The Wraith of the Iceni
Written by John Dorney, directed by Ken Bentley
Released March 2012
The draft for this story is brief but succinct; Leela meets Boudicca. Referencing a time in Doctor Who’s long legacy when it would feature historical figures without feeling the need to reduce them to pop icons, The Wrath of the Iceni is an oddity in many ways. It hardly fits the period of Doctor Who that these stories are set in and it is also out of pace with the fanciful adventures that surround it in the Big Finish line. Author and actor John Dorney has crafted some astounding stories from the companion chronicles story The Rocket Men to adapting Foe From the Future for the Lost Stories series. He brings with him an extraordinary talent and precision for drama that makes him one of the best creators of the Big Finish stable of writers. All that said, The Wrath of the Iceni is a difficult audio to review as it is so intense and violent that it draws attention to its awkwardness.
Set within a run of stories that are comedic and rampant with witticisms, an adventure steeped in actual bloody history is something of a downer. That said, it is wonderful to hear a genuine Fourth Doctor historical adventure and one that challenges the relationship with the companion.
The importance of thew ‘web of time’ has been a shifting thing in Doctor Who. In one story the Doctor insists that it must be preserved while in another he plays an active role in events or even changes them to his whims. Therefore it is interesting to see the otherwise whimsical Fourth Doctor resolutely refuse to change the path of history. As it becomes clear when and where the TARDIS has landed, the Doctor gloomily realizes that he must not alter the way things must unfold, even when they are so unsettling.
Ravaged and furious, Boudicca is battling a war against the unstoppable Roman army. When she accepts that the Doctor is something of a seer with forbidden knowledge of the future, she demands that he help her win over her enemies. Feeling that her cause is just, Leela sees Boudicca as a kindred soul and one whom she must side with. The Doctor urges his ‘noble savage’ to see reason but is unsuccessful. Surrounded by historic tragedy and horror, this falling out between the best of friends is in appropriate company.
Tom Baker and Louise Jameson rise to the challenge of the material. I can’t help but feel that there is too much affection with Tom’s delivery of ‘noble savage’ as he interacts with Leela, no doubt informed by his excitement in working with his costar once more. Handed the meatiest of stories to work with, Jameson sparkles as Leela in this story as she is given a number of turns in character development and maturity (something lacking on screen).
Ella Kenion is amazing as Boudicca, the emotionally unstable yet magnetic warrior queen who is driven to battle even in the face of overwhelming opposition. The full tragedy of Boudicca’s life was unknown to me, so it was shocking to learn of the details. Set after the Romans conquered Britain, Boudicca and her husband ruled over the Iceni before their region fell under Roman control. After Boudicca’s husband died, the emperor Nero betrayed her and had her daughters violated before her eyes. It takes some doing to convince Leela that Boudicca is on a self destructive path that will drag any close to her into a vortex of blood and death, but by then it is far too late anyway.
A fierce and unsettling story in terms of violence and source material, The Wrath of the Iceni is an impressive work in that it places the childlike Fourth Doctor in an unforgiving adult situation. The Doctor must be careful in how he can deal with Leela but it also falls to him to preserve history without losing a dear friend. A moving story with an unusual impact on the listener, Doctor Who and The Wrath of the Iceni stands out to be sure.
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