We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! I don’t usually post on Wednesdays, but I’ve decided to take on something different for a few weeks. As I have a series of Big Finish audio reviews fairly well established on Mondays and Thursdays, I didn’t want to interrupt that project; so, for the next few Wednesdays, I’ll be taking advantage of some temporarily-available audios and looking at a series of audios published by BBC, rather than Big Finish Productions. It’s a different take on the audio drama format, but just as entertaining; BBC has published far less Doctor Who audio, but their quality doesn’t suffer for that. We join the Fourth Doctor and a BBC Audio-exclusive companion, Mrs. Wibbsey, in Demon Crest: The Relics of Time, written by Paul Magrs. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!
Before I get started, I should explain that I’m arriving at this series in the middle. Three story arcs have been released for the Fourth Doctor in this series; the first, Hornet’s Nest, I have not yet had opportunity to hear. Demon Quest is the second of the three arcs, consisting of five two-hour stories, each divided into two parts. Should I have the opportunity, I will back up and pick up Hornet’s Nest as well, and possibly continue the final series, Serpent Crest.
The Fourth Doctor returns to Nest Cottage, his “vacation home” of sorts in West Surrey, just before Christmas 2010. He spends some time buttering up his housekeeper, Mrs. Wibbsey, who is from Cromer, 1932 (having been rescued and brought here by the Doctor in Hornet’s Nest). He is here to relax, and to complete some repairs on the TARDIS; as a result, he disassembles much of the console in the parlor. He gets into trouble, however, when she sells some things from the cottage at a church charity sale—and suspects that she may have put some TARDIS components in the sale. In fact, a stranger has bought some components—specifically, the spatial geometer—but he left a bag of odds and ends in exchange.
The bag contains, among other things, a bit of mosaic tile, and a photo of the Roman-era mosaic of which it is a part. More shocking is the mosaic itself: it is the image of the Fourth Doctor! Also, a cartoon is there, which also includes the image of the Doctor. Mrs. Wibbsey is upset at herself; but the Doctor is intrigued by the objects.
He patches the TARDIS back together as best he can, and has its navigational system analyze the tile. The tile was unearthed in West Sussex in 1964, along with the rest of the mosaic, an apparent anachronism for the local Celts of its time period. He finds a reference to a local goddess named, oddly, “Wibbsentia”…
Without the missing components, the TARDIS cannot travel in space, only in time. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, he takes Mrs. Wibbsey with him—bullies her, really—back in time. He admits that he has not been to that time period “in this body”, confusing her, but she goes along; he tells her that the reference to “Wibbsentia” implicates her in the mystery as much as him.
In the Roman era, they make their way overland to the nearest settlement, and are intercepted by a group of Celts. The Celts take them in and lodge and feed them overnight; the Elders meet to discuss the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey. The Elders hope that the Doctor is a Druid, of the “lost tribe”. He at first denies it, but—as that hope is the only thing keeping them alive—he quickly introduces Mrs. Wibbsey as a prophetess and priestess skilled in reading goat entrails. They dub her “Wibbsentia”, and promptly sacrifice a goat for her to use in divination. She plays the part well, describing a rival group, a tribe from the hills that is raiding the Celts, and getting help from a powerful wizard with a monstrous pet…it begins to become clear that she’s not faking, but actually getting a message from somewhere. And the message prophesies destruction for the Celts.
The Doctor confers with her about her message, but is interrupted by the Elders, who offer them freedom in exchange for helping them; they want the Doctor and “Wibbsentia” to go to the other tribe…and kill the wizard. On threat of death, and with no options, they accept the mission.
The next morning, the tribe sends them off, unaccompanied; Mrs. Wibbsey comments on this, but the Doctor thinks they fear the other side too much to go along. They come upon a number of dead bodies, dessicated, but with clothes that indicate the deaths were recent. The bodies seem to come from the rival tribe. The Doctor reflects that nothing in this time can kill in this way.
They reach the other settlement, which is a little better off than the Celtic village. The Doctor marches straight in and asks to see the wizard; the woman who first meets him raises an alarm and draws a crowd. With some comical misunderstanding, they meet the alleged Wizard, who admits to being a foreigner himself. He’s a nervous and stuttering man, but he invites him to his dwelling…and also, casually, he has an elephant, affectionately named “Nelly”.
The man appears to be from Rome; his hut is decorated in Roman items, and he has trained a local Briton, Metafix, in mosaic-work. (Metafix is making a mosaic of the wizard.) Mrs. Wibbsey warns the man about the Celtic tribe, which will be attacking later today. However, he seems partly unconcerned. The Doctor outs him, however; putting together several clues, he realizes that the man is actually the Emperor Claudius, who should NOT be here in any circumstance! History makes no mention of him being here. It turns out that he bolted, abandoning his duties when the opportunity presented itself, during a journey; he just wanted to get away, and he’s done it. The Doctor assures him that he is, in fact, defying history, but can’t stay there; at a minimum, the Celts are about to attack, and will overwhelm Claudius’s tribe. The Doctor urges him to go home (making a great pun in the process: “Now, don’t get all…imperious!”) as his presence will change history drastically. He is stubborn, and won’t go; the Doctor tries to prove he is from the future so as to convince him. Most of the Doctor’s odds and ends don’t impress him, but the Doctor plays an answering machine message of Mike Yates talking about travel plans. Claudius lets slip a reference to “it all [being] on microchip someday”, and then shrugs them off.
