4.02 The Companion Chronicles - The Glorious Revolution
The Glorious Revolution by Jonathan Morris
Starring: Frazer Hines, Andrew Fettes
Directed By: Nigel Fairs
Running Time: 57:45
Released: August 2009
It’s been said many times before, but the phasing out of the pure historical is one of the great shames of late Sixties Who. While by the start of Patrick Troughton’s tenure the series had long since outgrown Sidney Newman’s original intention to educate as much as entertain his audience, there was still a place for the occasional romp in days of yore – after all, it’s arguable that the majority of William Hartnell’s best stories had been set in the past rather than future (see Marco Polo, The Crusaders, and The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve amongst others) - while any concerns that such fare might turn off younger viewers would have been assuaged by Gerry Davies’ approach to the subject. At a time when the likes of Robin Hood were still very popular, his idea of landing the TARDIS in more romanticised versions of the past would not have looked at all out of place on the schedules. Indeed, in unguarded moments I can be heard to admit to being a big fan of both The Smugglers and The Highlanders, the two serials which experimented with this approach, as well as The Gunfighters from the previous year. It’s a lovely thought to imagine the Second Doctor having similar adventures in other periods of popular fiction; hunting down fabled treasure troves in the Veldt alongside an Allan Quatermain clone, for example, or perhaps ending up in the Big Smoke fending off the advances of a femme fatale. But it wasn’t to be; The Highlanders was the last time the Doctor would appear in a completely non-fantastical adventure until Black Orchid twelve years later.
Since that time, however, there’s been the odd attempt in novels and audios to revive the spirit of that sadly defunct genre – Mark Gatiss’s splendid novel The Roundheads, for example, or the Fifth Doctor audio The Church and the Crown. Jonathan Morris’s latest Companion Chronicle is very much in the same spirit – due to the presence of yet another rip in the fabric of space/time it’s not a “pure” historical but is as good as, and even goes so far as to ape The Highlanders in having the Doctor and Jamie disguise themselves as a pair of washerwomen to infiltrate the Palace of Westminster. The story, set during Zoe’s time in the TARDIS, sees the trio arriving in London on the eve of James II’s abdication, as he makes his first attempt to flee the country during the uprising that would lead to William of Orange’s ascension to the throne. Known as the Glorious Revolution, due to the fact it passed almost completely peaceably and restored to the throne a good, solid Protestant (one of James II’s major crimes being his Catholicism) the moment effectively drew a line under a turbulent century for England, one which had started with the death of Elizabeth I and the rise of James I, James II’s grandfather, and the beginnings of what would eventually lead to the Civil War.
Unfortunately, The Glorious Revolution the audo doesn’t do justice to this pivotal moment in English history. It is indeed one of the weakest Companion Chronicles to come along in quite some time, a rare off-day for the normally reliable Morris, who brings little of his usual wit to proceedings, the story drawing its inspiration from other, superior serials of the show's past but offering nothing new of substance. The central premise is a mixture of The Aztecs by way of Back to the Future in which Jamie goes against the Doctor’s mantra of non-interference by urging the King to not flee but rather stay and fight back. His reason for doing so is that he himself fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie, James’s grandson, and the patriotic Scot intends to take advantage of their presence at the start of all the trouble which led to that subsequent conflict and try and nip it in the bud. As ever, his actions lead to a blip in the web of time, leading to a CIA operative popping up to investigate while Jamie, his entire life story now essentially null and void, begins to phase in and out of existence, Marty McFly style.
Aside from the setting, there isn’t a single thing in the story we haven’t seen before, and seen better. Jamie’s arguments with the Doctor are little but a lite version of those with Barbara in The Aztecs; worse still, they don’t ring true for the character. As it happens Jamie is one of my favourite companions, but his sudden political zeal and relatively sophisticated realisation of the chance which has presented itself to him is very far from the straight-forward naïf who bumbles his way through his onscreen adventures. Meanwhile, his antics with the Doctor, complete with cross-dressing and bounding to the rescue just as his friend and Zoe are about to be executed, aren’t particularly thrilling or amusing, having a feeling of automatic pilot about them – as far as a knockabout romp goes, both The Romans and The Highlanders do the same sort of thing with much more vigour. Meanwhile, it’s perhaps unfair to criticise the damaged timeline part of the story; given that it is treated in such an off-hand manner, it’s clearly not of primary importance in the writing of the story, but it’s handling doesn’t convince (or, I’m pretty sure, make sense) and the moment when Jamie starts to phase out of existence riffs on Back to the Future without any particular sense of drama.
Finally, and maybe most damningly, the story fails to evoke in any way the events in which it takes place. The best historicals manage to capture the atmosphere of the time, the sounds, sights, smells of what it was like to be there, bringing the past to life and making it almost tangible. It’s true that The Companion Chronicles suffer from a disadvantage in this regard, being limited to only the two performers, but past stories have managed to overcome this - if the narrative is sufficiently strong this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. In this case, not even the background sound effects, which last month's The Drowned World proved could provide an entire extra dimension to these stories, aren't particularly evocative. The main problem, though, is Morris’s script, which gives no impression of the excitement, the tension or the apprehensions of the time, while as for James II himself, played by Andrew Fettes, he's such an insubstantial figure who never comes to life; from the little we hear of him, it’s hard to imagine he would inspire anything like the passion to his cause that he seems to bring out in Jamie.
Fettes doubles up as the CIA investigator and does a better job in that role, while it is of course great to hear Hines back once again as Jamie. That said, as was also heard in his first Companion Chronicle Helicon Prime his voice has aged considerably and it's sometimes difficult to see him as the sprightly young thing he is portraying - hopefully his upcoming appearances in the main line with Colin Baker will be as a more mature Jamie to reflect this. Unsurprisingly to anyone who's heard it before, the real highlight of the audio is hearing his at-times uncanny impersonation of Troughton's Doctor. A few years back I remember rolling in the aisles listening as he recounted his "Yes Jamie, that is a big one" story at a convention (whic he repeats yet again in the brief interview at the end of the CD), as much because it was suddenly as though Pat was back in the room with us as for the story itself. He's just as good at it here, so much so that there are moments which both send a shiver down the spine as well as making one sad that one of the greatest of all Doctors is no longer with us. In the end, though, as good as that impersonation is it's not the real thing; sadly, in comparison to the era in which it is meant to be set, the same has to be said about this audio, which ends up being neither a revolution nor very glorious. Disappointing. 4/10.
Many thanks to Big Finish for their help with this review. The Glorious Revolution can be bought directly from their website here. Next month it's a return to Peladon for The Companion Chronicles as David Troughton's King tells the story of the Third Doctor investigating a series of murders in a refugee camp. The Prisoner of Peladon will be released in September and as ever reviewed here.