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A Tudor Rose, By Any Other Name ...
on 17 June 2015
Marriage beckons for the Doctor in an intricate Elizabethan costume drama in Tudor London, with many twists: it's not Earth, it's not London, she's Queen Zafira, not Elizabeth I and she's married already ... 4* (4 episodes, 2 hours)
`Hexagora' is a clever and involved story by Paul Finch from an original storyline by Peter Ling and Hazel Adair. If you prefer your `Doctor Who' adventures to be space battles and epic campaigns, this story might not be as you like it, but if you sometimes like a dialogue-rich mystery that takes even the Doctor a while to solve, then all's well that ends well because this stylish story is for you.
The Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa are enjoying a short break in the Antipodes - near Brisbane to be exact - but while the Doctor watches some cricket and Nyssa relaxes after the trauma of Florana and The Elite, Tegan is looking for old friends - and finding trouble. Her almost-boyfriend Mike Bretherton (Toby Hadoke) has gone missing while investigating other missing people and nobody can find him. Luckily, Tegan knows a man who can and he happens to be on Earth right now...
What starts as a story of alien abduction becomes a complex adventure on the planet Luparis, in a city that's a close replica of Tudor London, complete with the powerful Queen, squabbling Lords and the rowdy, tavern-going people. Their society is in trouble; the once lush planet is now facing a winter of Antarctic cold, the once ordered population that actually welcomed the absolute rule of their Queen is now raucous and unruly, and the Lords who maintained unity and order are competing for power. It sounds just like Olde England, but it really shouldn't - this world also has strange technology, space travel and something scuttling in the dark corners of the city...
I enjoyed `Hexagora' for the clever plot, great dialogue and guest performances and the splendid soundscape of an alternative Tudor London. Peter Davison has some entertaining antics as the Fifth Doctor, fencing with words with scientist-astrologer Astorius (Sean Brosnan) and fencing with swords with hot-tempered Lord Zellenger (Dan Starkey), the Queen's husband. The companions of the Doctor often put on a posh frock in the historicals, but this time it's he that has to dress up in the local garb, complete with a huge ruff collar and (Rassilon help us!) tights. Luckily, it's audio only!
Both companions are well written in this adventure and balanced in the plot. Janet Fielding is at the centre of the story, playing Tegan doing what Tegan does, digging into the antisocial back alleys of the city and finding trouble and a familiar face - in a way. Sarah Sutton has a very good role as Nyssa in this story, where she's trying to recover from being inducted into `the Elite' as a genius in the previous story.
Here again, Nyssa finds herself at the top of society, but now it's for her noble status as a Consul of Traken - a status which attracts Lord Jezzavar (Richard Mark) and which Nyssa uses cleverly as the story unfolds. Jezzavar is *also* the Queen's husband and shares mutual antagonism with Zellenger; two excellent guest performances make their fractious status as `husbands-in-law' (but never king) a highlight. Neither of them is pleased to find the Doctor might *also* become the Queen's husband, but nobody argues with Queen Zafira for long; in the past they never argued with her at all...
Queen Zafira is played perfectly by Jacqueline Pearce in another welcome return to `Doctor Who'. Imperious, clever and increasingly ruthless, she is willing to do whatever it takes to find an antidote to the advancing cold and save her people, even at the potential cost of other lives. But is she truly evil or driven by desperation? The Doctor needs to know - after all, he is going to marry her...
The parallel between the structure of this `Tudor' society and its actual Earth equivalent is so well written that I was able to anticipate that part of the mystery, but there were many more twists to come. Every time the Doctor thinks he has the answer, there's another turn until finally he's left with no choice and he's faced with the altar and his royal bride, but which way will the Queen decide when her hand is forced - for better, or for worse?
The atmosphere, writing and music of this story captures the early 1980s era perfectly, so it was a pity to find one satirical comment on sedition and detention without trial that was obviously a modern reference and broke the illusion, if only for a moment; for the rest of the time, it could have been 1982. The cliff-hangers don't have that much impact, perhaps because the story felt like more of a continuous play that had to be broken into four episodes for the sake of convention. And the explanation of the global cooling (dark spots on their sun) is, as far as I know, wrong and should be the reverse! According to the Internet, more sun spots mean more solar activity not less - but these are minor criticisms that don't detract from the vision that lies behind the `Tudor' façade, and gives us glimpses of distant worlds and strange beings.
This is a very unusual `Doctor Who' in some ways, not least the ending, which is practically unique as far as I remember. The postscript to the story left me with a big smile on my face, both for a nice (and clever) final twist and two fun performances by Jacqueline Pearce and Dan Starkey, showing a new side to their characters and that queens and their kings may be found in more than one Olde London Town.
I particularly enjoyed the documentary tracks for this story, found at the end of each disk, with lively contributions from the cast and crew. The CD booklet has interesting writer's notes, cast photos and also CGIed pictures of the cast in character. But not one of the Doctor in a big ruff collar and tights!
The final scene between `Beth' and `Bill' back on Earth (the `host' bodies for Zafira and Zellenger) mentions how she was the `queen' he married at a Bethnal Green church. From that and the Cockney accents I wondered if they might have been two of the traditional `Pearly Kings and Queens' of the East End, collected by the Hexagora pods due to a cultural misunderstanding when they were looking for a suitably `royal' couple! Just a guess, but if so, a great idea!