Audio Drama Review: The Wrath of the Iceni (take two!)

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Wrath of the Iceni, the third entry in series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. Written by John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley, this story is a notable and rare Fourth Doctor historical. I’ve reviewed it before, but it was only the second audio review I posted, and I hadn’t really worked out a format yet; nor did I have much background as to the audios from which to work. We’ve come a long way since then, and so I’ve decided to post a new review here, in the midst of series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures; but you can still read the original review here if you are interested. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!

Wrath of the Iceni 1

The TARDIS materializes in a vacant field. The Doctor and Leela emerge and head toward a nearby wood.  The Doctor declines Leela’s suggestion that they return to the TARDIS, and explains that he intends this journey to be a part of her education; he wishes to track her ancestry via the local natives and gain information for her.  Nearby in the wood, two Romans are tracked down by the local warrior queen, Boudica of the Iceni tribe.  The Romans discover her, and kill her horse before threatening her.  They are interrupted by the Doctor and Leela, and Leela takes arms to assist Boudica; Boudica takes advantage of the situation to kill the two Romans.  She introduces herself; when the Doctor learns her identity, he changes his mind and tries to persuade Leela to return to the TARDIS.

Leela refuses, and Boudica supports her in it. To thank Leela for her loyalty, Boudica takes them back to her tribe’s encampment and offers them shelter and food.  When they at last obtain some privacy, Leela asks the Doctor why he was suddenly anxious to leave.  He explains the era in which they have landed: seventeen years ago, the Romans invaded the land that will one day be England, and bought off several local tribal rulers in order to ensure a peaceful conquest.  Boudica’s husband, Prasutagus, was one of those rulers; in his will he divided his domain between the Roman Empire and his own daughters.  The Emperor, Nero, disregarded the will and claimed the entire kingdom; when Boudica raised objections, her daughters were taken and publicly raped, and she herself was flogged.  Now—if the Doctor has correctly pinpointed the date, and he is certain he has—Boudica is preparing to lead her tribe in an attack on the nearest Roman town.  History records that her campaign will end in a massacre of her tribe.

Leela insists that they must prevent the deaths of the Iceni, but the Doctor explains that history has fixed these events, and they cannot be changed. Leela doesn’t understand; they are here, now, and the events have not yet happened, and therefore she believes they can and should be changed.  When the Doctor insists, she refuses to listen; instead she goes to Boudica and offers her loyalty and assistance.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is approached by a servant girl named Bragnar. Having overheard his conversation, she believes him to be a seer; now, she wants him to save her tribe.  He explains that he cannot, as they are destined to fail; but perhaps he can save her.  To that end, he decides to take her to the TARDIS, and also to recover Leela if he can.  However, their conspiracy is overheard, and Boudica is informed.  She takes this as a sign of betrayal, despite Leela’s insistence on the Doctor’s good faith.  She heads into the forest on horseback with Leela, and intercepts the Doctor and Bragnar.  Boudica threatens to kill them, but is stopped by Leela, who insists that the Doctor can see the future; she explains that he has predicted that tomorrow’s battle will end in destruction.  Boudica decides to let him live; but she holds the Doctor and Bragnar prisoner instead, planning to extort from him the information she needs to win the battle.

Boudica and Leela overlook the targeted Roman town, Camulodunum; Boudica is confident it can be overrun. She insists that the Doctor can be made to give her more information.

The Doctor and Bragnar are tied up in a tent at Boudica’s orders, and lamenting their situation. Bragnar doesn’t wish anyone dead; she just wishes for peace.  Boudica returns and checks in with the guard, Caedmon, regarding the progress of the situation; he wants to torture the Doctor, but Boudica again forbids it.  Instead, she intends to use Bragnar to get the Doctor to speak.  Inside the tent, Bragnar has grown tired of the Doctor’s banter, when Boudica and Leela arrive; Leela has him untied, but Boudica keeps Bragnar bound.  Boudica demands answers about his prophecy of destruction, and how the Iceni will be defeated.  When he won’t elaborate, Boudica says she will find her own omens…in Bragnar’s entrails.

The Doctor gives in to save Bragnar’s life. He explains that Camulodunum is sparsely guarded, but that it is a decoy; though the attack there will be successful, Governor Paulinus is laying a trap for the Iceni, with his armies held to the north.  When the city is taken, he will return and hem in the Iceni inside the city, then destroy them.  Satisfied, she leaves him in the tent, bound again, and orders a reinforcement of her army’s rear guard; she orders the army to prepare to ride.  Leela is appalled that she won’t release him, but she insists she has many battles to fight, and will make him serve her for all of them.

Leela returns and confronts the Doctor, but leaves him in the tent. She insists that Boudica is a good woman, and declares that she will ride with the army.  To Caedmon’s satisfaction, she tells the Doctor that he must stay and give up his old life and serve as Boudica insists.  However, when Leela leaves with Caedmon, the Doctor tells Bragnar that it’s not what she said, but what she did—and what she did, was slip him her knife.  The Doctor laboriously cuts his own bonds, then Bragnar’s; he comments that Leela was really telling him to abandon her, not his own life.

The army gathers near the Romans encampment, and prepares to charge, though Leela expresses her doubts. Boudica gives a speech to rally her troops, and leads the charge.  The armies engage, and the battle begins.

The Doctor and Bragnar locate a pair of horses, and hurry toward Camulodunum; Bragnar is alarmed, but the Doctor insists he is going to rescue Leela, despite what she asked of him. Meanwhile, Leela is becoming more and more distraught at Boudica’s bloodthirst; she is ashamed to see the Iceni killing the aged, sick, women, and even those who had surrendered.  Boudica orders her troops to destroy the city’s temple and the final survivors inside, which include British slaves—Leela protests, as Boudica plans to kill them as well.  Leela confronts Boudica, and insists that the woman is fighting not for her country, but for revenge.  She declares that the Doctor was right—Boudica is not a good woman, and her battle is wrong.  She reveals that she released the Doctor, which Boudica takes as a betrayal.  Boudica attacks Leela, declaring that she has “scarce fought an equal”.

The Doctor and Bragnar arrive in the last of the battle, where they meet with Caedmon, who chases after them. Caedmon kills the Doctor’s horse; the Doctor sends Bragnar away for her safety, and confronts Caedmon.  Caedmon intends to defy Boudica’s order and kill the Doctor, blaming it on the Romans; but Bragnar doubles back and attacks Caedmon, unintentionally killing him.  They set off again to search for Leela.

Leela and Boudica are still battling, as the Doctor arrives. Boudica manages to strike her while she is distracted, but she is not badly hurt.  She orders the Doctor not to interfere; and moments later, she gets the advantage.  She refuses to kill Boudica, instead leaving her behind.  Boudica is undeterred; she refuses to consider herself defeated, and continues the larger battle.

On the road back toward the TARDIS, Leela and Bragnar discuss the battle. The Doctor admits that he didn’t tell Boudica the truth; there was no army coming from the north, and no defeat today.  Instead, it was a Roman massacre that took place, just as history had recorded.  However, in the future, Boudica will go on to fight other battles, which will lead to her ultimate defeat—not today, but on a day to come, when her pride and arrogance will leave her own army hemmed in to be slaughtered.  Leela admits that she may no longer have the stomach for slaughter, leading the Doctor to comment that her education may be progressing after all.  At the TARDIS, the Doctor explains how Boudica dies: facing death in battle, she kills her daughters, then poisons herself.  Violence brings its own end, it seems.  As the TARDIS departs, the Doctor considers that Leela has had enough education for now; it’s time for something different.

Years hence, Bragnar passes on her story to her own daughters as the sole survivor of her tribe.

Wrath of the Iceni 4

Historicals may have become rare in Doctor Who over the years, but at least they’re familiar, for the most part. Perhaps in part because of the programme’s origins in children’s television, it tends to stick to well-known parts of history. This one, however, covers a corner of history which I knew nothing about, and indeed had never heard of prior to my first time listening. That probably says more about the difference between American and British education than it does about Doctor Who; but still, it came as a rare surprise to me.

