I love a historical. Those are stories that don’t feature any sci-fi elements other than the TARDIS and the crew. They were a highlight of the First Doctor’s time, turned up once in the Second Doctor’s era, once again in the Fifth’s, and…that’s it. We haven’t had any since the early 1980s. Or rather, we haven’t had any on TV. Big Finish has done a few, and this is one of them.
The story features the First Doctor, Ian (William Russell), Barbara and Susan (Carol Anne Ford) arriving in Spain during the Inquisition, just a short time before the Armada is set for its date with Sir Francis Drake.
Naturally, it isn’t long before the TARDIS crew gets involved. They see a Moorish family being kicked out of their house and the house being burned down. Ian gets incensed at this and intervenes, which does not end well for him. This puts the crew on the wrong side of the Inquisition, a group not known for their sense of fun. Astonishingly no one makes any comments about how unexpected the whole thing was.
Soon the Doctor is impersonating a Papal Legate, Susan is pretending to be a monk, while Ian is on the run with a Morisco and Barbara is hiding out with a suspiciously familiar man. And behind the scenes, an English priest appears to be out for revenge…
There was much here that I really enjoyed. First off, the Big Finish do their usual great job of recreating the “feel” of a First Doctor historical. They really get deep into the politics of the era and explore the options of changing history without veering into the “timey wimey” stuff that the new series so often gets into.
It was also just wonderful to hear William Russell and Carol Anne Ford reprise their roles as Ian and Susan. They’d appeared separately in the Companion Chronicles before, and in the Lost Stories episode, “Farewell, Great Macedon”, but this was the first CC that featured them together, and it’s to the benefit of the format. I do hope we hear more of them together in Big Finish’s upcoming “The Early Adventures” line. I do also have to give special recognition to actor Nabil Elouahabi, who does an excellent job of playing the Morisco Esteban. He really holds his own against the other two actors.
This isn’t to say that the story is without flaws. It’s twice as long as the usual CC stories are, and at two hours it’s not quite as easy to listen to. I like the CC line, don’t get me wrong, but they do suffer a bit in not being full-cast audios. That’s apparent in the 60 minute format, but even more so in the 120 minute format where the shortcomings of the narrative style become apparent.
That said, this is still a good story and well-worth hearing, though definitely more for fans of the First Doctor era. And I must say that I learned a bit more about Sir Francis Drake, the “Singeing of the King’s Beard” and the Spanish Armada than I did before. That alone means that it accomplished one of the goals the original series set out to do!
Next time: The Second Doctor, Polly, Jamie and Ben investigate goings on at a mysterious space casino!
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