Released April 2006
History has had its fair share of villainous figures, and Big Finish steadfastly continues to explore some of Earth’s darker periods with ‘The Kingmaker,’ a tale that sees the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and Erimem cross paths with none other than Richard III himself. Richard III is a fascinating figure, and certainly one ripe for exploration, a man who gained the throne after his brother’s death and then declared his brother’s sons bastards. He sentenced them to life in prison in the Tower of London, where they mysteriously disappeared shortly before his coronation. Their fates remain a mystery, though it is widely suspected that murder was involved to strengthen Richard’s claim to the throne. Regardless, his conniving and backstabbing nature along with the intrigue surrounding him have made him figure of ill-repute even lasting to today in various media.
‘The Kingmaker’ is a solid release for Big Finish, and writer Nev Fountain expertly blends macabre and serious with levity. As a clever in-joke, the Doctor in his UNIT days apparently agreed to write a series of historical novels under the name of Doctor Who Discovers, the ‘The’ in front having been missed. As a robot from the sixty-fourth century catches up with him to remind him of his obligations, the Doctor decides to take his companion back in time to solve the mystery regarding the ultimate fate of the princes.
It’s clear from the start that this is not going to be a pure historical adventure; indeed, some of the plot elements border on ludicrous in the way they play out. However, it’s the masterful acting of Stephen Beckett as Richard III that keeps the play grounded in some sort of reality. He has come to terms with being a bad person, but he’s acting solely in what he believes is his country’s best interest. While he is undeniably a villain, there is a minor degree of both sympathy and empathy he garners along the way in this tale. It ends up being a very wise choice to not try to humanize him to any great degree.
‘The Kingmaker’ also allows Peter Davison to give a truly strong performance as the Doctor, covering the full gamut of emotions from lighthearted jesting with his companions to utter contempt and judgment for Richard III. Not every story matches the feel of its starring Doctor’s television era, but ‘The Kingmaker’ is quintessentially Fifth Doctor, and the Doctor’s steadfast declaration to ensure history unfolds as it should despite how the story changes puts him in an immensely precarious and powerful position.
Peri and Erimem continue to develop their natural friendship, and Nicola Bryant and Caroline Morris are natural playing off each other. There are some truly standout scenes as the women live through 1483 to 1485, believing they’ve been abandoned by the Doctor, including some very harrowing ones as Erimem even suggests suicide to avoid execution after they become trapped in the Tower and try to escape. Unfortunately, despite the passage of time and the experiences they have undergone, the script and performances do little later in the story to suggest any sort of personal change or growth.
The supporting cast is very strong throughout, and Arthur Smith, Michael-Fenton Stevens, Chris Neill, and Marcus Hutton all do very well in playing characters of the time and place as the mystery and various theories come into prominence. Regardless of the lunacy engulfing the drama as well as the different time periods involved, everything in the script and plot flows logically and culminates in a satisfying resolution. It may not be the hard-hitting drama one may expect when thinking of the character Richard III and the fates of the princes, but the end result is wholly satisfying in its own way.