Spoilers, ho! I mean, these next four paragraphs tell the whole story, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, skip down to the paragraph that starts with “Now first…” (and there are still a few spoilers after that).
If you know your British history, you know that the Iceni were a Celtic tribe that led a revolt against the Romans who were occupying the British Isles. Now, I don’t know my British history (at least, not that far back), so I really didn’t know what to expect from this audio. At the start, the Doctor and Leela land in Britain as part of the Doctor’s continuing efforts to educate Leela about her ancestral history, but he doesn’t check to see when they landed. Leela hears the sounds of battle, and though the Doctor doesn’t think it’s real, they investigate and meet up with the Iceni in the middle of a conflict with the Romans, and they’re led by Boudica. The Doctor explains to Leela the history of these people, that Boudica and her husband had made a treaty with the Romans that their kingdom would be left jointly to their daughters and Roman emperor at his death, but when he died, the Romans seized the kingdom and raped her daughters. Thus, Boudica was leading her people to revolt against the Romans, for revenge and to evict them from Britain.
Leela, always the honorable warrior, immediately sides with the wronged queen and wants to fight for her righteous cause, but the Doctor tells her she can’t, because the Iceni are defeated and completely wiped out. However, she insists, willing to die for an honorable cause instead of walk away from it, and leaves the Doctor to pledge her fealty to Boudica. Their conversation, however, is overheard by Bragnar, a cook and warrior, and she confronts the Doctor, asking how they can change the fate of her people. The Doctor can’t change it, but can save one person, and he and Bragnar flee to the TARDIS. They’re discovered before they reach it, however, and, considering the Doctor a Roman spy, Boudica locks the two of them up and condemns the Doctor to death.
In order to save the Doctor’s life, Leela tells Boudica that he’s a soothsayer and predicted the doom of the Iceni, and Boudica demands that he tell her what the prophecy is and how they can avoid it, promising that she would let him go free afterwards. The Doctor refuses to tell her, so Boudica threatens to kill Bragnar until he relents and tells them how the Romans have set up the Iceni’s next target, Camulodunum, a town for crippled, retired soldiers, as a decoy so that the Roman army can outflank them and defeat them. With this knowledge, Boudica revises her strategy so that they will be ready for the outflank and defeat the Romans.
As soon as she has the foretelling, Boudica has the Doctor imprisoned again, figuring that she needs him for more future knowledge, angering Leela, who is also appalled that the queen was going to murder Bragnar just to get the Doctor to talk. At the battle of Camulodunum, Boudica orders the wholesale slaughter of all of the town’s occupants – not just the soldiers, who are retired and crippled, but also the women and children, and Leela realizes that while Boudica’s original goals were honorable, she’s given in to bloodlust and has lost sight of what she was trying to do. Leela challenges Boudica and wins the fight, though she refuses to kill the queen. While Boudica rails at her for being a traitor and for not having the courage to finish off her opponent, Leela frees the Doctor and they and Bragnar flee the tribe. The Doctor and Leela leave Bragnar to find herself a new life, while Boudica leads the Iceni further on their path. The Doctor reveals later that he lied – the Iceni are defeated by the Romans, but not at Camulodunum; he made up the Roman ploy to make Boudica think she was changing her future.
Now first, you have to understand that I love Doctor Who historical stories. I love history in general, and like to see how the Doctor gets involved in historical events, without all the aliens and sci-fi stuff interfering. There are very few purely historical television episodes: I believe the last one was “Black Orchid” (and that wasn’t really historical, just a murder mystery – Mr. Davison has said that a writer at the BBC was asked to write an episode for Doctor Who and he just reached in the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a murder mystery he had written that hadn’t been used yet), and the last one before that was in either the First or Second Doctor’s run. So, this audio was perfect for me. It’s taught me about the real history of Boudica (or at least, I read the Wikipedia article), as well as woven the Doctor into the events.
Apart from that, I very much enjoyed the depiction of the savage Iceni tribe and the anger of the queen at the Romans. Then, of course, the story here is really about Leela, from her decision to follow Boudica due to the Doctor’s description and not from actually knowing anything about the queen or her people themselves, to her slow realization that the queen is not the ideal, honorable warrior she seemed to be. Then, when she realizes she’s wrong, she does her best to rectify the situation, and has the strength to stand up to Boudica. Moreover, Leela is not able to sway Boudica; Boudica stays true to who she is, and is not “redeemed” in the eyes of the audience.
This audio also has Mr. Baker giving what I feel is his first truly good performance in this series. I noted in my previous reviews of the Fourth Doctor Adventures that he hadn’t quite seemed to get into character yet, but he’s great here. His voice is strong and he sounds like the Fourth Doctor we all know and love. I also think that his dialogue was better this time around, giving him more to chew on. There were a lot of “What did he just say? Oh, that’s the Doctor being the Doctor” moments.
In conclusion, I definitely recommend “The Wrath of the Iceni” as a great Fourth Doctor audio. Looking forward to the next!