If Doctor Who has taught us anything, it’s that good shows get cancelled. Fortunately, in Doctor Who‘s case, it did at least return, albeit after a considerable number of years. Tasked with recommending another TV show for Who fans to watch, I was spoiled with a wealth of quality programming. But one stood out, and I admit it was because I’m still mourning its cancellation.
The Musketeers was fantastic. So fantastic, in fact, it inspired me to pick up a few novels by Alexandre Dumas. After a few episodes of the hit BBC1 show, I pored over the thickest book I’ve ever read, The Three Musketeers. (My “to read” pile is far too extensive to allow me to spend ages reading just the one; despite reading every day, I remain quite a slow reader, so why read one Game of Thrones when I could instead read four other novels in that same time?)
Nonetheless, I loved Dumas’ tale of honour, love, and the odd bit of swordplay in 17th Century France. It’s an incredibly readable book, surprisingly modern and not at all what I expected.
Because The Three Musketeers is a bit dull, isn’t it? Not the book – I mean other adaptations. Yawn. It’s “all for one and one for all” and boring and they’ve got funny moustaches and silly costumes. I’m a fan of Matthew Macfadyen (since his Spooks days, a show I also continue to mourn), but remember that 2011 Musketeers film? Crikey. I got through maybe 10 minutes of it before hunting down the production crew and demanding pistols at dawn.
Then 2014 happened.
The eyes of the nation were fixed on BBC1 on Sunday nights in January and March, the adaptation by Adrian Hodges gaining notable column inches for the inclusion of a Mr P. Capaldi as the Cardinal.
Richelieu, in case you’ve not experienced the story, is the Big Bad, except he’s not the Green Goblin, the Joker, or Old Man Winters. He doesn’t twizzle his moustache at the end of each adventure and exclaim that those meddlesome musketeers have thwarted his genius scheme once again. The Cardinal’s certainly scheming, but he’s no pantomime enemy. He walks in the grey areas, doggedly pursuing his own agendas but remaining above petty villainy. He doesn’t go out in a blaze of glory. He retains his position, while undermining the King’s men and planning 10 steps ahead. He’s sly, smart, and actively enjoys the status quo.
In Peter Capaldi, that’s what we got. The extra media attention came, of course, from this being a chance to see him in action before he took on the mantle of the Twelfth Doctor.
His role in Doctor Who meant that, when the successful series was recommissioned, the Cardinal would have to be written out or recast; fortunately, they went with the former. Marc Warren (he of Hustle fame, though he was also the star of Love & Monsters) was brought in as Rochefort, another scheming character from Dumas’ novel. Oh, and he was wonderful. With a stronger arc than before, Rochefort crept into the trust of King Louis XIII, and turned the lives of Athos, Aramis, Porthos, and D’Artagnan on their heads.
It was during Series 2 that we got one of the strongest episodes: Through A Glass Darkly, co-written by Marnie Dickens and Adrian Hodges, in which a lunatic decides to hold the King, his Queen, and their child hostage, their fates decided on the toss of a coin. Forced into an uneasy alliance with Rochefort, it’s a tense time for the musketeers, and relies on that common Doctor Who trait, a base-under-siege.
(That theme crops up quite frequently in The Musketeers‘ three series, so if you like to see heroes against all the odds, this is the show for you. It doesn’t become repetitive, however, and the narrative finds lovely human moments to drive the plot.)
Sadly, it was around this time that the BBC decided to play with the schedule, moving the ideal Sunday night show… to a Friday. The corporation also decided that its loyal fanbase would just have to wait a fortnight between certain episodes.
That got even worse for the final series, shown earlier this year – though not as early as it was supposed to be. While the previous runs began in January, Series 3 had to wait until May, more than a month after it was shown in Canada. May until August is a bad time for TV. Audiences wander away from the telly box, distracted by the sun and the barbeque. Oh, we’re a fickle bunch. It seemed the BBC were intent on killing this great show.
Yet it didn’t matter what we thought: it was cancelled before its final season was screened, and there was nothing we could do about it. We were promised that it was only intended to run three series anyway… then it came out that two further series had been planned out by its new showrunners, Simon J. Ashford and Simon Allen, seguing into The Man in the Iron Mask.
Though it was banded around the schedules left, right, and centre, The Musketeers retained that dedicated audience, and that’s commendable.
Nonetheless, I feel many missed it. The core cast – Tom Burke, Santiago Cabrera, Howard Charles, Luke Pasqualino, Tamla Kari, Ryan Gage, Alexandra Dowling, Maimie McCoy, and Hugo Speer – were joined by equally fantastic guests including Paul McGann (the Eight Doctor), Robert Glenister (The Caves of Androzani), Colin Salmon (Silence in the Library/ Forest of the Dead), Lily Loveless (The Sarah Jane Adventures), Liam Cunningham (Cold War), Sarah Smart (The Rebel Flesh/ The Almost People), Sean Pertwee (son of the late Jon Pertwee), Adrian Schiller (The Doctor’s Wife), James Joyce (Big Finish’s UNIT), Simon Paisley Day (The End of the World), Harry Melling (grandson of the late Patrick Troughton), Mark Williams (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship), and Meera Syal (The Hungry Earth/ Cold Blood).
And while, shockingly, it shares no writers with Doctor Who, a few directors have crossed between the two shows: Toby Haynes (A Christmas Carol), Farren Blackburn (The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe), Saul Metzstein (A Town Called Mercy), and Richard Clark (The Lazarus Experiment).
What makes it so great for a Doctor Who audience? The musketeers, aside from a fair bit of gunning folk down, share much of their ethics with the Doctor, but the show itself is fun, intriguing, and always very well plotted. (Plus, there’s the historical setting!)
The 30 episodes form a great journey for all its characters, and even though it’s annoying that it’s been cancelled, the final season – with Matthew McNulty as the truly despicable Grimaud – won’t let you down.
If you’re looking for a hugely enjoyable, feel-good family show, you can’t beat The Musketeers.
Mind you, after hearing it just the once, you’ll start whistling the theme tune, by Murray Gold, constantly…