The King's Demons

Written by:
Terence Dudley
Directed by: Tony Virgo
Starring: Peter Davison
Year: 1983
Video Availability (NTSC Version): Try Amazon

While it's the same length as an episode of, say, Star Trek, there's something about the 2 x 25m format that Doctor Who could never really get to grips with. Hartnell tried it twice and had reasonable success, while Tom's The Sontaran Experiment was deeply average. For three seasons between 1982 and 1984 we were saddled with the format, an offshoot of JN-T's sensible move to rid us of the cumbersome six-parters. Black Orchid got it right in a way that none of the other two Davison 50 minuters ever did: The stories for such a structure invariably come over as too lightweight or too rushed. The King's Demons does both, a rather silly tale involving the changing of English history and a crap singing robot.

Of course, I hate all this cod medieval stuff anyway. Dudley's script isn't awful, but it takes a writer of immense calibre to handle mock Shakespearean dialogue. Sadly, he isn't that writer, and so lines like "Father, do not dishonour me" are left sounding unintentionally funny in such a humourless story. Davison was often crippled by the po-faced demands of his era, and as this comes in the middle of his "can't be bothered" trilogy (ranging from Enlightenment to The Five Doctors) then it does flounder somewhat. This is a lot less fun than I remembered - not actually bad, just totally joyless and inessential.

This opening episode also contains possibly the worst piece of exposition ever in the series. As the companions are traditionally split up, the Doctor asks, "Where's Turlough?" In a feat of magnificent script-editing, Tegan's rejoinder is "He's gone to look at something." Rock bottom, absolutely rock bottom. Imagine similar explanations for companions separating:. "Where's Jo gone?" "Oh, she's just not here." It's lazy and hopelessly underdeveloped. It might seem like I'm making a big issue out of a very minor detail, but what we've just witnessed is a first draft on screen.

Add to this the Master's sole appearance of the season, the awful Ainley supposedly French yet sounding like a Welsh Iranian. The Doctor's objection to a "French knight" is also curious - is the Doctor a racist? We even get an Olde lute ballad. A song… in Who? And it's not The Gunfighters? The King's Demons is a slated story and I was all prepared to say it's no great but it's okay. Sadly, such magnanimous virtues are deprived me by the realisation that I've just watched a pile of toss.
* * ½

"You escaped from Xeraphas!" Why bother to mention it at all, when only Who anoraks would care? And Tegnn's "The tissue compression eliminator!" People don't really talk like that, and the Master's assertion that the Doctor has moral scruples is cartoon restating of the character's standpoint. Again, they're all relatively minor points, but they add up to a story with no realistic code of reference, and Davison is clearly bored to tears.

This is Turlough's worst story by a long way. Previously he was the appointed servant of the Black Guardian, a devious and manipulative associate of the Doctor there to plot his downfall. Now that story has been resolved he's left tied to a wall uttering camp quips whenever he's allowed to. It's something of a major comedown, and I'd be very surprised if this made anyone's list of favourites. Though I guess someone must have a soft spot for it, even if it's only Terence Dudley's mum.

The Doctor discovers that the King is really an android, handily disguising itself by singing at the top of his voice behind an open door. However, this produces the serial's only must-see moments, because whenever Davison's acting opposite Ainley he always seems to struggle not to piss himself. This is not as blindly obvious as in Time-Flight, but you can still see him having to concentrate.

I hate Tegan's new masculine hair-do, while Kamelion is clearly a character that could never work. A genuine android, albeit one that never worked, the death of his operators caused his sidelining in the show. With a small part in The Awakening cut, this meant this his seven-story stay in the Tardis was marked only by his debut and his leaving. Some would say that this was a major lack of forward planning on behalf of the production team, and you couldn't really argue with them. Say what you like about characters like Mel and Adric, a companion who was never in the show for any of his episodes is beyond incompetent. And another moan about script-editing (Did Eric Saward even bother?) - Turlough again suggests he'd like to go to his home planet, despite it being revealed just one season later that he's an exile.
* * ½

Probably the most inconsequential Davison story, with even the lead seemingly wishing he was somewhere else. Ainley tries to ham some fun into proceedings, but all it produces is irritation.
* *