1791 and the Doctor and Rose get to meet one of the most enigmatic, thrilling and important people in history: The Chevalier d’Eon. She used to be known as a spy, but then she used to be known as a lot of things. If there’s one thing the Doctor knows it’s that identity is what you make it. Choose a life for yourself and be proud. Mind you, if the Consortium of the Obsidian Asp get their way, all lives may soon be over…
I’ve probably said on several occasions in the past that Big Finish are really good at evoking the feeling of a Doctor’s era, and this is no different when it comes to the Tenth Doctor’s time. Like his time on television, a modern day invasion is followed by a historical romp, sometimes featuring a real life historical figure. However, in this case, the historical figure is more like Madame de Pompadour in terms of notoriety than William Shakespeare, in the shape of the Chevalier D’Eon, a figure I had not heard of before listening to this story. It is an enjoyable romp, which would not feel out of place on television.
What Guy Adams has done here is tell a celebrity historical story with a figure that feels like they should be a lot more prominent in the figure of the Chevalier D’Eon, which falls into the remit of Doctor Who’s original educational premise. As someone who is interested in history, discovering new figures always excites me, and this one was no exception. I think that there is enough drama and intrigue here, and Adams writes it well – it’s certainly not a story that could be interchangeable to another Doctor and companion pairing. It’s a nice touch to have the psychic paper get the Doctor into a difficult spot, labelling him as an opera singer, even if this does not result in us hearing his eventual performance. The weakest part of the story is the ending – the Doctor’s reputation as the Last of the Time Lords ultimately saves the day and the human race – which feels rushed and a little underwhelming. As a story set in a time where duelling and sword fighting were the norm, it sounds silly to pick flaws with the fact that the sound design features a lot of clashing steel, but especially in an audio soundscape it can be particularly jarring.
The Chevalier is an interesting character, especially as the narrative does not make them completely affable from the outset and it’s safe to say that, whilst the character does soften over the runtime, it’s perhaps not as successful as the story needs it to be. Nickolas Grace does a good job of playing the character but ultimately not one I ever really warmed to. One thing I could not decide on was whether or not the Consortium felt like Russell T Davies era villains or not. At times, they felt that they were possibly too dark, but then I remembered that there are some quite dark concepts in stories of this era too. I liked the idea of the villains Joxer and Hemple sharing a body with male and female voices, and the idea of their being a third body, which had subsequently passed away suitably gothic. The slavery plot feels a bit like a trope, but the villains felt significantly unique, especially with the morbid reality behind the third body. Mark Elstob and Lucy Briggs-Owen deserve credit for bringing this sinister villain to life with applomb.
I found this – do you like it?
A harlequin outfit? You said we should blend in!
It’s a costume party, this is blending in!The Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler
The Doctor and Rose’s relationship here works a lot better than it does in several episodes of Series 2. I’ve been pretty vocal of my criticism of the pairing in my other reviews, however, this is some of the best interplay between the two. There’s what feels like genuine concern when the Doctor confronts the Consortium when Rose has been kidnapped, whereas there are some stories where the Doctor and Rose don’t treat the gravity of their situation with the seriousness that it deserves. David Tennant is on top form here, especially when he is outraged at the aliens and when he is excited about meeting the Chevalier. Equally, Billie Piper is good as Rose, and this story put me in mind of a story like Tooth and Claw, in which the story has a good storyline for her and she is allowed to be resourceful in her own right, equipped with the sonic screwdriver.
Verdict: An interesting historical romp with a non-obvious historical figure at its heart, Sword of the Chevalier feels like an authentic Tenth Doctor story. It is let down a bit by its ending, though. 8/10
Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Nickolas Grace (Chevalier D’Eon), Mark Elstob (Joxer/Butler), Tam Williams (Christopher Dalliard), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Hempel/Dancer/Duchess) & James Joyce (Darcy/Groom).
Writer: Guy Adams
Director: Nicholas Briggs
Behind the Scenes
- In the real world, the Chevalier’s gender identity is still disputed to this day by scholars, however, at the least there is consensus that they would identify as gender non conforming.
- Nickolas Grace played Albert Einstein in the minisode Death is the Only Answer. He has also played the Time Lord Straxus in Big Finish plays Human Resources, Sisters of the Flame and The Vengeance of Morbius, as well as playing minor roles in their plays.
- Mark Elstob is probably best known amongst Big Finish listeners as the voice of Number 6 in their The Prisoner series. In Doctor Who, Elstob has also appeared in Harry Houdini’s War, Pretty Lies and Operation: Hellfire.
- Tam Williams is the son of Simon Williams, who played Group Captain Ian Gilmour in Remembrance of the Daleks and the Counter Measures spin-off produced by Big Finish. Tam Williams made an uncredited cameo in Remembrance, as well as appearing in the Big Finish plays Point of Entry, Hunters of Earth and A Gamble With Time.
- Lucy Briggs-Owen has appeared in a number of Big Finish plays including Maker of Demons, The Primeval Design and The Havoc of Empires.
- James Joyce is most prominently known for playing Captain Josh Carter in the modern UNIT Big Finish audio series. He has also appeared in The Wrong Doctors, Planet of the Rani, The High Price of Parking and Subterfuge, amongst others.
Hello, you. Nice wig, lose a small dog in that. What’s your name?
I am the Duchess of Rutland.
Brilliant! Hold my sandwiches!
Well, Really?!?The Tenth Doctor and Duchess
Sword of the Chevalier can be purchased from the Big Finish website.
Previous Tenth Doctor review: Infamy of the Zaross