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Audio Drama Review
The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Steven and Vicki to the Italian city of Ravenna in the year 540 AD – a place besieged by the army of the celebrated Byzantine general Belisarius. Caught up in the fighting, Steven ends up on a boat bound for Constantinople, the heart of the Roman Empire. Rescuing Steven, however, is the least of the Doctor’s problems – because he shouldn’t be mixed up in this particular adventure at all. Someone has sabotaged his own personal timeline, putting his fifth incarnation in the place of his first… but who has done this, and why? The truth is about to be revealed – but at what cost to all of the Doctors, and to the whole future history of the planet Earth…?
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS!
Say what you like about the ‘Locum Doctors’ trilogy, which comes to a close with this release, but the period settings of these stories have been just right for their chosen eras – not to mention providing a good level of variety for any Doctor Who trilogy. We’ve visited the twentieth century for the Jon Pertwee era in The Defectors, the far future for Patrick Troughton’s time in Last of the Cybermen, and now a historical setting for the William Hartnell era.
In The Secret History, writer Eddie Robson deals with a period from our past with which I was not hitherto familiar – a time when the remnants of the Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire, did not include Italy, which was instead ruled by the Ostrogoths. However, the ambitious Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (Tim Wallers) and his General Belisarius (Giles Watling) want to change all that… In common with all the best historical stories, this one is populated by memorable, larger-than-life characters, which also include the hedonistic Empress Theodora (Sarah Woodward) and Belisarius’s timid legal advisor and chronicler Procopius (Tony Millan). In other words, this story entertains as well as informs.
The regulars are on fine form as well. When presented with a strange young man who claims to the Doctor, Steven (Peter Purves) is disbelieving, whereas Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) is more open-minded. These were also their characteristic reactions when confronted by the miracle of the TARDIS for the first time in the television series.
The companions initially come to the conclusion that the Fifth Doctor must be a younger version of the First, which is reasonable enough. After all, regeneration had yet to be seen or mentioned at this point in the show. Furthermore, William Hartnell’s widow Heather noted a resemblance between Peter Davison and her husband in his younger days. The phrase “Time Lord” was not uttered until 1969, so the dialogue is appropriately vague about the Doctor’s nature… that is, until the proverbial hits the fan at the end of Part Three, and time is well and truly meddled with…
The return of Graeme Garden as the Monk had been kept a closely guarded secret prior to this story’s release, though his identity is fully disclosed in the cast credits on the back cover of the double CD, and in any case it’s not hard to guess who the hooded figure on the front cover might be. The Monk is just the right villain for this story, and indeed for the trilogy as a whole. His hijacking of the Doctor’s timeline is presented in a more comprehensible way than a similar scheme perpetrated by the Great Intelligence in The Name of the Doctor, though aspects of the takeover do stretch credulity – would historical events really play out in such a parallel manner after the Monk had been meddling with the Doctor’s life for centuries, and would the Doctor’s companions really be so compliant?
Also, the otherwise dramatic ending to Part Three is hampered by Vicki’s rather feeble cry of “No!” (Zoe gave a similarly limp exclamation at the close of Part Two of Last of the Cybermen – is this some kind of misguided series style?) Aside from that, though, it’s no secret that this makes a satisfactory resolution to the ‘Locum Doctors’ trilogy.
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