Doctor Who: Kamelion Tales - Part 1 (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros put down the Devils' Brew to review The King's Demons...
Kamelion Tales: Part 1: The King’s Demons
After a stressful time during the intergalactic Cowes-Week, the Doctor, Turlough and Tegan find themselves in the Kings’ court on the eve of the signing of the Magna Carta. The appearance of a red-bearded warrior mysteriously bent on thwarting the historic document spoils a potentially relaxing holiday for the time-travellers, but Who is this ginger with a mission?
The irksome arrival Sir Geoffrey de Lacy finds something amiss: the King is away in London taking the Crusader’s Oath, so how can he be in two places at once? The King’s Champion is being awfully cagey and kills Sir Geoffrey, but not in time to stop the Doctor from picking up the trail. With a sword deftly blessing each shoulder, our knighted Galactic traveller is out to save King and country.
Yes, we are back in History Lesson mode for this particular Doctor Who story, with the dastardly Prince John being their target this time. The figure depicted in popular culture is the arch enemy of Robin Hood—or that guy from Die Hard—and little more to the great unwashed. He was a key figure in getting the Magna Carta signed, taking away a good deal of the power the reigning monarch had over the country, paving way for a governmental system. But while William Hartnell’s time did such historical fare very well ( The Romans being a prime example) during Peter Davison’s era, this simply wasn’t the case.
Whilst the decision to create forty-minute episodes during the shows’ run wasn‘t a popular one, The King’s Demons is an example of a story which would have worked better using that particular format. In fact, it’s more suited to the way Nu-Who is set out, that once the story is set up, it all flows nicely for the three quarters of an hour running time, with little padding and a cliff-hanger which organically fits into it. OK, nothing much really happens, but it moves at a reasonable lick.
Other than that, there are the usual space-filling shenanigans of the ‘which companion gets captured this week/which one stays with the Doctor’ variety, punctuated by moments to keep the story going. The killing of Sir Geoffrey served a dual purpose, both providing an instance of action/violence to keep the audience awake and to nicely tie up a loose end. John’s son Hugh being shown as a complete wimp, by losing a joust and generally being kicked around by all and sundry is another nice little inclusion. Sure, the plot isn’t labyrinthine, but other stories can learn from its brevity.
The lack of finances shows itself early on, when in the jousting sequences, the use of close-ups to cover the under-populated spectacle can be detected by those with even the most rudimentary knowledge of filmmaking. The trivia-track details that some of the extras were left shivering on the side-lines, a most curious decision when using them more carefully would have given it higher-looking production values, rather than coming across as footage grabbed at an underwhelming medieval fair.
The whole project is handled with a dearth of seriousness, but this could be a result of the brevity of the story. How else can you explain the Doctor describing the Master’s plan to stop the signing of the Magna Carta as ’small-time villainy’? With The Master’s criminal CV including trying to destroy time (using a chronovore), his efforts in The King’s Demons is a Timelord scale of shaking up a can of Coke and waiting for some poor schmuck to open it. It’s rather depressing that history has fallen by the wayside in schools these days, as the generation of us kids at the time actually had a grasp on just what the Magna Carta was, and its relevance/importance in modern society. Most little bastards these days probably think it‘s an edition of a digital encyclopaedia. In the words of a depressive, suicidal egomaniac: ’Does the Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?’
What is most remembered for (but not in the way hoped) was the introduction of Kamelion. While there is no doubt that Kameleon was deeply and most profoundly crap in a practical sense, he was also pretty useless in concept. There was never any room for subterfuge in the world of Doctor Who, aside from using the alias John Smith on occasion, so bringing in a character who’s sole purpose was to allow him to change into anyone they wanted/needed was questionable. Should he have been able to have been utilised as intended, it would have pushed the show more into the direction of Mission: Impossible and away from the carefree adventures in time and space. Still, it would have been interesting to see how far they would have gone with it, bringing back former companions for the odd story every now and again, courtesy of good ol’ Kameleon…
The whole Kamelion debacle is similar to the situation which occurred during the making of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Both had effects commissioned through seeing impressive footage, but when it came time to deliver for their respective projects, they were let down by effects which were patently inferior to those they were promised. The results of both were painfully embarrassing, but things were too far advanced to do anything about it, just having to live with the inevitable flack which waited for them. As for it walking around, well, the legs on it looked as unsteady as Tom Baker’s after a lunchtime visit to the pub. In any case, he turned out to be the most useless companion in a while, tying with Vicky and Adric in their lack of scope and overall achievements during their respective time on the show. Some might argue the even with the lack of articulation Kamelion was able to outdo certain assistants in the dramatics department.
