THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
BIG FINISH AUDIOS
BIG FINISH 8TH DOCTOR
CD#4.04 (ISBN 1-8443
5-478-8) RELEASED IN
Strange things have
been happening at
the isolated Abbey
of Kells: disembodied
sudden death. The
monks whisper of
imps and demons.
Could the Lord of
the Dead himself
be stalking these
The Doctor and HIS
NEW COMPANION find
themselves in the
midst of a medieval
mystery. At its heart
is a book: perhaps
the most important
book in the world.
The Great Gospel of
Columkille. The Liber
Columbae. THE BOOK
The Book of Kells
The Book of Kells is a rampant pseudo-historical caper that harks right back
to the William Hartnell era, and in more ways than one. Borne of a real life historical mystery, Barnaby Edwards’ story educates as much as it entertains. The theft of the Liber Columbae in 1006 and its mystifying rediscovery over two months later, less its cover and a number of pages, educated at least one listener, and when suitably seasoned with Norse Kings played by Demon Headmasters, secret passages, ghostly voices and strange disappearances, it certainly makes for an enchanting enough frolic. More significantly though, this tortuous tale heralds the return of one of the Doctor’s oldest foes: the Meddling Monk, Mortimus, as once played by the late Carry On star Peter Butterworth.
What I like most about this escapade is its assiduous sense of fun. The script successfully replicates both the mischievous feel of The Time Meddler and the shameless slapstick of The Daleks’ Master Plan, yet at the same tells its own discrete story which is chock-full of intrigue and misdirection. Whilst the clues are all there for the listener to be able to work out the identity of the Doctor’s opponent long before the Doctor voices his suspicions at the end of Part 1, when the Monk finally drops his façade the shocker isn’t the character’s return, but who he’s been masquerading as… and with whom he’s in league.
A Goodie as a baddie. Whatever next?
Whether hiding behind his Abbot’s mask
or merrily meddling in his own inimitable
fashion, the Monk of this play is a real joy.
Graeme Garden makes for just as rousing
a Monk as he did a faux-Jeremy Clarkson
in Max Warp, the former Goodie capturing
the quintessence of Butterworth’s impish
rogue, yet presenting it with more dryness.
Listening to the performance, one is never
in any doubt that this isn’t an incarnation of the same Time Lord that the first Doctor pitted his wits against so very long ago, fifty years in the future.
Interestingly though, Edwards’ dialogue suggests that the Doctor and the Monk haven’t met since the Doctor marooned him back in The Daleks’ Master Plan, apparently shunning the events of Paul Cornell’s mid-1990s novel No Future. This is par for the course these days,
of course, and would be unremarkable were it not for the direction that Big Finish appear to be pushing the Monk in, which appears to have been torn out the pages of that paperback. The epilogue’s reveal (which was followed in short order by the announcement of the spoiler-laden title of the run’s penultimate episode on the Big Finish website) strongly suggests that the Monk has co-opted a scorned companion of the Doctor’s.
Speaking of companions, The Book of Kells is also notable in that it marks Niky Wardley’s first ever performance as Tamsin Drew. In a Four to Doomsday-style attempt to allow the actress to find her feet before having to play a skewed version of her character in her debut story, this play was recorded out of sequence - not that you’d tell. The camaraderie between Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor and Niky Wardley’s Tamsin flows beautifully from Nevermore, Edwards’ script building upon the burgeoning rivalry of the previous play to hilarious effect.
In one moment, Tamsin’s theatrically throwing herself into her performance as a Noun, and then in the next she’s walking into walls, her glasses lost; and ignoring the Doctor’s urgent instructions, her ears full of water. And that’s on top of her excruciating string of faux-pas that litter the play – “Stephen Hawkins” indeed. If it wasn’t for her last-minute stroke of brilliance, one would really start to question just how smart Tamsin really is.
The rest of the cast are every bit as extraordinary as the two leads and their veiled rival. Jim Carter puts in a marvellous performance as Brother Bernard, the alleged villain of the piece. The Downton Abbey star pitches his tone at just the right level to maintain suspicion without ever going overboard. Meanwhile Ryan Sampson, whose name will be familiar to listeners having played angsty wünderkind Luke Rattigan in The Sontaran Stratagem two-parter on television, excels himself once again. For a lad from Wales (in England, as it happens), he can’t half do a convincing Irish accent.
All told then, The Book of Kells is an amusing and exciting addition to this season of stories. It pays loving homage to the series’ past whilst hungrily looking to its immediate future, lifting the veil on the companion auditions of Situation Vacant and the mysteries of Nevermore much sooner than expected, and in doing so sewing the seeds of so many more…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 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.
The Doctor claims to have regenerated “several times” since he last met the Monk, which would appear to be something of an overstatement given that the seventh Doctor famously locked horns with him in the novel No Future, and the eighth Doctor once encountered him according to a line in Seasons of Fear! Indeed, the play’s dialogue gives the overall impression that these two itinerant Time Lords have not met since the events of The Daleks’ Master Plan… or at least, neither remembers doing. It’s a bit of a fudge, but the best explanation we can offer is that, following the events of No Future, either Artemis or his regeneration wreaked havoc with the Monk’s memories, and - of course - the eighth Doctor loses his memory more often than does his question mark pyjamas. Clearly some of them didn’t come back...
Thanks to Chris McKeon
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