THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
The Church and the Crown

Written by Joseph Lidster Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2002
Continuity Between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani.

Starring Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant and Caroline Morris
Also featuring Andrew Mackay, Michael Shallard, Marcus Hutton, Peter John, Andy Coleman, Robert Curbishley, Wendy Albiston

Synopsis: 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.


Reviews

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 22/1/03

One of the main reasons for the longevity and success of Doctor Who is undoubtedly the sheer variety of stories it is able to tell. Of its very nature, DW presents a format that can go anywhere - nowhere is out of bounds, nowhere is beyond the realms of the imagination. Doctor Who has constantly shifted between story types - it's a reason it is notoriously difficult to label the show as any one genre type. Science Fiction, Science Fantasy, Fantasy - take your pick - it's Doctor Who to me, and I love it! Witness, or rather lend an ear to, the last few releases from Big Finish. We have had a story taken straight from the mythos of DW itself. We have had a verbacious confined story set in a college. We've had a modern day depression related, dance infested voyage to Ibiza. We've had a futuristic monster story set in deep space. Now we have a fantasy historical, with plenty of humour! If Big Finish wants to achieve the most varied set of DW stories in its history, then 2002 has achieved just that.

DW can, by its very nature, be any story type. Just insert our favourite Doctors and Companions in there (and there's enough of them too), and with a great deal of skill from accomplished writers and production crew, run with it. This is what has happened here. Mark Wright and Cavan Scott have taken the swashbuckling musketeering of 17th Century France, as popularized by Alexander Dumas, and woven a fabulous adventure story round it.

Characters are taken straight from this genre, both fictional and factual, and a huge lot of fun is had by all, especially the listener. It really does feel like we are in one of those romantic, fantasy adventure yarns, and I can only count on one hand how many times DW has gone even close to this story type before. The story is familiar, because we are used to the genre, but wonderfully entertaining and quite different because of the TARDIS crews involvement.

This TARDIS Crew have only just come together. The story is set directly after Eye of the Scorpion, and Erimem, the Egyptian Pharoah is onboard. Her character is superbly appropriate to this battle of wits between the Church and the Crown. She is familiar with the conventions of royalty, and also the interference and importance of religion. Paris is another world for her, but the royal court and its contrasting personalities is right up her street. The wonder she shows throughout is infectious - Big Finish have done it again and created a fabulous new Companion for the Doctor. Full credit to Caroline Morris who brings the character alive.

Peri continues to be much better written in the audio medium than on TV. Here Nicola Bryant has a dual role, and she excels in both. She makes the 2 parts sufficiently different for the listener, but we still know it is the same actress doing both. You have to admire the audacity of the writers and production team creating a lookalike, where there is nothing to look at! I was very pleased to see a friendship developing between Peri and Erimem. They giggle their way through scenes together, bouncing off one another with their love of adventure and life. Peri never had a foil on TV, and it's refreshing that the audios have introduced this new angle to her character. She's better for having a friend to join her in her TARDIS travels.

As well as the companions are written, the star of the show - the Doctor - is not neglected. Whilst this is not the most dominant Doctor story ever produced, Davison's Doctor is always around. Davison's comic timing comes to the fore, and his heroic personae gets an airing. He gets tortured, gets to sword fight with the best, and gets an unwelcome honour bestowed upon him. I am fed up of hearing that the 5th Doctor was lacking in personality. In this drama he gets to show all his character traits, and as a result this great Doctor is totally brilliant throughout. All the TARDIS crew are excellent in this drama, and their interplay between each other is some of the best we have heard. They really get on, and after a stream of 80s Dr/Companion teams that didn't that is wonderful to see.

The supporting cast is a fine one. Each actor and actress throws themselves into their respective roles with gusto. My personal favourite was Delmarre, played by Peter John. Ably supported by Andy Coleman as Rouffet, they are both the epitome of dashing, musketeering ebullience. Storming in to each situation, they provide both the best action, and the best humour, of the story. The two leaders of the Church and the Crown, Cardinal Richelieu and King Louis, are also impressive. It took a little while to warm to Louis, but then the idea was to make him unlikeable I presume. This spoilt King was played with just the right enthusiasm. Richelieu came across as quite creepy at first, but over the 4 episodes you rethought his role in all this. The obvious baddie from the start was less so, as the play developed. Behind the scenes, scheming his own plot, is Buckingham. A splendid performance from Marcus Hutton (especially in the final episode) brought this character alive. This audio drama is full of very good players, right through the ranks. They are characters that are not set, with perceptions changing towards them throughout. It's one of the best casts Big Finish has assembled.