Even those with a vague memory of the era will remember The King’s Demons containing one of the coolest images from 80s Doctor Who, that of the Master’s TARDIS with its’ chameleon circuit working perfectly to blend into the surroundings. Here it is a deeply cool Iron Maiden, in which our dastardly villain makes a cracking escape from justice. It’s even more rad than Bruce Dickinson singing ’Flash of the Blade’.
Performance-wise, Anthony Ainley was still relatively fresh as the Master, and gives the role more of the serious which he would eventually come to jettison once he became bored with the show. He still does that annoying slow, feeble cackle, but even that seems to have a little more life to it. This freshness even helped to pull off one of most ridiculous, obvious cliff-hangers in the history of the show, when the dastardly, mysterious stranger with red hair (who looks a lot like the Master) transforms himself into… the Master. OK, with Ainley still with the ink fairly wet on his contract, they just about pull it off, but looking back at it today, it’s as patently obvious that he's the Master is it was that Mr Lee was Hannibal Smith in The A-Team. OK, he was Sir Estram, which is Master spelled backwards, but even a modest anagram can’t make it stick out any less.
Davison has more of a backbone than we were used to seeing up until that point, with a stronger turn this time. It might be because he had real events to grapple with and a crucial one in English history at that. The one genre actors hate doing is sci-fi, as they have little to bring to it from their own experiences. Stick a thespian among the Whidull-Whidull people of the Bogg-Bogg world and they won’t be too happy about it, but drop them into the court of Prince John during the signing of the Magna Carta and they are spurred on to greater things, and this is the case here.
Gerald Flood provides an appropriately extravagant performance as King John, drawing of a very theatrical approach, which is certainly the right one, as though trying to deflect any criticism with the air of ’...it was supposed to be a robot’. According to his lute-led song, the paying of taxes will help your chances in the afterlife, and you can call us cynical, but we’re expecting Cameron to come up with something similar once he reveals his first budget in the next few weeks.
Playing host to the royal court is Sir Ranulf Fitzwilliam, who has signed over his money and property in service to Prince John, little knowing that his majesty is really not himself. Ably played by Frank Windsor, who can contrast ignorant with indignant, his sire raises Ranulf’s ire when the prince asks een more of him ’Your Majesty already has my whole fortune…’, he notions in protest, making you wonder if he has he taken in by the same life insurance policy Windsor was plugging all those years? Still, he can at least offer the prince an attractive carriage-clock to help finance the Crusades.
The inclusion of Christopher Villiers as Hugh, Sir Ranaulf son, comes a real lift, bringing back fond memories of his treacherous, bull-buggered resistance leader in Top Secret!. He recently spent quite a time as part of the Emmerdale cast, so appearing in a show about illiterate peasants prepared him nicely for the soap. In his father’s shadow, Hugh is a wimp in battle, a disaster with the ladies and too easily manipulated by the Master. There is a bromance movie just waiting to be made about this guy.
The usually cowardly Turlough actually gets a melodramatic flourish at the end amusingly, preparing to show his manly, ginger prowess. Such notion is swiftly curtailed by the Doctor. Due to the odd nature of the script, this contrasts sharply with earlier on in the story, where Turlough finds it his turn to be captured this week. Mark Strickson was always saddled with being an irksome whinge, but he’s agreeable here. Let’s lump them both in together and say that Tegan is OK in this one too, Janet Fielding doing enough with too much. There was little time for the companions in a story this short, so both acquit themselves adequately without drawing attention to themselves.
It seems that this story was a time of heroism, and Davison gets to buckle his swash, too. He takes up arms against the Master for a second time, looking to finish what he started when he had a bigger ego, white hair and was tackling the Sea Devils at the same time. Davison makes a good stab at it (pun intended) but don’t expect to see him up there with Errol Flynn, as the script called for him to be a decent swordsman, through rather out-of-practise.
Well, it might not be classic Doctor Who, does the image quality deserve a knighthood or will it be consigned to the dungeon? Let’s find out…
The 1.33:1 image is exactly as you would expect of the Davison era and is presented in a nice, clean transfer from the original transmission tapes. There was a more lavish feel to the sets, owing to the small number needed, and they are done justice here. Too often a scrubbed-up image will make inexpensive futuristic design look embarrassing, but your visual enjoyment of The King’s Demons will be enhanced herein. It’s a solid effort, of the sort we have come to complacently expect from 80s Doctor Who.
