The Wrath of the Iceni is the third story in the “first season” of Big Finish audios starring Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor. Produced back in 2012, this series represented something of a watershed moment for Big Finish, as they’d been producing their audio dramas for over a decade at that point, and Tom Baker had been the only living Doctor that the company’s license gave them access to who hadn’t agreed yet to make an appearance. But something convinced him to change his mind (maybe the upcoming–at the time–50th anniversary of the series?) and we are all the better for it.
It’s been ages since I wrote about these; I may try to go back and fill in the gaps, but in the meantime I so enjoyed this one that I thought it was time for me to break back into this blog series.
The conceit of this run of Doctor Who audios is that the Fourth Doctor is taking Leela, his “savage” companion, on an educational journey across time and space, specifically with the goal of teaching her about life and civilization. In this case, Leela’s lesson takes her to ancient Britain, where she encounters Boudica, the queen of the doomed Iceni tribe of early Britain, who is in the middle of a rebellion against occupying Roman forces. Leela is taken in by what she sees as the justness of Boudica’s cause, and she cannot understand the Doctor’s reluctance to involve himself. The tension leads to a temporary rift between Doctor and Companion, but eventually Leela is forced to confront the reality that though Boudica’s grievances are understandable, her response is not. Leela comes to a genuinely deeper understanding of the complexities of life and war, and this compelling journey is the heart of the story.
Leela is played, as she was on TV, by Louise Jameson, who definitely sounds older than she did 34 years earlier. Tom Baker sometimes shows signs of his age as well. But both acting gives performances that are convincing enough to overcome such shortcomings. The rest of the cast is quite small for a drama like this, with only four other performers. Standouts amongst them include Ella Kenion as Boudica and Nia Roberts as Bragnar (an Iceni cook who befriends the Doctor).
It’s fitting that the story is about Leela’s education, because I was certainly came out of the story having learned a thing or two about British history. I’d previously heard of Boudica simply as a Green Lantern character from the 1990’s (who was called Boodikka). I had no idea she’d taken her name from someone from history. It was fascinating to hear this dramatized account of her story, even fictionalized as it is.
Some modern fans of Doctor Who might not be aware that the series was actually conceived of as an least semi-educational series, with roughly every other story taking place in earth’s past and not including any alien or science fiction concepts other than the Doctor & the TARDIS itself. Except for a brief revisit in the 19th season, this hasn’t been seen on televised Doctor Who since The Highlanders finished airing in 1967. But The Wrath of the Iceni is once again a purely historical drama, and the adventure in no way feels lacking in interest or tension for taking this approach. John Dorney’s script is clever and witty, well-paced with a both grand scope and an intimate sense of character. Really, one of the best of the Big Finish audios that I’ve caught so far (admittedly, only a small portion of their output).