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Doctor Who XX.6: The King's Demons

November 16th, 2007 (01:45 am)

After the intelligent and sensitively-written (if not performed - see Lynda Baron) Enlightenment, the 1983 season of Doctor Who concluded (prematurely) with The King's Demons. After watching it this evening with DSoc, I wondered how it could have reached the screen. Tegan, after being written sympathetically in Enlightenment, degenerates into a one-note whining character over whose ignorance the Doctor can gloat, though Peter Davison does his best to depart from this reading of the script, and Janet Fielding is as spirited as she can be with such poor material. It's long been a weakness of this story that Turlough is marginalised early on, and serves no purpose other than to act as the eyes of the viewer in the dungeon, which makes him redundant as we have the camera to see what is going on. His farewell to the Master "Goodbye, whoever you are!" sums up the failure of the script to involve him in the action.

The supporting characters' motivations flip-flop all over the place, and the dialogue competes for floridity with that in the John Prebble episodes of The Borgias. The location filming is well-managed, though, and the interior sets good, though the medieval costumes look as if they were assembled from multi-period stock - still, better than latterday Robin Hood.

I'm probably being unjustly negative and will be reminded of the story's good points in the comments. I just found myself wondering what script editor Eric Saward was doing during this story, as it seems to belong to a different series altogether than its predecessor and successor (The Five Doctors) beyond the changes of setting and tone that one expects from Doctor Who.

Comments

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: November 16th, 2007 02:27 am (UTC)
Outsider

I suspect I'm in a minority of one in being quite fond of season twenty, but I'd agree that The King's Demons has little to recommend it (I still prefer it to Arc of Infinity, if only for the sets, costumes and location). Although I may revise my opinion when I reach the eighties in my 'in order' viewing, this story really marks the point where 'proper' Doctor Who ends for me and I get a series of imitations. Sometimes good imitations, but never for long.

I share your bewilderment over how this was commissioned, not to mention why JNT thought Kamelion was a good idea: all the worst aspects of K9 (both from a plot and production viewpoint) magnified, with none of the charm and humour.

It's long been a weakness of this story that Turlough is marginalised early on

This story and almost every other one... Turlough always strikes me as the 1980s companion with the most potential, and Mark Strickson the best actor of the 1980s companions, but neither character nor actor were ever given enough to do.

I just found myself wondering what script editor Eric Saward was doing during this story

Whereas I find myself wondering what he was doing for the next three seasons... Although I do like the fact that season twenty varies in tone and style so much. I just wish it didn't vary in quality as well.

will be reminded of the story's good points in the comments

I seem to recall that Gerald Flood isn't too bad. Anthony Ainley is fun, in a 'so bad it's good' way.

Um...

It only lasts two episodes?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 16th, 2007 11:22 am (UTC)

I can only think that JNT liked to give work to veteran BBC types who had helped him in his career.

Perhaps we can just say that it's puzzling what Eric Saward was doing all the way through his script editorship, except in 1985/6 when he was at his wit's end.

There are some good points - the mock-medieval dialogue is better than that in Battlefield for example , and there are some entertaining, if corny, minor details - Sir Gilles has a dark horse whereas all the other horses are white, though this does give the impression that the Spanish Riding School of Vienna must be passing by - but the story itself is a bit of a mess and actually reminds us of this in occasional apologetic lines such as the Doctor's comment that the Master's intervention in the events leading up to Magna Carta is small beer by his standards.

Posted by: philmophlegm (philmophlegm)
Posted at: November 17th, 2007 09:33 pm (UTC)

Minority of two. Arc is one of my favourite stories, Snakedance is good as is Enlightenment.

King's Demons is a bit of a nothing story, but is does have one great musical number!

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: November 17th, 2007 09:52 pm (UTC)
Outsider

one great musical number!

With bonus points for political incorrectness:

"We sing in praise of total war,
Against the Saracen we abhor."

I don't think that would make the final edit these days (and probably quite right too).

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 17th, 2007 11:48 pm (UTC)

I agree with you on the musical number. It's quite unexpected, and I'm not sure what point it serves, but it has its own charm (and there was much discussion over the line 'we'll put the known world to the sword' back in class 12.3 in 1983, as no-one could make out 'known world' and we thought it was something obscure in Middle English).