As an historical drama The Church and the Crown is great entertainment. It made me laugh, it drew me into its fantastic world. It's not a production that is out to teach a great deal, but it's one that will always be welcome. That it exists in a romantic world that was legendary, rather than factual, provides charms of its own. It has its moments of seriousness, but they never stay around too long. The humour results naturally from the situations, and each character has their own moments of wit and wisdom. It's a polished script from Wright and Scott, their best one to date.

The Church and the Crown is brilliant entertainment. Listen to it, you'll enjoy it, it will put a smile on your face! Another hit! 9/10


Dumas and Dumber by Andrew Wixon 29/1/03

You have to admire Big Finish's willingness to tackle all shades of DW, past and present (albeit filtered through their stable of regular Doctors). And this includes the so-called pure historical, which itself was a many-headed beast. Marian Conspiracy was their homage to the serious high-minded early historicals like The Aztecs and Marco Polo. The Church and the Crown, on the other hand, is hewed straight from the same vein as The Gunfighters or The Highlanders - it's a romp, pure and simple, owing more to Hollywood (in this case the 70s Richard Lester Musketeer movies) than to history textbooks.

And while the results are good-natured and distracting enough, I found it slightly lacking. There's a lot of awfully familiar material here, from a famous doppelganger for one of the regulars, to some very old jokes. There's virtually no insight into the historical setting, either (although the script refreshingly assigns the role of villain slightly differently to Alexandre Dumas' books). The lack of a big-name guest star is keenly felt, as the guest cast do not particularly distinguish themselves (with the exception of Andrew Mackay as Louis XIII, who at times seems to be attempting a bizarre Rik Mayall impersonation).

Where the story really succeeds is with the companions. Nicola Bryant gets to show off the fact she can do other accents (and is possibly slightly better in her dual role - sorry, pun not intended - than she is as Peri), while the decision to keep Caroline Morris on as a regular looks like a very good one - Eminem gets lots to do throughout and looks like striking a good balance between being an interesting character but having to do all the usual companion stuff (getting captured, doing exposition, etc, etc). They and Peter Davison keep the story ambling along, and it's a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours. But I'd've preferred something a bit less frothy.


Melodrama... by Joe Ford 25/2/03

I try not to be biased truly I don't but when every piece of merchandise that comes out in one month is Peter Davison themed I find my will to live in jepordy. What with the only book this month being Fear of the Dark, the DVD being Resurrection of the Daleks and this being the audio I have little to look forward to. However there were three things that kept my mildly optimistic about this audio... number one being the fact that its a purely historical and the only two Big Finish previously made (The Marian Conspiracy and The Fires of Vulcan) were both in my top ten audios. Number two was the cover that was released a while ago and gives the impression of a colourful adventure indeed. Thirdly we get the return of Erimem from Eye of the Scorpion who proved instantly engaging in that story.

Ahh... I should know better than to get my hopes up.

My joy at listening to an audio was dampened by the time I reached episode two. This is merely a re-hash of every Doctor Who historical ever made. We have the companion having their double in town that was done in Black Orchid (or the Doctor in The Massacre), we have the politics of The Marian Conspiracy and the romantic flavour of The Smugglers. Oh and the religous angle from The Massacre. Whilst The Church and the Crown uses these assets competently it brings nothing fresh to the mix. The result is a rather lacklustre tale, after you've gotten over some juicy dialogue there's little else to enjoy.

However my biggest complaint goes to Russel Stone whose music in the past has been nothing short of brilliant. Indeed his music for the previous adventure, The Sandman. was extrodinarily moody and dramatic. Not since the days of Malcolm Clarke and have I heard such a woefully inapropriate score. This is a historical... so all this overly synthy stuff is just hopeless. We needed dramatic drumrolls and charming period pieces... look at the excellent period score of The Marian Conspiracy. The music here just dilutes the drama. I'm hoping for better things with Jubilee Mr Stone!

Also in trouble is Peter Davison who made quite a striking appearance in Spare Parts his last audio... he's back to that Gallifreyan dullard again and to make matters worse he has two brilliant companions surrounding him at both sides showing him up. Big problem when the companions make more of an impact. It's not that he does nothing... he's just too soft. As usual.

Hmm I shall stop moaning soon I promise. My final complaint goes to Andrew Mackay who provides one of the worst performance in Doctor Who history. Yes Louis was a nutter but talk about over playing! He stresses every line, starts sreaming for no reason... I'm aware that the very nature of Doctor Who gives it a melodramatic flair but this is ridiculous. What's a word for more than OTT?

