Doctor Who’s Rory Williams continues his epic vigil as the Lone Centurion heads to Camelot
Rory Williams. Nurse. Companion. Lover. Sometimes plastic. Frequently dead. And now a knight of the round table. The Lone Centurion exploits a gap that’s simultaneously one of the shortest and longest in Doctor Who history. Volume Two continues Big Finish’s exploration of the two thousand years that Rory spent guarding the Pandorica, and within it his fiancee Amy Pond, between scenes of The Big Bang. And, as the name suggests, Camelot bring him to the court of King Arthur.
The three stories making up the set perfectly judge the tone with which to take the premise. Rory’s vigil spending two millennia alone, living through all the horrors of human history, is a grim notion on paper. But The Lone Centurion has no use for the usual cliches about the miseries of immortality. Instead, it stays true to the Rory we know and love. Given Arthur Darvill’s undoubted comic skills, it would have been a crime to place him in a place like Camelot without letting things get a little, well, silly.
The Once and Future Nurse arrives in Camelot and immediately falls into a love pentagon of mythic proportions
First story The Once and Future Nurse sets things up nicely. Its twin storylines follow Rory’s attempts to keep the ridiculously accident prone Lancelot alive and Merlin’s attempts to find the Pandorica. Rory has gotten himself as a job as an apprentice under Camelot’s cantankerous physician Malthus. Malthus has never met a disease or wound he couldn’t prescribe a leg amputation for, so Rory soon draws attention for his tendency to go around actually doing proper medicine behind his mentor’s back.
A good deal of that attention comes from Sir Lancelot, played with superb comic sensibility by Hugh Skinner. Camelot’s greatest knight falls in love at first sight with the man who saves his life. The ongoing love pentagon is the source of much of the mirth throughout the set. Arthur is complacently neglectful of Guinivere while Guenivere is filled with romantic yearning for Lancelot. Meanwhile Lancelot has an almost puppyish devotion to Rory, and Rory generally clueless to just about all of it. And, of course, Amy is never far from Rory’s thoughts, with his wistful talk of his betrothed he hopes to one day see again.
Thankfully, and as you’d expect from this team, Lancelot being gay is never the butt of the joke. Rather it’s his old school chivalrous devotion in wooing Rory, combined with the nurse’s terrible reading of all the signs. Though Lancelot’s disgruntled complaint that all his best squires turn out to be girls in disguise trying to seduce him is another high point.
The Glowing Warrior is a delightfully knowing romp for anyone who ever had to DM an unruly role playing group
Next up, The Glowing Warrior sees the newly knighted Sir Rory rather unwillingly sent on his first quest. A knight shows up in Camelot in the middle of the Christmas feast, glowing bright green and dead. With Lancelot insisting on coming with him, and the duo picking up stragglers they soon have a veritable party for their campaign. Of the three stories, The Glowing Warrior shows its influences on its sleeves the most, with events unfolding very much like a good session of Dungeons & Dragons. There are mysterious riddles, and sinister cults nobody has heard of before terrorizing the locals. And strangers who conveniently pop up with handy exposition and advice.
The most fun aspect of these shenanigans are how disruptive a party this group really are. Rory points out logical flaws, while taking every opporunity to try and turn around and go home. Meanwhile, ‘damsel in distress’ Lady Lyn absolutely refuses help, and Lancelot has a penchant for doing the completely unexpected. The result feels like a story which, like a frustrated Dungeon Master, keeps having to rewrite itself around them. The results when Lancelot is confronted by a devilishly complicated puzzle to solve to progress through the maze is fantastic. And anyone who’s ever DMed will feel the pain of their guide, Beau, as he sighs “this isn’t the route I intended us to take, but I suppose we can make it work.”
As a case of “Doctor Who Does Critical Role,” it’s a wickedly funny and knowing episode.
The Last King of Camelot takes a darker turn with the entire kingdom at stake… and Amy’s life
Final episode The Last King of Camelot has Rory and Lancelot return to a castle in uproar. The most serious minded of the three stories, it still enjoys a lightness of touch. With the knights driven from Camelot and Arthur wounded, Guinevere has to step up from being the secret strength behind the throne to openly commanding in order to reclaim their home.
Rory too finds himself in an uncomfortable position when he has to lead soldiers into battle. He’s not keen to be the one making life and death decisions for other people, or being an inspirational figure. It’s a character beat which smartly recalls his own concerns about the Doctor making people a risk to themselves. Meanwhile, the tension between his desire to help his new friends and defeat the bad guy, versus his priority of leaving to ensure the safety of Amy and the Pandorica echoes the early Hartnell days.
The Lone Centurion series brings Rory centre stage while being perfectly true to his Doctor Who persona, and grounds itself on his courage and decency
It’s a balance that works because, while one of Big Finish’s funniest releases of recent years, Camelot never descends into farce. The writers and cast have a lot of fun with the lazy, entitled Arthur, the sardonic and slimy Merlin (who finds blaming Morgan La Fey the perfect response for anything and everything that goes wrong), and the take charge Guinevere. But the danger feels real, and the plotting tight. While the humour always derives from the situations and characters, rather than the other way around.
One particularly pleasing element throughout is Rory’s role as a substitute Doctor. In this world his knowledge of things like phosphorus, lead poisoning, and things he saw about quicksand on the Discovery Channel means he may as well be a Time Lord as far as the people around him are concerned. And his typically Rory way of just humbling mucking in and helping where he can makes him a very agreeable hero to build these adventures around.
By the end of The Lone Centurion: Camelot it seems almost a shame that any Volume Three will have likely moved on in time again. As it stands, Sir Rory, Sir Lancelot at the rest are Camelot’s residents are a fun group for you to spend an afternoon with.
The Lone Centurion Volume Two: Camelot
Big Finish listeners can save money by ordering both The Lone Centurion: Rome and The Lone Centurion: Camelot together in a bundle for £38 on CD or £33 on download.