Doctor Who
The Kingmaker

Starring: Peter Davison
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 14.99
ISBN 1 84435 161 0
Available 04 May 2006

The Doctor encounters one of the most notorious characters from the past, Richard III, as he journeys through time to solve one of the great historical mysteries: who killed the Princes in the Tower? Peri and Erimem also meet a suspicious time traveller, someone from the Doctor's own past, someone who shouldn't really be there at all...

I had been intrigued by the prospect of this audio adventure, penned by Dead Ringers co-writer Nev Fountain, ever since I saw it listed as a forthcoming title on Big Finish's website. For the Kingmaker was the name of a mystical Gallifreyan character in the controversial Doctor Who webcast Death Comes to Time, on which writer Fountain served as script editor. Could it be, I thought, that Big Finish has decided to embrace DCTT into its own continuity?

Sadly, no... though there is plenty to enjoy in this double CD, and plenty to raise many a fans' eyebrows.

The Kingmaker is almost as full of fanciful ideas as DCTT. These include preposterous theories about what became of the Princes in the Tower, the true character of the notorious Richard III, the Doctor's uneasy friendship with William Shakespeare, and a publisher's robot chasing the Time Lord for delivery of his manuscript for the latest book in the Doctor Who Discovers series!

Fortunately, this story doesn't take itself too seriously. That much is evident from the cover design, in which the Doctor (Peter Davison) can be seen clutching a copy of his latest work, Doctor Who Discovers Historical Mysteries - a perfect mock-up of the old Target Books series, courtesy of illustrator Stuart Manning.

There's a distinct flavour of Hitchhiker's as the Doctor explains to his companions Peri (Nicola Bryant) and Erimem (Caroline Morris), how writers frequently miss deadlines because there's tea to be drunk or baths to be had (he could be talking about Douglas Adams himself here) and how, over time, all the publishers in the known universe were bought out by a single company, which then proceeded to send robotic agents back in time to "remind" those lazy authors to complete their commissions. He also describes how he came to write a series of books under the pen name of Doctor Who (though in my opinion no explanation is necessary, since the character was billed as such on the end credits of all the '60s and '70s television episodes, and was also identified as such at least once within the context of the show... but that's a debate for another time).

Even more cheekily, Jon Culshaw, who also takes on the roles of Earl Rivers and Richard Burbage, lends his famous impersonation of Tom Baker when the Fifth Doctor plays back some tape-recorded notes from a regeneration ago. Producer/director Gary Russell once said that he'd never allow an impersonator to stand in for Baker (who has so far refused to participate in any Big Finish productions), but I guess the tone of these brief scenes managed to persuade him otherwise.

And talking of soundalikes, Stephen Beckett, who plays Richard III, sounds eerily like Christopher Eccleston, especially when he utters the word "fantastic". Maybe he could play the Ninth Doctor (who is also mentioned in passing) in some audio dramas one day, if Eccleston himself cannot be lured back to the part.

The writer has a few serious points to make in among all the tomfoolery, including a debate about free will versus fate. As with his earlier Omega, he messes around with notions of dramatised history, comparing and contrasting real historical figures with Elizabethan players' interpretations of them.

Add to all this a delightful turn by comedian Arthur Smith as the low-life landlord Clarrie, some Blackadder-style deliberate anachronisms, such as a "press conference" with local gossip-mongers, and some genuinely surprising plot twists, and we have a most enjoyable production.

I did occasionally have trouble telling the flashbacks from the "present" events, but in other respects The Kingmaker is 'king brilliant.

Richard McGinlay

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