The Doctor’s Tale reviewed

the doctors taleOctober 2014 gave us Marc Platt’s Chaucer themed story The Doctor’s Tale. This Early Adventures piece is a two-disc historical for the First Doctor as narrated and performed by William Russell (Iand and the Doctor) and Maureen o’Brien (Vicki, Barbara and the Narrator).

The excellent cast also includes Gareth Armstrong (Chaucer), Joseph Kloska (Sir Robert de Wensley), Alice Haig (Isabella) and  John Banks (Sir Thomas Arundel).

Welcome to Sonning, one cold winter, and beware the Lord of Misrule…

The story

The synopsis is concisely presented on the Big Finish product page:

England, 1400. Winter. Blood in the snow. Henry IV has usurped the throne, and deposed King Richard II languishes in Pomfret Castle.

Meanwhile the Doctor and his companions preside over New Year revels at Sonning Palace.

But Sonning is a prison, treachery is in the air and murderous Archbishop Thomas Arundel will stop at nothing to crush the rebellion.

As the Doctor and Barbara take the road to Canterbury, Vicki finds a royal friend and Ian is dragged into a dark web of conspiracy at whose heart sits that teller of tales, Geoffrey Chaucer.

To make this series more like the original TV shows, the individual parts also have names:

The Lord of Misrule: the TARDIS lands near Sonning (Berkshire) and discover it is 1400 as Henry IV has just deposed Richard II. They find Richard’s Queen Isabella is a permanent guest of the bishop (not quite prisoner) and she befriends Vicki while the Doctor becomes her tutor. They stay for a mid-winter feast and the Doctor plays the Lord of Misrule. The party is interrupted by Thomas Arundel who accuses the Doctor’s party of being the heresy of Lollardy

The White Hart: after being released from custody, the Doctor and Barbara go to Canterbury to see what has happened to Chaucer (Barbara is an admirer of his works). Ian and Sir Robert set off to follow with news of trouble, while Vicki and Isabella sneak off in a cart, hoping to reunite Isabella with Richard.

Sanctuary: Isabella and Vicki make Oxford while Ian and Robert fall in with conspirators in London, including Chaucer. There is much manipulation, betrayal and in the chaos Ian gets the manuscript for The Canterbury Tales. We also find out that Richard is dead.

The Empty Crown: Arundel is revealed as the arch villain, manipulating everyone and there are several threads coming together in a chase down the Thames that ends in a Arundel getting separated from his men and the Doctor playing mind games with him, supported by the ordinary people. All ends well, history ends up as we know it and the TARDIS moves on.

The storytelling

Lots of history and yet it all hangs together and makes a cracking story. I live near Sonning and have walked along the river past the Blue Coat School that was the palace in the story. The writing and sound give a sense that 1400 England was very different from how it is now, social change was in the offing (just) and human life was valued lightly by those in power.

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there are no bad performances

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John Banks is at his best as Thomas Arundel, but there are no bad performances. My only quibble is Isabella – her age is unclear in this play, historically she was very young and it makes the relationship with Richard a bit uneven. Not a big flaw.

As I listened this grew and grew in my imagination – one of the releases of the year!

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