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31 Dec 2003The King's Demons, by Paul Clarke
05 Jun 2016The King's Demons (audiobook), by Matthew Kilburn

'The King's Demons' is one of only a handful of two part Doctor Who stories, but only the second that serves no real purpose. Whereas 'Inside the Spacehip' cemented the relationship of the original TARDIS crew, 'The Rescue' introduced Vicki, and 'Black Orchid' allowed the team of the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric to relax and have fun together before Adric's death, 'The King's Demons', like 'The Sontaran Experiment' is pure filler. Whereas 'The Sontaran Experiment' was an interesting diversion however, 'The King's Demons' is a half-hearted waste of two episodes with an ill thought out plot.

My main objection to 'The King's Demons' is the Master. It is my opinion that the Master's motivation has always been reasonably consistent up to this point; during the Pertwee era he was motivated by a desire to humiliate and impress the Doctor, usually whilst gaining power for himself in the process. From 'The Deadly Assassin' onwards, he has also been motivated by survival, having been reduced to the state of an animated cadaver and then forced to survive by stealing a non Time Lord body. And then suddenly, he turns into the Meddling Monk. The Master's plan to prevent the Magna Carta is feeble beyond words; his intention, apparently, is to use Kamelion to muck about with history all over the universe. Suddenly and inexplicably interested in chaos (perhaps he's been working for the Black Guardian?) he intends to emerge as Master of a chaotic universe. Which is just silly, frankly. His insistence back in Season Eight that he wanted to bring order to the universe at least made some sense. Then there's his pointless disguise, which is as pointless as the one he adopted in 'Time-Flight', and as in that story serves only as a cheap plot device to provide a cliffhanger. To make matters worse, it isn't even a very good disguise, Estram being easily recognizable as Anthony Ainley. Furthermore, even though Ranulf sees Estram transform into the Master, they are still astonishingly easily convinced to trust him in Episode Two, with not so much as a question as to how he changed his appearance. 

But what really annoys me about 'The King's Demons' is the wasted potential. Terrance Dudley does something right, by showcasing the Doctor/Master rivalry rather well during their scenes together. The swordfight between them is just as gratuitous as the one in 'The Sea Devils', but is once again quite entertaining. And as in that story, the Doctor proves the better swordsman, which must really sting the Master's ego. The Master showing Kamelion off in Episode Two is a pure Dr Evil moment, since he just stands and explains his plan with a smug look, but his showing off does recapture the relationship of old between them. The problem is, the relationship of old is captured to the extent that, even after the Master's destruction of a large portion of the universe in 'Logopolis', the Doctor still pleads for the life of his former friend at the start of Episode Two. His tendency to get a mass murderer get away because they were once friends is intriguing at best, but after 'Logopolis' it makes the Doctor look horribly irresponsible. And there's Anthony Ainley himself; after indulging in a cod French accent as Sir Giles, he varies between restraint and ham from scene to scene. When he's keeping his performance under control, he's great; his battle of wits with the Doctor is an effective focus for their rivalry, and the fact that the Doctor wins must have been another blow to his ego. He also gets a great moment when a guard shoots Geoffrey, as he pats the guard on the shoulder with a smirk and says "excellent shot" as though he's discussing the weather. But he also chuckles too much, and he gets saddled with lines like "medieval misfits!" which virtually nobody could deliver without sounding awful. His final speaking scene shows him triumphantly announcing that the Doctor has not won yet, and with a manic glee on his face heads off to his TARDIS. We don't see him again after his TARDIS dematerializes, the Doctor casually explaining that he used the Tissue Compression Eliminator to sabotage the Master's TARDIS. It all just feels very anticlimactic, even if the Doctor does manage to deprive him of Kamelion and ensure that he can't steer his TARDIS. 

The regulars get very little to do, partly due to time constraints. Davison is as good as ever, and he and Ainley make the swordfight quite impressive and the Doctor's playing up to the ersatz King John gives an impression of his mind furiously trying to find ways to stop the Master. It is also quite interesting to consider that the Doctor's concern for life earns him the enmity of Hugh, who considers himself to have been dishonoured by Estram sparing him; it's an interesting twist on one of the Doctor's common methods of earning people's trust. Tegan and Turlough on the other hand get very little to do; Tegan does little except follow the Doctor around so that he can explain the plot, although the moment when she throws a knife at the Master is a nice touch, serving as a reminder of just how much cause she has to hate him. Turlough spends most of the story locked up, and aside from offering occasional caustic remarks does nothing of any note. 

