Arthur Davrill’s Rory Williams went from bumbling fiancé of Amy Pond to one of modern Doctor Who‘s best companions during his tenure on the show, and like Billie Piper, Freema Agyeman and Catherine Tate, has returned for new adventures at Big Finish. Last year, Darvill reprised the role of Rory for three new adventures set during the alternate timeline between series five’s The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang.
The concept of The Lone Centurion series is simple and effective. Auton-Rory was left to guard the Pandorica for two-thousand years, ensuring his wife Amy was safe within until events to catch up with the Doctor in the present day. Volume one was a superb, funny and darkly satirical of stories which saw Rory to Lone Centurion embroiled in the politics and scheming of ancient Rome. Volume two moves events forward to Wales and an encounter with the ‘fictional’ kingdom of Camelot.
This time, Rory needs to keep Amy and the Pandorica safe, deal with the machinations of Merlin, strive off the advances of a knight of the round table and navigate the perils – and quests – of King Arthur’s court.
The Once and Future Nurse
Writer Alfie Shaw kicks off the next phase in Rory Williams’ journey as we move beyond the politics, schemes and rivalries of Rome to…the politics, schemes and rivalries of the kingdom of Camelot. It’s a fabulous opening to a very entertaining set of stories that quickly establishes the high stakes drama and humour of volume one was certainly not a one-time event.
Arthur Darvill is just as brilliant here as he was in that set – and on TV. His ability to deliver droll remarks and commentary on every situation is really the best part of the story and he shines among a brilliant supporting cast. His interplay with the torturer in particular, elicited multiple laughs – the second discount for repeat customers was a wonderful bit of scripting from Shaw. Similarly, his put upon relationship with local healer Malthus (delivered with gruff perfection by Barnaby Edwards) and the perils of Lancelot’s unrequited love ensure there the humour keeps flowing.
The decision to switch the classic Arthurian love triangle from Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot to Guinevere, Lancelot and Rory is a genius move. Arthur himself, is far from the heroic figure of legends and actor Sam Stafford imbues him with an distinct pathetic-ness throughout all three stories, allowing Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo to shine as the real leader of Camelot in Queen Guinevere. But it’s the Rory-Lancelot dynamic that is the true heart of The Lone Centurion Volume 2: Camelot, as Rory finds himself constantly batting off the advances of a very smitten Lancelot. Hugh Skinner is an ‘absolute blast’ as the heroic knight and as silly as the story sometimes is, it never feels overtly ridiculous. There’s plenty of charm to be had from listening Rory tow the line between being Lancelot’s nurse and keeping those advances at bay.
The Once and Future Nurse is a joyful, funny and heart-warming introduction to Rory’s time at Camelot. Arthur Darvill plays off each actor brilliantly, be it Skinner’s lovesick puppy or the ruthless assertions of Richard Clifford’s Merlin. Thanks to a genuinely fantastic script by Alfie Shaw, strong direction by Scott Handcock, and a fabulous cast, this is an engaging listening from beginning to end that will be sure to have you laugh out loud on several occasions.
The Glowing Warrior
The Glowing Warrior can be best scribed (to coin Tim Foley’s fantastic script) as a road trip meets CSI: Camelot in a fun retelling of Medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The flow from one story to the next is effortless as newly-knighted Rory is sent on a quest, with Sir Lancelot in tow. This allows for some brilliant rapport between Darvill and Skinner, that leans into the comic, unrequited love story of the first entry on the set.
This is an all out comedy and it absolutely works. The CSI angle is fantastic, with Rory solving mysteries using 21st century techniques and a wonderful jazzy score by Rob Harvey to set the mood, while also feeling so much like a Monty Python and The Holy Grail at times, that you could almost imagine that a pair of clapping coconut shells must surely be around the corner. Darvill imbues Rory with a sardonic wit and frustration as he comments on events unfolding, while Skinner plays into the unrequited love angle even stronger, while also retaining an endearing quality.
There’s also some clever takes on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from Foley, from the glowing knight itself to the origins of Rory’s alter ego (it’s all down to a hilarious miss pronunciation), while the story keeps the Christmas setting of the poem to provide a decidedly festive tone to the proceedings.
The juxtaposition of Rory and Lancelot against siblings Beau and Lynn is the icing on the cake, with Rosie Baker in particular, a force of nature in this tale. The Glowing Warrior is another effortlessly entertaining entry in the continuation adventures of Rory, the Lone Centurion; while it takes a step away from the rivalry with Merlin and Rory’s quest to protect the Pandorica, it serves as a very welcome diversion. Now someone, please can you commission CSI: Camelot? Throw in Derek Jacobi as Cadfael and I’m sure that will keep fans mulling over the possibilities for decades…
The Last King of Camelot
It’s a big, bold finale for The Lone Centurion Volume 02 as Rory and Lancelot return to find Camelot in the midst if a civil war. Kate Thorman’s story has a tough job of wrapping-up the Camelot ‘trilogy’ while also serving as the end to the planned Lone Centurion adventures (though hopefully there will be more to come in the future).
