Doctor Who – “The Wrath of the Iceni”

Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures # 1.3
Written by
: John Dorney
Directed by: Ken Bentley
Performed by: Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Ella Kenion & Nia Roberts
Duration: 60 mins approx
ISBN: 978-1-84435-614-0
Chronology Placement: Set after “The Renaissance Man

Synopsis: Britain. The height of the Roman occupation. The Doctor has brought Leela to ancient Norfolk to learn about her ancestors… but has no idea how much of an education she is going to get. Because this is the time of Boudica’s rebellion. When the tribe of the Iceni rises up and attempts to overthrow the Roman masters. As Leela begins to be swayed by the warrior queen’s words, the Doctor has to make a decision: save his friend… or save history itself?

The Wrath of the Iceni” is something of a rarity in terms of Doctor Who stories in that it is a pure historical adventure with no science-fiction elements at all, aside from the Doctor and the TARDIS. While these adventures were more popular during the First Doctor’s era, they were eventually phased out in favour of pseudo-historicals which allowed writers to incorporate monsters and aliens into the past. Thrusting the Fourth Doctor and Leela into Britain at the height of Roman occupation, writer John Dorney is able to explore the natural conflict that arises when Leela meets Boudica, warrior-queen of the Iceni tribe, without any need for alien antagonists.

This series of audio adventures has seen the Fourth Doctor take Leela on a educational journey through time and space in an effort to refine the “savage” and teach her about her ancestors. Despite this My Fair Lady-esque attempt at self-improvement, Leela still possesses her warrior instincts and it is this side of her personality that comes to the fore in this adventure when she becomes enamoured with Boudica and her fierce determination for retribution against the Roman empire. Ella Kenion does a tremendous job in her guest appearance as Boudica, capturing her ruthless attitude and unbridled lust for revenge. I love how she appears similar to Leela at first glance, but upon closer examination the two warrior women couldn’t be more different. Through this comparison, Dorney provides a skilful character examination of Leela – far more complex and nuanced than anything in her original stories.

Knowing the eventual fate of Boudica and the Iceni, the Doctor and Leela clash over whether to interfere with fate and the course of time. This concept of destiny and changing established events has been explored in the series before, most notably in the classic First Doctor adventure “The Aztecs”, and more recently in the Tenth Doctor adventure, “The Fires of Pompeii”. Ultimately, “The Wrath of the Iceni” shares more in common with the latter adventure as the Doctor breaks his rule of non-interference in an attempt to rescue one life from an inevitable slaughter. It is interesting to note that the Fourth Doctor undertakes this mission on his own, but the Tenth Doctor only acts when Donna pleads with him: a subtle role-reversal that demonstrates the difference between the two incarnations.

Tom Baker remains on top-form in this audio adventure, especially the sequence where he attempts to rescue Bragnar from her fate (“Perhaps I could save just one…”). His booming voice is so evocative and he is able to conjure up the same vocal tics and mannerisms that allow listeners to instantly imagine the Fourth Doctor in action. Louise Jameson is terrific as Leela, providing the character with tons of depth and distinguishing her from the bloodthirsty Boudica. Jameson, and Dorney’s script, showcase the development that the character has undergone with the Doctor – and while she might still be instinctive and aggressive, she is not quite the “savage” the Doctor affectionately refers to her as. It’s great to see the character get her due recognition, and Jameson ably handles the emotional cues and learning moments using only her voice.

Morally complex with extraordinary characters, Dorney’s breath-taking script proves that pure historical adventures can be every bit as thrilling as alien invasions and mind-boggling science-fiction concepts. As a listener unfamiliar with Boudica’s era, I found Dorney’s story to be surprisingly educational for my own purposes and delightfully ambiguous in terms of its heroes and villains. I loved the way Dorney challenged the relationship between the Doctor and Leela, as well as addressing the familiar Doctor Who trope of non-intervention. This is a brilliant example of a pure-historical adventure, and deserves to be sat alongside the iconic “The Aztecs” as an example of the sub-genre.

Score – ★★★★ ½

Doctor Who: The Wrath of the Iceni is available from Big Finish on physical CD or digital download. It can also be found on Amazon UK in the physical format.

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