fountain has written for all the regulars particularly well here. I have become a huge fan of this particular TARDIS crew; Peri and Erimem have become such good friends, and their playful relationship with the Time Lord is a joy to listen to. All three of them have their fair share of the plot here (and as far as plots go, it is a real corker), and what is more the plot is delivered in style – the dialogue simply sparkles.
Furthermore, as with “Omega”, Fountain has written a great science-fiction story that would stand up without the underlying comedy, but with both combined “The Kingmaker” is impossible to turn off. For example, within the same play Erimem has a lovely running gag where she breaks the arm of anyone that touches her bottom, yet she also has a scene where she seriously contemplates killing not only herself but Peri too – her best friend! Oh, and just for us perverts, there are some lovely Peri tit jokes. Brilliant.
The Doctor (or should I call him ‘Doctor Who’?) spends most of the play on his own, separated from his companions by a couple of years thanks to a “hiccupping” TARDIS. His time is primarily split between scenes with ‘One-armed Clarrie’ and Richard III himself, and like his companions his story is a deadly serious one with hilarious undertones. Davison’s performance is very dry and it works superbly; in the past he stated that he would not really be interested in doing an out-and-out comedy the like of “The One Doctor” or “Bang-Bang-
A-Boom!”, but with “The Kingmaker” he is able to have a little fun without the story descending into farce.
Moreover, I found it amusing in itself that Doctor, at some point after “Terror of the Zygons”, became something of a celebrity, and the fact that he turned down “the celebrity cookbook” and “the chat show circuit” to write childrens’ books is sheer genius and serves as a wonderful introduction to the story: a publishing robot from the end of time materialises in the TARDIS, threatening the Doctor that he needs to finish his book Doctor Who Discovers Historical Mysteries, or else! For those of you incredulous about the ‘Doctor Who’ part, the book’s original title was to have been “The Doctor, Who Discovers Historical Mysteries”, but it seems that Target’s design department got a bit confused, whipped up the classic logo (lovely bit of nostalgia, by the way) and bob’s your Uncle: Doctor Who. I wonder if that is where WOTAN got it from…?
To finish his book, the Doctor decides to go back in time and find out what actually happened with Richard III and the two princes in the tower. Did he actually kill them…? Well, “The Kingmaker” certainly contains some “Omega”-like twists that I do not want to give away, but suffice it to say that Fountain’s take on the infamous historical mystery certainly contradicts Will Shakespeare’s!
“You see past, present and future and make sure we all act according to the rules.
You’re worse than a god. At least a god allows his subjects to repent.”
This brings to me to Stephen Beckett’s Richard III. What a character! Beckett’s Richard III is a fascinating man; more so than Shakespeare’s take on the character or even Blackadder’s! He is one of these brilliant baddies that are completely and utterly deplorable, but they are still cool. A lot of this, I think, is down to Beckett basically playing the crippled King of England like a twisted version of the ninth Doctor – I had to check the booklet to make sure that it was not Eccleston I was listening to, and that this was not some massive surprise story angle Big Finish had cooked up! There is even a red herring in there pretty early on, where it is revealed that the ninth Doctor drops off a note for Peri and Erimem. I do not think I am spoiling it for anybody though by saying that at the end of the day, Richard III is Richard III, not the ninth Doctor. He does say “Fantastic!” a lot though, mind, and has all the same vocal mannerisms as Eccleston’s incarnation of the Time Lord.
As the play progresses, it becomes clear that Richard III is far from the madman that history paints him as – in fact, he is not an unreasonable man and he actually wins several moral arguments with the Doctor. I know it is not the newest idea in the world, but it always works incredibly well. The Doctor may be a freedom fighter and a hero, but, as Caroline Symcox touched upon in the fifth Doctor’s most recent adventure, he will let people suffer if he thinks it is for the greater good – if he believes that time wants them to suffer. As Fountain puts it
so concisely in his author’s notes, “Bad things happen in history. Right almost never triumphs and evil often wins. To keep the universe ticking over, the Doctor has to let bad things happen to good people.”
The rest of the supporting characters are all just as entertaining; Arthur Smith deserves far more praise than I have room to write for his portrayal of Clarrie, as does Marcus Hutton for ‘Bucko’ and Chris Neill for the hilariously camp torturer, Sir James “Exciting isn’t the word” Tyrell. Of course, Jon Culshaw is also in there, credited for the comparatively small role of Earl Rivers, but undoubtedly his most important contribution to the play is his uncredited impersonation of the fourth Doctor. He plays Tom Baker’s Doctor in an old audio recording that the fifth Doctor is using for his research, and to be fair I could not tell that it was not Tom Baker himself. I have always been impressed with his uncanny impersonation when I have seen it on television in Dead Ringers (and The Story of Doctor Who), but like a lot of
people I have always been against using soundalikes to play the early Doctors in these audio plays; it just does not seem right. Used sparingly as it is in this play though, it works tremendously well and I cannot say that I have any complaints. On audio, the impression is even better than on television because visually, no matter how good the costume is, we
know it is not Baker. Take away the image though, and, well… I wonder if Big Finish are testing the water here, hmm? I am still uncertain how I would feel about a full length Jon Culshaw play, though I must say after “The Kingmaker” I am not entirely opposed to the idea.
Finally, I do not want to say too much about the real villain of the piece in case I spoil the story, but I will say that the black-clad pointy-bearded Mr Seyton (Michael Fenton Stevens) has popped up in Doctor Who before, and I hear he may be turning up in the television series next year. Make of that what you will...
In summary then, you simply cannot go wrong with “The Kingmaker.” It has all the cleverness and charm of the new series, with a bucket load of nostalgia and even a little bit of fanwank thrown in for us continuity buffs. It is without a doubt up there in my top five Doctor Who audios, and I only hope that Fountain will pick up his pen once again for Big Finish in the not too distant future.
One of the very, very best.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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