Doctor Who
The Council of Nicaea

Starring: Peter Davison
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 14.99
ISBN 1 84435 134 3
Available 20 July 2005

The city of Nicaea, AD 325... The first great Church council, called by Emperor Constantine, is due to begin, uniting theology, philosophy and politics for millennia to come. The Doctor, Peri and Erimem are here simply to watch events unfold. None of them is ready for what greets them. Intrigue within the Imperial Palace has become violence on the streets, and blood is spilt in the name of faith...

Not being familiar with the historical period in question, I cannot say whether this story's depiction of the Roman Emperor Constantine (David Bamber) is surprising or not. What I can say is that Bamber's performance is an engaging one, veering disconcertingly between charismatic diplomacy and ruthless dictatorship.

Caroline Symcox's script is also a good story for Erimem (Caroline Morris), who takes impassioned exception to the Doctor's (Peter Davison) reluctance to become involved in events when she perceives injustice. The Time Lord plays his "we mustn't change history" card, but the Egyptian points out that this era is not the past as far as she is concerned: it is the future. This is very much Erimem's story, just as The Aztecs was Barbara's. As she puts her own life in danger, the Doctor and Peri (Nicola Bryant) grow increasingly concerned that she will either succeed in altering the timeline or die as a result of her inability to do so.

Over the years, Doctor Who has taken various, seemingly contradictory, approaches to the possibility of changing history. The Aztecs and The Reign of Terror seem to suggest that you cannot alter the timeline because it is impossible to do so. In later stories, such as Day of the Daleks, The Time Warrior and City of Death, the Doctor states that it is possible to change history, but this is something to be avoided at all costs. The Time Meddler, Pyramids of Mars and the 1996 TV movie imply that, although humans cannot hope to determine the outcome of events, a Time Lord or other similarly powerful being could achieve it.

To reconcile these conflicting viewpoints, it is worth bearing in mind that Frontios suggests that history is more vulnerable at certain pivotal points, while Father's Day implies that time is more mutable when it is already weakened in some way. The former condition could account for the timeline's vulnerability in Day of the Daleks and The Time Warrior, while the latter could account for events in City of Death. In The Council of Nicaea, the Doctor is concerned that AD 325 is a critical juncture, so the Frontios factor can be applied here too.

As the Doctor, Davison is his usual reliable self, but Bryant comes across rather less well. Peri whines annoyingly as she struggles to dissuade Erimem from doing something she will live - or, even worse, not live - to regret.

And talking of awful accents, it somehow seems wrong to hear a Roman guard droppin' 'is aitches. However, we have little or no idea what a real Roman accent would have sounded like, so I suppose a regional British dialect is no less appropriate than received "BBC English". What is rather more unfortunate is a background actor who has trouble with his S's, who seems to tell his Emperor: "You sh*t on the council"!

Contentious though its religious subject matter is, The Council of Nicaea left me, for the most part, strangely unmoved. I doubt it will go down in history as a classic of the calibre of The Aztecs. Still, there are plenty of decent performances and other stuff that's nice 'ere.

Richard McGinlay

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