On a momentary sidestep after dropping Gravis off harmlessly on an isolated planetoid where it can no longer harm the people of Frontios, the Doctor arrives on Artaris, a primitive world where he meets a gruff warlord named Grayvorn. Grayvorn is en route to a convent whose nuns are entrusting him on a quest for an unidentified Relic. But the Doctor is horrified to learn that the nuns have taken on a new visitor: the irrepressible Time Lady known as Iris Wildthyme, the Doctor’s sometimes old flame and sometimes nuisiance. To make matters even worse, the convent’s Mother Superior has entrusted the only known map leading to the Relic to Iris, and insists that the troublesome time traveler accompany Grayvorn on that quest, with another nun, Sister Jolene, in tow. The Doctor, smelling trouble, tags along, and finds himself more than once keeping Grayvorn and Iris from each other’s throats. The Doctor is also suspicious of Sister Jolene’s motives for coming on the trip – and indeed, those of the Mother Superior who is behind the quest. Is the search for the Relic a deadly trap, or a true holy quest which may require terrible sacrifices of those who undertake it?
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Anthony Stewart Head (Lord Grayvorn), Katy Manning (Iris Wildthyme), Posy Miller (Sister Jolene), Patricia Leventon (Mother Superior), Billy Miller (Zombie King)
Timeline: during part 4 of Frontios
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: The beginning of a nifty little concept, Excelis Dawns’ big draw card was, of course, Anthony Head, a.k.a. Giles of Buffy The Vampire Slayer fame. But there are other appealing elements – the return of Katy Manning, not as Jo Grant but as the somewhat irresponsible Time Lady Iris Wildthyme, and more continuity references in the space of 100 minutes than we normally get with a whole year’s worth of Big Finish Audio Adventures. I lost count of how many episodes were referenced here, though I think my favorite such nod was to the death of Adric in Earthshock, and how it affected the Doctor’s fifth incarnation.
But first, there’s Giles…er…Grayvorn. Gruff, single-minded, brutish… nothing like Giles, really, and Head even lowers the register of his voice to lend the character just that much more of a Neanderthal air. It’s not until the end of the story that one really glimpses why Head was cast in such a role. The monumental job of mixing this play – Head recorded his lines for all three of his Excelis plays in a completely different, solo session apart from any of the other actors – is hardly noticeable, and that’s how it should be. Conscious of the wackiness resulting from the play’s recording schedule, I listened to Excelis Dawns with a subconscious eye toward finding the seams in the production, or any bizarreness resulting from grafting two sets of performances together that had little to do with each other, and I couldn’t spot any. It helps that some of the proceedings are narrated from Grayvorn’s perspective, giving the story a convenient reason to put Grayvorn’s voice by itself. (Though the Doctor’s interruptions in Grayvorn’s initial narration are rather amusing.)
Katy Manning, much as I loved her in the ’70s as Jo Grant, is nerve-wracking as Iris Wildthyme. Then again, that’s how the character was written, and even writer Paul Magrs, who created the character for the BBC’s novel range, says that how Manning played her is how Iris was envisioned – a gadfly, irritating but well-meaning, an annoying aunt and a mother hen all at the same time. Katy Manning may indeed have been the best choice to play the part, but it does wear thin a little bit – especially since, despite having been expanded from one disc to two at the last minute because the originally planned single-disc version left out too many vital story points, Excelis Dawns has no episode breaks whatsoever. Even the break between discs is handled as more of a fade out-fade in transition, not a cliffhanger.
Overall, it’s interesting, at least conceptually, to see how this story unfolds – and it does leave one suitably tantalized to follow up with the next play.