Doctor Who – Excelis Dawns

‘Excelis Dawns’


Written by Paul Magrs, directed by Gary Russell
Released February 2002

On the far off planet of Artaris, Warlord Grayvorn embarks on a quest for a holy relic with a strange traveler named the Doctor in tow. Arriving at the convent located atop Mount Excelis, Grayvorn finds the knowledge he seeks but at the cost of gaining two more companions, Sister Jolene and the rambunctious Iris Wildthyme who is unsuccessfully searching for calm in a mad universe of possibilities. Unfortunately, the unruly Iris is a disruptive bad influence on the other sisters and Mother Superior decides to be rid of her problem by saddling her with the treasure and glory hunting warlord. But what is the nature of the relic and what mysteries does it hold? Can the Doctor restrain Wildthyme and prevent the violent Lord Grayvorn from discovering the power he so desperately searches for?

Excelis Dawns is the first of a trilogy that continues with Excelis Rises starring Colin Baker and Excelis Decays starring Sylvester McCoy. Friends have told me that this is one of the stand-out Big Finish audio adventures and fan opinion holds that statement up. However, I have to say that my own reception was mixed. The script from Paul Magrs is inspired and he writes Iris with aplomb worthy of her colorful character in print. The first of many such adventures, Iris is played by Katy Manning who is of course more familiar to fans as the bumbling yet lovable Jo Grant. Here she exudes boisterous charm and comic timing that moves the entire plot through its two discs’ worth of story.

The real downfall for me was Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Anthony Stewart Head as Warlord Grayvorn who sounds downright comical as the gravelly voiced warrior. Parts of the script poke fun at him, so in places this fits, but the role is such a broad caricature that he comes off as annoying and grating. He sounds like he’s wearing underwear that is two sizes too small and speaking through a mouthful of marbles. After ten minutes of his muttering about glory and his army of followers (who are noticeably absent), I was ready for him to drop the act and move on. Unfortunately, it was here to stay and extended into narration (Grodd help us). Not being a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I have never understood the appeal of Anthony Stewart Head and this story didn’t help. Knowing that he would feature over the next two installments did not fill me with much excitement.

Aside from Manning’s Wildthyme, the other big appeal for this story is Peter Davison who has mainly been given stories that take his character as written on screen and run with it. Magrs instead chooses to explore the depth of the Fifth Doctor and his maturity in a violent and uncaring galaxy of danger. It has been exciting to hear Davison journey down new avenues with his rendition of the Doctor in audio, but I have to admit that not much had been added to his persona. By matching a somber version of the Fifth Doctor near the end of his incarnation with Wildthyme, it becomes apparent how much his outwardly youthful self has aged and sobered. When Iris points out how he is no longer fun, the Doctor remarks that he used to treat the universe of space and time like a massive pinball game but after the death of Adric all that has changed. Iris refuses to let the moment go and insists that is all the more reason to embrace the wild adventure of life rather. It’s a lovely moment that makes Excelis Dawns a moving story.


A familiar name to Doctor Who fans, Paul Magrs is one of the pearls of Big Finish’s bullpen. He later established an entirely new line of adventures for Tom Baker’s Doctor Who on BBC Audio. In those stories, the wit and humor along with a wildly imaginative plot fully fleshed out that Doctor in a new way. In Excelis Dawns, the goal is much simpler but no less enjoyable. It is essentially a road trip of misfits ending in a cataclysmic battle of wills against an army of the undead over a gold lamé handbag holding the secrets of life and death.


Katy Manning as Iris Wildthyme

Excelis Dawns is a very enjoyable story full of comedy, continuity and plenty of great character building moments. It’s a running gag that Iris is not only convinced that the Doctor is in love with her but that they had shared several adventures in the past. Hearing Iris retell The Three Doctor and the Web Planet with altered details is hilarious enough, but her version of the Five Doctors with ‘all the rubbish monsters’ is brilliant. It is a marvelous opportunity for Magrs to wave his Whovian flag without losing the integrity of the plot.

I was turned off initially by the silly sounding Anthony Stewart Head and the woeful music (along with the cutaways to the Zombie King who apparently missed out for the role of Gollum in Lord of the Rings) which made this two parter a challenge. But in time, the blend of Manning and Davison won me over.

Doctor Who Excelis Dawns can be ordered from The Book Depository with free shipping worldwide by clicking on the link below:

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14 thoughts on “Doctor Who – Excelis Dawns

  1. You’re not a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan? Thank God, I thought I was the only one! (It’s, uh, okay I suppose but an object of veneration? Pffft) The comments on Head’s performance and Grayvorn were hilarious, they reminded me of his dull role in Merlin. Now, I may not be a Buffy fan but it was at least quite good at times, Merlin on the other hand was always atrocious!
    Have you read any of Magrs’s Doctor Who novels or his non-Who work? I read Verdigris ages ago, it was amusingly weird with a Tomorrow People spoof. A problem with Magrs’s style is that it gets a little wearing after awhile. That said I love the idea of a Five Doctors with rubbish monsters. Which reminds me – are you looking forward to Big Finish’s celebratory stories?
    One last thing – Zombie King! Zombie King! Zombie King! Ah, that’s better🙂 Does he sing “Time Of The Season”? Yes, I am strange, thanks for asking!


