Big Finish: The Worlds of Doctor Who THE LONE CENTURION Vol 1 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: The Worlds of Doctor Who THE LONE CENTURION Vol 1 Review

Legend tells of a mysterious figure dressed as a Roman soldier who stood guard over the Pandorica. But enough about Tony.
Rory Williams had one of the most interesting companion journeys in the history of Doctor Who. Originally a boy in awe of an amazing young woman, the different leagues they were in was underscored for him when her amazing imaginary friend finally turned up to save the world, and she rose to the challenge of his existence.

On the night before their wedding, the girl ran away with the raggedy alien, and Rory knew the challenge was his to meet too. Be worthy of the girl. Embrace the universe. Expand his natural kindness and desire to heal so it operated on a much larger scale. Become someone he felt was worthy of Amelia Pond.

That’s a tough ask when faced with a girl who wants all of time and space. When Mickey Smith felt the challenge, it took him a while before he could come round to it – and by then, he’d lost the girl. When Danny Pink was faced with the challenge, he rejected it, making Clara lie to him or make a choice for which she wasn’t ready.

Rory Williams is the best ‘boyfriend’ companion in New Who, because he never hesitated. Primed by a shared history of Doctor stories with Amy, and still really wanting to be ‘enough’ for her, he nevertheless began jumping into her life in time and space, even finding an eventual accommodation with the Doctor.

When we love someone, we say we’d die to protect them.

Dying was something Rory perfected. It was brave, and necessary, and frequently kind – and it’s hardly a surprise that Rory perfected the art of doing it, because those were the lodestones of his character. Brave, and necessary, and frequently kind.

But then, in a signature Moffatt move, a Rory existed who was an Auton replica, who on gaining consciousness of his nature, was driven to do a terrible thing. A thing that jeopardized the woman he loved.

And so Rory Williams, the nurse from Leadworth, came to be the Lone Centurion. A guardian of the Pandorica – a giant box holding his wife, Amelia Pond. He would guard it for millennia, going the long way round both in penance for what he’d done, to keep his wife safe from those who would come to steal her away. He was also an immortal (barring accidents), trying to learn or remember how to be a human being.

All of that happens fairly quickly in the on-screen creation of the legend of the Lone Centurion. There are tales of some of his actions to protect the Pandorica, but he’s created in the blink of a few eyes and then the story of the Pandorica re-opening continues.

It’s finally time to go the long way round with the Lone Centurion at Big Finish.

On the strength of this first release, it’s going to be a fantastic journey.

This first box set might be described as the ‘Roman’ arc of Rory’s journey, and it takes him from the arena as an unkillable gladiator, all the way up to the highest of Roman heights in a pocket of history about which it’s not wise to ask too many questions.

This is not like Cicero, the other recent festival of Roman joy and jollity from Big Finish – there’s no specific character to nail your timing into place. This is Rome as written into Rory’s existence on Doctor Who – a Rome created from a child’s storybook, and where River Song could turn up posing as Cleopatra, even though the real thing was known to have died centuries earlier. It’s Rome by meme and stereotype, rather than Rome by date and celebrity – and the point is, that’s perfectly fine in this box set, because Rome by meme is quite Roman enough for an unkillable centurion with a magic box.

Episode 1, the irresistibly named Gladiator, by David Llewellyn, poses an interesting initial question: what do you do with a gladiator who won’t die, no matter how many times you stab him?

It also throws Rory – who came to Rome in search of the Pandorica, which he’s misplaced along his way – into palace intrigue, when his unkillability proves interesting to the Augusta, wife of the emperor (Joanna Van Kampen), while the emperor himself (Joseph Tweedale) is rather more interested in Rory as a physical specimen than an immortal one.

There are murder plots, sleight of hand, a peak behind the curtains of Roman stage management, the revelation of good people and bad people, and a comedy bit with a soothsayer that punches well above its weight (as you might expect, given that Tacitus the sayer of sooth is played by Terry Molloy), en route to a dangerous upward move in society for Leadworth’s finest. 3720001 – the Kings

In particular, Rory helps solve the mystery of an attempted imperial assassination, more or less in the style of Lindsey Davis’ Marcus Didius Falco crime novels (Not tried ’em? Try’ em!), with Rory promoted to imperial food taster, while smuggling an endangered stagehand named Marcella (Ines de Clercq) to apparent safety, and avoiding the attentions of a demented servant with ideas above their station (No, of course we’re not going to name them for you – where would be the fun in that?)

Arthur Darvill makes a triumphant return to the role of Rory, bringing all the well-meaning problem-solving instincts of his character to the audio, but with the extra self-assurance of an unkillable plastic man from the far-distant future. That doesn’t mean Rory gets everything his own way, of course – the drama in the release is in quite how different the paradigms are which underpin Rory’s emotional and moral sense from those of the smiling cesspit of ancient Rome, and how he manages to negotiate that pit. But it makes Rory always worth listening to in his own series, rather than being a voice of practical courage often faced with three more whizz-bang personalities in his TV Who time.

