Subterfuge is the last of the three “Seventh Doctor meets a renegade Time Lord while travelling alone” trilogy, and thankfully unlike the previous two, this is really good! A lot of that has to do with Rufus Hound’s incarnation of the Meddling Monk, but it’s also just a good script in its own right. So let’s take a look!
London, 1945. Winston Churchill campaigns for re-election. His new strategic adviser assures him that Britain has a bright future under his continued leadership. It’s a vote he can’t possibly lose. But the Doctor knows that he must.
The Monk is meddling, altering history for his own selfish ends. With spies and aliens in the mix, Winston realises victory may not be so simple. But at least he can trust his old friend… can’t he?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Great cover, though I’m a little confused as to why The Monk is holding The Doctor’s umbrella…
Well, first thing’s first and as previously mentioned, Rufus Hound once again knocks it out of the park as the Meddling Monk. So sarcastic, so selfish, yet so intelligent, as well as cowardly. Thankfully script writer Helen Goldwyn knew how to write great dialogue for the character too, especially the setup of the Monk acting as Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice)’s advisor, trying to get him re-elected post-WWII for the fun of it (and fame and fortune, of course). The fact that he ends up stumbling onto an MI5 agent trying to defect to Germany who is using two aliens to steal priceless paintings is all the sweeter for him!
The Doctor, as McCoy’s incarnation tends to do, follows along for the ride, observing everything before making his move and unravelling the plot, at least for the two aliens stealing the paintings anyway, for the Monk he’s straight in the office trying to set history back on course and intentionally sabotaging Churchill’s big speech. His “good friend” will hate him for it, and in fact in the last scene of the story, does hate him for it, but The Doctor knows what must happen. It’s a good use of the bizarre Churchill / Doctor relationship, even if it’s still not one I’m particularly happy with (see below!).
As for the rest of the cast, they’re good too. Philip Labey and Mimi Ndiweni as the two aliens going under the human names of Edward and Alicia Dowan are sympathetic, especially when Alicia, who at this point was captured by The Monk, shouts about how she lived through a world war on a planet that isn’t even hers and she just wants to go home. The duo made enough of an impact that I was genuinely happy to hear the two of them leave the planet to safely return home, which is a sign of good writing!
To be frank though, ignoring all the spies, painting thefts and hidden aliens, the core of this story is The Monk and The Doctor both pulling Churchill in different directions, trying to steer history in the direction they want but trying to do it subtly so as not to upset the man himself, and it works brilliantly. We’ve heard Hound’s Monk go up against a couple of Doctors now, but this is probably the most fun.
I’m still not at ease with the whole Churchill and Doctor BFFs story that began in Moffat’s TV era. It’s turned him into a mythical hero character that did no wrong, where if you even do a little be of research into Winnie then you’ll know that’s not true at all, and in fact The Doctor should see him as a necessary evil to inspire people during the war, but he shouldn’t be friends with the man. At least in this story we hear Churchill scoff at his opposition’s idea of a National Health Service, which The Doctor does his best to wave away. That was something… Not quite the 1943 Bengal famine, but it’s something…
An early version of the cover, before Rufus Hound’s involvement was announced. Just thought I’d throw it out here…
Rufus Hound’s Monk first appeared in the Second Doctor audio story “The Black Hole”, but has since made several appearances up and down The Doctor’s timeline, including stories with the Third Doctor (“The Rise of the New Humans”) and the Eighth (“The Side of Angels”).
As for Ian McNeice as Churchill, that started with Eleventh Doctor TV story “Victory of the Daleks” and has led to a few other appearances, including in the Eighth Doctor audio “Their Finest Hour”. Churchill in this story makes several references to having met future incarnations of The Doctor, as well as having met a younger Seventh Doctor as when he walks in the room he says “Oh that one, but an older version”, or something to that effect.
Subterfuge was a great story, full of brilliant dialogue and a story that kept the pace going so you never got bored. While it doesn’t make up for two subpar stories that preceded it, it at least ends this odd Seventh Doctor trilogy on a high note! Recommended.