  2. Buffy did some things really well… but at times it did have traditional TV show flaws. I really liked the show overall, and some parts were brilliant…. but I have no problems picking at the bad parts.

    I really haven’t seen Head in much else… I tried to watch Merlin when it started airing in the US… because I like the Arthurian legend… but Merlin didn’t work for me. It felt like it was trying to be Smallville to me… with Merlin instead of young Clark Kent… and the stuff that worked in Smallville just didn’t seem to work for me with Merlin. The only other thing I’ve seen Mr Head (boy does that sound weird out loud) in was his one-shot appearance early in the new Doctor Who.

    Head was a pivotal character on Buffy, though. IF you really watch the show… and follow up to and through the year he was written out… then see him written back in towards the end of the next season… you really see why that show needed him.

    In a way it was like Friday the 13th the TV series. That older actor (forget his name) that was on the show when it started really gave it a soul… without him none of the other stuff worked. Head served something similar on Buffy. The grave stuff was too grave and the silly stuff too silly without him. Head’s Giles character on Buffy served to simultaneously bring humor to the seriousness and seriousness to the silly bits… he balanced things.


  3. I have to agree with you there, I’m not a Buffy fan (and I *detested* much of the last two seasons after loathing the Initiative/Adam season) but despite not being a Anthony Stewart Head (long-winded!) fan either he isn’t a bad actor and despite the show treating Giles (*Rupert Giles*? Really? May as well have called him Algernon Crispin!) to often like a cliche and bumbling dunce he was the glue for that show. Once he dropped out for a while it lost its way, it did show the character’s worth and I must say Anthony Head’s talent. You’ve convinced me there, SJV! The older guy showed the younger ones up. Me likee Charisma Carpenter when she was in it, but perhaps it wasn’t her acting… Yep, on Buffy Anthony really did give good Head… Argh! He’s good as the Prime Minister in the sketch show Little Britain as well. And in those coffee commercials, of course. Heh.
    Was the actor in Friday the 13:The Series RG Armstrong? I really remember him in that. Good, spooky, silly series.


  4. Just looked Friday the 13th:The Series up myself, apparently RG played naughty Lewis Vendredi the man whose cursed objects spark the series. It’s a long time ago, I remember him and the concept and not much else. Louise Robey (sp.?) looked yummy though!


  5. Prominent late January birthdays : yesterday – David Lynch, Deforest Kelley, Finlay Currie (Great Expectations, Billy Liar), and TOM BAKER! Today (January 21st) – Telly Savalas (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Lisa and the Devil, Kojak), Placido Domingo, Paul Scofield, and someone going by the name HAL!


    • “As long as you have hair that’s great”.

      This man has very low standards.

      I came across IF after finding this. Loving Understanding Man is another “classic”. They could release a whole cd called “Telly like it is”.


  6. “This man has very low standards”, ahahaha! It’s a pity that other ’70s cops and detectives didn’t dip their hands into the waters of dubious pop (I *like* David Soul’s Don’t Give Up On Us, Baby though…um in a way). William Conrad (Cannon) singing “Any Chair That’ll Hold Me”, Peter Falk (Columbo) “Just One More Thing”, Cheryl Ladd (Charlie’s Angels) “Hot Thing”, Raymond Burr (Ironside) “Perry Mason Theme”, “You’ll See Me From Your Rear Window (I’m the Killer)”, and “Hey, Godzilla, Stop Trashing Tokyo! (The Reporter’s Song”) – coming soon from K-Tel.
    Maybe Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak “Believe Me (They’re Here!)”…


    • You forgot my personal favorite detective show from the 70s, the Rockford FIles. Not sure what song that would go with.

      I also wanted to mention that Ishamel by Barbara Hambley is a very good Star Trek novel. It is Spock in the old west with amnesia. It does not sound a like a premise that would work but it does. The novel is tied with another old tv show that I have never called Here Come the Brides.


  7. The Rockford Files is my favourite detective series from the seventies too! Not to mention one of my favourite shows of all. Good taste, Zeno.
    James Garner is too good to have performed any dubious songs though if he were singing as Jim Rockford he’d probably sing about getting hit over the head most episodes or telling Angel to leave him alone, or possibly he’d sing about helping Beth Davenport against his “better judgement” but because he’s really a good guy!🙂


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