For any other American fans like me, who may not be familiar with the particulars of distant eras of British history, the titular Iceni were a British Celtic tribe, with this story—and presumably much of their history—ending around AD 60 or 61. Boudica was queen of the Iceni by necessity; her husband, Prasutagus, ruled the tribe, but of necessity become a partially independent ally of the invading Romans some seventeen years earlier. He intended for his daughters to rule after him and continue the alliance; but after his death the territory of the Iceni was claimed fully by Rome. Boudica protested, and was subsequently flogged; her daughters were publicly raped. Boudica then led the Iceni and some of their allies in revolt against the Romans, destroying Camulodunum (modern Colchester, according to Wikipedia) before moving on to Londinium (modern London), and in the process killing about eighty thousand Romans. However, they were eventually defeated by the Romans and practically wiped out, with Boudica either committing suicide or dying of illness (there is some debate). This story takes place in the earliest days of her campaign, just before and during the attack on Camulodunum. The Doctor and Leela fall in with Boudica quite by accident, but Leela is taken with her warrior ways, and chooses to help Boudica’s cause. The Doctor, meanwhile, knows how history plays out, and knows that helping the Iceni is futile; nevertheless, his knowledge slips out, and he is held prisoner as a seer. Toward the end, Leela realizes her mistake, but is in too deep to back off; therefore the Doctor, upon escaping, is forced to rescue her. He tells Boudica what she wants to hear, but cleverly hides the ultimate outcome, causing her to commit to her original plan without changing history. In the end, Leela cannot save the Iceni, but with the Doctor’s help, she saves one person—a woman named Bragnar, who survives to tell the story to her own daughters.

Over five decades, we’ve seen nearly every possible take on the idea that history cannot be changed. This episode is nothing new; it’s just very tragic. Then again, history itself is often tragic; and this story, at least, reports it as accurately as can be done when adding the Doctor to a story. We don’t watch or listen to these stories in order to see how the Doctor changes things; we listen to them to see the clever lengths to which he must go to prevent changing things. In that regard, this story is very reminiscent of The Fires of Pompeii with the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble; the Doctor would find it exceedingly simple to change things, but that change would most likely have catastrophic repercussions throughout the future. Therefore he has to work at not changing anything; and his task is made that much harder by a companion who wants more than anything to save everyone. The only answer that will allow him to maintain his identity as the Doctor, and yet preserve history (even with its tragedies!) is to do what he does in both stories: save someone.

As a reminder, this is still very early in Leela’s story. As far as can be told, this is only her seventh adventure with the Doctor. Thus he is still on his quest to educate her about her own species’ history. Boudica’s era is familiar territory to Leela, as she is also of a “savage” tribal background; therefore the Doctor is far less condescending toward her here than in most stories, because he knows he is surrounded by people just like her, who won’t put up with it (or understand it, probably). He does take the opportunity to give her the lesson about history being unchangeable, although without the level of technical detail he gives to more technically advanced companions. This is truly Leela’s story, not the Doctor’s, even though the screen time is about equally split between them; for the first time, she is the confident one, and she makes her own decisions. She may be wrong in the end, but seeing her take charge is practically majestic; and even the Doctor seems to acknowledge that.

Continuity References: Leela expressly says that history can be changed, despite what the Doctor says; this is a reference to The Foe From the Future, which, though an audio, is set immediately before The Talons of Weng-Chiang (and notably was originally written to be the series 14 finale, but was not produced). The Doctor’s observation (regarding Bragnar) that one person is unlikely to make a difference is also a reference to that story. He hates Morris dancers, which nearly killed him in The Daemons. He makes reference to the Morovanian Museum, and Leela mentions Reginald Harcourt (The Renaissance Man). He mentions his earliest encounter with Houdini (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) and the extinction of the dodo (The Last Dodo–Doctor Who has a story for everything). A few future references are noteworthy, although I usually try to avoid them until we reach the stories involved and can look back: Leela claims her name has no meaning, contradicting several future audios (notably, The Catalyst); The Tenth Doctor and Donna will meet Boudica again in The Lonely Computer; the Doctor plans a trip to the 21st century (the next entry, Energy of the Daleks). Iris Wildthyme claims to have been at the siege of Colchester (or Camulodunum in this case; The Elixir of Doom). Boudica and the Iceni get a mention in Byzantium!.