The attack begins, and the Celts besiege the town. Mrs. Wibbsey finds a piece of the spatial geometer in the hut; Claudius sneaks off and gives them the slip. The Doctor can’t deal with him now; he goes to confront the two tribes and end the hostilities. The Celts want to kill him; but he uses the recorded message from Mike Yates (presenting it as a message from the gods) to scare them into submission. This time, it works, and they cease fighting, and eventually collaborate to prepare for their midwinter festival.
Mrs. Wibbsey has cornered Claudius in his antechamber. It’s an elaborate room, with additional mosaics; but there’s a strange light inside, and something isn’t right. Mrs. Wibbsey suspects it might be a TARDIS, but Claudius says it isn’t; the Doctor gets them out just before the room—and Claudius—disappears. His attempt at kidnapping them failed.
The Doctor drops a suggestion that Metafix may want to change the subject of his mosaic; but Metafix tears up the mosaic. Apparently the picture of the mosaic with the Doctor was a fake…but why? And who did it come from? They have a brief confrontation with the tribesmen over the elephant—the tribesmen want to eat it—and, after rescuing it, they take it with them. Along the way back to the TARDIS, they review the other items from the bag…and deduce a connection with Paris in the 1800s. That will be their next stop—the Moulin Rouge!
I really enjoyed this story, even though, truth be told, it’s not much of a story. By the Doctor’s standards, next to nothing happens; really it serves better as a prologue to the rest of the arc. Still, it’s very entertaining, and reminds me just why I’ve always liked the Fourth Doctor. He’s as cryptic and witty as ever, if a little slow on the uptake sometimes; but then, he WAS on vacation, so we can cut him some slack. He gets a few great lines; there’s the “Imperious” line I mentioned above, and in regard to his image in the mosaic, “I don’t usually take a good mosaic…” and later, this exchange in regard to Nelly the elephant: “She’s been a good companion to me.” ~The Wizard. “Oh, perhaps I’ll try it myself one day!” ~The Doctor. (Admittedly, an elephant would be a better companion than the talking cabbage that Tom Baker is reputed to have wanted at one point; but maybe a smaller animal would be better—a penguin, maybe?) He’s a bit confounded by Mrs. Wibbsey, who seems to get under his skin in a way that most of his other companions never manage (Romana, perhaps, or maybe K9). Their dynamic is very reminiscent of the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Mrs. Wibbsey herself is a somewhat sad character. She’s out of her time and out of her depth in more than one sense; I don’t know much about her background, other than that she originates in Cromer in 1932, as I mentioned before, and that the Doctor assures her there is nothing there for her now. She does her best to keep up with the Doctor, but it’s a struggle for her; she would really be happier just going home, at least at this point. Still, it’s hard not to like her; she has a very grandmotherly, “church lady” demeanor, and her actress, Susan Jameson, nails the role.
There aren’t any real surprises to be had here. While Claudius’s real identity isn’t revealed here—presumably we’ll see him again—it’s obvious from his first appearance that he’s more than meets the eye. The Doctor doesn’t really pick up on the “microchip” reference, but it’s an obvious bread crumb for the audience. In that regard, it’s not much of a mystery; but it sets up some intriguing clues for the next entries in the series.
For once, there are next to no references to other stories (or at least, outside this series—there are some minor bits of review of Hornet’s Nest). The Doctor makes no references to other companions or past adventures outside this series, and even says precious little about the TARDIS; even the spatial geometer which figures so prominently here, doesn’t appear in any other stories of which I am aware. He does offer Mrs. Wibbsey some jelly babies, and uses the sonic screwdriver at one point. Mike Yates of past UNIT fame does make a brief appearance in the form of an answering-machine message, and will appear in future entries; courtesy of actor Richard Franklin’s appearance, he does figure in Hornet’s Nest as well. As this is a Fourth Doctor story, I would assume that from Yate’s point of view, this is after his betrayal and subsequent restoration as discussed in Planet of the Spiders and other places. The Doctor has never before been to Roman-era Britain, at least not onscreen; however, while traveling with Leela, he will visit the Iceni tribe in the later Roman period (Wrath of the Iceni; the Doctor Who Reference Guide places this story between The Invasion of Time, Leela’s last serial, and The Ribos Operation, Romana’s first; if true, this would mean he has already visited the Roman period in Wrath of the Iceni), and will return to the Roman period as the Eleventh Doctor with Amy and River (The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang). The Celts speak of Julius Caesar as still being alive, and the Romans have not invaded in force yet.
Overall: It’s alright. It’s certainly not the most exciting story, but it’s entertaining enough. One gets the impression that Tom Baker, at least, had fun recording this one; and the Fourth Doctor is as good as ever. If the subsequent stories step things up a bit, this one will be worth the time.
Next time: Tomorrow we’ll be back to Big Finish with Night of the Whisper, and Monday it’s the Main Range with Minuet in Hell. On Wednesday, we’ll be listening to Demon Quest, part two: The Demon of Paris! See you there.
All BBC audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased on CD at Book Depository; this story’s purchase page is linked below. If anyone has a link to a purchase page directly from BBC, please let me know in the comments! I would be happy to support the producing company, but have been unable to locate this or related audios for sale on the BBC website.