The Flames of Cadiz

Posted in Audio by - June 19, 2019
The Flames of Cadiz

Released January 2013

To begin the fiftieth anniversary celebration, The Companion Chronicles revisits the First Doctor’s earliest TARDIS team of Ian, Barbara, and Susan in Marc Platt’s historical ‘The Flames of Cadiz.’ As the TARDIS materializes in the dark days of sixteenth-century Spain that finds itself at war with England and where any perceived act of heresy is punishable by death, the travelers find themselves on the wrong side of the battle lines.

As with most of the televised true historicals of this era, the initial action centres around the companions desperately trying to reunite and make it back to the TARDIS as here an act of heroics lands Ian squarely in the clutches of the Inquisition. Knowing implicitly the genuine danger that Ian faces, the Doctor embarks on a grand journey full of confident bluffs and misdirection to try to save his friend, dressing as a Cardinal and working his way into a meeting with the King himself. With Susan shrouded at his side to ostensibly serve but also listen to the true meaning of his words to ensure his plan is carried out in full, this is a brilliant sequence filled with uneasy tension that pays homage to the doppelganger storyline of ‘The Massacre’ and that is amplified all the more effectively by well-rounded and authoritative characters that bring a genuine power and menace to proceedings. Punctuated by Ian’s helpless screams as he realises that Susan and Barbara are pushing their way through the assembled crowd to watch both the Doctor and him burn at the stake when all hope seems lost, the drama and emotion stemming from this period’s true history and the characters’ established motivations are utterly fantastic in every respect.

‘The Flames of Cadiz’ is a two-disc adventure that doesn’t end with the triumphant return to the TARDIS as expected, however, as Ian surprisingly takes a wagon bound for Cadiz to meet his childhood idol, Francis Drake. This decision that comes so incredibly soon after facing death is never adequately explained, but this action and Barbara’s own choice to not reveal the truth to her remaining companions both seem incredibly out of character for these two who so dearly care for each other and clearly serves only as a forced means of further advancing the plot and the trials faced. Unfortunately, this half can’t quite live up to the first as, even though Ian does save Drake to once more prove his bravery and heroism, Drake quickly reveals that the actual man who history would rightly remember as a cunning tactician falls far short of Ian’s lofty expectations. In itself, there is nothing wrong with this storyline, but taken as a continuation of the Inquisition plot already in motion it falters to maintain the intrigue and momentum. Instead, it’s the subplot in which the Doctor impulsively and brashly assumes that Barbara is attempting to change the course of history to favour England, only to eventually realise that he does not know what year it is and that his assumptions have been wrong all along, that shines much more brightly. Such a simple mistake having such huge ramifications that again put the lives of everyone he has come to care about in danger is wholly fitting of the First Doctor’s arrogant impetuosity, and the layers it develops within the complex relationship between the Doctor and Barbara become their own standout.

Although the two halves are something of a tonal mishmash and may have been better served as two distinct stories without the forced segue, William Russell and Carole Ann Ford give immense performances that ensure the audience’s vested interest from beginning to end. This is a time in which every person no matter his or her position is capable of committing atrocious acts, and the strong direction and sound design bring to life expertly the distinct races against time that unfold in each section as danger and death loom ever nearer. ‘The Flames of Cadiz’ doesn’t quite develop its central posited theme of choosing sides based on where home is, but the end result is nonetheless a thoroughly engaging one that features two of the strongest episodes The Companion Chronicles has yet produced, a testament to the true potential that the historical genre still holds.

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