At the start of this review, I suggested that 'The King's Demons' serves little purpose, but of course it is in fact designed to introduce Kamelion. The problem is, this is something of a non-event; as a plot device, Kamelion is a contrivance; as a new companion, he has potential, but due to the notorious behind the scenes tragedies associated with the prop, this potential was never explored on screen. With Gerald Flood now deceased, it seems unlikely that Big Finish will ever include Kamelion in an audio story, which leaves only Craig Hinton's 'The Crystal Bucephalus' (and to a lesser extent, Christopher Bulis' 'Imperial Moon') the only story that has made anything of him. All in all, this is a shame; a shape-shifting companion has great potential, as fans of comic strip (and occasionally audio) companion Frobisher can attest. Furthermore, I rather like the Kamelion prop, and Gerald Flood's prim and slightly haughty vocal performance works very well. The problem with Kamelion though is that although he has a mind of his own, he doesn't have time to develop a very distinctive personality in this story and he isn't seen again until 'Planet of Fire'; furthermore, the ability of others to bend him to their will means that he seems more like a tool than a person, which means that the overall impression left by 'The King's Demons' is that it is an insubstantial showcase for a mere gimmick. 

There isn't much else to say about 'The King's Demons' really. The guest cast is fine, although Frank Windsor is wasted and Gerald Flood gets a bit hammy as King John. Mind you, considering the stilted period dialogue he's given, this is not surprising. It all looks great too, with nice location work, decent sets and costumes, and it also has a good incidental score from Jonathon Gibbs. But 'The King's Demons' remains both deeply flawed and inconsequential, and is a very lacklustre ending to the generally rather strong Season Twenty.

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The King's Demons (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terence Dudley
Read by Mark Strickson
Duration 5 hours approx.
Released 5th May 2015 (buy from Amazon UK)
 

We’re told that there is a fashion for slow television now, the latest Nordic trend to be picked up by BBC Four. Terence Dudley’s novelization of The King’s Demons is perhaps best appreciated as slow Doctor Who. However, this is no sleigh ride or canal journey. Listening to the audiobook of the story, it feels that every incident is subjected to multiple assessments and every epithet is sent in search of a synonym and in due course an antonym.

Terence Dudley’s practice as a drama series producer was often to emphasise his guest cast at the expense of his regulars. Something similar happens in the book of The King’s Demons where Dudley seems to feel his audience should be more interested in his own creations than they are in the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough. This would be less of a problem were Ranulf Fitzwilliam, Geoffrey de Lacey and the rest better-developed, but instead the listener learns little more about their backgrounds than was disclosed on television. One isn’t actually sure whether Dudley likes the Doctor and Tegan all that much. The Doctor is often priggish, smug and prone to supercilious disclosure of information. More uncomfortable is the characterization of Tegan: to be Australian and female is enough. Once Ranulf has decided that she must be a succubus – a demon who seduced men and weakened and killed them through sexual activity – Dudley likes to return to this as often as he can.

The King’s Demons has less plot than it has situation, and Dudley seems more interested in this than in story. Dudley likes to play a little with the vocabulary of material culture – he’s fond of people drinking from stoups, for example – and there is more in the text to correct the idea that Pip and Jane Baker had a monopoly on arcane and archaic wordplay in 1980s Doctor Who. The King’s Demons is painted on a small canvas but at least it has detail. Sadly a lot of that detail undermines its effectiveness. Archaic vocabulary if not used well can make an author seem self-satisfied. As for its sense of political history, Dudley seems to have read a book on King John which sought to revise conventional assumptions about his reputation, but then misunderstood it. In the novelization, Dudley not only repeats his dubious assessment that Magna Carta should be seen not as a baronial victory over the king but as an expression of enlightened royal policy, but then suggests that the charter King John signed in 1215 wasn’t as important as a later revised reissue under his son Henry III anyway. This may have something to it, but it only emphasises the oddness of the Master’s quest to prevent Magna Carta from being signed.

The source novelisation might be problematic, but this production does its best to overcome the material. Mark Strickson is a polished and sensitive narrator and the music cues are used with restraint and to good effect, though this version misses the lute playing and Strickson doesn’t attempt to sing King John’s song. His Tegan makes one wince but this accurately reflects how badly she is served by the book. Strickson does handle the many two-handed scenes of confinement well, especially the interrogation of Turlough by Sir Gilles Estram. The latter is one of the stronger characters in the book, despite his being a performance by another character, the Master. Strickson’s French accent is more thoughtful even if just as theatrical as Anthony Ainley’s was on television. The story, such as it is, is full of outsiders being cast as other people – the TARDIS travellers as demons, the Master as Sir Gilles, Kamelion as King John – but it ends with their Fitzwilliam hosts and the audience wondering what it was all about.

Sadly this is an audio adaptation for completists and the especially curious only. Terence Dudley’s grasp of what made Doctor Who work doesn’t seem to have been strong, and his belief that Tegan was still at this stage seeking to return to ‘London Airport’ (itself an anachronism in the 1980s) speaks of his detachment from the series’ continuing storylines. The effort of BBC Audio in bringing this to release is appreciated, but it’s a good thing that there remain better books than this to adapt in the novelization range.

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