It’s time another fabulous Fifth Doctor historical, The Church and the Crown, sneaking a peek at the “real” history behind Dumas’ Three Musketeers.
The first full adventure with Erimem as a companion provides the Doctor with an unusual treat: a crowded TARDIS that isn’t fighting with him or one another. Granted, Peri gets separated from her friends almost as soon as they land. That gives Erimem a chance to prove her own mettle, bluffing her way into the court of King Louis XIII, styling herself Princess Erimem of Karnak with the Doctor as her Vizier. Meanwhile, Peri gets a crash course in 17th-century politics when she’s mistaken for one of its key players and abducted.
Have a trailer.
Swashbuckling, intrigue, battle, kidnappings, daring rescues: this is good stuff, almost but not quite bordering on farce, much like The Romans. Erimem proves herself a capable and dynamic companion, Peri proves herself anything but a passive damsel in distress, and the Doctor proves to be a sassmaster under torture. Peter Davison gets to show off his knack for pain-acting, while Nicola Bryant, playing the part of her doppleganger, puts on a stellar performance.
“I think I rather like being rescued.” [collapses] “Would you help me up?” — The Doctor
Most of the secondaries are three-dimensional characters with fun, fruity voice acting. I especially enjoyed Cardinal Richelieu, a complex statesman whom the Doctor says Dumas unfairly maligned. Louis XIII is well-acted but a bit of an ass (accurate). Rough-and-tumble musketeers, Richelieu’s unctious Captain Moran, the suave Duke of Buckingham and the scheming Madame de Chevreuse fill out the varied cast of larger-than-life historical figures. The setting is unobtrusive but adds background texture, ranging from the noisy bars and streets of Paris to the Louvre to ruined fortresses in the French countryside.
It’s a lively adventure, but it’s got food for the brain as well. I always appreciate a Doctor Who that drives me to Wikipedia and more scholarly sources to discover the true history behind the fictional dramatisation. In the midst of all the adventure, Peri and the Doctor squeeze in a brief meta-discussion about whether they’re changing history or preserving history.
As usual, don’t look if you don’t want some of the twists spoiled.
Erimem’s background makes her a wonderful companion with unique skills. The ease with which she insinuates into the upper echelons and wins the loyalty of a captain of the guard emphasises that she was a queen, with skills in diplomacy, etiquette, and command. I love the Doctor leaving her to rally the troops, respecting her abilities as a military commander. But she’s not superhuman. There’s things ordinary, knowledgable Peri can handle more easily. Erimem’s cliffhanger shriek when she’s nearly blown up by gunpowder is anything but gratuitous, reminding us that some things are completely beyond her ken.
Nicola Bryant is fantastic as the long-suffering Queen Anne (in fact, she inspired me to bone up on a fascinating historical figure). It’s such a joy to hear Nicola’s real voice, rich and commanding, with an older woman’s deeper tones. Pity we don’t get to hear it more often! Also, three cheers for Peri rescuing the Doctor. She may get damselled, but she’s not helpless, and she’s a delightfully snarky captive.
This story lampshades the “meet your own doppleganger” trope. The Doctor several times draws attention to the fact that the TARDIS not only seems to be hanging onto Erimem, but has landed in this particular time and place on purpose. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it sounds like the TARDIS amuses herself by scouring the timelines for doubles of the Doctor’s companions and dropping them off nearby.
Finally, I can’t help but notice that the “world” the Doctor has to save this time around is France, and the “aliens” he’s saving it from are English, never mind that the voice actors sound just as English as Jean-Luc Picard.