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Audio Drama Review
Britain, circa AD 60: the height of the Roman occupation. The Doctor has brought Leela to ancient Norfolk to learn more about her ancestors. However, he has no idea just how much of an education his companion is going to get... Because this is the time of Boudica’s rebellion, when the tribe of the Iceni rises up and attempts to overthrow its Roman masters. As Leela begins to be swayed by the warrior queen’s words, the Doctor has to make a difficult decision: save his friend... or save history itself...
Trivia time: which actress from the new series episode Let’s Kill Hitler has also portrayed Boudica? Well, there are two answers. Alex Kingston played Boudica in the 2003 film of the same name (known in the USA as Warrior Queen). Now Ella Kenion, who appeared in Let’s Kill Hitler as Teselecta crewmember Harriet, realises the warrior queen on audio. She is joined by another guest actress from the Eleventh Doctor era: Nia Roberts, who played Ambrose in The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood, as the Iceni cook Bragnar.
This story is not typical of the Fourth Doctor’s television tenure, being a historical tale, the only sci-fi elements of which are the TARDIS and its crew. However, the concept of a meeting between Leela and the famous female warrior of British history is too good an opportunity to pass up, and writer John Dorney provides Louise Jameson with one of her meatiest roles to date. Tom Baker is also convincing, dropping the Doctor’s usually flippant façade as he realises what period of history he has landed them in and the massacre that is to come, an event he knows he must not interfere with. As is also true of his television performance, you know that when the Fourth Doctor gets serious, the situation must be grave indeed.
The Wrath of the Iceni’s biggest flaw is that it is over too quickly, but that is a consequence of the single-disc, two-episode format of these releases. Leela’s changes of allegiance and the revelation of Boudica’s mental state all seem to happen rather hastily. The fact that the Doctor doesn’t even pause to bemoan the violence that occurs when a certain character is killed is another indicator of characterisation being constrained by the running time. Dorney’s script might have worked better as a three- or four-parter.
On the other hand, the short duration allows the listener little time to think beyond the immediate events, which can be an advantage. Thus you can enjoy the light-hearted scene in which the captive Doctor plays “I Spy” with the similarly imprisoned Bragnar for what it is - only later realising the problem of how such a language-based game could work between a Gallifreyan and an ancient Briton, even with the Time Lord gift of translation. When the Doctor appears to abandon Leela and seeks to escape with Bragnar, it is easy to forget for a moment that Leela must return (because she appears in subsequent stories), and it seems entirely possible that the sympathetic Bragnar could become the Doctor’s new companion.
History must be maintained, however - both Who history and Earth history - and Dorney manages to extricate the TARDIS crew with skill, making a virtue of the mystery that continues to surround Boudica’s final resting place.
For years now, Big Finish has been creating historical adventures for Doctors who never had them on television. The Wrath of the Iceni is a welcome addition to the range.