Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Kingmaker written by Nev Fountain and directed by Gary Russell


What’s it about: Dr Who encounters one of the most notorious characters from the past, as he journeys through time to solve the great Historical Mysteries... Not surprisingly the Doctor becomes mixed up with Richard the third himself, as he tries to unravel the perplexing problem of who exactly killed the Princes in the Tower. Peri and Erimem also encounter a suspicious time traveller. Someone from the Doctor's own past. Someone who shouldn't really be there at all. So who did murder the Princes in the Tower? Perhaps it's best not to ask a question like that. You might not like the answer...

An English Gentleman: Of all the hypocritical, myopic buffoons – the fifth Doctor on his predecessor. He’s got him so annoyed his talking to himself and he hates it when that happens! One of those lazy writers who were paid but never got around to writing the books! There was a time during his hiatus on 20th Century Earth when the Doctor realised the UNIT was not the most security conscious organisation there has ever been! He became a local celebrity for a while but managed to avoid the chat show circuit but he did play the odd cricket match for the Lords Taverners. He was commissioned to write a number of thought provoking tomes – ‘Doctor Who Discovers Series!’ This is a wonderful jibe at all those wonderfully vacuous merchandise that filled the High Streets in the eighties including some pretty naff factual books with Tom Baker splayed on the front. He goes off on a rant about the CIA and their motto, talking about fighting wars after you have murdered the person who was supposed to! The fourth Doctor and Shakespeare quaffed a few ales together, the old drunk! Round up the suspects…the Doctor is treating the mystery of the Princes as an Agatha Christie novel – he loves murder mystery weekends! He has a knack for making himself inconspicuous. After the events of Mawdryn Undead the Doctor has a habit of losing his companions in an earlier time period! As a personal friend Clarrie would not insult him by refusing to take his money! He refuses to be the architect of Richard’s life. Richard considers him worse than a God; he sees past, present and future and makes sure we all act according to the rules. ‘What do you mean I can’t hold my drink?’ Ginger pop has delirious effects on a Time Lord. One of these days he is going to make the door control in the TARDIS much less conspicuous! He has a charmed existence, it has been noted by many frustrated dictators and warlords.

American Attitude: A wonderful, wonderful story for Peri who gets so many priceless moments I lost count by the end of the story! Nicola Bryant gives this witty material such exuberance, I have always adored her in the role but this is one of her best ever performances. Every time Peri opens her mouth I couldn’t decide whether to laugh my head off or cringe – most of the time I just said ‘Oh Peri…’ Peri spoils the end of Richard the Third, telling the crowd the ending. She assures Erimem that things will get better in about 400 years when England gets the Beatles and fashion sense! Likes ‘Doctor Who’ – it gives him an air of mystery! Its wonderful how Peri tentatively talks to Erimem about the Internet which reminds that whilst she is far more contemporary than Erimem she is still from the 1980’s. Peri is so squeamish (Is he…? Is he…?’) and is the most excitable historical sightseer ever – she goes nuts as soon she realises that they are tending one of the Princes going off on some mad tangent that they can save them! Clarrie doesn’t like wenches with big portions like Peri! I love Peri’s insane assertion that Satan is the Master just because he has a pointy beard – jumping to conclusions just like the fans of the series. Sometimes she is as unfathomable as the Sphinx herself, Peri (the idiot) considered it very rude to eavesdrop on the people that are plotting to kill her and so points it out thus bringing her potential execution forward very suddenly! What she lacks in subtlety she makes up for in certainty! Erimem doesn’t think that another hole in Peri’s head would be such a good idea since they already have enough trouble with the one under her nose! The Doctor sees right through Richard’s scheme to have Peri and Erimem executed as the Princes, arranging the death of his friends to save everything. ‘I do apologise on her behalf’ says the Doctor ‘she’s American!’ She’s sick of the Doctor and Erimem nodding and winking at each other like a couple of old tramps in a musical! Given his deft handling of the character, this is a very good omen for Peri and the Piscon Paradox.

