TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 17 June 2016
Spain, 1587. King Philip II is preparing his ‘holy’ Catholic Armada to sail against the ‘heretic’ English and their Queen, while the vicious Inquisition crushes all dissent. From the north sails the fleet of the dreaded ‘El Draque’ – Sir Francis Drake, once more seeking Spanish prey.
It’s no time for aliens – English people or Time Lords - to be in Seville. With history and their country in the balance, what should two loyal subjects of Elizabeth do – even if *their* Queen Elizabeth won’t be born for centuries… and what should a Time Lord do to preserve the history he remembers…? 5* (4 episodes, 2 CDs, 121 minutes + extras)
Marc Platt has written an outstanding historical adventure for the original TARDIS crew; for me, it’s up there with the best of the classic series historicals. It’s so wonderfully authentic to their style and themes that it could almost be a genuine ‘lost story’ from Season One, though it sometimes depicts Spain under the Inquisition with more accuracy than would have been allowed on teatime television.
This is a double-length Companion Chronicle, allowing the action to unfold across four episodes to great effect. The format mixes drama with narration as William Russell and Carole Ann Ford return, brilliantly, to their original roles as Ian and Susan, narrate the action and perform all but one of the other characters.
Ian is separated from his friends for most of the audio, so the story divides naturally between his viewpoint and that of Susan, accompanying her grandfather and Barbara. Unlike the ‘Lost Stories’ or ‘Early Years’ First Doctor adventures where William Russell plays Ian and the Doctor, and Carole Ann Ford plays Barbara as well as Susan, the two actors perform *all* the roles in a scene (except for each other’s original character and one guest role), so occasionally William Russell is playing Barbara and Carole Ann Ford is quite often playing the Doctor.
This seems odd to begin with, for an audio where both actors are present, but it’s the usual style of the Companion Chronicles (normally with only one companion actor) and I soon got used to it. The quality and ambition of the script, the presence of both ‘Ian’ and ‘Susan’ and the superb music and sound design by Toby Hrycek-Robinson give this Companion Chronicle an epic feel on a scale closer to full-cast audio. It’s a great addition to the classic historicals, so if you enjoy those as I do, you’ll love this new entry in the genre.
The first two episodes are tense and confined by the narrow streets and close buildings of old Seville, poised on the brink of war against the ‘heretic’ English and repressed by the ever-watchful Inquisition. Our friends are usually so bold, exploring a strange alien world or immersing themselves in a new historical period, that this time I was struck by something unusual: their fear. When they discover where and when they are, the Doctor and Barbara (who know most about it) are immediately, deeply afraid and simply want to return to the Ship and leave… of course, it never does work out like that…!
An impulsive act of bravery lands Ian in the clutches of the Inquisition, along with Esteban, a local man who has fallen foul of the rapacious Church. Nabil Elouahabi is the excellent guest actor in this audio and brings something quite different to the story, as an unusual character who develops well over the four episodes. I won’t give spoilers but just say that historically he is very believable; Spain had many enemies and there really were many similar alliances, up to the highest level.
Naturally, the Doctor attempts to go to Ian’s rescue, mingling with powerful historical figures in a way which astonishes the kindly locals Miguel, Catalina and Lorenzo. It doesn’t surprise Susan or those of us who have seen ‘The Reign of Terror’ – but can the Doctor pull off the same part-comic trick again…? We’re beguiled into believing he can, through the Doctor’s humorous arrogance and courage, but the tension just keeps mounting and the cliff-hanger for Part Two and the start of Part Three are as dramatic as any scenes in ‘Doctor Who’.
When we get chance to draw breath, it’s a relief to escape from the threatening atmosphere of Seville as our friends take the road to Cadiz with Miguel and his wagon train, in a manner reminiscent of a mini-‘Marco Polo’. There are some delightful scenes on the road with the Doctor and a mule, and an impishly-clued reveal of a character that was very pleasing.
But the familiar dilemma of time travellers is surfacing again – Ian and Barbara have a very personal stake in this history – it’s *their* country that is under threat from Spain, can they stand idly by and not get involved? The Doctor is, as ever, keen to protect the established flow of history, whatever the cost, and argues bitterly with Barbara. But who is right? Meddling with History when you don’t know the full facts is very dangerous…
As the travellers near Cadiz, Ian is away on his own quest, driven partly by fate and partly by ego, to meet his boyhood hero – England’s greatest sailor of the age, Sir Francis Drake. This might seem a familiar idea (after we’ve seen the travellers run into Kublai Khan, Napoleon, etc.), but here it’s handled in a very original way. As much as a story about the meeting of Ian and Drake, it’s about the meeting of Ian’s expectations of his gallant ‘Hollywood’ hero with the reality of Drake, who terrified the Spanish so much that his name survived as a folk-devil long after the real man was dead.
We’re so used to seeing the original TARDIS crew barging, improbably, into the lives of leading historical figures and being accepted as ‘important’, that’s it’s the very realistic, *unimportant* reception that Ian gets from his hero that bursts the bubble as much as anything Drake actually does. But what should Ian (just a random stranger after all) have expected from a fleet commander on the eve of battle? Ian reacts with hurt pride and flips to despising everything about Drake, at least for a while.
But when push comes to shove, *our* hero shows his true spirit and Ian Chesterton is there to rescue history before a final showdown with one of the real villains of this tale. Then, as always, the TARDIS crew fade quietly into history themselves, ever-present at moments of crisis, yet always forgotten by the chroniclers – except…
This is a magnificent historical and most highly recommended to all fans of the genre. 5*
(Thanks for reading if you made it this far!)
(Unfortunately there are no documentary tracks with this release, but a 10 minute suite of the excellent music follows the episodes on disc 2 and the CD insert has interesting writer’s and producer’s notes.)
SLIGHT SPOILER NOTE:
Contrary to what Ian thinks, Drake did not just go after treasure while leaving his crews to go hungry; life at sea was very hard, but in the engagement in question, Drake recorded his capture of ships full of provisions. It’s (I think) a sign of how sour Ian feels about his ex-hero that, seeing the violence of Drake’s war-fighting, Ian says he would have stopped him if he could. This is impulsively moral, but nonsense of course; would anyone English really risk interfering with that history? Without events happening just as they did, the Armada would not have sailed when it did, to be defeated by the English fleet and (perfectly timed) weather so destructive to his ships that King Philip viewed it as (of course) the will of God.