A nation divided.
A Queen’s life at risk.
A net of conspiracy closing in…
Sometimes being a time travelling adventurer just isn’t easy…
For a start there’s a temperamental TARDIS that lands a few thousand years off course in 17th Century Paris. But why shouldn’t the Doctor, Peri and their travelling guest Erimem take a look around the city on the morning of King Louis’s annual State Ball?
As Peri becomes embroiled in a plot to kill Queen Anne and smash the unity of the Church and the Crown, the Doctor finds himself dueling Musketeers on the streets.
With Peri missing, Erimem catching King Louis’ eye and a Musketeer’s sword at your throat, could things get any worse?
Peter Davison is the Doctor in The Church and the Crown.
Peter Davison (The Doctor)
Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown/Queen Anne)
Caroline Morris (Erimem)
Andrew McKay (King Louis/Blind Maurice)
Michael Shallard(Cardinal Richelieu)
Marcus Hutton (The Duke of Buckingham)
Andy Coleman (Rouffet)
Robert Curbishley (Captain Morand)
Wendy Albiston (Madame de Chevreuse)
Mark Wright (Crow)
Gary Russell (Pierre)
Mark Wyman (Passerby)
Written By: Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
Directed By: Gary Russell
X X X X X
It all may have started as a mild curiosity in a junkyard and become a global phenomenon that spans all of space and time, but when Doctor Who first premiered on November 23, 1963, the show was intended to be an educational program for the BBC. The concept of time travel would be used as a means to explore different places and famous moments throughout recorded history. When the time came for the second story to be filmed, the only script the producers had available to them was a science-fiction story called The Daleks. From there, the rest is history. But the First Doctor still experienced adventures through time, with serials such as The Romans, Marco Polo, Reign of Terror, and The Gunfighters. Time travel has remained a central staple to the show ever since, as the Doctor has visited classical Venice, Pompeii the day before its destruction, the Aztec Empire, and New York during the Great Depression. As the series has matured, however, the serials have moved away from the “educational” aspect and more towards the “some alien menace is causing mischief in this time and place” aspect. The past (and future) are setting for the Doctor to, once again, defend the Earth from those who would cause it harm, mere window dressing instead of the educational series the BBC had originally foreseen.
Following in the footsteps of The Marian Conspiracy and The Fires of Vulcan, The Church and the Crown is the first “pure” historical that Big Finish has produced. No aliens, no mad scientists, no time paradoxes, save the Doctor and his companions experiencing history as it happens. By taking the young, dashing, heroic Fifth Doctor, the proud Peri, and the brave Erimem, Big Finish gives us a throwback to the days of William Hartnell with a story that sees the Doctor involved in making history by simply doing what he does best; saving the day!
The Doctor has promised Erimem to take her to one of the finest institutes of higher education in the galaxy and pull a few strings to have her enrolled in classes. However, Erimem’s pet cat has taken to lounging on the TARDIS’ controls and won’t let the Doctor anywhere near them, so it’s not HIS fault that the duo find themselves landing in Paris in the year 1626. France stands on the cusp of European dominance, but internally, the Musketeers of King Louis XIII and the church guards of Cardinal Richelieu clash on a daily basis in the streets while their masters continually try to outwit and one-up each other, both convinced it is their vision that is the best for France. In the shadows, however, the Duke of Buckingham waits, looking for an opportunity to strike a blow against England’s mortal enemy. And when the opportunity arises, the Duke kidnaps Anne of Austria, estranged wife of Louis XIII and Queen of France.
There’s only one small problem. It’s not Queen Anne who the Duke kidnaps, but someone who’s her spitting image; one Perpugilliam “Peri” Brown!
The Church and the Crown is the first Big Finish serial to feature a TARDIS crew that consists of more than one companion. The Fifth Doctor had a full house in his TARDIS (Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough, Peri) during his TV run, and as such he’s used to having to be the father figure to a family full of stubborn characters, all the way down to the disinterested cat. Peter Davison continues to shine in the audios as the Doctor, and the addition of Erimem to the TARDIS allows him to portray a different side of the Fifth Doctor, one who’s trying to keep the peace with two rebellious and headstrong young women at this side even as he shows them the wonders of the universe. As soon as Peri is kidnapped, the Doctor leaps into action, using his wits and banter to avoid a duel with a pair of Musketeers by convincing them to take him to see the King! Not one to stand around and wait, the Doctor also strikes out in an attempt to rescue Peri with the help of the Musketeers…and ends up getting captured and tied up.
Davison’s Doctor is perfect for this type of story. He’s quick with his tongue when it comes to the rapid-fire dialogue, polite to a fault unless he’s mumbling under his breath, and not afraid to grab a sword and wade into the thick of it when needed. The listener can tell Davison is having a LOT of fun with this story, playing the Doctor much as he did in the previous audio The Eye of the Scorpion; noble, righteous, daring, and messing just ever so slightly with history as he proclaims “Dumas has a lot to answer for.” Considering all the hell the Fifth Doctor goes through, a lighter serial such as this one let Davison breathe a bit and enjoy the hell out of the part.
