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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
The Lady of Mercia


Starring: Peter Davison
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 073 2
Release Date: 31 May 2013

The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa to the University of Frodsham, close to where the warrior queen Æthelfrid fought a desperate and bloody rearguard action against the savage Danes. Over a thousand years later, in 1983, battle is still raging, with student activists taking on savage funding cuts... and disrupting a conference about Æthelfrid convened by history professor John Bleak. Meanwhile, over in the Physics Department, Dr Philippa Stone is working night and day on a top-secret project – but can her theoretical time machine really be the solution to the university’s problems? Present and past are about to collide – and the results will be far from academic...

I have to say, I am pleased that the TARDIS crew find themselves in the 1980s. All too often with “past Doctor” stories such as this (ever since the Missing Adventures novels kicked off with Goth Opera in 1994) the “present day” is presented as some time close to the date of publication, whereas if this adventure had really gone out as part of Season 20, it would surely have been set in 1983.

This period is only part of Paul Magrs’s story, however, as the shenanigans at Frodsham University are a springboard for a trip by various characters, including Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Professor Bleak (Anthony Howell), back through time to the tenth century, making The Lady of Mercia a real mixture of sci-fi and historical elements. This dark age in Britain’s past is used to good advantage. Doubt and uncertainty about what really happened back then allow the writer a great deal of dramatic licence. Ultimately, the snippets of history that have been recorded force a rather untidy ending upon the proceedings (I won’t give away what it is), but otherwise this is an excellent story, with plenty of excitement and many great scenes for Tegan in particular.

Magrs shows what a humorous character Tegan can be, something that Janet Fielding greatly appreciates in the 15 minutes of interviews at the end of Disc 2. A typical example is when the laidback Aussie addresses Queen Æthelfrid (Rachel Atkins) as “your maj”. There is much more to Tegan than whining and shouting, which she often descends to under lesser writers. Turlough (Mark Strickson) also benefits from some choice snide remarks, but this is very much Tegan’s story. Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) doesn’t get much of a look-in, but her turn is coming in the next release...

The diverse accents of the two time periods also allow the undetectable doubling up of several performers – I had no idea, for example, that Catherine Grose was playing both Molly Wright and Princess Ælfwynn, or that Kieran Bew was both the unruly student Barry and the Viking Arthur Kettleson.

Rounding off this double CD is an extremely exciting trailer for the next story, Prisoners of Fate. Well, mercy me!


Richard McGinlay

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