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