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.)

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have
already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.

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. His motivation for removing himself from the story falls completely flat. Now free of the deal with the Black Guardian that Peter Davison believed was the cause for locking him up in the first episode and not letting him out until the last episode, look at what the writer does with him here.... One can see what the writer is achieving by locking up Hugh and Isabella, but Turlough? No quality story beats spring from that move.

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.

The Doctor and Tegan get a decent scene in their quarters, a scene that should have included Turlough. It is at its best as Ranulf Fitzwilliam pays a visit, puts his head together with the Doctor's, and heightens the central mystery of the adventure. Excellent. This positions Ranulf as the chief good man the Doctor must help during the adventure, providing him with his main purpose. The Doctor's efforts have already had an excellent start during the jousting match, and this sharing of ideas and theories is a good continuation.

Manipulative Pretzels

The villains are still true to their as-yet-unrevealed plot during the next big scene in the main hall, and 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 challenging the right person, and 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. It's actually a bit of a rematch from "The Sea Devils" (story no. 62), but makes much better character sense here than it did then... or indeed when Tom Baker had a go in "The Androids of Tara" (story no. 101). And it is brought to a satisfactory conclusion in good time.

Episode One's cliffhanger revelation is not as polished or impactful as similar story points in other adventures. In particular, the audience is expected to recognize the Master. If they don't, it's hard to see what, if anything, they will be able to understand of what's going on here, or where they should find the suspense that is supposed to bring them back next week.

Another bizarre question surrounds what the locals must be making of all this. The story clearly has them treating Sir Gilles Estram in a vastly different way from the Master, as though the two are completely separate individuals. Surely then, THEY do not see Sir Gilles become the Master as the Doctor and Tegan do, lest the plot falls apart. Do the Doctor and Tegan merely begin to see through the Master's disguise once he pulls out his familiar high-tech weapon? Is the video effect over the Master's face just insight into what the Doctor and Tegan see in their minds? This is, in fact, how events are portrayed in the novelization.

Part Two proceeds to be far less easy to follow and understand. Why does the Master hand his favourite weapon over to the Doctor? It surely isn't a mistake for the Doctor to disarm him - the mistake is giving the weapon back later on, as all its victims in the Master's next story will no doubt attest to. Why does the Doctor abandon his true colours in his role as King's champion? If the goal is to be seen by Ranulf to be doing good for his family and keeping him loyal to the REAL king, why pretend Geoffrey is a prisoner when asking him to lead him to the dungeon to initiate a rescue? 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 Ranulf, Hugh, Isabella, and Geoffrey should have remained the priority. What the imposter king or the Master think shouldn't matter, and any citizens taking their cue from them aren't given any screen time to matter either.

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. It is not, however, very clear or convincing how the Master has once more turned the tables on the Doctor and crew. Surely Ranulf's faith in the Doctor isn't shattered so easily, nor should Isabella so easily trust the next demon who materializes in an iron maiden. Even if it makes little sense, at least we get lots of extra TARDIS movements during this portion of the adventure. Sadly, one of the materialization trick-dissolves is skimped on, and since it is later proven that the required footage was in the can, it really only feels like sloppiness on the director and editor's part. The story works better with the effect in.

Sci-fi Showdown

The story eventually rises to excellence and once more earns its place as a tale of science fiction during a long confrontation scene with the Master, as Kamelion is unveiled. Whatever difficulties the overcomplicated prop may have caused during taping, the end result is suitably weird and effective. Terence Dudley's brilliant stroke in suggesting that the robot be able to change shape both made it interesting and made it manageable for studio taping. Nice one. And of course the complexities of getting the prop to perform are easily lost on an audience caught up in the story.

The Master's motivations in this tale are fully into "ambitious plan" mode, with no contribution from either the "regain that which was lost" area, or the "revenge" sideline. It doesn't really seem like there's anything in it for a brilliant Time Lord like the Master, just to discredit a king and muck up the way Magna Carta made it into history.... as if good ideas won't find their way into use anyway when their time is come and people are ready. But this really is just a test-run of a plan that will be put to more profitable use on interplanetary societies, where the Master will have things to gain that will be more to his level of technological and social comforts. Okay, I'll buy it. Too bad we didn't bump into the Master during one of those attempts; it sounds like a great fascinating story. "The Keeper of Traken" (story no. 115) may be the best and closest thing we ever got to that so far....

The Doctor's motivations seem to be in danger of falling into the usual trap of historical time travel everywhere, namely the fear of letting anything be altered. More waste-of-time idiot dialogue. Who cares if the Master manages to make choices that spin off into uncharted parallel universes where history goes a little different? The history we knew before still exists in the old/original/familiar universe as it always did and always will. Face it, Doc, you're in this because you love mucking up the Master's plans, and why not, since they are so self-serving and destructive. More to the point, you're in it to help Ranulf, and by extension Isabella and Sir Geoffrey and Hugh, and while we're at it, Tegan and Turlough. And most of Castle Fitzwilliam. And all fans of parliamentary democracy. And even Kamelion. You're the eternal hero, so just get on with it. And get someone to write your dialogue who understands this.

Having already had a decent sword fight, the Doctor and the Master now square off in a mental battle, with control over Kamelion being the prize. Nice! This is so much better than the pointless idiot "Time Lord wrestling" seen in "The Brain of Morbius" (story no. 84), and is another good notch in this story's belt. It's also a nod to the importance of mental power seen all throughout season twenty, from the spiritual crystal rituals of "Snakedance" (story no. 125), to the powers of the Eternals in "Enlightenment" (story no. 128), to Turlough's out-of-body experiences in "Mawdryn Undead" (story no. 126), and even into the Matrix on Gallifrey in "Arc of Infinity" (story no. 124). In fact, we dare not forget the psychotronics of "Time-Flight" (story no. 123), since Kamelion's origins are inextricably linked to the cultures of the unseen planet Xeraphas that so heavily influenced that adventure. Thus season twenty shows its quality.

But while Kamelion may be the prize of this battle, the real goal for each Time Lord is still to convince Ranulf and his family that they each know best, and it is the Master's side that is aided by Ranulf witnessing the battle, as acting and video effects clearly show Ranulf a king under the spell of his demons. A nice but hurried bit of action suddenly and conveniently sees the Doctor, Kamelion, and all of his companions safe and away in the TARDIS.... and the unforgivable real mistake of the televised adventure soon sinks in.....

"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: He wants to pack Sir Geoffrey and the imposter into the TARDIS, take them to London, and expose the Master's plan. 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. Sure, collecting Kamelion is a great move, and part of the aforementioned plan. Now how about Sir Geoffrey and the London portion of the story?

Worse, Sir Geoffrey takes his truth with him as he collapses, later to be reported as "slain", and the story ends with the impression that he is dead, while Ranulf, Isabella, and Hugh are convinced that the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough were the bad guys, and the Master is the good guy. Well that sucks.

And with all that unfinished business hanging over their heads, the series leads smile and joke around in the TARDIS fussing over the addition of Kamelion to their ranks, and where their next tourist destination might be. 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. Extra scenes and dialogue make plain that Sir Geoffrey is apparently not dead, and on the road to recovery from his wounds. And the TARDIS makes an extra landing, with the Doctor coming out to once more lend some aid to the Fitzwilliam family and get back on their good side. 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 with Turlough out of the way for most of it, she gets the chance to play all the traditional functions of sole companion for once, instead of splitting off on her own story strand or having to share the Doctor's attention with others. 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.

International Titles:

Magyar: "A király démonjai"

Français: (Les Démons du Roi)

Русский: "Демоны короля"

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 In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Five Doctors"

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