Overall: It’s worth noting that this is the first pure historical for the fourth Doctor in any performance medium (and possibly still the only—I haven’t looked ahead at later series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, but we’ll find out as we get there). While it’s fairly straightforward—as I said, there are no great surprises here—that’s all it needs to be, being the first historical for him. The conflict between Leela and the Doctor is not new, and isn’t going away anytime soon—all in all, they are a bit of a one-note duo—but it’s done well here, and this story does more than any other I’ve encountered to make Leela’s point and make it sympathetic. Her way of life is valid; it’s just not always applicable. She’s a moral and noble and valiant character, and all of those strengths get showcased here; she just happens to be lacking a piece of relevant knowledge about history. It proves to be a hard and bitter lesson for her, but learn it she does.

Wrath of the Iceni 3

Next time: Energy of the Daleks! See you there.

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

The Wrath of the Iceni

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Audio Drama Review: Dead London

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we begin series two of the Eighth Doctor Adventures. We’ll open with Dead London, written by Pat Mills and starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, Sheridan Smith as Lucie Miller, and Rupert Vansittart as Sepulchre. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!

Dead London 1

The Eighth Doctor is in court, charged with “Leaving a blue box on a double yellow line” while Lucie is shopping.  While waiting, he discovered a localized temporal shift in the area; but this explanation is not enough to acquit him, and he is sentenced—to death, for a parking offense.

The localized temporal shift is more local than he thought, it seems.  He has suddenly, in the middle of the trial, been transported to the 17th century, to the dock of the Old Bailey court.  Here he is being confused with someone else, but there’s no convincing the judge of that.  The judge—“Hanging” judge Jeffreys—admits he may have met the Doctor before, but will not meet him again.  Before he has the Doctor removed, the Doctor insists that the judge is not really Jeffreys, based on inconsistencies in his statements.  While the Doctor is still present, the next prisoner is brought into the dock: a flamboyant young woman called “Spring-Heeled Sophie”, Sophia Shepherd, a tightrope walker who boasts about her skills while slipping her shackles.

Lucie has become lost while shopping, and stranger still, the city has gone dark.  She is nearly run down in the streets by a tram, before encountering an oddly yellow-skinned woman calling herself “Yellow Beryl”.  Beryl explains that the strange color is from the TNT that she works with in a munitions factory, and that England is fighting the Germans and Austrians.  To Lucie’s surprise, it is the year 1917.  They are forced to take shelter as zeppelins fly over and begin dropping bombs.

Sophie denies involvement in the robberies of which she is accused; the Doctor comes to her defense, trying to prevent her from being hanged, but is shouted down.  As the guards subdue him, he is knocked out.  Sophie is sentenced to death, and the judge orders the court’s Turnkey to take the Doctor and Sophie to Newgate to await their hanging.  They are temporarily placed in the condemned cell at the Old Bailey, where they introduce themselves to each other, with Sophie flirting with the Doctor.  She offers to help him find Lucie if they can escape, and they pool their resources to try to bribe the guard.  However, the Doctor is surprised to see Sophie’s contribution—a box made of telmonium, a non-terrestrial metal.  The box is filled with flashing control lights, which Sophie calls fairies.  He tells her it comes from a world called Quagreeg, which is inhabited by reptilian creatures; it seems they are dealing with a more serious problem now.  She admits that she has pressed the buttons on the box, which concerns the Doctor greatly; he explains that it controls a system of tractor beams, which may have brought him here through time.  He is sure the owner of the box will want it back, and may be dangerous.

Beryl and Lucie make their way to the Underground station at St. Paul’s, for safety.  Beryl explains that it’s not just the bombings; there’s a killer on the loose, the Blackout Killer, who takes advantage of the air raids to kill his victims—respectable women in every case—during the blackouts.  No one sees him; they only hear the tapping of the stick he carries.  At the underground station, the gates at the bottom are locked; and a massive explosion nearby knocks them to the ground.  Heading back to ground level, they find the building next door leveled by the bombs.  They separate, as Beryl needs to get to the factory, but Lucie wants to find the Doctor; Beryl gives her directions to the Holborn Viaduct, where she last saw him.  Lucie almost immediately sees a river appear in front of her; Beryl doubles back and tells her that the river appears and disappears at random, and usually has Fleet Street on the other side, dependent on what “he” wants.  She refuses to elaborate, and warns Lucie not to ask too many questions—if you do, things become “fuzzy” and fade away.

