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The Settling

I have four Big Finish audios to write up, but three of them are pretty unremarkable and can wait until a later post.

The Settling, by Simon Guerrier, takes the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Hex to Drogheda and then to Wexford in 1649, where, inevitably, they get mixed up in Cromwell's invasion of Ireland - Hex ends up as a confidant of Cromwell's, while the Doctor and Ace get involved with the civilian victims of the unfolding tragedy.

Doctor Who has, in general, almost no relationship with Ireland. The Irish characters in the entire TV canon can be counted on the fingers of one hand (Sean in The Underwater Menace, Flannigan in The Wheel in Space, McDermott in Terror of the Autons and Casey in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, with a generous half a finger for each of Chip in New Earth and Brannigan in Gridlock, neither of whom as characters can ever have been near Ireland). Irish people are less visible than black people in Who of any era; meanwhile entire stories are set (if not necessarily filmed) in Scotland and Wales.

It's not too difficult to understand this reticence, at least from the Old Who perspective. Doctor Who is, after all, an entertainment show, and for most of its run it was rather tricky to engage with Irish issues both tastefully and entertainingly. (Supporting evidence: So You Think You've Got Troubles, the unsuccessful sitcom starring Warren Mitchell as a Jewish businessman sent to Belfast.) A couple of the Pertwee novelisations mention the Northern Ireland troubles in the background; if any of the spinoff novels go there, I have not yet encountered them. Turning the focus around, Daragh Carville's magnificent play Regenerations (download link here) takes Sophie Aldred and Tom Baker to Belfast to bring peace both to the local Doctor Who fans and to the city more widely.

Guerrier's choice of setting for The Settling, therefore, is pretty brave. Making the story a pure historical tale is also pretty challenging - you can just play it for laughs (which can be done successfully - The Romans, The Crusaders, The Kingmaker and stretching a point The Unicorn and the Wasp) or, as Guerrier has done, go for the more risky didactic approach, more demanding of both cast and audience. This can fail miserably (eg The Marian Conspiracy), but it can work well - witness the early Hartnells, The Witch Hunters or The Council of Nicæa. It works here (though the inclusion of the bloke who is going off to found the Royal Society is a bit gratuitous).

Cromwell is one of the dividing points between me and many of my fellow leftie liberal friends from the neighbouring island. In England in particular, he is a liberal hero, having abolished the Divine Right of Kings and ensured the supremacy of Parliament. But for me it's impossible to separate that from his direct personal responsibility for the slaughter in Ireland. Guerrier makes a decent effort at reconciling the two sides of Cromwell in The Settling, and the play is carried by Clive Mantle as the man himself and Philip Olivier as the Doctor's Scouse companion Hex, discovering first that there is a human being behind his Irish grandmother's stories of terror and then that the stories of terror were true after all. Indeed, it's Olivier's best outing yet as Hex, with a framing narrative of him and Ace safely back in the Tardis, trying to talk through the trauma. It's a shame that, in sequence, it's rather overshadowed by The Kingmaker which was released immediately before - it's a lot better than the immediately following stories, with a bleak atmosphere of grief and savagery.

The history, of course, isn't perfect. Guerrier presents Drogheda and Wexford as the last Irish bastions of loyalty to the recently executed Charles I, which Cromwell therefore wishes to suppress, and while that's basically true, it's quite far from being the whole truth; both local and European politics, and in particular the religious/sectarian elements of the conflict, are rather underplayed. But one cannot expect too much detailed attention to the canvas of the seventeenth century in 100 minutes of the adventures of a roving timelord. The Settling is well worth a listen.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 17th, 2008 06:02 pm (UTC)
In England in particular, he is a liberal hero, having abolished the Divine Right of Kings and ensured the supremacy of Parliament

Only amongst those who don't know their history. The guy who really did that was, um, Good King Billy.

Cromwell was the extremist loon who banned many forms of worship, decided Christmas wasn't Christian (correctly, but, y'know) and banned it, and shut down the theatres.

Sure, a lot of those from the non-conformist groups went on to become the early Whigs who then formed the core of the Liberals, but the direct link is tenuous.

