The BBC is releasing the next wave of Doctor
Who stories on
DVD, including The King's Demon,
a short but sweet two-part story that wrapped
up Peter Davison's second season as the Doctor.
Taking place in 13th Century England, it follows on
of the Black Guardian Trilogy
(read my review of that release here)
some interesting parts (including the addition of a new companion, sort
of). When all is said and done however,
is a minor story that's quickly forgotten.
Days before he is going to sign the Magna Carta, King John
is visiting one of his Barons, Ranulf Fitzwilliam, asking for more
the Crusades. The Baron has already
given his whole treasury to the King and has nothing left, but that's
enough. Acting insulted at his
rejection, the King has his champion Sir Gilles Estram, goad
Hugh into accepting a challenge.
The next morning the Hugh and Estram face off on a field,
jousting in front of the King. In the
middle of the event a mysterious blue box appears, and out pops the
Tegan, and Turlough. Greated as 'demons'
by an unfazed King John, the trio sits next to the monarch and watches
of the duel, with the Doctor interceding when Hugh is easily bested and
convinces the king to spare the young man's life.
Back in the castle, the elder Fitzwilliam thanks the Doctor
and confides that the king seems different.
On his part, the Doctor is perplexed that the monarch is not in London where
supposed to sign the Magna Carta in a couple days time.
Things get even stranger when Fitzwilliam's
cousin arrives directly from London
and announces that the King has been there for the last few days. It's obvious that something is up, but what?
[Spoiler warning] It turns out that Sir Gilles Estram is
actually the Master
(Estram is an anagram of Master) and King John is actually Kamelion, a
robot that is able to mimic any humanoid.
Kamelion has a personality and thoughts of his own, but he's
influenced by psychic commands, which is how The Master is controlling
This story was intended to be the penultimate adventure in
season 20. It was originally going to
end on a cliffhanger which would segue into the final story of the year
the Daleks. A strike by the
electrician's union delayed production on this and the previous story
the time that was settled the final story had to be dropped. That's a shame, because this adventure was
intended to be a breather between the Black Guardian Trilogy and a
saga. It's main purpose is to introduce
the main villain of the piece and his new toy, something that was going
used a lot in the next season, or so they planned.
The tale, as it stands, is slight. By the
time it introduces the characters,
sets up the premise, and reveals the villain it's time to wrap things
up. Just as the story gets rolling
which is too bad because it has a lot of promise. The
sets are very good, especially the hall
where the banquets are held, and it's always fun to see the Doctor in
past fighting to keep things right.
It's also one of those stories that if you think about it
too much (any at all really) it starts to fall apart.
spoilers] The main problem is the
fact that the Master
is concerning himself with something as trivial as the signing of the
Carta. He's a villain on a galactic
scale, and now he wants to muck up one moment in British history?? And what was his ultimate plan?
The King is going to sign in London, so the Master and Kamelion
some Baron's castle? At one point the
Master explains that he intends to have King John/Kamelion act so
that there will be a revolt of the Barons.
But that's exactly what was going on at the time!
King John was generally loathed and the
nobles forced him to give up some of his power to avoid a full fledged
insurrection. Surely English children
are taught this is school.
Then there's Kamelion.
This creation, a real world robot, was a nice touch. It was supposed to be able to synch it's
movements to an audio tape and actually act.
Producer John Nathan-Turner was wowed by a demonstration (where
told that eventually the machine would be able to walk on its own) and
to make the robot a new companion.
Unfortunately the thing didn't work very well at all and it was
impressive nor convincing. Heck the
animatronics at Disney's "It's a Small World" ride are more
extraordinary. Basically it looks like a
mannequin that they
sat on a chair or propped against a wall.
I can't fathom why they didn't just use a guy in a suit when
discovered the problems that the machine caused. [End spoilers]
Having complained about all that, there's still a lot to
like in this adventure. Since it's so
short there's not padding; no extended scenes of a companion
some sub-plot that adds little to the action.
It's a short and sweet romp in the past.
The mono soundtrack is very good. It's
clean and clear with no hiss or
background noise to take away from the story.
The dialog is easy to discern and the background music and
never overpowering. Being a mono track,
there's really not much more to say about it.
The full frame video has been cleaned up by the Restoration
Team and looks fine though not stunning.
There's only so much you can do with 27 year old video tape. Some scenes are a bit soft, but generally the
image is clean and the colors are fine. There
is a section where guards with red capes enter a room, and the bright
blooms pretty noticeably. That was the
biggest defect however. If you've seen
the other restored Davison era stories, then you'll know what to expect.
Even with a (arguably) minor two-part story, the BBC has
come up with some nice extras. Honestly,
no one would have blamed them if they had released this as a bare bones
but I'm really glad they went the extra mile to create some added
content. First off are two commentary
tracks, one with
Peter Davison, Isla Blair (Isabella) and the script editor Eric Saward and
(on episode one only) with director Tony Virgo.
The first is the more interesting of the two, though it is a
back commentary than some of Davison's.
There are some nice anecdotes about the filming (though Davison
he doesn't remember a lot aside from the cold conditions when they shot
exterior scenes) and especially about the robot Kamelion.
That's followed by a pair of
featuettes. Kamelion - Metal Man looks at
the robot companion who never quite worked as well as they had hoped. This 14 minute documentary interviews the
robot's co-creator Chris Padmore as well as Peter Davison (who said
that he was
never in favor of using the machine), script editor Eric Saward, and
others. It's a nice look behind the
scenes at an idea that just didn't quite work.
The other bonus featurette is Magna
Carta, a 22 minute look at the
historic document, how it came about, and what its impact has been on
civilization. It was informative and
unambiguously contradicts the Doctor in this story.
(He said King John was all for signing the
agreement, but he wasn't and quickly tried to get out of it.)
The only problem is that they thought it would be cleaver to present
the scenes from the story in blurry black and white (cropped to 16 X 9
too). That made it hard to watch the otherwise nice feature.
The story also comes with an optional pop up trivia tracks
that's filled with information. Some of
it is minutia, the date the episodes were filmed and ever the time that
shoots wrapped, but also background info on the supporting and
characters and it points out on screen gaffs.
These are wonderful. There's also
a photo gallery, the Radio Times listings (in .pdf format) and an
While there are a few plot holes, this is still a fun
story. I just wish it had lasted a bit
longer. Presented at a budget price,
this is a nice offering with a couple of solid video featurettes
the one on Kamelion). Give this disc a