Along with Arthur Darvill though, Gladiator delivers an enjoyably feminist sub-story, pinned in place by two performances – Joanna Van Kampen as Augusta, and Ines de Clercq as Marcella. As the power behind the throne, Van Kampen is gloooorious, adding power, vivacity and verve to the storytelling, which director Scott Handcock translates expertly into pace that picks up what, in less experienced hands, could be a slow-burning saga of court shenanigans.

As the put-upon, lonely victim of a criminal conspiracy to kill the emperor and frame a stagehand, Ines de Clercq probably has the bigger arc, and it’s one she travels with an aplomb you’d expect of a much more seasoned voice.

Between the three of them, with solid support from the likes of Joseph Tweedale and Terry Molloy, they mould Gladiator into an exciting first instalment in the Lone Centurion series, managing the drama and the reality of the human emotions while maintaining a tone that’s never too serious, and is frequently laugh-out-loud funny.

The Unwilling Assassin, by Sarah Ward, establishes Rory as…well, as an unwilling assassin, funnily enough, in a new order of Roman rule. In fact, he’s the state’s official executioner, while secretly running a kind of underground railroad, helping those he’s been ordered to kill to get out of the city and, so long as they keep their still-attached heads down, out of the reach of the law.

Naturally, the powers-that-be are suspicious, and Decima, the state’s chief spy, played with just the right relish by Robyn Holdaway, is set on his trail. While the cast play it mostly as straight as they need to in order to establish the reality of a world that has an official assassin, an official spy, and an unstable self-aggrandizing paranoic at its head (You remember what that felt like, right?), there’s actually something intensely and deliciously farcical about The Unwilling Assassin.

In some respects, it’s a comedy of state bureaucracy, with the assassin letting people live and the spy chasing him to prove that’s what he’s done. In other respects, it’s pure farce, with troublesome senators being ordered to be wrestled to death during a training session, and poisonous platefuls of hors d’oeuvres doing the rounds.

You can ultimately see how that’s going to play out long in advance, but that doesn’t stop its spiral closer towards the inevitable end being any less funny. There’s a touch of Roman Blackadder about the piece, if Blackadder were immortal.

That gives The Unwilling Assassin a sense of fun that lightens Rory’s position as an assassin who hates the idea of killing the mostly-innocent on the whims of the mostly-barking. When the inevitable happens, it’s both dark and comic, and leaves Rory free of the tyranny that has oppressed him – but faced with a whole new set of problems.

I, Rorius, by Jacqueline Rayner, has a title that’s a dead giveaway about the story it contains – at least, it does if you know the reference. If you don’t, it’s tempting to spoiler it for you, but let’s just say that Rory finds himself in a position of power that neither his nursing background nor his programmed memories as a centurion prepared him for.

He’s left at the heart of a web of intrigue, power, self-interest and backstabbery the like of which is straight out of…well, the history of ancient Rome, to be fair. Finding a way through the elevated struggles of his new position pits his determination to do a good, fair, humane job in whatever role he fills against his own lack of interest in power for its own sake.

The solution he arrives at – more to stop people targeting those around him than for his own benefit – is something that would probably only occur to Rory. And, well, just possibly to certain victorious ex-gladiators played by Russell Crowe in movies.

Where Gladiator pairs Rory with a woman who is very much a dear friend by the end of the drama, I, Rorius sounds like it flirts with truer, more dangerous territory as he befriends the slave girl Anna (Samantha Beart in the latest role in her rock solid Big Finish repertoire). If anything, his involvement with Anna helps him remember more about being human than anything that comes before it – but that memory is mostly of his Amy, the goddess around which this particular Roman’s life revolves. That’s glorious to hear (Rorius the Glorious – missed opportunity?), and feels true to the character we know. While Anna could well be wonderful for him, she’d never be Amy – and Amy is what matters most, both to Rory Williams, nurse, from Leadworth, and to Rory of the Britons, the Lone Centurion.

All told, the first Lone Centurion box set is enormous fun both by virtue of its Roman setting, by virtue of the fact that it exists in a kind of ‘print the legend’ vague pocket of Roman history, and because setting a character like Rory Williams in that world and making him more or less immortal is a pure, pure joy.

Get it. Listen to it. Eagerly await the already confirmed second instalment. The Lone Centurion 1 is a set that will make you laugh, smile, sigh contentedly, and smile some more. Hail Rory – and here’s to the long way round.

The Lone Centurion Volume 1 is available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 June 2021, and on general sale after this date.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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