Dusky Babe: In her time it always the women who provide most of the entertainment. Ahem. Erimem breaks a guys arm for touching her bottom in the crowd – you go girl! She would have servants back home to hurt men who would dare touch her royal behind. She doesn’t see much to love in England that the Doctor loves so much. Erimem understands without sacrificing the Princes the consequences would be disastrous and she is perfectly willing to go through with it. She doesn’t consider it inhuman and she gets very tired of having to live her life through Peri’s eyes all the time. She cannot understand how Peri can be so scared of death, the most common thing in the world. Erimem suggests that they kill themselves to make sure the timeline runs smoothly. Nev Fountain has really tapped into the psychology of Erimem, she considers death just another step on her journey and to have Peri genuinely afraid of her friend because of their cultural differences is pretty audacious. The fact that this is staged as a gag that Peri genuinely believes proves there is something worth tapping into there. The double inversion that Erimem actually was telling the truth all along but lied for Peri’s sake leave this whole exercise in a pleasingly ambiguous state. The time she has spent in the TARDIS has been the happiest of her whole life and she does love Peri.

Standout Performance: A great cast for a great script. Jon Culshaw does a wonderfully funny Tom Baker impersonation, including overdramaticising the end of sentences (‘He decided to act!’) and giggles madly. Stephen Beckett sounds eerily like Christopher Eccleston, I was certain it was he in the part that I kept checking the sleeve despite what my eyes were telling me I still thought it was him! Beckett gives a sterling performance as Richard and manages to walk a fine line between deadpan comedy and chilling seriousness.
The story would probably fall on the wrong side of farce if it weren’t for this studied, intense performance. I could never mistake Arthur Smith’s voice, such a funny man. The Royal High Concussor is so ludicrously camp he’s pretty scary (‘Don’t forget when you land swing your knees around’).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Look! Richard the III has got the hump!’
‘Have you ever tried to get a writer to keep a deadline? I would say that laser canons are a minimum requirement.’
I loved the scene where Bucko and Richard talk in the pub and he tells the Duke of the Gloucester ‘they say…’ and he asks ‘who’s they?’ ‘You know they who do say!’ – me and Simon have this conversation all the time, me generalising and saying everybody says things and he’s always ‘who’s everybody?’ Sorry gone of on a tangent but this made me laugh, a lot!
‘Just up them stairs and try every door you come to and when the screams stops you’ll know you’ve found the bedroom that isn’t used by either of my two nieces.’
‘The story changes, the ending stays the same!’
‘A Sonta-Fragma-what?’
‘Erimem, I’m not sure but I think Shakespeare put a hand on your royal behind!’
‘No one killed the Princes in the Tower and Shakespeare died at the Battle of Bosworth, there’s no way I can put that in my Doctor Who Discovers Historical Mysteries book!’