The Doctor questions Sophie further, searching for anything strange.  She says that she escaped from a workhouse, and in the process she saw a flash and heard a loud noise.  She found herself in a Roman temple inside a cave, where she found the box.  The description of the temple tells the Doctor it is a temple to the god Mithras; the flash of light is characteristic of the tractor beams, but this one seems to be for space only, not time, as Sophie is from this time period.  The temple is at the end of the river; she agrees to take them there, if they can escape.  The Doctor considers, and concludes that the 17th-century and Roman versions of London are now adjacent—an impressive piece of temporal engineering.  As they wait, they hear the Bellman, the town crier, making announcements outside; the Doctor thinks he has heard the man’s voice before.

Lucie asks Beryl where to find the mysterious “he”, but Beryl is no help; she says that “he” is everywhere.  Beryl is strangely at ease with encountering people from other times.  Lucie intends to cross the river, but Beryl wishes her luck and moves on.  Lucie searches for a bridge, and sees modern buildings on the other side; she concludes that the varying times are now geographically related, and she is getting close to one.  Nearby, a figure sniffs the air, and a stick can be heard tapping as he follows Lucie.

The Turnkey delivers the Doctor and Sophie to Newgate, and hands them over to the chief warder, Jack Ketch.  Ketch makes Sophie uncomfortable, and says he intends to take the Doctor’s coat after the execution; he doubles as the hangman.  The Doctor is unimpressed, and tells him to drop his disguise; he recognizes Ketch as the same man who was posing as the Judge, the Magistrate (in the modern court before the time shift) and the Bellman.  He is sure the man is really a shape-shifting alien, probably from Quagreeg, given the source of the box.  He deduces that the alien transferred him here to avoid disrupting his 2008 version of London when he deals with the Doctor.  The Doctor assures him he won’t get the TARDIS if that is what he wants; in reply, Ketch says he will make sure the Doctor takes a long time to die.  He puts them in a carriage to take them to the gallows at Tyburn.  The Doctor tries again, this time speaking in the Quagreeg language; Ketch obliges him and changes into a reptilian creature from Quagreeg.  The creature says that he and his other avatars are called Sepulchre here, after St. Sepulchre’s church.

Lucie realizes she’s being followed.  She finds herself near a modern pub, clearly in 2008; she asks some people outside if there is a bridge she can use to cross to their side.  One young man offers to help, but is called away, and asks her to join him if she gets across.  She is then accosted by the Blackout Killer.  She runs from him, but finds herself at a dead end; the killer taunts her, and tells her he is also a lookout for the Zeppelins, and hearing her in her hiding spot is no trouble for him.  He confronts her, and says that “they” need new blood, then transforms into a reptilian creature, similar to the one confronting the Doctor.  She manages to push it into the river and escape.  She makes her way to a bridge, but upon crossing, she finds she is not in 2008—she is in the 17th century.

Sepulchre explains that his race is a hive mind.    He has transported many of the poor—who won’t be missed—from various eras into re-enactment chambers, where they are killed over time.  He insists it’s not for pleasure, but is necessary for their race’s well-being.  The Doctor intends to put a stop to it; Sepulchre, for his part, is thrilled to have captured a Time Lord, as his death will greatly enhance the Quagreegs.  He resumes the image of Ketch, and says he doesn’t understand the Doctor’s care for the humans.  At the gallows, a crowd waits.  Ketch prepares them for execution, and Sophie spits in his face.  The Doctor gives a speech, but it’s not the rant Sepulchre expects; the Doctor’s lack of fear confuses him, and the Doctor reminds him that this is not real, just a re-enactment.  Sophie realizes that the area is breaking down; Sepulchre seems to be losing control of this re-enactment.  The Doctor makes a rather overblown speech, irritating Sepulchre, but he continues, allowing Sophie to slip her chains and undo the Doctor’s chains as well.  She pulls the trapdoor, on which Ketch happens to be standing, and he falls through, allowing the Doctor and Sophie to escape.

