Council of War

Posted in Audio by - July 03, 2019
Council of War

Released June 2013

Through the course of The Companion Chronicles, the eras of the first four Doctors have been remarkably well explored with almost all of the living main cast members reprising their famed roles as companions and friends. The one notable omission to this point, however, has been John Levene as the beloved UNIT Sergeant Benton, a gap that writers Simon Barnard and Paul Morris duly fill in with ‘Council of War’ as Benton goes undercover as a local councillor to investigate a recent spate of ghostly appearances and missing people in Kettering.

As more of a secondary character whom the Brigadier liked and respected but just as often expressed frustration and consternation with, Benton wasn’t necessarily the most well-rounded of UNIT’s officers during the Pertwee era. However, Levene always carried a certain charisma and humility that made Benton’s obvious devotion to the cause, kindness, and good nature always apparent. Opening with an unabashed satiric take on James Bond, ‘Council of War’ allows Benton to develop outside of the normal rigidity of UNIT, uncomfortably trying to blend in as a civilian but quickly commanding attention as he saves an unsuspecting female partygoer from a Santa making unwanted advances. He has an understandable fear of having to develop and stick to a cover story since getting rumbled while undercover ruins everything, but he finds something of a kindred spirit in councillor Margery Phipps who is unknowingly entwined in the affairs of an alien world, Levene and Sinead Keenan developing an instant chemistry that keeps the fantastic events grounded in a semblance of realism and humanity.

Margery is one of the more intriguing guest characters that this range has offered, a woman with progressive beliefs befitting the feminism movement of the era but who cannot quite come to terms with her own femininity. Pairing her with Benton with whom she can’t help but feel attracted to despite his more masculine-driven outlook on life thus works exceedingly well to capture the spirit of the seventies as was so frequently televised, and her political experience combined with his military prowess proves to be wholly effective when the truth about Margery’s future importance is revealed. Though the discovery that a planet far in the future has created a renowned utopia based on the messages within Margery’s book is more fitting of the optimism at the core of many sixties science fiction shows, the fact that this civilisation has resultantly been so easily overcome by an invading force and wishes to punish Margery as a result is still an intriguing twist that ties together the ghostly manifestations and disappearances to good effect.

Of course, while Margery must come to terms with how others have construed her own beliefs, ‘Council of War’ very much serves as a vehicle for Benton to showcase his own resourcefulness and skill as he single-handedly attempts to sabotage an alien ship and uses his own knowledge of history to come up with a cunning plan to at least offer a slim chance of victory. Sadly, this is somewhat undermined by the fact that he is captured and must await the Doctor’s rescue once his location has been traced, meaning that the audience is robbed of the chance to see Benton form and see through to completion a plan of his own making. Nonetheless, the characterisation of Benton is sublime, and Levene’s voice and mannerisms are perfect for the audio medium both in narration and reprising his role. With a certain innocence and optimism at its core just like its lead, ‘Council of War’ capably delves into an era of Doctor Who rarely seen with a character who still has so much to offer, providing perhaps not the most innovative or hard-hitting but a nonetheless suitable entry into this range for the beloved Benton.

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