Great Ideas: One of the biggest historical mysteries of all time – did Richard kill the Princes in the Tower? A nine-foot robot, a publisher’s reminder bot come to discuss some deadlines. One all-powerful monolithic publishing house at the end of time and owns all the authors throughout history. The TARDIS landing sounds like ‘a dying horse’ Richard being told that in the future Shakespeare will write a tragedy about the events that are about to happen, the tragic events to come if he allows Edward to ascent to the throne or lets either of them live (although Richard finds it all a bit fanciful). A dinner and debauchery 2 for 1 offer (a meal and a 14 year old will sit on your knee and giggle suggestively). The last sighting of the Princes is in 1484 but the Doctor sees them playing tennis in 1485. Peri and Erimem worked for Clarrie in the bar for six months as serving wenches! Peri and Erimem discover that the Prince that they save is in fact…a robot! Who is this Mr Satan that has cast a glamour over Richard? Elizabeth has given up hope and the Woodville’s are the only family that could possibly successfully revolt against
Richard. If the Princes die in Richard’s care his reign will end and they want Peri and Erimem to poison them. When he was younger Richard was visited by many aliens claiming to be on holiday, all with strong opinions on whether he should kill the Princes or not and he soon learnt that by mentioning the Doctor’s name they would soon scarper. Richard strung Satan along making him think he was bewitched but really he was just trying to find out about the Doctor. The Doctor kills the Princes to keep the Web of Time safe? Will Shakespeare has been rummaging around in the TARDIS for the last couple of years and has acquired all sorts of equipment including Dalek and Cyberman technology. Shakespeare tried to manipulate Richard into killing the Princes so his play in the future would be accurate – that is Douglas Adams style genius! Taking Richard to the future so he can stand trial in Elizabeth’s court. There were never any Princes, Princesses on the other hand… Clarrie is the Duke of Clarence and his two nieces are the Princes! When Richard’s brother, Edward, had two girls he panicked, he needed to keep the line of royalty going and to stop the jitters rippling through the kingdom he announced that his second child was a son and when the third born was also a girl he carried on the pretension. Richard is appalled when he sees himself on stage with a hump and warts and all and heads out to remonstrate with the actors! How wonderful is it when the publishing robot appears to remind Shakespeare that his second draft of the Tempest is 7000 years out of date not long after Erimem has broken his writing arm! You can’t escape time but you can fool it sometimes. Richard going on to write Shakespeare’s plays and the Doctor points him in the direction of Sir Francis Bacon. Richard is a very literate man.

Audio Landscape: Dogs barking, the theatre atmosphere of jeers and bawdy comments, the awesome novel robot (‘Doctor Who!’), birdsong, tavern scenes, drinking ale (some serious gulping sounds!), carousing locals, throwing up, another dripping cell, Peri and Erimem playing tennis, the tick tock of hitting the tennis balls, Cyber blasts.

Musical Cues: Some wonderful mystery music as the Peri and Erimem first step from the TARDIS in the wrong time period.

Standout Scene: I love all the temporal scribblings between the Doctor and Peri – she writes him a letter in 1484 which he reads in 1485 and then the ninth Doctor (‘Northern chap with big ears’) travels back to before Peri and Erimem arrive a leaves a note with Clarrie for them! ‘I’ve just remembered! They left you another letter with strict instructions that it should be opened after that one!’ ‘Do you know my dears I clean forgot that that bloke left another letter…’ – what a fantastically naughty break-the-rules through time scene! Peri and Erimem posing as the Princes in the Tower is inspired. The end of episode three is really funny, Peri once again getting on her high horse and declaring the identity of…the Master (!!!) with the Doctor’s very deadpan ‘Peri, that’s not the Master…’ It’s William Shakespeare! What the hell is going on? Never has it been more fun to be so confused! Richard’s mournful ponderings over time at the end of the story give the story as great deal of pathos.

Notes: A gorgeous cover with a robot that looks uncannily like the one from The Celestial Toymaker.

Result: The last time I had this much fun with history and time travelling antics was City of Death and I don’t exaggerate when I hold this ingenious story in exactly the same league. Nev Fountain has written a fantastic script, which juggles passionate ideas, belly laughs, moments of genius and great character drama. No aliens in sight and yet this is still Doctor Who through and through, the guest cast are phenomenal and the direction keeps the story skipping along energetically. Fountain’s handling of the regulars is perfect, giving the usually colourless fifth Doctor some witty and wonderful moments, touching on Erimem’s ancestry and best of all pushing Peri into the limelight and have her go off like an emotional rocket. Two of the best Big Finish moments come with the revelation of who the Master really is and the identity of the real Princes – this story is beautifully thought through and has some delicious answers. Even the title is on the subterfuge. After an inconsistent run of stories that verged from ball squeezingly awful to tickle my fancies sublime, The Kingmaker is the first out and out classic in an age: 10/10


Artwork by Simon Hodges @ http://hisi79.deviantart.com/

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