The Council of Nicaea, by Caroline Symcox
The Doctor arrives in Nicaea to witness the infamous Council of 325AD at which the Roman Emperor Constantine oversaw the creation of the first uniform Christian creed. He believes he will just be doing some sightseeing, but as he and Peri and Erimem get caught up in popular riots in the city’s streets, so they stand in danger of unravelling the whole history of Christianity itself – and the biggest danger comes from Erimem herself…
Oh, now this is more like it. Once again we’re in ancient history (not that The Church & the Crown was that ancient), and once again there is no alien baddie to fight. That makes the peril within this story all the more believable. This is a straight-ahead time-travel-changes-the-course-of-history play, and it is all the more effective in that the major problem is caused by Erimem’s refusal to let things lie. Here, the two Carolines (Morris & Symcox) combine to give the Doctor a very real headache: for perhaps the first time I can remember, a Tardis companion openly refuses to do what the Doctor wants, choosing instead to affect the course of history for the sake of fairness and justice. He has to spend the remainder of the play juggling Erimem (angry, obstinate) with Constantine (angry, obstinate) while also trying to stop history changing any more than it should.
This is the sort of thing Erimem should be doing all the time. She’s an Egyptian princess after all, not someone who strikes me as being placid, and her wilfulness not only drives the story but rounds out her character too. By contrast Peri becomes the Doctor’s “yes-girl”, and that’s a dynamic that would prove interesting if explored further.
My only quibble would be the slight characterisations of the minor players (Clement & Julius) and the slight complicating of the plot when there’s already enough to distract the Doctor aside from assassins on Arius’s tail. That aside, this is a well-researched piece too – again, exactly the sort of thing that Doctor Who should be doing, exploring moments of history and making educational points entertaining. This is an aspect of Who that the modern TV series sadly lacks (or, at the very most, drowns out with Daleks and sonic-screwdriver-powered Spitfires). I’m by no means a fan of organised religions, but the history of that particular period – the transition of Christianity from a minor, regional cult into a major power across the whole of Europe, just before the Dark Ages – is ripe for all sorts of storytelling.
A welcome return to form for the Fifth Doctor and his frustrated anger, then – and an excellent tale from Caroline Symcox.