an ancient settlement on the brink of disaster

Books Paul Magrs’ The Broken Crown opens with a classic bit of Tom business as he and Mrs Wibbsey, zapped back to 1861 after the events of the first instalment of Doctor Who’s Serpent Crest, set about ingratiating themselves with the locals by having a quiet drink in the pub. Sadly for the Doctor, his usual charm is short circuited because of the reaction to Wibbs’s gender, his boggle-eyed reaction to which is comedy gold.  They do at least meet a Reverend Dobbs, whose young ward Andrew,  who as so often the way of things retains a dark secret which may have something to do with the many disappearances in the village and whose tutor Mr Bewley looks and sounds strangely familiar. The inlay synopsis gives away rather more than that, but let’s just assume you want to retain a couple of surprises.

The influence here is children’s anthologies of the 1980s, The Storyteller or Dramarama, with three kids and their magical secret and interfering with the interfering adults in a spooky village and the plau is at its best when laying on the atmosphere of an ancient settlement on the brink of disaster. The plot also has a passing resemblance to Fear Her or Night Terrors for the reasons you can guess but different enough because this is the second episode of a series and unexpectedly very closely linked to the first.   One thread here about imagination and fairy tales is clearly being set up for the next instalment.  This is a change from the previous two series which were akin to the loose storytelling of The Key To Time season but has the knock on effect of removing some of The Broken Crown's intrigue.

Anyone who’s heard the previous play will immediately be given a clue as to what’s happening while listening to the opening scenes, but it takes the Doctor and Wibbs a further half hour to catch up. If you’ve seen Daleks in Manhattan you’ll know that being ahead of the Time Lords tends to stagnate the drama unless there's an epic enough sense of impending doom.  Here the revelation is played as if Magrs expects it to be as much of a surprise for us as it is for his protagonists but because even on audio we've been given too much information at the start, it makes them look rather like they're experiencing a Trigger moment on Only Fools and Horses.  The raised eye brows as he finally catches on.  Perhaps listeners for whom this is their first cd will have a different reaction, but it's not designed for that.

Which as a fan of Magrs's work, as you can imagine, gives me no pleasure.  For all the usual charm from the central pairing and some fun moments in which we enjoy the perceptions of the Doctor from the other villagers, there’s rather too much of shrill people being shrill in rooms.  Terrance Hardiman does bring just the right Hammer tone to the authoritarian Reverend trying to do his best for the boy.  But the child actors who surrounded him, who might (and I feel incredibly cruel saying this) begin with a certain first Harry Potter/Gary Russell in The Famous Five charm, ultimately can’t quite carry the story, not helped by some sections of their dialogue sounding too articulate to be coming from their mouths.  It's all a bit disappointing really.  The next one, Aladdin Time looks entertaining though.  Has Andrew Sachs in the cast playing a scarf.

Doctor Who: Serpent Crest - The Broken Crown by Paul Magrs is out now from AudioGo. Review copy supplied.

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