They escape to the River Fleet, where Sophie had previously hidden a boat.  The Doctor realizes the river connects the various re-enactment chambers, and asks Sophie to take him via boat to the temple where she obtained the control box.  If he is right, it will be Sepulchre’s base of operations; and the real being may be present, instead of his avatars… Sophie at first refuses, but the Doctor talks her into it; while they talk, she discovers someone watching from the shadows, and so they give the illusion of continued arguing.  Sophie lassoes the figure, and finds that it is Lucie, who is overjoyed to be reunited with the Doctor; she admits to waiting to approach so that she could be sure of his identity, having already met one shapeshifter.  As a group of rough-looking men approach, the trio flees in the boat.

Judge Jeffreys—another avatar—finds and awakens Ketch.  Their meeting is a break in protocol, but it’s allowed for now, as Ketch failed to kill the Doctor.  They go in pursuit of the Doctor and his companions.

The river takes the group underground, and Sophie lights a lantern.  The Doctor explains how the river connects the zones, serving not just for transport, but for information transmission, like a neural pathway.  He expects to find the real Sepulchre at the temple, and can use the box on him—but only on the real being.  In the temple, Sepulchre is watching their progress with several avatars.  He intends to see the Doctor killed before he can arrive here, and decides to route them to another time; Ketch suggests the attack on London by Boudicca during the Roman era.  However, Sepulchre realizes the box is missing, and can’t send the Doctor without it.  Though this represents a danger, there is another way to send the Doctor…

A lock gate opens, sending a flood of water into the river, and pulling the boat away from the Temple.  It carries them over a waterfall.  The boat is smashed, and they find themselves above Roman London, trapped with a hundred others inside a giant Wicker Man.  Sepulchre intends to burn them, then recover the box from the Doctor’s ashes.  The Doctor wants Sophie to use the rope she brought from the boat to set a line for them to walk from the Wicker Man, but she refuses, as the Doctor and Lucie are amateurs with no tightrope-walking experience.  Lucie sees a man with a torch, who ritually sets the Wicker Man aflame; the Doctor recognizes him as Boudicca’s arch-druid, and also an avatar.  Sepulchre, satisfied with this fate, sends Ketch and Jeffreys back to their own eras, and goes to watch the burning personally.  As the smoke begins to choke them, the Doctor has Sophie lasso part of the city gate instead, creating not a tightrope but a zipline, which they can navigate with their belts.  He uses the sonic screwdriver to weaken the wicker, allowing them to break out.  The Doctor insists the other captives aren’t actually in danger, and they slide down the line; and the Wicker Man vanishes.  The Doctor reminds them that the re-enactments are contingent on Sepulchre’s authority; if something unexpected happens, they break down.  Sepulchre appears and congratulates the Doctor on deducing the situation—but the Doctor has missed one critical piece.  The river isn’t just like a neural pathway, it is a neural pathway; and they are all inside Sepulchre’s brain!  The box’s tractor beams, like the TARDIS, are dimensionally transcendental—Sepulchre’s mind is bigger in the inside.

Sepulchre demands the box, and Lucie tells the Doctor to use it on Sepulchre instead.  He refuses, knowing it would kill not only Sepulchre, but everyone inside his mind.  Instead, he berates Sepulchre for treating humans like cattle; and he uses his sonic screwdriver to shut off various neural connections.  The re-enactments will still function, but they are now disconnected from each other.  The group finds themselves back in the 17th-century re-enactment.  Sepulchre can no longer hide behind his avatars; and the crowd sees him as a demon.  Militia officers arrive and take custody of him, placing him with Ketch and Jeffreys.  He swears revenge on the Doctor.  The Doctor is optimistic; he can’t remove the people from the re-enactments, but as long as Sepulchre lives, they will as well, and will be free of his tyranny.  Sophie, of course, has to stay, but intends to learn to write and become a novelist—with her first book based on herself, of course.  The Doctor and Lucie find their way back to the 2008 re-enactment, and find the TARDIS, which is covered in parking tickets.  As they leave, Lucie listens to the city, which now sounds very much alive.

