“Do our demons come to visit us? Bid them attend us.” – King John
Most consider this a throwaway episode and it is true that it largely feels rather inconsequential, especially since it was intended as the introduction of a new animatroic character that never really developed. One of the biggest criticisms is often that the stakes are so small that it seems odd the Master would be involved—just changing the Magna Carta to undermine the start of democracy surely doesn’t have universal consequences. I was therefore surprised to realize on re-watch this time that the story kind of answers this question. In his exchange with the Doctor, the Master pretty much implies that this round of history changing with Kamelion is a test of what he will do with him on other planets to upend established history and become ruler of the cosmos, a grander plan befitting his normal aspirations
On the other hand, I also found that the storyline really doesn’t make a lot sense over all, often implying one then and then contradicting it. For instance, it seems clear the TARDIS is forced by someone to the wrong coordinates. The Master shows no surprise at the Doctor’s arrival and surely brought the TARDIS here as part of this plotting. Yet he later seems to state the opposite. The Master also goes through much trouble to disguise himself as a French knight and then calmly reveals himself in the middle of the big feast, presumably because he knows the Doctor has guessed who he is. But why had he been disguised in the first place? He also tricks the Doctor into having him put into the iron maiden both to shame and surprise him when it turns out to be his TARDIS. But could he have had all that in plan originally since he wouldn’t have known the Doctor would challenge him? If not, what was the original intention of bringing in the iron maiden for Sir Geoffrey to be put into it? What was the plan if the Doctor hadn’t have been there at all?
Of course, the story does feature some nice sets and costumes and location filming at a real castle. Indeed, it seems to be intended as a bit of a history lesson for the kids about castle life. The gruff and odd portrayal of (fake) King John is well done too. It really does add an air of mystery when he starts going on so calmly about his demons and welcomes Tegan as Lilith herself. (I would like to know more what is being referred to when the Doctor says the Master is playing along with the talk of the monks about the king.) The original tune sung by King John in the story is actually rather nice too. I’m not sure why they needed to put the Doctor and Tegan’s relationship back to be so tetchy again, but her getting called the Doctor’s ‘squire’ is kind of funny. I also love it at the end when Turlough just goes off being so fed up at being chained and dragged around throughout the entire episode. I also realized watching it again that, in a rarity for the show, the Doctor never gets revealed as the good guy. Lord Ranulf and his people are all left assuming that he and his crew really were demons who killed their cousin and kidnapped the king.
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
I suppose the reveal of Kamelion is the main surprise moment of the story. It’s a cool idea—having us hear the king singing the now familiar song behind closed door but the Doctor opening it tor reveal an android singing it instead. (It lacks something due to the limits of the robotic technology however.) Also hearing the Master scream as we first think he’s being spiked to death in the iron maiden is a bit disturbing. However, I am more disheartened in the story by seeing the noble Sir Geoffrey being shot in the back by an arrow, especially because it seems the Doctor’s only proof that he is on the side of good is suddenly snatched away.
It would have been nice for more clarity in the plot, both of the Master and the story itself. And of course it’s a shame the whole plan for the companion Kamelion fell apart because the operator died without anyone else knowing how to repair the thing….