Released November 2002
‘The Church and the Crown’ represents a return for Doctor Who to the pure historical format, a story type long since abandoned in favour of including generally more exciting and fantastic science fiction elements. Yet this story presents history in a very entertaining fashion more suited for the modern audience, paying homage to The Three Musketeers and full of a great deal of wit, intrigue, and action.
The key component to this story’s success if the great characterization, focusing primarily on Cardinal Richelieu and King Louis. Although both straddle the line between detestable and sympathetic figures as they antagonize each other, they ultimately are able to put aside their differences for the overall sake of France thanks to the timely intervention and persuasiveness of the Doctor and his companions. Andrew Mackay captures the arrogance of the monarch perfectly, and Michael Shallard brings across the frustration of Richelieu’s desire for a unified France believably. Just as importantly, though, the two musketeers Delmarre and Rouffet are brought to roguish life incredibly well by Peter John and Andy Coleman, respectively, and their growing respect and awe for the Doctor as he talks and fights his way through situations is a joy to behold.
While this is by no means a overtly comical story, writers Cavan Scott and Mark Wright manage to instill some strong comedic lines and scenes into the proceedings. Peter Davison never got too much opportunity to flex his comic muscles on screen, but here he proves wonderfully adept at doing so whether trying to converse with Erimem’s cat as he tries to reach the console and yearns for K-9 or attempting to teach the musketeers their famous catchphrase. Even some of the more minor characters such as Blind Maurice a beggar whose ailments change depending on his audience, help to add some levity to proceedings.
The regulars are written and portrayed very well here. Davison is clearly enjoying himself, and his duel with Buckingham that hearkens back to ‘The King’s Demons’ is a standout triumph, but it’s really the companions’ time to shine here. Nicola Bryant, playing a double role as both Peri and Queen Anne’s doppelganger, is extremely confident and strong throughout. While the doppelganger plotline has been used several times before, the characters are sufficiently different and the atmosphere engrossing enough that it comes across successfully and in a fresh manner. Peri herself is at her most resourceful and unafraid, standing up to Buckingham and managing to escape his clutches twice.
The lingering question going into this story was how Erimem would fare when taken out of her natural environment. Fortunately, Caroline Morris is superb and is able to imbue a combination of the authority and wonder that a pharaoh out of time would (likely) possess. She’s clearly in awe of a- to her- futuristic Paris, but she also proves essential in getting the Doctor an audience with the King as she confidently bluffs her way into his court. Likewise, she’s unafraid to bluntly tell Louis and Anne how to act responsibly as leaders and gets to put her combat skills to good use while uniting the Cardinal’s guards and the Musketeers. The script is unafraid to recognize her sense of normal, though, as she recommends Buckingham be tortured and executed, and there’s a sense that Erimem could be a protege in the sense of Leela going forward. Still, he utter joy at being asked to remain aboard the TARDIS rings true and, going by her first two stories, she will be a very welcome addition, indeed.
‘The Church and the Crown’ is proof that a historical adventure without more otherworldly elements can still be incredibly successful. Davison is the perfect Doctor to insert into this type of tale due to his everyman likeability, but it’s truly the companions that shine here while proving that this new trio has an incredible amount of potential going forward.