AUDIO REVIEW: THE DOCTOR’S TALE (DOCTOR WHO) / AUTHOR: MARC PLATT / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: WILLIAM RUSSELL, MAUREEN O’BRIEN, GARETH ARMSTRONG, JOSEPH KLOSKA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Marc Platt’s The Doctor’s Tale is the second in the new series of Early Adventures from Big Finish. The format of these is two discs of full cast audio productions set during the earlier series of Doctor Who with the main characters (i.e. the Doctor’s companions) voicing the parts of the Doctor and other characters whose actors are now no longer with us.
The story is set around the early fifteenth century in the early stages of Henry IV’s takeover of England from Richard. This is a pure historical drama and manages to inform without over-stressing the educational aspects of the story – there’s a lot of history mentioned as background to the story, but that never gets in the way of the story telling. Not only is this all going on, but astute fans may also have spotted the name of this story is in the style of the Canterbury Tales and there is more than a flavour of Chaucer in this story.
The story starts in mid-winter and the TARDIS crew have arrived near Sonning (a small town on the Thames outside Reading). They take hospitality in the house of the Bishop and make the acquaintance of Queen Isabella (Haig) held there following her husband’s deposal by Henry. As winter progresses and festivities arrive, the Lord of Misrule makes an appearance (a folk character, not a monster!) and the machinations of the Archbishop Thomas Arundel (Banks) become evident as he bullies his way across the story.
The action moves to London, and across the four 25-minute episodes there are intrigues, double-crossing, romantic threads, and a real sense of a brutal world that we partly recognise through the mists of history. Behind the action, Marc Platt also gives us a glimpse of the forces of social change at play during this period. In the end, all the pieces come together and lots of small coincidences keep history on course while making for a story with a real sense of menace and threat.
The style is mostly action but with some narrative – this is a deliberate device to conjure the impression of a voice over on an off-air recording and, once you get used to it, works very well. What also worked well on this was the creation of the period through some period musical instruments (and motifs) as well as the way the sound somehow captures the season completely. Among many great performances, John Banks takes the prize for his performance as the despicable Arundel who he plays with an intensity that makes the character loom large across the story.
The Early Adventures series is really finding its feet with this release and seems set to be another success.