Doctor Who
The Church and the Crown

Starring: Peter Davison
Big Finish Productions
RRP 13.99
ISBN 1 903654 75 0, BFPDWCD6QC
Available now

The TARDIS lands several thousand years off course, bringing the Doctor, Peri and Erimem to 17th-century Paris. As Peri gets entangled in a plot to kill Queen Anne, the Doctor finds himself duelling with Musketeers...

Expect plenty of swashbuckling swordsmanship and verbal ripostes as writers Cavan Scott and Mark Wright pay homage to Richard Lester's movie version of The Three Musketeers. The story therefore falls into the "genre pastiche" category of historical Who, like The Reign of Terror or The Gunfighters, rather than the more educational type that takes fewer liberties with its depiction of setting, like Marco Polo or The Aztecs. Thankfully, as in The Massacre, no attempt is made by the British cast to adopt phoney French accents.

In addition to the derring-do that is done by the Musketeers (Andy Coleman, Robert Curbishley and Peter John), there's an element of Monty Python humour in the guise of an entrepreneurial "blind" beggar. Meanwhile, the uneasy relationship betwixt Church and Crown is epitomised by the bickering that goes on between the pious Cardinal Richelieu (Michael Shallard) and the hot-headed Louis XIII (Andrew Mackay), who seem to take it in turns impersonating Alan Rickman.

This tale is also notable for being Erimem's (Caroline Morris) first trip in the TARDIS, after she boarded the ship at the end of last year's The Eye of the Scorpion. It seems only fitting that the Fifth Doctor should gain a new companion from Big Finish, since the Sixth Doctor was joined by Evelyn Smythe, the Seventh Doctor's literary companion Bernice Summerfield was brought to life by Lisa Bowerman, and the Eighth Doctor made the acquaintance of Charley Pollard. Erimem certainly does not seem like a crewmember too far, as Peri (Nicola Bryant) spends much of the story away from the Doctor's company, having being abducted.

Plot-wise, it is patently obvious what the cliffhanger to Part One will be long before the episode reaches its conclusion. A rather overused narrative device nevertheless grants Bryant an excellent opportunity to stretch her acting range.

Overall, the story is a little slight, but it passes an enjoyable hundred-odd minutes.

Richard McGinlay