William Egan continues his look back through the audio adventures of the Fourth Doctor.
This is a long way from the almost ‘Graham William’s era comedy and fun of The Renaissance Man. In fact, The Wrath of the Iceni is unlike any televised story of the Fourth Doctor era. A throwback to the shows earlier years, The Wrath of the Iceni is a pure historical, with some of the horrors of the period even being alluded too. It almost feels as if it’s fallen threw a time crack from the First Doctors era - the Doctor and Leela end up in the wrong period, get caught up in a famous historical event and don’t actually change very much at all. It’s brave of Big Finish to attempt something like this, and thankfully the end results are very good.
The story revolves around one of the oldest plot points in Doctor Who, the concept that you can’t change ‘one line from history’ which is prominent in early stories The Aztecs and The Massacre. This time around it’s focusing on Leela attempting to save Queen Boudica in 1st century Britain from her Roman invaders. The concept of these two female warriors is a great one, and it’s certainly enhanced by superb performances from both.
I’ve already discussed what a fantastic actress Louise Jameson is, and in this she gives what’s probably her finest performance yet. She’s clearly relishing her opportunity to use a script, which serves Leela so well, with her stealing the show from Tom Baker (not an easy feat). The scene where Leela confronts Boudicca on the battlefield is simply one of the best in Big Finish’s output, with Louise showing the passion and range of Leela so well. Too often in her later serials Leela became a somewhat wasted character, so it’s great to see Big Finish using the potential she had in her season 14 stories.
Of course, it always helps a performer to have someone equally excellent to play opposite, and Ella Kenion is equally fantastic as Boudicca. It’s strange to hear someone who’s known for her comedy roles in the Catherine Tate Show play such a different character, but she does it brilliantly. She’s clearly enjoying playing a character a lot meatier than her normal roles, and really brings the Warrior Queen herself to life. One of the best parts of this Boudicca is that she stays so historically accurate, and it’s good that her character hasn’t been made more ‘sympathetic’ or agreeable for this production.
Tom Baker takes the backseat in this story, with Leela’s reaction to her past and a kindred spirit being the main crux of the plot (another similarity to First Doctor historicals). Despite this he still gets his moments, an early recounting of Boudicca’s story being a particular highlight. His silence following the suggestion that Boudicca’s daughters had been raped is a particularly effective moment. Although the story itself is a serious historical, Tom still gets his comedic moments, some of which work well (a quick gag about Morris dancers) and a couple which sadly jar badly with the overall tone. Surprisingly he only shares a few scenes with Leela, although Nia Roberts is a satisfactory replacement as Bragar.
It’s surprising how few reviews of Big Finish productions focus on their uniformly excellent sound design in the background. On The Wrath of the Iceni it’s particularly evident, with them successfully managing to create a major battle between Boudicca’s and the Roman forces. In 1970’s Doctor Who this would have probably little more than a few warriors/ horses in a muddy field interspersed with some stock footage. One of Big Finish’s strengths is that it allows stories to be told that would have been impossible to create on television, with the sound design here signifying a battle much larger than anything that could’ve been created on television.
If you like your Doctor Who light, fluffy and silly then this story isn’t for you. This story is a gritty, pure historical with some dark moments. That’s one of its main selling points-this is a pure historical, something which never occurred in the Fourth Doctor’s era. Thanks to superb performances from both Louise Jameson and Ella Kenion it elevates the story to greater heights, making this one that’s definitely worth buying.
The Renaissance Man
Studies archaeology by day, frees the universe of evil, injustice and
cold tea by night. William walks in an eternity of cult BBC science fiction
series and Big Finish. Follow him on twitter.