A Shakespeare premiere goes awry when Peri and Erimem wind up drawing too much attention to themselves, but that’s not as incongruous as the Doctor attempting to drink the Bard himself under the table during a heated argument over historical accuracy, specifically with regards to the fate of the two princes in the Tower of London. The Doctor, after clearing his head, decides to investigate the matter for himself, but the TARDIS is in the hands of an impaired driver – a temporal “hiccup” strands Erimem and Peri in the right place, but two years before the Doctor’s arrival. The Doctor is brought before Richard III, and is disturbed to find himself in the presence of a King who is not only aware of time travel, but of the Doctor himself. Peri and Erimem set out to solve the mystery for themselves in the Doctor’s absence, but they find no princes in the Tower – instead, they become the Tower’s two captives, changing history with nearly everything they say or do…no matter how hard they try not to.
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Caroline Morris (Erimem), Arthur Smith (Clarrie), Michael Fenton-Stevens (Mr. Seyton), Stephen Beckett (Richard, Duke of Gloucester), Marcus Hutton (Henry, Duke of Buckingham), John Culshaw (Earl Rivers / voice of the Fourth Doctor), Chris Neill (Sir James Tyrell), Katie Wimpenny (Susan), Linzi Matthews (Judith)
Timeline: between The Council Of Nicaea and The Gathering
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: I’ll fess up to this: I listened to this entire Big Finish audio play in one sitting late at night, already tired, while working on something else. Which may account for my reaction to The Kingmaker, which can best be summed up as follows: what the…?
In Nev Fountain’s second effort for Big Finish (his first was 2003’s brilliantly deceptive Omega), we go rocketing past the head trip of Omega and round the corner straight into surreal territory. The Kingmaker is one of the most bizarre things Big Finish has put into the recording studio, and keep in mind, this is even when you count stuff like The Ratings War and Zagreus. And some appropriately bizarre voice casting seems to have been dictated by the script: we get a treacherous man-who-would-be-king who sounds suspiciously like Christopher Eccleston (but isn’t), complete with an utterance of “Fantastic!”, and we get a guest appearance from Jon Culshaw, who plays not only another period character in the story, but uses a voice that fans of both Dead Ringers and Doctor Who will recognize instantly. Despite Big Finish’s insistence that it wouldn’t recast the first, second or third Doctors, whose actors are all deceased, apparently recasting the fourth – if only in a kind of recorded vocal flashback – is kosher. Not that Culshaw does it badly, mind you – I actually found this to be one of the story’s most enjoyable features.
There are numerous other elements which threaten to inflict major structural damage upon the fourth wall, including the canonization of – of all things – the various “Doctor Who Discovers…” non-fictional children’s books of the 1970s and ’80s (a gag which I’d take on board if only it explained the one-off use of the “Doctor Who” name in The War Machines). There’s a really atypical number of joking references to Peri’s breasts, and a recurring gag about whether or not the Master is behind it all (the evil plot, that is, not Peri’s breasts). Unlike most Peter Davison-era TV episodes, and indeed audios episodes, The Kingmaker has its tongue planted firmly in cheek as it fries up a few sacred cows for burger meat. As for its oddball treatment of certain historical figures (which makes a huge mess of not only such stories as The Shakespeare Code – which had yet to be produced when The Kingmaker went into the studio – but even other audios – i.e. Time Of The Daleks)…perhaps The Kingmaker needs to be retconned into an alternate universe. It’s a fun listen, but trying to reconcile it with real history and Who history is an exercise not meant for the weak of heart.
Big Finish has ventured further afield with the kind of stories it tells than I ever expected them to when the audio series started in 1999, with brilliantly gutsy stories, unusual narrative techniques, and even a misstep or two…but this is the closest that the Doctor Who audio adventures have gotten to satirizing Doctor Who. The Kingmaker can be amusing if you’re in the right frame of mind, but it’s almost a parody of the series of which it’s meant to be a part.