The audio is of the same solid calibre, with no annoying gremlins to spoil the experience. Nothing much more to report on this one.
Kamelion—Metal Man: A look at the history of this most questionable of additions to the Doctor Who cast. Let’s just say that the overall opinion isn’t a favourable one, proving that you really shouldn’t make important decisions based on the optimistic spiel for the designers. Said co-creator Chris Padmore admits that he was overreaching to get his machine to talk around—or even work properly from the waist up. They wanted Iron Man, but barely even ended up with Professor X. Nicola Bryant tells of her dread at doing a dialogue scene with the temperamental servos of Kamelion, whilst Peter Davison reveals spending most of his time propping him up—hardly the first time he has had to do that with some of his co-stars. If you dislike Kamelion, you’ll rightly love this piece.
Commentary Tracks: Yes, you read it right, we have two of them. First up is Peter Davison, script editor Eric Saward, and actress Isla Blair. Things start rather ominously when Davidson states from the outset: ’…and Isla can’t remember an awful lot about The King’s Demons, so it’s going to be a very interesting hour.’ Turlough never was flavour of the month, as Davison clarifies at the instance of a sword held at the companions‘ throat: ’Oh, kill him and get it over and done with.’ There is a jolly atmosphere on this track, ,and is a fun listen, but best of all is Davison mentioning about having to give up his lucrative beer commercials when he was signed to play the Doctor.
The second track is of the more practical sort, and an engrossing one at that, although it‘s only for the first episode. Director Tony Virgo keeps the information coming at a breakneck pace, and is never short of entertaining anecdotes about the production. From difficult dogs (real ones) to bonding with the actors through nightly drinking, it’s a very entertaining listen.
Magna Carta: The complicated history of the document is examined in this twenty minute documentary, hosted by numerous experts. The tone is exactly right, explaining the Magna Carta in a fashion which doesn’t zap you back into school or dumb down the material. Illustrating it with clips from both The King’s Demons and The Crusades is a very smart move, preventing it from being a dry documentary and keeping it in the Whoniverse. Good stuff.
Photo Gallery: Given that The King’s Demons was shot a period piece shot on a limited number of sets, there is only so much in the way of variation for the pictures presented here. Be that as it may, the images—in both monochrome and colour—are thorough, showcasing production stills, publicity stills, prop shots, along with set photos. Once again, they will make every reader of the Doctor Who Monthly smile when watching them, and all presented to the music of Jonathon Gibbs.
Isolated Score: Speaking the melodic work of Mr Gibbs, his music for The King’s Demons is presented in its entirety, without the intrusion of pesky actors. It’s always nice to hear the unmolested version of the score, and it bring the Davison era flooding back when the select the option to hear it.
Trivia Track: As reliable as ever, this is a goldmine for titbits from the production, with some insightful info about how the killing of Sir Geoffrey had to be carefully and economically shot through unfortunate circumstances. We always look forward to these, and this is no exception.
Coming Soon: They nearly manage to make a silk purse out of a right sow’s ear with this trailer for The Dominators. As many fans have asked before: ‘why did this one have to survive intact above all others?’ Still, it will be another of the very few compete Pat Troughton ones to be released on DVD, so you can forgive it being rather crap. This story might win the award for the most impractical costumes ever seen on the shot, regardless of the Draconians having to turn sideways through narrow doors being in their favour.
PDF Materials: Although brief, the Radio Times listing are always welcome. You can see the enigmatic listing of Sir Giles, as played by James Stoker (an anagram of ‘Master’s Joke’) to keep the identity of the enemy a secret from eager fans.
Well, it isn’t great art, nor particularly Great Davison-era Who, but The King's Demons is a nice historical effort, even if it is far too brief for a complex story. Gerald Flood is a luxurious Prince John, the sets are lovely and Kamelion is sh*t. We all knew that anyway, but it’s a nice package with honest, worthy extras, and a great way to shore-up the Kamelion Tales box set.
Review by Wilson Bros
Suitable for all
Release Date: 14th June 2010
Disc Type: Dual side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Kamelion - Metal Man, Magna Carta, Photo Gallery, Isolated Score, Subtitle Production Notes, Coming Soon Trailer, PDF Materials
Easter Egg: No
Director: Tony Virgo
Cast: Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson
Length: 50 minutes
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