Dead London 2

For all that this story feels very broad, it actually has a very small number of voiced characters. Only six voice actors are credited, owing in part to the fact that all of the avatars of the villain, Sepulchre, are voiced by the same person, Rupert Vansittart. He does a very creditable job at playing multiple parts, giving similar but distinct voices to all of them; in my opinion, none of them sound like his standard, non-acting voice as heard in the story’s CD extras. He comments in the extras on the difficulty of the task, but makes it clear that he greatly enjoyed the roles as well. (It’s not the actor’s first Doctor Who experience; he also played General Asquith and his Slitheen duplicate in Aliens of London/World War Three.) As for the breadth of the story: While I had come to terms with the idea that the setting isn’t real (possible spoiler), I was not prepared for the twist near the end, which places it in an even more restrictive and unexpected environment. I won’t spoil it; but I will say that it’s a plot device that we usually see with the Doctor, not the villains.

There is, surprisingly, nothing to connect this story with the previous series, other than the presence of Lucie. Usually there’s some dialogue, some exposition, which brings the listener up to speed, but not this time. It’s a good choice here; if this series is not going to continue the Headhunter storyline from last series, then it’s better to let it go completely for now. I do hope that at some point, we encounter that character and her new protégé again, but if it’s not this series, I’m content with that.

On the negative side, the Doctor and Lucie spend most of this story apart, having already been separated when it begins. The problem is that we miss out on the fantastic banter that they usually have; halfway through the story I caught myself thinking “Hmm, this doesn’t feel like an Eight/Lucie story at all”. That’s not to say it’s a bad story, but it’s unlike their usual work, and I hope this doesn’t become a trend. (An occasional separation is fine, of course, and even necessary, but it becomes awkward if it takes over the story.) For the time being, the companion role is filled, in a sense, by the character of Spring-Heeled Sophie, a minor thief who falls in with the Doctor, played by Clare Buckfield (who played Trisha Tomorrow in last series’ Horror of Glam Rock, and also played in The One Doctor, which I have not covered yet). It doesn’t show here, but gets a mention in the extras, that Clare also is excellent at multiple accents (Irish in Horror, Cockney here); it’s almost a pity she didn’t get to showcase that skill here.

Lucie’s role, in fact, is oddly lacking in dialogue, or so it feels. She does interact with everyone she meets, but less than usual, I think; for her, it’s almost taciturn. Regardless, the story is a great beginning to the series, with plenty of action and a good temporal twist, as well as a physical twist of sorts. The first series felt like an ongoing mystery, with the entire series proceeding at a run; this series seems to have none of that, with a more relaxed atmosphere (which is, oddly, no contrast with the level of action). I’m looking forward to the rest.

Continuity References: Sepulchre at one point sends the Doctor and his companions to a version of Roman-era London, which is under attack by the warrior queen Boudicca; the Fourth Doctor met Boudicca with Leela in Wrath of the Iceni. Without too much in the way of spoilers, I will say that the various versions of London have a good deal in common with the events of The War Games. The Doctor mentions the Cult of Mithras, which appeared in Seasons of Fear. He mentions the Sea Devils (The Sea Devils, Warriors of the Deep). He also mentions the Sixth Doctor’s fashion sense (The Twin Dilemma, et al) as well as that of other incarnations (giving us a fantastic line: “In the course of my lives I have much to apologise for. I sincerely regret sundry heinous offences against fashion. In my defence I plead the regrettable taste of previous incarnations; it wasn’t me, it was me!”). He makes general reference to injustices he has perpetrated against various female companions, but doesn’t name names. The “Sepulchre” here is not to be confused with the title or location of the BBC Fourth Doctor audio drama Sepulchre, though it is an interesting coincidence, as that location was also subject to change at the whim of its creator.

Dead London 3

Next time: We rejoin the Doctor and Lucie (and poke fun at the television series Top Gear) in Max Warp! See you there.

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this audio drama’s purchase page is linked below.

Dead London

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Audio Review: The Wrath of the Iceni

We’re back, with another audio drama review! As previously mentioned, this is one of an occasional series I’m putting together, in which I’ll review various Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas. Generally the plan is to follow the Main Range (or Monthly Range, if you prefer), and I’ll be getting started with that soon; I’ve started listening to The Sirens of Time, the first Main Range entry, and I hope to get something posted by next week. In the meantime, today we’re looking at the Fourth Doctor and Leela in the Fourth Doctor Adventures’ Wrath of the Iceni. Let’s get started!

