The King’s Demons
The King’s Demons was the sixth and final story of Season 20 of Doctor Who. It introduced Kamelion, the first non-humanoid companion since K9. Furthermore, it centered on a genuine historical figure and a significant event — King John and the signing of the Magna Carta — a formula which had been all-but-unseen since William Hartnell left the show.
It also gave Peter Davison a chance display his fencing skills. The Fifth Doctor became the third consecutive incarnation of the Doctor to have some skill with a blade, his immediate predecessors having swashbuckled in The Sea Devils, The Masque of Mandragora, and The Androids of Tara. Indeed, Demons provided a kind of rematch for the Doctor and the Master, echoing the earlier duel between the Third Doctor and the Master. It was the last televised story to feature the Doctor-as-swordsman until David Tennant’s debut.
Narratively, it ends with an unusual, “one-way, retrospective cliffhanger”. That is, it’s only visible if The Five Doctors is seen immediately afterDemons. At the conclusion of Demons the Doctor promises to take his companions to the Eye of Orion. Since the Doctor often makes promises of future adventures at the ends of stories, this doesn’t appear to be a cliffhanger at all. It’s only by seeing The Five Doctors that the audience realizes he’s kept a promise made in the previous story. Perhaps more crucial is the notion that the Master we see in The Five Doctors has been recalled to Gallifrey immediately after his 13th century defeat by the Fifth Doctor, a fact that, once known, can subtly change the viewer’s perception of certain scenes in The Five Doctors.
For years, this connection was fairly obvious on home video, because home video viewers were forced to buy a version of The Five Doctors on VHS, where the two stories had been bundled together. Following 2010’s separate release of this story on DVD, the cliffhanger will likely escape more viewers’ attention.
Thanks to the dismal ratings for the first episode, this serial as a whole was the lowest-rated serial of the Fifth Doctor’s run. It therefore contrasts with another two-parter, Black Orchid, which was the highest rated Davison story.
In March 1215, King John of England is at the castle of Sir Ranulf Fitzwilliam to extort more taxes. When the lord refuses to pay, the King insults him. To defend his honor, his son Hugh takes on the King’s champion, Sir Gilles Estram, in a joust. The latter wins easily, though the joust is disturbed by the arrival of the TARDIS. The Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough are greeted as demons and welcomed by the King.
Having established the date, the Doctor concludes the King is not himself – in fact, he is not the King at all. History records that John is actually in London, taking the Crusader’s Oath. Sir Geoffrey de Lacy, the cousin of Sir Ranulf, arrives at the castle and confirms the Doctor’s belief. Sir Gilles is about to torture him as a liar during a royal banquet when the Doctor intervenes. It seems the King’s champion is not who he claims to be, either: Sir Gilles sheds his disguise and reveals himself to be the Doctor’s arch-nemesis, the Master, who aims his tissue compression eliminator at the Doctor…
The Master flees in his own TARDIS, which had been disguised as an iron maiden (torture device). The King knights the Doctor as his new champion, and he is given run of the castle. After a series of mishaps, including the death of Sir Geoffrey at the Master’s hands, the Doctor confronts the King and the Master and discovers the truth. The monarch is really Kamelion, a war weapon found by the Master on Xeriphas, which can be mentally controlled and used to adopt disguises and personas. With Kamelion disguised as King John, the Master intends that he will behave so appallingly as to provoke a rebellion and topple the real king from his throne, thus robbing the world of Magna Carta, the foundation of parliamentary democracy. It is a small plan on the Master’s usual scale, but nevertheless particularly damaging to the normal progress of Earth society.
The Doctor resolves the situation by testing the Master in a battle of wills for control over Kamelion. He takes control of the robot and steals it away in the TARDIS, thus foiling the Master’s scheme. Kamelion reverts to its robot form and thanks the Doctor for his assistance and rescue. To Turlough’s surprise and Tegan’s dismay, the Doctor accepts Kamelion as a new travelling companion aboard the TARDIS. Tegan insists that she does not wish to be returned home, however, and the Doctor admits that the co-ordinates are already set for the Eye of Orion.