The King’s Demons ★★★

The Master dons another cunning disguise for a jaunt to the time of King John – and we meet shape-shifting android Kamelion

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Season 20 – Story 128

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“He wants to rob the world of Magna Carta. Small-time villainy by his standards, but nevertheless something I intend to stop if at all possible” – the Doctor

Storyline
England, 1215: Lord Ranulf Fitzwilliam and his family are being harshly treated by King John and his champion, the French knight Sir Gilles. When the Tardis interrupts a joust in the castle grounds, the king welcomes the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough, oddly, as his demons. The Time Lord soon realises that Sir Gilles is the Master in disguise and that the king is a shape-shifting android, Kamelion. The Master plans to discredit the real King John in advance of the signing of Magna Carta…

First transmissions
Part 1 – Tuesday 15 March 1983
Part 2 – Wednesday 16 March 1983

Production
Location filming: December 1982 at Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Studio recording: December 1982/January 1983 in TC1

Cast
The Doctor – Peter Davison
Tegan Jovanka – Janet Fielding
Turlough – Mark Strickson
The Master/Sir Gilles Estram – Anthony Ainley
Lord Ranulf Fitzwilliam – Frank Windsor
King John – Gerald Flood
Lady Isabella Fitzwilliam – Isla Blair
Hugh Fitzwilliam – Christopher Villiers
Sir Geoffrey de Lacy – Michael J Jackson
Jester – Peter Burroughs
Voice of Kamelion – Gerald Flood (uncredited)

Crew
Director – Tony Virgo
Designer – Ken Ledsham
Incidental music – Jonathan Gibbs, Peter Howell
Producer – John Nathan-Turner
Script editor – Eric Saward
Writer – Terence Dudley

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
Back in the 1980s, two-part Doctor Who adventures, accounting for 45–50 minutes of television, were a rarity, an abnormality, at best a charming curio with characters and plots that flashed by, leaving an aftertaste of inconsequentiality. Funny to think that this duration is now the storytelling norm in 21st-century Who, but these Peter Davison shorts can hardly be regarded as a template for what was to come.

There’s much to enjoy in Terence Dudley’s scripts. A seasoned BBC producer/director, he also wrote the two-part Black Orchid in the previous season and seems a dab hand at fleeting historical dramas set in the English countryside. He’s no Simon Schama but he imbues the proceedings with a sense of history and the dialogue with an orotund grace…

“We shall see, my lord, if your fealty is as slender as your fortune,” says King John. “Your son shall meet our champion on the morrow.” And later: “Come, you cringing caitiffs. We tell you there’s naught to fear. Do our demons come to visit us? Bid them attend us.”

The medieval trappings – the nobles’ costumes, the banqueting hall – are respectably lavish, although in hindsight the production bears more than a whiff of The Black Adder. (In fairness, the first series of Rowan Atkinson’s sitcom didn’t air until three months after The King’s Demons.) Davison and Anthony Ainley pull off a half-decent swordfight in the studio (earlier serials cut this sort of action on film). And you have to credit them for staging a joust – filmed in bleak and chilly December. The cast are clearly frozen.

Lovely Isla Blair is a bit wasted, but Frank Windsor gets a fair chew on the script, while Christopher Villiers, playing their impetuous son Hugh, refused to change his highlighted hairdo and thus looks like a lost member of Duran Duran. Gerald Flood is superb as a fruity King John and later the voice of Kamelion.

The story isn’t without flaws. It’s not abundantly clear why the Master is dallying at this particular castle. Why not make haste to London and despatch the real King John at once? Such time meddling might have suited Peter Butterworth’s Monk in mid-60s Who but it seems beneath the Master. Also why bother to “disguise” himself as a bewhiskered French knight with an annoyingly phoney accent?

The companions have almost nothing to do. Turlough, still sporting the school uniform you’d assume he detests, is pushed around by the locals. “You’re always threatening me, and without the slightest justification,” he huffs at Hugh. Mark Strickson is hilarious, though, when his big moment does comes – giving it his all as he points his sword at the Master while backing into the Tardis with the line: “I’ve had quite enough of you, whoever you are, so don’t try me too far!”

Janet Fielding is always a welcome presence, but she’s chosen to clothe Tegan in a garish dress that looks like Kandinsky’s paint rag. She wears a capacious, multicoloured fleece on top of that and, later, animal skins too. Tegan has even less to do than Turlough – although she’s picked up a few tricks in piloting the Tardis. How did that happen?

This is a story too brisk to hang about for explanations. At the end, all the medieval guff and the Master are abruptly abandoned, as the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough pile into the Tardis and get acquainted with Kamelion. He promises to be “very cooperative. I would make an excellent colleague.”

Viewers at the time weren’t to know but the new “companion”, a C3PO-alike, would soon be consigned to a recess in the Tardis, only to emerge one more time in Planet of Fire. A shape-shifting android (“capable of infinite form or personality” / “a complex mass of artificial neurons”), he seemed a wonderful concept. But his operation and programming became problematic when one of his creators died in a boating accident.

Kamelion going nowhere adds to the general air of inconsequence. This small-scale story should have been followed by a blinding Dalek/Davros finale, but an electricians’ strike at the Beeb brought season 20 to a grinding halt.

*

Yet when The King’s Demons ended in March 1983, fans had much to look forward to. It was Doctor Who’s 20th anniversary year: Easter – less than a month away – would see a massive celebration at Longleat in Wiltshire, while at BBC TV Centre a beyond-exciting special was in production for transmission in November.

On 28 July 1983, the shock news came through that Davison would be leaving after a third season, and on 19 August Colin Baker was announced as his replacement. So as much as fans keenly anticipated The Five Doctors, a sixth Doctor was already on the horizon.

Radio Times archive material

RT coverage included a brief intro marking Doctor Who’s 600th episode and billings. Note the difference between the first transmission and the repeat. To maintain secrecy, the Doctor Who production office issued the billing without mentioning the Master and listing “Sir Gilles…..James Stoker” – an anagram of “Master’s joke”. The surname Estram (anagram of Master) was omitted.

King's Demons billings
King's Demons rpt billings
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[Available on BBC DVD]