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The King’s Demons

England, in the year 1215. King John is visited by ‘demons’. History is being changed, and Magna Carta – and democracy itself – is at stake...

Part One


There’s a very clever idea at the heart of The King’s Demons. The idea is that King John was actually a good King who was in favour of Magna Carta, and that the history books have it got wrong – because his reputation has been defamed by the Master creating a villainous imposter. It’s the equivalent of the Doctor meeting Richard III and discovering that he really was a nephew-slaughtering hunchback – or meeting Robin Hood and discovering that he really was someone who laughed too much. Robot of Sherwood is playing the same game as The King’s Demons (but, arguably, getting it right – as well as having a better robot); what if you met a historical figure and they lived up to the myth?

Unfortunately, The King’s Demons doesn’t have the time to develop this idea; we never get to meet the good King John, and in Part Two the focus shifts from some well-realised medieval intrigue to sci-fishenanigans straight out of a World Distributors Doctor Who Annual.

But it’s a good little story. The misty, rain-soaked location filming is atmospheric, it’s got jousting and swordfights and a catchy song, and Gerald Flood is a very good, bad King John. It’s just a pity that it’s called The King’s Demons. Given the Master’s scheme, they should’ve called it Get Carta.

A medieval banquet is in progress in honour of King John (Gerald Flood) at Fitzwilliam Castle, the home of Lord Ranulf (Frank Windsor), his wife Isabella (Isla Blair) and their son Hugh (Christopher Villiers). A jester (Peter Burroughs) provides entertainment.

■ The camera script specifies the date as 3 March 1215 and the location as Odiham Castle, England. Ranulf is a ‘distinguished man of 55’, his wife is ‘17 years younger’ and Hugh is ‘sensitive looking and slight of frame’. The King is a ‘dark, handsome man with neatly bobbed hair and a well-trimmed spade beard... He is 48 years old’.

■ At the time the story is set, Odiham Castle was a newly constructed royal residence; it is where the King stayed on his way to face the barons at Runnymead.

■ The rehearsal script specifies that ‘Minstrels play flutes and recorders’, amended to ‘A minstrel plays the lute’ in the camera script. Both scripts specify that ‘A number of dogs accept scraps from the tables’.

■ Terence Dudley took the opportunity to expand the story in his Target novelisation (published in 1986). It begins with the King reflecting that, “He liked being King John of England” – even if he had just lost the Duchy of Normandy to King Philip Augustus at the Battle of Bouvines. Ranulf is uneasy – the King seems changed from the man who lifted the siege of Mirebeau by a forced march from Le Mans across the River Loire. In the novelisation, the castle is Wallingford in Oxfordshire, another of King John’s residences, and where he was staying when he received the barons’ ultimatum in 1215.

Demons arrive in the year 1215!

The King accuses Ranulf of failing to support the crusade.

■ Although King John had agreed to support Pope Innocent III’s fifth crusade (to regain control of Jerusalem) there is little evidence that he attempted to fund it, as by this point he was already engaged in a dispute with the barons. He had, however, used scutage extensively earlier in his reign, most recently to fund his attempt to regain the French province of Poitou in 1214.

■ Scutage was a system whereby knights could pay a fee to avoid military service. During John’s reign it was levied at a rate of two marks per knight, rising to three marks in 1214. His imposition of scutage was one of the causes of unrest amongst the barons that they sought to resolve with the Magna Carta.

■ The word ‘parsimony’ replaces the rehearsal script’s ‘tight-fistedness’.

Sir Gilles and King John tolerate Ranulf’s generous – but misguided – hospitality.

Ranulf protests that his coffers are empty. The King is insulted and his champion, Sir Gilles Estram (James Stoker) throws down a gauntlet to challenge Ranulf. Hugh takes the gage.

■ The line “Are you also craven?” was replaced with “Are you also a coward?” in the camera script but this change was reversed. In the camera script the line is delivered to Ranulf before his son picks up the glove and is what prompts him into action.

The King is insulted.

■ A ‘gage’ is a glove or gauntlet thrown as a challenge to combat; the practice is mentioned in the thirteenth-century poem Song of Dermot and the Earl.

“ We’ll put the known world to the sword. Welcome, my demon!”

■ In the camera script, Sir Gilles is ‘in his mid-40s, of average height but with powerful shoulders. He wears a full beard and aggressive eyebrows’ (the rehearsal script gives his beard as being black).

The King agrees to a duel between Hugh and Sir Gilles and bids his hosts goodnight.

■ In the camera script the King ‘sweeps away escorted by Sir Gilles and four other knights’.

■ In the novelisation, the scene continues with Ranulf forgiving his son and informing him that Sir Gilles is an evil man. Hugh replies that if he dies the King is responsible, which horrifies his father.

Let jousting commence!

The next morning, King John takes his seat on the pavilion, ready to watch the joust.

■ The castle used for the filming, Bodiam Castle, dates from the 1385 so is anachronistic. In the early thirteenth-century Norman castles would consist of large, usually square, towers or keeps (for example, Rochester Castle).▶

■ The line “Make way for the King” was an unscripted addition. In the camera script the scene begins with the King already seated.

The TARDIS crew members are demonised.

Hugh and Sir Gilles charge at each other but neither are unseated, so they make a second run – and the TARDIS materialises, causing the horses to rear up.

■ Much of the location work for this story was shot during poor weather and on the DVD release the differences in conditions from shot to shot are particularly conspicuous.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: John Hurt interview; the War Doctor on audio; Steven Moffat answers readers' questions; Feature – The story of Doctor Who videogames; Comic Strip – Theatre of the Mind written and illustrated by Roger Langridge; A tribute to Anthony Read; The Fact of Fiction – The King's Demons; Time Team – The Beast Below; Missing in Action – The Myth Makers; Relative Dimensions; Wotcha; Reviews and Previews; Crossword