Released October 2014
The Early Adventures range continues with ‘The Doctor’s Tale’ and a staple of the William Hartnell era that has become increasingly rare over time, the pure historical adventure. Landing in England in 1400, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki soon find themselves embroiled in a regicidal plot and a conspiracy with Geoffrey Chaucer at its centre.
This is a rather obscure period of history to set the story in, and so there is some education that goes along with events, similar to any number of Hartnell era stories. In fact, ‘The Doctor’s Tale’ borrows several plot elements from other First Doctor stories- without overstepping bounds- that allow it to fit in perfectly and not feel as if anything has been scripted just for convenience. Specifically, Barbara wanting to right a wrong in history evokes her sentiment from ‘The Aztecs,’ and a man falling in love with Barbara while trying to kill Ian is reminiscent of events in ‘The Reign of Terror.’ For a story attempting to evoke the feel of its particular era, these nods to other stories of the time certainly enhance the experience, and the more obscure ones give an extra level of satisfaction to the dedicated fans.
Cleverly, writer Marc Platt uses Thomas Arundel as the main antagonist here which presents an intriguing problem for the Doctor since he is an established part of history and so can’t be dealt with and handled in the same manner as many other foes. Barbara once again gets to play the role of the historian and educator here, and the inclusion of many characters from The Canterbury Tales adds a novel feel to the proceedings, especially for those familiar with the work. One negative aspect of all of these allusions to other stories and pieces of work, though, is that it does take away a little bit from the actual plot of this particular story, and the main characters are only put in true danger a couple of times.
Because of the unfortunate passing of both William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill, William Russell is asked to perform double duty as both Ian Chesterton and the First Doctor, and Maureen O’Brien is similarly tasked with the roles of Vicki and Barbara. Russell’s very strong but slightly off impersonation of Hartnell is humorously explained away by the Doctor suffering from a cold here. Still, the mannerisms are spot on, and the enthusiasm and vigour he throws into the Doctor’s scenes again the Lord of Misrule are a delight. Ian isn’t written quite as strongly in this tale, but Russell captures his youthful and strong essence superbly. The same can be said about O’Brien’s reprisal of Vicki, though its clear that she hasn’t quite mastered Hill’s delivery as Barbara yet.
The guest cast is also very strong throughout this tale, though special commendation must be given to John Banks’s Arundel, the menace emanating from his character enhancing a story that otherwise doesn’t have much overt threats in it, and Alice Haig’s teenage Queen Isabella, who convincingly plays a young woman who has been thrust into royalty and had it torn away so early in life. Chaucer is, of course, a crucial character driving events, and while Garteh Armstrong is fantastic in the role, the fact that he is asked to play multiple roles, some of which follow each other due to editing, causes a bit of a disconnect due to the lack of definitive distinction he brings to the roles’ voices. Still, it’s a minor quibble in an otherwise strong release.
‘The Doctor’s Tale’ is a solid release, though perhaps the title creates expectations for something altogether different. Still, for a historical adventure, it achieves its goals in both educating and entertaining. Unfortunately, the lesser-known era of history and the lack of continual danger or tension keep this from reaching the heights it otherwise may have achieved.