Monday, 28 September 2015

Main Range 038. The Church and the Crown by Cavan Scott & Mark Wright (November 2002)

I was actually rather underwhelmed with The Church and the Crown as it began – the opening setting scene felt rather confusingly directed. But as it went on I came to see how 1626 Paris is a vibrantly done setting, and the skirmishes between the Cardinal’s guards and the King’s musketeers are relatively well conveyed. Scott and Wright borrow liberally from Dumas, but there’s absolutely no harm in that – Doctor Who has always been at its best when showing its roots most clearly – and they nick from the great writer with charm and an infectious sense of fun: there are rogues, rebels, manipulative lovers, kings, cardinals, carriages, swordfights, secret messages, evening balls, kidnappings, blind beggars. The usual. Additionally, they’re not afraid to send him up with a few gags at his expense, righting the historical portrayal of Richelieu, including a semi-comic musketeer double-act, and supplying the obligatory name drop: “Alexander Dumas has a lot to answer for. Tiresome man. He completely ignored the notes I gave him on his first draft.”
The political intrigue is well-handled, with the fast-paced, witty story building rather nicely to Buckingham’s invasion of France (and a delightful detail that there are occasions when the Doctor and co. must unite to fight away the English – as the music swells with patriotic pride to accompany the French attack on Buckingham’s forces, it’s good to see the franchise not always being as parochially British as it is sometimes). The story does a nice job of showing how disconnected Louis is from the people, too, as we get scenes of the clashes on the streets of Paris intercut with the refined and tasteful ball at the palace; Russell’s direction of the two atmospheres works wonders and gives the story a proper sense of scale.

Buckingham’s sadistic torture of the Doctor, as we delve into the more unpleasant aspects of human power struggles, is the first element of this story which reminded me of Scott and Wright’s previous effort, the garishly violent Project:Twilight. Both stories have a strong emphasis on power – who wants it, how they can achieve it and why they wish to – and both come off well, though possibly their first effort has a more distinctive and unusually gory aesthetic.

Nicola Bryant gets a great opportunity in this one to do something a bit different from her usual work. The doppel-ganger narrative trick might be a bit old hat by now, even in Doctor Who, but it’s deployed here to reasonable effect; Bryant gets to play both Peri and Queen Anne of Austria, and does a great job at distinguishing the two (possibly made easier by the different accents, but still, they’re distinct enough). Caroline Morris also does good work in Erimem’s first trip in time (with some nice nods to her own experiences in The Eye of the Scorpion), playing up her regal stature and confidence in several scenes and easily manipulating members of the court; there’s a great moment where she announces herself as Princess Erimem of Karnak to King Louis and it’s much more effective than the Doctor’s attempts to bluff his way into the court; she also gets another chance to throw herself into battle and rally the Musketeers and the Cardinal’s guards to fight in the name of the Church and the Crown with an inspiring speech – pretty good going for a newbie!

The Church and the Crown plays at the Doctor being in charge but he’s actually rather ineffectual for a change, as the writers give both Peri and Erimem quite a bit to do (the former rescues the tortured Doctor, for instance) – though the Doctor does get a fun moment of riding a carriage back into Paris and duelling with Buckingham. In fact, the story’s female characters are particularly fascinating, resourceful and well-explored where the men mostly boorish, scheming and belligerent (Richelieu and the King are both pretty childish, for instance) and this is appreciated given it’s not a balance one finds often in Doctor Who.

To take one example of how well managed this particular TARDIS team is, look at the moment about 14 minutes or so into the first episode in which Peri starts to become uneasy about the fact she’s being watched in the streets. The Doctor is prattling on about the history of the Louvre while Erimem is consistently wowed by this new place and time. The interplay between them is spot-on, funny and realistic at the same time. Highlight is: “I didn’t have the heart to tell him that one day [the Louvre] would be desecrated by a giant glass pyramid” followed swiftly by Erimem’s “Pyramid?” It’s all very deftly managed.

As another of BF’s successful historicals, The Church and the Crown takes an interesting tack on the Doctor’s interactions with history: he has quite clearly accepted that it’s right to meddle and interfere in important historical events, by this point (a far cry from The Aztecs); it’s made clear that the characters have to act to preserve what happened in history. As the Doctor puts it, “we are part of history as much as Buckingham, Delmarre, Rouffet, the King and Queen…We’re not changing history; we are history. We’re here, we’ve always been here, and we always will be here.” In a story like The Church and the Crown, history comes to life with great vitality. This isn’t quite a gold-star classic, but it’s enormously entertaining, and very stylishly written; more from Messrs Scott and Wright, please. For sheer fun I couldn’t ask for more.

