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Before reviewing this audio production, I should say that, in my opinion, this is the best "Doctor Who" historical drama ever written, and I don't exclude even the television serials written by John Lucarotti (or Douglas Adams).
Starring Peter Davison, "The Kingmaker" is written by professional scriptwriter Nev Fountain, best known as writer of the radio comedy series "Dead Ringers" for BBC Radio 4. Not entirely by coincidence, the principal guest in this story is the star of "Dead Ringers", impressionist Jon Culshaw.
This is a historical serial in four episodes, concerning the murder by King Richard III of the Princes in the Tower, set mainly in the year 1485.
The Doctor is investigating the death of the Princes, a genuine historical mystery. He visits Shakespeare, in the 16th century, to learn as much background as he can from the author of the most famous play based on the life of Richard III, before taking the more dangerous step of a landing in 1485.
The serial contains many surprise twists - in fact, nothing but surprise twists.
He does solve the mystery, and without violating any of the known facts about Richard's reign. And the solution is both inventive and, frequently, humorous.
There is a superb performance from the actor playing King Richard, Stephen Beckett (who played Dr Matt Ramsden in "Coronation Street" on tv). And there is a strong supporting cast, including the comedian Arthur Smith (whose lugubrious, deadpan humour is a riot). And lots of cliff-hanger endings.
The serial runs 2 hours. But unlike some longer Doctor Who serials, I honestly noticed no padding: it was genuinely an edge-of-your-seat thriller all the way through.
While played perfectly straight, as a genuine drama, it is nevertheless the funniest Doctor Who serial I've ever heard: genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. The fact that the script is by a professional comedy writer is used to the very best advantage.
It has some elements which spoof "The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy" (there is a robot which evokes memories of Marvin, the Paranoid Android); it has William Shakespeare (complete with authentic cod-Birmingham accent); and it has King Richard himself (both the character in Shakespeare's play, and the actual king in 1485).
It also has Jon Culshaw doing, at one point, his famous impression of Tom Baker, to bring in some all-too-brief dialogue from the 4th Doctor. Culshaw also gives a first rate dramatic performance as one of King Richard's key advisers. I think Machiavellian is the term that springs to mind in best describing Culshaw's excellent characterisation as Earl Rivers.
The serial spirals backwards and forwards through time, in one of the most complex time-travel plots you will ever come across, but without ever losing track of the key elements of the story. Indeed, although based in part, at least in its humour, on an inspired paraody of the Michael J Fox "Back to the Future" movies, it manages to keep the audience aware at all times of where - and when - the characters are, and the reasons why.
By some feat of scriptwriter's magic, Nev Fountain manages to write a Tragedy, in which it is traditional for all the characters to perish in the final Act, while nevertheless achieving the traditional happy ending required by a Comedy. Against the odds, the Doctor and his companions do manage to survive: perhaps this is not completely unexpected. But, oddly, the anticipated high body-count doesn't quite materialise either, due to a resolution with more twists and turns in it than the average corkscrew.
Peter Davison is never less than completely authentic in his recreation of the 5th Doctor, in any Big Finish production. And here he also revels in a rare opportunity to expand the character, playing some humorous scenes.
Companion Nicola Bryant, who has a much bigger role here than was usual on television, is very much at the centre of the action, and handles the role with great aplomb: it must be quite difficult to convey smouldering sex-appeal without the obvious advantages of television, but she manages it!
Big Finish companion Erimem has, as ever, all the advantages of Caroline Morris's beautiful speaking voice: a big, big advantage in an audio play.
This production is conceived and executed on an enormous scale, hurtling back and forth across the centuries, meeting gigantic historical figures in very authentic settings, with a script that would have been worthy of Douglas Adams himself. This story is on a par with "City of Death".
Indeed, if scriptwriter Nev Fountain ever tires of topical comedy in "Dead Ringers", he has a great future in science fiction as the new Douglas Adams.