Blurb: Britain. The height of the Roman occupation. The Doctor has brought Leela to ancient Norfolk to learn about her ancestors… but has no idea how much of an education she is going to get.
Because this is the time of Boudica’s rebellion. When the tribe of the Iceni rises up and attempts to overthrow the Roman masters.
As Leela begins to be swayed by the warrior queen’s words, the Doctor has to make a decision: save his friend… or save history itself?
Format: Full-cast audio drama starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson published by Big Finish Productions and released March 2012.
Setting: Earth: Camulodunum and environs, Britain in 60 AD.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Horror of Fang Rock and after the audio story The Renaissance Man. The Doctor mentions their trip to the Moravanian Museum (see The Renaissance Man). The Doctor mentions that hates Morris Dancers (see The Daemons). The Doctor mentions that he can probably get away with saving just one person from a historic disaster (see The Aztecs and The Foe from the Future). Leela mentions that she knows from personal experience that history can be changed (see The Foe from the Future). The Doctor mentions that he knows Harry Houdini (see The Sorcerer's Apprentice).
Canonicity Quotient: The Doctor seems a little out of character still. He's as passive in this as he was in Destination: Nerva, which just doesn't seem right for the Fourth Doctor. Leela chastises the Romans for being "men in skirts" but apparently she's forgotten what the men wore where she comes from. It seems uncharacteristic of Leela to question a choice that would leave one less encumbered. 0.97
Discussion: After the wonderful Renaissance Man, I looked forward far more to the next story. So far I have yet to encounter a John Dorney story that is not excellent. It's well known that I think that his Rocket Men story is one of my favorite Doctor Who stories of all time and I've been enamored with everything of his that I've listened to. I was also intrigued with the notion of a true historical fourth Doctor story. I've always felt that the historicals have been underused since the Hartnell era and done well they can be some of the most engaging of all the stories, so I really looked forward to what this story would provide.
This story is Leela's "Aztecs", which is another favorite of mine. I like how Dorney showed Boudica as a character that Leela would really respond to and empathize with. The woman comes from a culture similar to Leela's own. Leela's questions are very similar to the ones that many fans of the series ask when they watch the show. Why can the Doctor interfere all of the time in space but never on Earth. After all, history just depends on your point of view. To Steven or Vicki anything in our time would be history yet the Doctor is constantly interfering in current events. Leela only knows that she sees people suffering against an invader and she believes that the Doctor should help. Yet, here is where we see the real genius of the piece. It isn't really about the morality of changing history. That part is brought up. The real issue is whether or not Boudica is a good person. Leela begins to understand as she associates with Boudica that she has grown as a person and that kind of savage lifestyle isn't for her anymore. At the same time she sees that Boudica is just as merciless and awful as the Romans, killing women and children and even killing her own people for not fighting to the last breath if they're captured and made into slaves. It's a really nice point of growth for her character and it makes for a very compelling listen as Leela argues with the Doctor and in many ways is right. It reminds me of a similar scene from The Glorious Revolution although in that case at least Jamie had a better idea of the history of the situation that they were dealing with. The story also does what a historical should do and informs about a time period in history. Boudica was mentioned in several of the Doctor Who novels (Human Nature comes to mind) but she isn't really taught about in history in the United States, so it was neat to learn about a period that I really only have sketchy knowledge of, so it was a really nice listen.
The production itself was also top notch. Louise Jameson proves just what a fantastic performer she is in this one. She puts such emotion into all the scenes with Leela and we feel her anger towards the Romans and we feel her denial as she can't believe that Boudica turns out to be such a horrible person. Tom doesn't get so much to do here. But I do love how he relates the history of Boudica to Leela. He's a consumate storyteller and the subtlety of how he can't bring himself to say "rape" but lets Leela draw from the inference was a fantastic way of doing that scene. Ella Kenion is great as Boudica. She plays the role as crazed as any Doctor Who villain. Having equal parts charisma and cold-blooded insanity. It helps the listener to understand why anyone would listen to her while at the same time why we or anyone else not involved in the situation should be sickened by what she proposes to do. Nia Roberts is nice enough as Bragnar and gives someone for the Doctor to play off of when Leela isn't around. It seems like we just scratched the surface with her character and a lot more is hinted at but we don't get it. With her talk of rather marrying a Roman than one of her own people and not wanting war I expected that she might end up being mixed up in something complicated but that part of her backstory went nowhere. I must say that I was expecting Caedmon to turn out to be a Roman spy. Michael Rouse plays him with such a sinister aspect, but in the end nothing much is really done with him as well. All-in-all there were some splendid performances here and likely the script helped to elevate them as high as they got.
I had a few problems with this story though. The Doctor is able to play I spy with Bragnar. Even assuming the normal translation convention, I have a hard time believing that Bragnar was taught her runes or the Roman alphabet. The Doctor is so passive in this story that it's almost unbelievable. I have a hard time believing that the Iceni would be able to keep him trussed up as he was in this one. It seems like he wants to hang around just so that he can make some bad jokes, which doesn't help to serve the dramatic tension. As others have noted, the Doctor could have explained better about the ramifications of changing history killing the people that they've befriended such as Jago and Lightfoot to help Leela understand what she's proposing would do and why it'd be wrong. Did the Doctor put Leela in this situation and let it play out on purpose just to further her education in a hands-on manner? I'm almost forced to believe that when reviewing these facts.
I felt like Dorney retread some old ground here. Boudica forcing the Doctor to tell her about her future defeats smacked heavily of Genesis of the Daleks. Meanwhile the Doctor's assertion that one person could be saved without changing history reminds one immediately of The Foe from the Future. Yet, it also provides a nit. The historical evidence that we have of Boudica's time period is sketchy to say the least. The fact that the Doctor seems to believe that everyone who was involved at the battle of Camulodunum was also at Boudica's last battle just seems kind of hard to believe. As with any army people are sent off for various reasons or desert of their own accord. Saving Bragnar hardly constitutes as "changing history" because no one has any clue what would have happened to her in any event. I also felt like the end was something of a cheat. In some ways I like that the Doctor wasn't giving away the whole story. Yet at the same time the dramatic tension was solely maintained by the Doctor making it feel as if Boudica's defeat was coming in just one day. With it actually some ways off a lot of the immediacy of his actions seems lack any real necessity. While it doesn't hurt Leela's character journey in the story I feel like this will hurt the story on later listenings. Also, I realize that this is picky but why does it seem like Boudica only commands an army of about 5 or so people? I realize that this is just a 2-parter but it seems like this story badly needed a few more characters to give the impression that there was actually an army present.
Final Rating: 9/10
Recommendation: John Dorney is great at telling stories about the companions going through a journey and he doesn't disappoint here with Leela. Leela is brought to life in a vivid way as she comes to idolize Boudica only to realize that she isn't everything that she's cracked up to be. As a necessity the Doctor is sidelined this time, but you'll hardly notice because the story is just so good. I heartily recommend this one.