Other thoughts:
“It’s never wise to creep up on a musketeer, especially one with the wit, guise and charming good looks of Francois Rouffet! I’ll put that bottle on your tab, shall I?”
“It’s just a game.”/“Everything’s a game to you, Richelieu.” This is repeated later and there is a sense that there is a strategy-game-like logic underpinning this presentation of history, as various factions try and outwit each other.
Michael Shallard gives a wonderful performance as Cardinal Richelieu, and even though it’s ludicrously melodramatic I rather enjoyed the chess game between Richelieu and Louis. “Knight takes bishop...The crown wipes away the church.” The tension between the two is pretty well-done.
18count: 6113s fictional egorically seals its Erza the Provenc he may continue tellign a character whose fate has been left hanA great opening line from the Doctor to Erimem’s cat: “Can we talk about this sensibly, sentient lifeform to sentient lifeform? If this is going to work, you and I are going to have to have some kind of arrangement, aren’t we… K-9, where are you when I really need you?”
Russell Stone’s fantastically lush harpsichord-inspired score brings back fond memories of Phantasmagoria and its accompanying music. Stone is one of the unsung heroes of this particular release, I think.
“I sometimes think at my age there’s nothing left to discover…but something usually turns up.”
“Doctor, all these streets look the same!”/“Story of my lives.”
Five: “Sword? A sword? Metal pointy thing, about so long? I don’t seem to be carrying one! I once knew a Visigoth who owned one, terribly nice chap, misunderstood.”
“The universe is full of coincidence. It keeps things ticking along nicely… Shakespeare made a career out of it. Though I’m not sure how that helps us now.”
“Don’t push me to do something I might regret.”/“Too late. You’re already married.”
The Doctor resembles a jester more than a vizier. Quite right, too. Although it seems rather odd he’s carrying gold dust!
“Blind Maurice” is terrific, adding an excellent dash of lurid colour to an already well-developed world. “Alms for a blind man! Alms… Leprosy? Now there’s a growth market! Alms for a leper! Alms for a leper!”
“I thought you musketeers were renowned for your adventuring spirit.”/“Oh, that’s usually something I find in a bottle.”
“If Peri’s true to form, there’ll be a cell, a locked door, torture, screams… and that’s just her captors.”
Great line: “If you give me six lines written by the most honest man, I can still find something in them to hang him.”
“I work for a higher purpose, as well you know.”/“No, Cardinal, you work for me! Never forget that!”
“He was an idiot, but he was my idiot.”
“You are a spy, Doctor, an agent of a foreign power no doubt planning an invasion of England.”/“That would no doubt require a drastic career change. I usually stop those.”
“Doctor, how exactly do you swash your buckle?”/“I haven’t the foggiest.”
“All for one-”/“What?”/“Never mind!”
“I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be in a smelly, rat-infested tunnel with, Doctor.”/“That’s the spirit.”
The Doctor claims that “last time he checked” George Villiers was Prime Minister of England; he obviously hasn’t checked for a while.
“Your Majesty, stop the ball!”/“Do you ever knock?”
“That’s another problem with the English; they always ruin a good party.”
More awkward Fifth Doctor when asked if he’s growing attached to Erimem: “Well, I wouldn’t go that far.”
The fourth part is dizzyingly witty, fast-paced fun – from Richelieu asking Peri “have you ever considered a career in the church?” when she saves his life to the Doctor musing “note to self: never throw a sword away, you never know when it’ll come in handy” to the superb repeat of the gag from The King’s Demons – “You would dare to take on one of the finest swordsmen in England!”/ “Hasn’t anybody told you? We’re in France!”
“Doctor, you’ve saved my life.”/“Don’t tell everybody, they’ll all want me to do it.”
“’All for one and one for all?’ It’ll never catch on.”
“I’m usually one for travelling light. A crowd in the TARDIS always leads to arguments and bickering, and, well, laundry day can be a nightmare.”
The Doctor neatly sums up this audio (and why it’s different to Project:Twilight) thus: “Despite kidnappings and torture and the near-collapse of French civilisation, today’s been rather…well, fun.”

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