‘Fortunately we are in England.’ Like the first episode of Black Orchid, this is a fairly harmless bit of whimsy which pulls on Merrie England and Bad King John stereotypes well enough while introducing a mystery for the Doctor to solve. The location filming looks very pretty (and damp), the sets and costumes are all very nice (including a preview of Fielding’s Season 21 look), the performances are all pretty good, the Doctor gets to be a swashbuckling hero (although I don’t get why he decides to leave the TARDIS when he can see lots of angry knights outside). If it weren’t for Sir Gilles Estram, this would be a pleasant, undemanding diversion.
But the Master’s in it, even if it’s not entirely clear yet why he needs to be, and in one of his more ridiculous disguises. Even without the benefit of hindsight, I’d be amazed if many committed viewers didn’t spot Anthony Ainley straight away (I absolutely buy people half-watching this after work, over dinner or the newspaper, might have been surprised). To be fair, the script doesn’t try to make Estram a background character, or pretend he isn’t shady: he’s clearly a baddie as he threatens noble young Hugh Fitzwilliam, molests Lady Isabella, and rides about the countryside generally being mean.
All this seems to be in the service of a king whom the Doctor is adamant is an impostor. Gerald Flood has a gloriously gravelly voice, but so did Valentine Dyall and I half wonder whether those “casual viewers” thought this might be the final showdown with the Black Guardian promised at the end of Enlightenment. Perhaps that gave it a bit of interest. There’s nothing in this that’s disastrous, but then, the first episode of Black Orchid wasn’t entirely unpromising either.
Next episode: The King’s Demons – Part Two