Review: Doctor Who The Fourth Doctor Adventures – The Wrath of the Iceni

wrathoftheicenithecover_cover_largeBlurb: Britain. The height of the Roman occupation. The Doctor has brought Leela to ancient Norfolk to learn about her ancestors… but has no idea how much of an education she is going to get.

Because this is the time of Boudica’s rebellion. When the tribe of the Iceni rises up and attempts to overthrow the Roman masters.

As Leela begins to be swayed by the warrior queen’s words, the Doctor has to make a decision: save his friend… or save history itself?

Review: One of the strongest themes in Doctor Who is the moral question about the rightness of changing history. The Doctor often breezes into a situation and sorts out the problems, but in some situations he can’t. Ever since The Aztecs in the very first season, this has been a source of friction between the Doctor and his companions. The theme has come up every once in a while on the TV series since then but it has become fodder for the other media such as the novels and the audios. The fourth Doctor never had a true historical story, one without monster or science fiction element, so The Wrath of the Iceni allows him to explore new dramatic bounds and also gives a chance to explore his relationship with Leela.

Author John Dorney has displayed a talent for writing stories that get into the head of the various companions. Within the bounds of the established stories he has also been able to push the limits of their development. He does the same for Leela here. In Boudica she sees what she thinks is a kindred spirit from a civilization more similar to her own than anything she has encountered with the Doctor. She doesn’t understand why the Doctor can fight the bad guys in other situations but not here. Dorney then puts a spin on The Wrath of the Iceni to differentiate it from other stories in this mold. The Doctor is concerned about changing history and this causes the main conflict with Leela but he is also concerned that the situation that they’re in is not cut and dried. This is where the character development comes in. As Leela learns about Boudica she learns that she does not necessarily have the virtues that she assumed that she had. The story shifts to one more about Leela and where she stands and away from the morality of changing history. Will Leela be a savage or has her time with the Doctor taught her a better way? It’s that question that drives the story towards its conclusion.

The story has some minor faults. Some of the scenes seem that they’re lifted straight from previous Doctor Who stories. Also, the Doctor admits that the historical accounts about Boudica are sketchy but also acts 100% convinced that every person in Boudica’s army will die and that to interfere with that on any level would be changing history. People desert armies all the time. Armies have scouts and others who sometimes travel further afield. Sure, the Romans might say that they killed everyone, but that’s just what they claimed. It doesn’t mean that it happened. For the Doctor to act as if even preserving one life is a big deal seems just a tad disingenuous on the part of the writer. There’s also a reveal at the end which forces the listener to review the entire story in light of this new information. Once you have that information it seems as if all the dramatic tension that the story had built up just goes away. As it happens at the end it doesn’t ruin the enjoyment of the story, but it would definitely pose a problem listening to it again in the future.

The production values remain high on this story and one suspects that Big Finish has sunk a lot of time and money into these Fourth Doctor Adventures to make sure that they’re a success. This is Leela’s story and Louise Jameson knocks it out of the park. She goes through the full range of emotions – idolizing Boudica, getting angry at the Doctor, denial when faced with the cold truth about her idol, and pride in the person that she has become. Louise accomplishes it with such skill and by the end you’re really excited for Leela and the journey that she’s taken in the story. The Doctor is sidelined a bit in this one, which feels strange for the dynamic fourth Doctor. That aside, Tom is clearly enjoying doing these audios and he’s as fun as he ever is in this. Ella Kenion is a great choice for Boudica giving her a charisma that makes you understand why Leela would follow her but also able to play her with the intense insanity that so many Doctor Who villains display. She really conveys the sense of someone who has contemplated their own tragedy for so long that they come out the other end completely changed into something cold and inhuman. The music is sparse, but where it’s used it is used effectively to enhance the moment. The only real downside to this production is that it seems like Boudica only has about 3 people in her army. The story is perhaps hamstrung a little by being only two episodes long and it’s character-centric nature means that it has a relatively small cast. It’s to bad that the story didn’t have any more time because a few more characters would have helped to convey a little more scope to Boudica’s army.

Recommendation: The Wrath of the Iceni does for the fourth Doctor what The Glorious Revolution did for the second. It gives him a story where one of his best known companions and one who is often written off as a bit thick gets to have a moral argument with him and gets to score some points. This is a character piece about Leela learning whether or not she has grown as a person wrapped in a tale about the morality of changing history. Louise Jameson puts in a stellar performance and John Dorney crafts a tale that’ll have you at the edge of your seat, forgetting that you know from the TV stories how this one has to end. I highly recommend it.

9/10

2012

Audio Drama

Big Finish Productions

Directed by Ken Bentley

Produced by David Richardson

Written by John Dorney

Runtime Approx 60 min.

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