Super Mario Crossover, in which various Nintendo characters, from the bloke from Contra through to Megaman, are placed with Marioland with all their special moves intact, allowing players to shoot a turtle in the face to kill them rather than jump on their shell (not that either is a particularly humane way to die). John Dorney’s new Doctor Who audio The Wrath of the Iceni offers similar premise tweaking delights for the Fourth Doctor, dropping him into not just a pure historical, but a pure celebrity historical and a pure celebrity historical about a strong, powerful woman. As Dorney says in the extra features with the kind of embarrassment only a fan can display, such things simply didn’t happen on television in that era and it’s nice to be given the opportunity to redress the balance.
It’s with a single line pitch. Leela meets Boudica. It’s the AD 60s and the queen of the Iceni is cutting a swathe through Norfolk killing as many Romans as she can lay her sword on. Still with his Henry Higgins hat on, the Doctor brings his savage companion to meet her ancestors, recklessly unfortunately because Leela becomes somewhat enamoured by this warrior monarch and her cause and before long he’s knee deep in having to explain to her, just as he has previously to Barbara in The Aztecs and later Donna in The Fires of Pompeii, how for all the bloodshed and genocide which is about the spill across the land, he can’t interfere in established events not least because Boudica isn’t necessarily the noble noble that her image might initially suggested.
If Dorney’s story isn’t doing anything particularly new in franchise terms, this is all very new for the Fourth Doctor. The main trick to keeping it in period is having Tom dial down his personality slightly ala the JNT years so that the performances of Louise Jameson and Ella Kenion (who’s Boudica is turned up to eleven), fill in the gap, swords drawn, shouting about honour, duty and revenge. The Doctor spends much of the play trapped in tents, which means his companion has to rationalise and realise her mistakes alone. Leela might have been the feistiest even murderous of companions but this is a rare occasion when she’s allowed off the end of the Doctor’s scarf, so that we can at least hear what a warrior of the Sevateem is like in battle (The Face of Evil accepted).
This is full on adventure and about as bloodthirsty as Who’s ever been, heads sent on hiatus from their bodies, horses felled and dismembered and even the implication of sexual violence. Torture is mentioned more than once as a valid form of information gathering and the overall impression is that Dorney remembering the show’s previous Roman holidays is desperate to bring some realism to proceedings. It’s surprising actually that Cardiff signed off on this mayhem considering how some of the spin-off media has been neutered post-2005, the show becoming a “family” series again after years of growing with its fans. It might even be strong enough for Mary Whitehouse to lurch from the grave with a Marleyesque flourish and rattle her chains around the Maidenhead offices of Big Finish.
But for all that Dorney doesn’t forget that the pure historical was originally designed to be a vehicle to bring the children and us older children a bit of educational content and thanks to the vague arc of Leela’s tutelage we're gifted some wonderful scenes in which the Doctor simply explains to us the heartbreaking history of Boudica, right through to her death. It’s these moments which demonstrate how much was lost on television when it gave into the generic bug-eyed monster syndrome. As Tom himself suggests out of character at the end of the cd, The Wrath of the Iceni does have a monster in the form of Boudica herself and the play at its most memorable when Kenion’s in full flow clearly relishing the chance to inhabit a woman who had the capacity to be just as murderous, arrogant and fallible as her male counterparts.
Doctor Who: The Wrath of the Iceni from Big Finish is out now. Review copy supplied.
[The Wrath of the Iceni also has an "interesting" casting connection. Ella Kenion previously played Harriet, one of the crew members on The Teselecta in Let's Kill Hitler, which also featured Alex Kingston as River Song. Kingston has also played Boudica in this ITV biopic.]