The Church and the Crown
Traveling with two lovely women and a cat, the Fifth Doctor is out of his depth. Uneasy around women and unsure of himself, he decides to deliver Pharoah Erimem (a female Pharoah forgotten by history books) to the Braxtiel Collection and instead arrives in 17th Century Paris. Without missing a beat, he instead introduces the Egyptian Pharoah to a sticky bun while Peri wanders off only to get involved in local politics. An almost exact double for Queen Anne, Peri is abducted and becomes part of a political ploy for power.
On TV, the historical Doctor Who adventure was a dead duck by the Second Doctor’s first series, pushed aside in favor of monster stories. In the audio format, there is more leeway to explore this avenue and produce some of the finer stories that the program has to offer. There is of course a tendency for Doctor Who to flip an historical event into a science fiction story by introducing shipwrecked aliens causing the Great Fire of London or inter-dimensional witches preventing Love’s Labors Regained from being performed, but it takes a refined talent to retain the historical context and instead concentrate on strong storytelling rather than sensationalism. Like The Marian Conspiracy before it, The Church and the Crown is an achievement that could probably not be produced for television. The writing is more intelligent and the pacing slower than what one would attempt on screen and in the end it lends itself to the audio ‘radio drama’ medium far more easily.
Far older than he was when he played the Doctor on screen, Peter Davison is trying out different ideas in his portrayal of the Doctor and it is a richly enjoyable experience. Flustered, addle-brained and awkward, the Fifth Doctor is nonetheless passionate and brave if only a little obsessed with getting the details correct rather than any practical sense of self preservation. The closest that we have for a comparison on screen is Davison’s performance in Frontios (just released on DVD) where he is at first looking to remove a hat stand from the console room and in the same scene becomes instead interested in finding matching hatstand to assemble a pair of them.
It is so much fun to hear Davison interact with the musketeers, for instance, as he plays the buffoon while also granting them their signature catchphrase ‘All for one and one for all.’ Davison’s is still a strange approach to the character but it is very entertaining to witness where he can take the Doctor as a more experienced actor. When the Doctor meets Queen Anne and after seeing the resemblance to Peri realizes what has happened, he slowly understands what is at stake but cannot be taken seriously as he is misinterpreted to be the King’s new jester. Caroline Morris as Erimem, in good form, takes to the politics of the court easily, something that puts the Doctor off his admittedly shaky game. This flushes what could have been a run-around into a well balanced script separated evenly into portions that favor the cast (the TV program tripped over this idea many many times).
A stunningly beautiful actress on screen, Nicola Bryant has been something of a hit and miss companion in the audio adventures, perhaps due to the restraints of Peri’s character. It is, after all, difficult to make a heroine intended to simply fill out a bikini work in a radio drama. She has more success here as she is given much more to work with, showing that she has much more depth as an actress by playing the dual roles of Peri and Queen Anne.
A charming little adventure, The Church and the Crown is something of an oddity for Doctor Who as it neither strives to break the mold of what the program can do nor does it attempt to explore an emotional landscape of its characters. That’s not a knock against the stories that do attempt these things, but at the end of the day there comes a time when a simple straight-forward story is needed. A delightful and entertaining story, The Church and the Crown continues to develop the gentlemanly Fifth Doctor, gracefully utilizes the actress Nicola Bryant and comes up with some lovely material for Erimem, a new companion who failed to make much of an impact on her first outing.