For some reason a lot of historians don't like talking about Billy much. Admitting that we allowed ourselves to get invaded by a Dutchman with a mercenary army isn't the Done Thing old boy. Notable exception being those from your bit of the islands, who don't want to forget the incompetent loon.

But I suspect you know all that. It saddens me when I see/speak to liberals who don't.
Dec. 17th, 2008 11:04 pm (UTC)
Cromwell was the extremist loon who banned many forms of worship,

He also legalised or tolerated many other hitherto banned forms of worship.
Dec. 17th, 2008 11:10 pm (UTC)
Details, details...
Dec. 18th, 2008 07:27 pm (UTC)
My understanding is that under republican rule, England changed from being a society where only the established Church was tolerated to one where there was a free-for-all for non-Catholic Christians. Cromwell also allowed Jews back into England for the first time in centuries and apparently was surprisingly tolerant in later life to Catholics who weren't showy about it.
Dec. 17th, 2008 07:12 pm (UTC)
I (a leftish liberal Brit) also disagree about Cromwell. Have never met anyone to whom he was a hero.
Dec. 17th, 2008 11:04 pm (UTC)
I have... he was my old flatmate, one of your pals from Chester.
Dec. 17th, 2008 11:25 pm (UTC)
Oh dear. Well I have hardly ever blah blah blah.
Dec. 17th, 2008 09:11 pm (UTC)
I wrote the Tenth Doctor and Rose in Ireland, with just a hint of distaste for protestants but no real politics, a couple of years ago:


Not canon, obviously.
Dec. 17th, 2008 10:59 pm (UTC)
The question is whether the stereotypical Irish accent and personality has survived to the year five billion, or whether the TARDIS translation circuits are using the accent as shorthand to suggest similar characteristics in people from a far-future geographical region.
Dec. 17th, 2008 11:06 pm (UTC)
... like they apparently tried to do in the widely derided recent Alexander film (with the Macedonians being played by Irish and Scottish people, the Greeks by English poshos).
Dec. 18th, 2008 06:46 am (UTC)
As a liberal, I've always regarded Cromwell as a brutal dictator.
Dec. 18th, 2008 12:51 pm (UTC)
jemck has talked about her experience in school history class (possibly in university as well?) where she had an entirely different view of Cromwell than her teacher or the history book, derived from hearing all about him from her Irish relatives.
Dec. 18th, 2008 05:47 pm (UTC)
Cromwell was certainly a hero among 19th-century English liberals - among (at least late) 20th-century English liberals, I feel his reputation has been somewhat more ambiguous, depending on (a) their feelings about the apparently (though perhaps not actually) fundamentalist nature of his religious and political ideas and (b) their awareness of his reputation in Ireland.

"Good King Billy" is, if anything, an even more interesting case of ambiguity - looking just at England, he comes across as an almost unimpeachably liberal ruler, but looking at Scotland, he tends to come across as a somewhat insincere partisan (possibly justifiably self-interested at best, hypocritical or perhaps uncaring otherwise); in Ireland (though almost certainly wrongly) as a religious bigot; and in the Netherlands as a somewhat corrupt absolutist, but with enough intelligence to be pragmatic when political circumstances insisted.

Though I suspect that what we do have to allow for is that both Cromwell and William III were playing to an English audience whose views was distorted by possibly exaggerated accounts of, for instance, the sack of Magdeburg and highly coloured beliefs that the Irish would treat them similarly if they had the chance - and Cromwell, at least, probably largely shared those beliefs.
Dec. 18th, 2008 07:31 pm (UTC)
Is the sack of Magdeburg that exaggerated? The one 30 years war book I read had the city's population falling from 36,000 to a couple of hundred following the Imperial stormtroopers' massacre.

Cromwell in Ireland is an interesting subject, about which there has been a lot of revisionist discourse recently (including by Irish writers). The idea has sneaked out that Cromwell's massacres and such like are a bit exaggerated. I have also heard that his army, unlike the Royalists or Confederates, always bought supplies off Irish peasants, rather than just stealing them.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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