Nicola Bryant took some flak during her time on Doctor Who for an “American” accent that needed a little bit of work. While her accent has improved, her dual performance allows her to use her natural English accent for the part of Queen Anne. Yes, yes, a French Queen from Austria with an English accent, but there have been far worse crimes against history in the annals of this show! While the doppelganger plot point is a bit of a cliché, Bryant does a fantastic job separating the two women. Queen Anne is quiet, understated, and very, resourceful, as opposed to the outspoken and opinionated Peri. It really is a testament to Bryant’s skill that she plays both roles in completely different fashions and never the two shall meet or get confused with one another.
The Church and the Crown is Caroline Morris’ second story as Princess Erimem and first as full-fledged companion. Erimem proves she’s quick witted by using her royal bearing and status as a Princess of Egypt to bluff her way into an audience with the King AND introduces the Doctor as her vizier, which not only gives her a reason to be involved in the plotline, but also a reason to defer to the Doctor as he serves as her advisor. Erimem clicks with Peri, as if the two are long-lost sisters, and both respects and gently needles the Doctor as well. Morris does a great job in not only feeling like a natural passenger in the TARDIS, but also in being amazed by things such as stained-glass windows or the crowded, tall environs of Paris. When things kick into gear, though, Erimem’s intelligence comes into play. She might not know what gunpowder is, but she can explain what happened well enough for others to deduce what caused a large explosion. And when the time comes to rally the Musketeers and the Cardinal’s Guards against the invading mercenaries of Buckingham, Erimem brings her full royal bearing and not only convinces them to put aside their difference, but as she’s lead armies before, she brings them into battle herself. Morris is simply amazing in this serial and I look forward to more of her work alongside Bryant and Davison.
In a historical serial, the supporting cast has to be up to the challenge of playing established roles. Luckily, Andrew McKay and Michael Shallard are more than up to the task as King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu. McKay plays the King as a spoiled brat who believes that, in the famous words of his son, that he IS the state. He wants what is best for France, but he believes that what’s best for him is what’s best for France. This is chewing the scenery in a good way, as all he’s concerned about is his royal ball that will show the nobles of France why he is their king. On the other side, Michael Shallard is the shrewd Richelieu, who jousts with the King and sets the course for France. He has his plots, of course, and is trying to keep an eye on Buckingham, but when the Musketeers and his own guards are fighting in the streets, we see the more pragmatic side of the Cardinal; Frenchmen fighting Frenchmen means the English win. It’s a refreshing change from how Richelieu is usually portrayed in historical fiction (then again, a fiver says the depiction is always wrong), and Shallard does play up the “cunning realist” angle very well. Marcus Hutton’s entire role is to twirl his mustache and be evil, and as the Duke of Buckingham, he does this VERY well, as the villain in these types of stories usually is. He’s straight-forward evil, interesting in conquest for King and Country, especially if it’s France. And, of course, a story such as this needs Musketeers. In a supporting role, Andy Coleman and Peter John do a great job as the quick-talking, honor-at-the-drop-of-a-hat, rescue-the-damsel-in-distress-and-are-confused-when-it’s-Peri pair of Musketeers, who attempt to duel the Doctor, but then back up Erimem as she rallies the troops against Buckingham’s mercenaries. Look for Andrew McKay as well as a hilarious one-scene-wonder playing a “blind” beggar looking for the next big disability.
Cavan Scott has penned the “Nimrod” trilogy for Big Finish, along with his writing partner Mark Wright. As opposed to the heavier, more serious take on vampires in Doctor Who, this script shows that the pair have range. The banter is lightning quick, the action is always just around the corner, and the script never drags. There’s always something going on, always a conflict to be settled, and always a greater threat looming. Of course, an audio such as this requires sparkling dialogue, and the play has it in spades, from Peri arguing with her captors to Erimem using her royal background to cow the King of France into submission, and one of my favorite lines from Big Finish such far…
Buckingham: You wish to take on the finest swordsman in England?
The Doctor: Hasn’t anybody told you? We’re in France!
In the end, The Church and the Crown is a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t attempt to tell a grand, universe-changing story or try to “shake things up a bit.” It’s an adventure story with time-travelers caught in an unfamiliar setting. It’s the kind of story thatDoctor Who holds proudly at its heart.
Final Synopsis – Swords, schemes, plots, damsels in distress, and the Doctor buckling his swash add up to a rousing historical serial that’s just plain fun. 4/5
Next up – The haughty Queen Angvia, the gaseous gestalt Gholos, disposable pop idol Nicky Neumann, erratic Professor Fassbinder and the icily-efficient Dr Helena Harcourt are all are suspects. Could old political rivalries be manifesting themselves among the contestants? Is this the work of a breakaway terrorist faction? Or has someone just got it in for singer-songwriters?
Sylvester McCoy is the Doctor in Bang-Bang-A-Boom!