When I first scored this writing gig here on One Of Us, one of the main things I wanted to do was cover Big Finish audio dramas. With the blessing of my lords Chris and Brian, I launched Big Finishing Move, which has been the most fulfilling thing I’ve been able to do on the site. It has allowed me to flex my critical muscles as well as explore my love for Doctor Who in new and exciting ways. It also helped me justify all the money I was blowing collecting these stories, but that’s neither here nor there.
I bring this up because when I launched this series, I did it with Big Finish’s first solo Doctor story, Phantasmagoria and I haven’t been back to the Fifth Doctor on his own since that time. Today, that streak ends as we again meet up with everybody’s favorite vegetable-wearing friend in a story of biblical proportions (you are required by law to make that joke when covering this story), The Council Of Nicaea.
TARDIS Team: Fifth Doctor, Peri and Erimem
Let’s address this right out the gate; this is a purely historical story and deals with the Christian Church. There are no monsters or alien plots to foil here, just the Doctor and company meeting important figures from history and reacting to the major events of that time. As the title suggests, our story takes place in 325 CE in the lead-up to the First Council of Nicaea. The Roman Empire was tearing itself apart as the young Christian Church warred over many things, including just what was the proper relationship between God and Jesus. Rather than let everything go to pot, the emperor Constantine convened a whole bunch of bishops to sort things out and restore order.
With violence in the streets and everything going way too far, this seems the typical kind of situation that the Doctor solves all the time. However, this is a fixed point in time, so the Doctor’s hands are tied. That doesn’t stop his companion Erimem (not, not Eminem, but that would make quite a story!) from getting heavily involved to the point where she might disrupt the entire timeline and get herself, Peri, and the Doctor killed.
What makes this story work is that it is set up so that you can enjoy it no matter where on the religious spectrum you place yourself. The story is about how this moment affected the entire western world and still does: what happened, why it happened, and what happened because of it. The story doesn’t care if you find the arguments silly or the most important decisions in the world, it is about how much it means to the characters and what they are willing to do to resolve the issue. Politics and religion have always been a messy business and the story and this story shows this in all its “glory.”
This story comes to us courtesy of Caroline Symcox, wife of long time Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell, co-author of Seasons of Fear, and priest of the Church of England. Her care and knowledge on the First Council really shines through in this story. While she does have a firm grasp of the history, the story is not without flaws. The dialogue and pacing are a little stilted and the story relies heavily on convenience at several points.
While everyone is on point, special notice should go to David Bamber as Constantine. He brilliantly plays the Emperor, showing multiple layers to the character with ease. It would be easy to just go and ham it up for all it is worth, but Bamber instead reigns it in at points giving us a deeper and much more complex performance.
Your enjoyment on this one is going to come down on how much do you want to think when it comes to Who. Are you up for a story drenched in historical fact that makes you think about the nature of religion and politics and challenges just what a Doctor Who story can be about, or are you looking for some sci-fi monsters and things going boom? This story isn’t for everyone and I can’t fault anybody who finds it dry or boring, I however found it refreshing and entertaining. I’ve always felt that while this franchise deals with history all the time, it is so rarely focused on that history in an intense manner. Interesting and important stuff happened in our history and it would nice to dive in it without needing to have some boogeyman waiting in the shadows. Don’t misunderstand, I love me some monsters, but variety as they say, is the spice of life. Check it out if you are in the mood for something different.
Purchase ‘Doctor Who: The Council Of Nicaea’ Here:
As always let me remind you good people that One Of Us has its own audio drama, Infinite Variations. As for me, I’ll be back before the month is out with the next Fourth Doctor romp:
Until then, happy listening!
Check out my previous reviews: