The King's Demons

Region 1

Region 2

Box Set
for the U.K.
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 129, starring Peter Davison)
  • written by Terence Dudley
  • directed by Tony Virgo
  • produced by John Nathan-Turner
  • music by Jonathan Gibbs and Peter Howell
  • 2 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The Doctor is most surprised to find King John demanding funds for the Crusade at a country castle on March 4, 1215 A.D., the very day when history recorded that he should be in London instead taking an oath. Who is the mysterious Frenchman Sir Gilles Estram who has taken up a post as his champion and closest advisor? Why has the King's temper become so short, his manner so different? The locals wonder if it's true that he is beset by demons, demons who arrive in a blue engine and call themselves Turlough, Tegan, and the Doctor....

DVD Extras include:

  • Full length audio commentary by Peter Davison (The Doctor), Isla Blair (Isabella), and script editor Eric Saward.
  • Episode one audio commentary by director Tony Virgo.
  • "Kamelion - Metal Man" featurette (14 min.) on the history of this character, with Davison, Saward, Nicola Bryant (Peri),
    and Kamelion co-creator Chris Padmore. (Contains spoilers for the following season.)
  • "Magna Carta" featurette (22 min.) on the history and modern impact of this political document.
  • Isolated Music Score
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery music montage (6 min.)

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Here we are with another of the rare half-sized stories that seemed to crop up at least once a year during Peter Davison's reign (these being producer John Nathan-Turner's answer to annual six-part adventures that often turned out to be a four-parter and a two-parter unnaturally joined together). This one is probably the strongest of the three that Peter Davison got, featuring a fascinating mystery premise to draw one in, strong mythological villains, and a healthy batch of good long set-piece scenes with a few cool effects. But between the good long scenes we shuffle quickly through a lot of short snippets of scene ideas that never got fleshed out properly, full of character interactions whose logic is most difficult to try to sort out. And as was the case with this writer's previous effort in "Black Orchid" (story no. 121), the story's "conclusion" is so vague, one is easily left looking for non-existent parts 3 and 4. Curiously enough, the story's real ending only made it into the novelization....

Long vs. Short

The opening of the story works quite well, taking enough time to introduce all the characters properly, beginning with the locals in a good long scene in the castle's banquet hall, and setting up their motivations for the story in general and for the following jousting sequence in particular. The jousting sequence then features some superb location work that goes far to help sell the period. The TARDIS demonstrates both a perfect materialization and the relationship between its interior and exterior as our three series leads are suitably introduced as strangers to this time. Later, when Sir Geoffrey makes his entrance, he and Sir Gilles immediately declare themselves to each other and thus to the audience, introducing one identity and reinforcing another. All very well done.

It is the shorter scenes that feel out-of-place, and aren't given enough time for the audience to understand what the writer is trying to get out of them. Turlough is an early casualty, as his character feels like it was tacked on to the script at the last minute.

Dialogue is also not great in this one. The writer revels in obscure references, cleverness, and unfinished sentences, resulting in many half-expressed or poorly expressed ideas. In a long scene, one can at least follow the gist of the story. In a short scene, entire story points are lost.

Manipulative Pretzels

Dissecting this story raises a lot of interesting questions of character motivation and plot, but to avoid any spoilers here, I'll save the details of that discussion for the in-depth analysis version of this review, and just provide a bit of an overview. Early on, the Doctor identifies a few good people he would like to help during this adventure, providing him with his main purpose, and he gets off to a very decent start for most of episode one. In a key scene later on, it's only natural that the Doctor should intervene once again. As he does though, he falls victim to the ailment former script editor David Whitaker used to often impose on him. He leaves truth behind and starts making things up instead, for seemingly no good reason other than to talk down to the locals and try to manipulate the situation. Ugghh!! And in this writer's hands, the Doctor's reasoning remains unexpressed in his own head.

At least he's entertaining us with a bit of swordplay. The choreography is not bad for running TV studio footage, although shooting & editing on film probably would have taken things up another notch. Episode One's cliffhanger is not as polished or impactful as similar story points in other adventures. Another bizarre unanswered question surrounds what the locals must be making of all this.

Part Two proceeds to be far less easy to follow and understand, raising a whole host of other character logic questions. Perhaps there are good answers here in this pretzel of hidden identities and purposes, but the audience has too little time to find such subtleties in all the short scenes that flip by so quickly. Uncovering the truth IN FRONT OF the good locals should have remained the priority.

A great smattering of shorter scenes take over the episode for some time, providing a lot of the running-about action and energy that one comes to expect from Doctor Who stories. Character motivations are not, however, very clear or convincing during this section.

The story eventually rises to excellence and once more earns its place as a tale of science fiction during a long confrontation scene. Whatever difficulties the overcomplicated props may have caused during taping, the end result is suitably weird and effective. Terence Dudley's brilliant stroke in suggesting certain abilities made things both interesting and manageable for studio taping. Nice one. And of course the production complexities are easily lost on an audience caught up in the story. The scene also offers a nod to the importance of mental power seen all throughout season twenty. Nice! This is another good notch in this story's belt.

"Don't think you've won yet, Doctor!"

So far this has been a pretty decent second episode for any good four-part adventure - only "The King's Demons" isn't a four-parter. As a concluding episode, it has left far too much dirty laundry flapping in the wind. One major key is the statement the Doctor made about his goals several scenes earlier. This statement has built up anticipation for where the story should go in the next episode, and "The King's Demons" feels very unfinished for not delivering, and not giving any other convincing reasons for deciding to stop where it does.

And with all that unfinished business hanging over the characters' heads, it all feels out-of-place, off-tone, and slightly callous. Not a great ending at all.


But hindsight seems to have been 20-20 for writer Terence Dudley, as his novelization of some three years later does much to rectify what went wrong on TV. The story may have been half as long as most others on the small screen, but the novelization is about twice as thick as most others, adding so much good extra meat that it becomes a disservice to judge the adventure without taking the novel's improvements into account. In the book, time and space is given to fully explore each character's thoughts and motivations through each minute portion of each scene, big or small, and finally make sense of this complicated tale of political and belief-system manipulation. Good enough. But the real icing on the cake is that a real ending was finally tacked onto this tale, tying up many of the loose ends from the television version. It still comes across as too little too late to truly convince, considering all that went before, and considering how many times the Doctor acted contrary to his own beliefs in order to manipulate a situation. This story just never was constructed with a proper, convincing heroic ending.

Tegan's role in this adventure is worth noting, because she gets the chance to play all the traditional functions of the companion for once, which is actually rarer for her than you'd think. Interesting.

Acting is of a generally high calibre by all participants, resulting in an enjoyable viewing experience. However, actor Gerald Flood stands out in my mind, as he seems to be having an absolute blast playing bad King John. As much as I think it was an awful move for the Doctor to suggest boiling in oil, I wouldn't want to miss Flood's delighted response to it for all the tea in China.

Music plays an important role in this story. Delays caused by strikes led to many jobs on this production being started by one person and completed by another, and music was certainly affected here. Peter Howell composed several lute pieces that were needed prior to taping, including the King's War Fund Song highlighted throughout the story - a nice iconic piece. My tastes are predictable of course; I prefer it without the lyrics.

BBC Radiophonic Workshop newcomer Jonathan Gibbs inherited the task of scoring the rest of the story during post-production, quoting Howell's song in a few places, but mostly coming up with lots of great new material on his own. His style is probably closer to Howell's than to any other Workshop member, thus getting a big thumbs-up from me. Noted for its successful combination of classical instruments with synthetic sounds, Gibbs' music is quite melodic and plays with thematic material well, while suiting the mood of each scene and sporting some transformational sounds as good as anything Howell might have come up with. Excellent stuff!
Post-Production Music by Jonathan Gibbs
A suite of 5:21 duration is available on:
Audio CD
Doctor Who - The Five Doctors
Silva Screen FILMCD 710

More info & buying options

While "The King's Demons" certainly isn't a bad story, it does suffer from taking an excellent premise that deserved the usual four 25-minute episodes, and cramming that premise into too short a length. More time for character depth and a proper conclusion would have done this tale a world of good. As it stands, "The King's Demons" is rough enough around the edges that it will only beat out "Terminus" (story no. 127) in the season's rankings, but with the season being of high calibre anyway, it can still outdo many other tales from other years and eras. I must confess, in spite of its shortcomings, I still enjoy this one quite a lot.

This story is available on DVD and VHS video:
Region 1 NTSC DVD
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
Region 2 PAL DVD
"Kamelion Tales" Box Set
for the U.K.
VHS Video
bundled with the 1995 stereo edit of
"The Five Doctors" (the next story).
NTSC A in North America
NTSC B in North America
NTSC in Canada
PAL for the U.K.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Five Doctors"

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