It’s certainly the most action packed story across the six adventures, but it doesn’t dispense with the Monty Python style of humour (indeed, the immortal lline” it’s only a flesh wound” is spoken). Talking of which, Arthur is more hopeless than ever here, far from the noble King of those classic Athurian legends. But the twist here, is that it’s Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo’ Guinevere that gets the chance to shine as she leads the charge on the battlefield. And she is brilliant, with Lewis-Nyawo delivering one of the standout performances on this set.
There is plenty to enjoy in this final set, from dramatic showdown with Merlin for the date of the Pandorica to a lovely, bittersweet denouement on Rory and Lancelot’s relationship. The humour is as sharp as ever and the direction under Scott Handcock is impressive – for a recording made under lockdown, the battle sequence is terrific.
It’s a strong conclusion to the set, with satisfying story arcs for several characters, particularly Guinevere, but it does leave you wanting more. Maybe that’s a good thing, but it feels like there’s so much more to be told then we get across these three stories. I would quite happily see Rory return to the court of Queen Guinevere.
The Lone Centurion Volume 02 is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here and goes on general release on the 30th April 2022
Each story is accompanied with a set of behind the scenes interviews and music suite from composer Rob Harvey.
In the behind the scenes discussions for The One and Future Nurse, writer Alfie Shaw finds delight in writing for the unrequited love story between Rory and Lancelot, tapping into the legend of King Arthur and twists on classic love triangles. There’s also plenty of banter from the cast, led by Arthur Darvill, on silly tones, powerplays, offering a sharp, humorous take on a well-known story, particularly Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo (Queen Guinevere) who finds herself playing women who are fed up with incompetent husbands! Rob Harvey’s three minute music suite has a lovely fusion of strings and flute to give it that authentic Medieval feel.
In the extras for The Glowing Warrior, writer Tim Foley expresses his joy for writing for Arthur Darvill, going into all out comedy with an inverted take on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and unique challenge of keeping the momentum going in a middle story of the set. Once again, Arthur Darvill leads the cast in a discussion of the story with director Scott Handcock, talking filming in wardrobes, the dynamics of the sibling relationships and bizarre Christmas presents. The music suite for this story takes the Medieval tones of the previous one and adds guitar riffs for a truly CSI: Camelot vibe. There’s also some mournful, atmospheric sequences that suite the mood the tale and the lively pipes and guitar of the main theme to round off the track.
Wrapping up The Last King of Camelot, director Scott Handcock introduces the cast for the final ever recording of The Lone Centurion. Tom Alexander and Maanuv Thiara shares insights into creating the voices for different characters, joining the established cast for the final story and their own unique remote recording locations. Hugh Skinner picks out the best parts of Lancelot’s relationship with Arthur Darvill’s Rory and his ‘bog acting’, Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo talks the physicality of Guinevere on the battlefield in her performance, while Arthur Darvill gives listeners hope that this isn’t end the for The Lone Centurion at Big Finish with his hopes to play the role again in the future. Rob Harvey’s final music sequence for The Last King of Camelot completes the set with a grand orchestral flourish of racing strings, bold percussion and thrilling tempo, fusing in that rock guitar riff for a fun and exciting piece that captures the high stakes of the final story.
Some Final Thoughts…
The Lone Centurion Volume 02 is another win from Big Finish. Arthur Darvill effortlessly slips back into the role of Rory, backed by a strong supporting cast, in particular the hilarious and heartfelt relationship with Hugh Skinner’s Lancelot. There’s an abundance of humour and there were numerous times I laughed out. Credit has to be given to the writers, who really deliver three sharp, funny and incredibly entertaining stories.
Rory Williams – the Lone Centurion. A man trapped in a body not his own and stranded in history. His one job is to guard the Pandorica, the tomb of his fiancée. But life gets in the way, even when you’re immortal.
2.1 The Once and Future Nurse by Alfie Shaw
Camelot is in trouble. Lancelot is wounded and Merlin warns that dark times are ahead. The wizard’s convinced the solution lies in the mythical Pandorica. Meanwhile, Lancelot owes his life to a humble servant named Rory.
2.2 The Glowing Warrior by Tim Foley
Arise Sir Rory! Every new knight must embark upon a quest, and soon Sir Rory (and his noble squire Lancelot) head out to solve the mystery of the Glowing Knight and save a damsel in distress. But are they walking into a trap?
2.3 The Last King of Camelot by Kate Thorman
Camelot is under attack. Arthur and Guinevere have fled and Merlin’s direst prophecies have come true. Can Rory prevail before the kingdom falls?
Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams)
Tom Alexander (Mordred)
Rosie Baker (Lynn)
Richard Clifford (Merlin)
Barnaby Edwards (Malthus)
Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo (Queen Guinevere)
Henry Nott (Gareth)
Hugh Skinner (Sir Lancelot)
Sam Stafford (King Arthur)
Maanuv Thiara (Villager)
Harley Viveash (Beau)
Written by Tim Foley, Kate Thorman, Alfie Shaw
Senior Producer David Richardson
Cover Art by Caroline Tankersley
Director Scott Handcock
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Music by Rob Harvey
Producer Scott Handcock
Script Editor James Goss
Sound Design by Rob Harvey