Right, shall I tell you the things I did like? For a start Nicola Bryant was just superb and she's rapidly becoming one of my favourite audio companions. With some clever scripting and nice interplay with both her Doctor's she has come quite far since her days on the telly. Her double act as Peri and the Queen is nothing short of astonishing especially the sharp contrast in accents. She at least made all those Louis scenes bearable with her gorgeously understated performance.

Erimem makes quite a companion too. As with Leela we once again have a companion who is so out of her depth and yet loving every second of her travels. Caroline Morris injects her with just the right amount of enthusiasm and charm to keep you hooked. Her wonder at windows, sticky buns and local politics are all quite entertaining. I'm glad it won't be long before she returns.

The last episode is probably the best, a good judge of humour and drama but it still pales compared to some recent releases. I don't mean to be a party pooper (or a continuing Davison whinger... I do ENJOY saying nice things when there are nice things to say!) but Big Finish is capable of more than this. The story veers to much between silliness and seriousness making the tone of the piece hard to judge. Should we be laughing, cheering or crying? Damned if I know.

All this from the guys who gave us the superb Project: Twilight. Tut tut, back to the drawing board boys...


All For Fun and Fun For All by Mekel Rogers 23/6/03

After a long streak of five or six serious audio dramas Big Finish finally lightens up and gives us a really great romp through 18th century France. Never mind that the plot hinges on the unlikely coincidence that Peri Brown is a body double for Queen Anne. Just go with it and have fun.

Peter Davison is excellent once again, delivering lines with wisdom, compassion, and subtle sarcasm. Caroline Morris' Erimem comes across as a great character and is very well handled, especially in her teacher/student relationship with the Doctor. It is Nicola Bryant, however, that outshines everyone both as the tough, sassy, Peri and the cool, courtly, Queen Anne. Richelieu, Buckingham, and the Musketeers are all quite good as well. Only King Louis seems a bit over the top every now and then, but it only bothers you if you let it.

The plot is intricate but not confusing and the pace is just right, allowing the ambiance of France during the Age of Enlightenment to engulf the listener. The leisure scenes in which Erimem discovers windows and sticky buns are a nice touch as is the humor. Peri gets a great line here and there: "I'm more of a leotard and shorts kind of girl". Even Erimem gets to use the infamous "All these streets look the same to me" line which seems to be the Doctor Who equivalent of "He's dead, Jim."

The production is very nice, with the different settings being well realized in sound. I could have wished for some more authentic 18th century music every now and then, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story. Let's hope Big Finish can continue to make nice light historicals such as this and still make them good adventures. Time travel should be fun.

Bottom Line: Don't take it too seriously and you'll have a wonderful time.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 21/5/04

The Church And The Crown is a highly entertaining and enjoyable yarn that works in all aspects. Why it works is that the cast really seem to be enjoying themselves and as a result, this shows in the finished product.

The historical setting works well for both the Doctor in that it allows Peter Davison`s more humerous side to come to the fore and also for the companions. Nicola Bryant gets to stretch herself in two roles, one minus the American accent and this in turn gives newcomer Erimem a chance to shine. The enthusiasm Caroline Morris embues her with really comes across and it is a joy to listen to her repartee with the Doctor. The story itself is very much in the traditional mould of adventuring although the swashbuckling and political intrigues really do add greatly.

With strong performances and characterisation (the Doctor arguing with Erimem`s cat instantly springs to mind), The Chuch And The Crown proves that historical stories work just as well now as they did in the Hartnell era. Recommended.


A Review by John Seavey 3/9/05

The Church and the Crown, like Cavan Scott and Mark Wright's previous audio Project: Twilight, seemed almost to be working from a checklist of things to try to include. Major historical figure who's very different from popular perception: Check. Historical figure who's identical to a companion: Check. Everyone speaking in a British accent, despite not being British (and the lower classes being portrayed by lower-class Brits): Check. Oddly contemporary jokes and slang played for humor: Check. Gags based on subverting knowledge of the source material: Check.

So is it fun? For me, at least, Check. Scott and Wright create a light, frothy atmosphere reminiscent of some of the Hartnell historicals, and pack it with enough fun that even when you notice how cheesy it gets, that's actually part of the charm. Davison is clearly having a blast doing comedy, Caroline Morris and Nicola Bryant have some genuine chemistry that establishes Erimem and Peri as good friends in very limited scenes together, everyone else understands that this is an audio where overacting isn't just preferable, but necessary, and the whole thing has a sense of fun about itself. It won't win any awards, but it's entertaining.