(As always, spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this production!)

Wrath of the Iceni 2

We meet the Fourth Doctor and Leela on Earth, in the year 60 AD. Specifically, they are in the area of Norfolk, and later, at the Roman capital at Camulodunum (later Colchester)—yes, this is during the Roman occupation. There’s a bit of an anachronism with the date at one point; the character Pacquolas refers to fights in the Coliseum, but it had not yet been built. We can be sure of the date, however, as the story’s antagonist, Boudica, is an established historical figure. With regard to continuity, it’s hard to pin down where this story fits in, as I suspect is true with many small-cast audios; all we know for sure is that it’s between Season Fourteen’s The Face of Evil and Season Fifteen’s The Invasion of Time, and probably not very near the beginning of that span (as Leela refers to having traveled with the Doctor several times already).

Historically, Boudica was the wife of a ruler of the Iceni tribe, who later died in battle against the Romans along with the rest of her people. That basic outline remains unchanged by the story. The Doctor and Leela blunder into the middle of these events, and are quickly involved. Leela, being of a warrior mindset and dedicated to justice, is taken with Boudica’s cause; she wants to see the Iceni overcome their oppression by the Romans. It’s a good cause, except for one problem: History already states that the Iceni are wiped out. While the Doctor doesn’t call it a fixed point, it clearly is; and he makes it clear that the laws of time won’t allow him to save the Iceni. Leela wants none of that, of course; she wants to help even if it means the history that created her will not come to pass. In her words, there is no future, only here and now. One would think that, after traveling with the Doctor even a short time, she wouldn’t take that view; but there it is. It’s only when she sees that Boudica’s cause isn’t purely just—that despite claiming to be seeking revenge for her people, she really just wants to kill—that Leela comes to her sense. While it’s good that she backs off from helping Boudica, it’s a little concerning that in the end, she never really acknowledges the Doctor’s point—that some things in history can’t be changed.

Leela is clearly the main character here. It’s a story focused on her personal growth, and it accomplishes that goal nicely, if incompletely (it will take other adventures for her to really understand about time). She begins to see that not every issue is black and white, and that even a right action can be done for the wrong reasons. The Doctor pokes fun at her from time to time, addressing her as “savage”, but acknowledges in the end that she’s learning a lot about the universe. The Doctor himself is at his wittiest here; but we also see that he’s not afraid to lie to get what he wants. When it comes out that he knows Boudica’s fate, Leela passes him off as a prophet; then, under duress, he tells Boudica a significant lie about how she and her people will die. When, instead, they succeed, she believes she has won; but her newfound pride will eventually lead to the very downfall that history has recorded for her. Thus the fixed point remains intact. However, the Doctor isn’t heartless here; and just as the Tenth Doctor will one day do at Pompeii, he saves someone—in this case, Bragnar, the young camp cook who had been imprisoned with him. As for Boudica: Ella Kenion’s portrayal is over the top, brimming with anger and chewing every piece of scenery within reach; but no one can accuse her of being unconvincing. Boudica’s fate is tragic, but it’s utterly clear that she took herself to it. Had the Doctor not been present, the outcome would have been the same.

During the second half of the television series—the period into which this story would fit—we don’t get many pure historical stories. I, for one, didn’t enjoy the historicals as much, and often had trouble paying attention to them; I think that despite being about time travel, Doctor Who didn’t do so well with established history. There’s none of that here; maybe it’s the medium, as the nature of an audio drama probably requires more attention to detail as opposed to television. Still, either way, this is a fast-paced story, containing a fair bit of violence, and I liked it quite a bit. It’s short as the audios go, but worth a listen (and as of this writing, it’s available on Spotify for free!). Check it out!

Next time: The Sirens of Time! (And I mean it this time!) See you there.

All audios reviewed in this series can be purchased here from Big Finish Productions; link to this story is below.  This and many other audio dramas are also available on Spotify and Google Play.

The Wrath of the Iceni