REVIEW: Doctor Who – The Church and the Crown (2002)

An Audio Drama by Big Finish (38 in the main line)

A Big Finish Audio Drama, number 38 in the “main Line”

Whoops! I just realized I skipped over this one when doing my previous reviews of Jubilee and Bang-Bang-a-Boom, not sure how it happened, but it’s time to rectify the situation. Waiting this long is quite a shame because this particular audio drama is written by a certain Cavan Scott, someone that has become a very prominent author for Star Wars content as of late (and someone I have been reading a lot of), being one of the chief architects of Disney’s The High Republic cross-platform initiative. This is the second Fifth Doctor/Peri/Erimem story, continuing on from The Eye of the Scorpion, an audio that I reviewed a LOOOONG time ago, but recall enjoying a lot. This grouping of The Doctor and his Companions is very interesting to me for many reasons – notably because The Fifth Doctor as played by Peter Davison and Perpugilliam “Peri” Brown as played by Nikola Bryant never really got to do a whole ton when they were paired up. Peri specifically never had a good second companion to work off of, which Erimen, as played by Caroline Morris, excels at.

For those possibly new to these productions, Erimem is an interesting companion simply due to her status. Considering there is a trend of The Doctor generally hanging around with normal everyday people, save perhaps Nyssa who was of royal blood, having a literal Queen in The Tardis is quite different. Erimemushinteperem, or Erimem for short, was an uncrowned Khemetic Pharaoh from Ancient Egypt who was destined to succeed her father Amenhotep II, which The Doctor was aware never happened. Once she realized she had no place in history, she began traveling with The Tardis crew to make her own life her own way. Despite her previous station in life, she is a very kind character and a near sister to Peri, which is a dynamic that I quite enjoy. I always talk about how Big Finish “redeems” characters that may have had a rough time in the actual TV show, and Peri is a great example. No longer simply existing as eye-candy for the male fans of the series, Nikola Bryant delivers solid performances in every one of these I hear, and my entire opinion of her character has vastly changed.

A nation divided.
A Queen’s life at risk.
A net of conspiracy closing in…
Sometimes being a time travelling adventurer just isn’t easy…

For a start there’s a temperamental TARDIS that lands a few thousand years off course in 17th Century Paris. But why shouldn’t the Doctor, Peri and their travelling guest Erimem take a look around the city on the morning of King Louis’s annual State Ball?
As Peri becomes embroiled in a plot to kill Queen Anne and smash the unity of the Church and the Crown, the Doctor finds himself duelling Musketeers on the streets.
With Peri missing, Erimem catching King Louis’ eye and a Musketeer’s sword at your throat, could things get any worse?

Probably…

One of the best things about this series is that this is a genuine historical, something you rarely see anymore. There aren’t secret alien musketeers, robot cardinals, monsters, meddling timelords, or any of the tropes we usually see in modern televised episodes. It follows the idea that the seemingly anachronistic events DID happen, but were covered up in order to avert a possible war between England and France. I thought this was a fun way to do a “what if” sort of episode, something that we all know is historically inaccurate without skewing reality. I honestly wish these sorts of episodes were made more, with me being a history buff, I’d absolutely love it, but I can see why the casual fan might get bored with it. It’s a shame really.

The story takes place during the reign of France’s Louis XIII and Queen Anne, in the era of The Three Musketeers. Most of the humor lies in the obvious subversions of the narrative from the classic Alexandre Dumas story, especially by making the titular swordsmen ridiculous goofs that are basically obsessed with getting into random swordfights at the drop of a hat. It’s not until Erimem jacks them up them with an inspirational war speech that they come to their senses and do the heroics they end up known for. One joke I loved was The Doctor trying to introduce the Musketeers to their “all for one, and one for all!” catchphrase from the novel, to which it is suggested “that will never catch on!” While these little jokes are great, that isn’t to say this is a comedy episode at all. The main plot revolves around The Duke of Buckingham, George Villers, staging a series of “false flag” attacks to pit the Royals and the Church against each other, making it much easier for a British Invasion. It’s a well-researched episode and very well written.

One of the best parts of this story is how strong Erimem is portrayed throughout. Despite being a total “fish out of water”, that has trouble understanding a lot of phrases and social conventions of people that live thousands of years after her young life, she knows exactly how to deal with the whims of nobility, shady clergymen, and unenthusiastic military-types. She’s a great asset to The Doctor, and I’d love to see a character such as her in the TV show for a change. She served the often used “man of action” archetype of the show, just flipped completely upside down.

I really liked this episode, and want to see more “pure historicals” like this in the future. Considering that I’m some TWENTY years behind, I’m sure more of them pop up eventually. This is one of the few in this line (so far) where every character feels big and important, everyone does something worthwhile, and nobody ends up being the “oh no I’ve twisted my ankle” character. Even though Peri is captured early on, she isn’t totally helpless. The acting is great, the audio design is top notch, and the writing is excellent, thus continuing a string of Peter Davison episodes hitting it out of the proverbial park. That’s saying a lot for me, as The Fifth Doctor is not one of my favorite eras of the show, but in audio form he consistently good!

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