When Arthur Darvill starred in Big Finish’s adaptation of Frankenstein, I wondered how long it would take for him to return as Rory Williams. His turn as the villainous Frank Layton in Torchwood: Believe was so good and different to his other roles, that I didn’t realise it was him at first. Even though he was now doing audios, I didn’t think we would see the return of Rory until Matt Smith and Karen Gillen were onboard as well.
Was there really room for solo Rory adventures?
Obviously the answer is yes. Big Finish have used smaller gaps than Rory’s 2000 years guarding the Pandorica to get stories out of. They’ve added years and years to the lives of each Doctor between their stories (sometimes in the middle of them), so Rory’s time as the Lone Centurion was fertile ground to work with. And where better to start off the Lone Centurion’s adventures than in Rome?
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, or so says the famous saying. However, when what the Romans do is keep slaves and try to assassinate each other, Rory is less than eager to join in. Mr Williams may possibly be the nicest man who ever existed. Sure, he can be an action hero when the time calls for it, but he would really rather avoid violence. The entire plot of these three stories is essentially Rory’s attempts to avoid doing any of the awful things that everyone else seems quite happy to do.
Make no mistake, these are comedies. The set does occasionally tug at the heart strings when it puts the horrors of Roman life in front of you. However, there is must more of The Life of Brian in here than I, Claudius. It’s something that Darvill mentions in interviews; he is interested in the comedy — and, thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint.
In one scene, Rory ends up with a room full of ducks and chickens because the Roman believes he is sacrificing them to his god Amelia, when really he just wanted some peace and quiet. This is the route of most of the humour in the stories: loveable Rory butting heads with the awfulness of Roman life.
This is particularly evident in The Unwilling Assassin. Can you be a trained killer without actually killing anyone? Rory finds clever and creative ways of getting his victims out of Rome and away from the eyes of his masters. It was very funny to hear the efforts Mr Pond needed to go to to convince someone to go along with his plan. You would think people would be pleased to hear he isn’t there to murder them, but they just keep putting obstacles in his way.
Throughout the story, we hear little allusions to where this sits in the Doctor Who timeline. There are references to the stars all going out. At one point, Rory has a beautiful, if sadly one-sided, conversation with Amy — reminding us why this man spends 2000 years guarding a box and seemingly chasing it around the world.
I would love to see Rory interact with River Song or have Mark Williams return as his dad. Until then, these side stories of an alternate Earth are wonderful. The time spent guarding the Pandorica really affected Rory and now we get a closer look at exactly why.
The Lone Centurion: Rome is available now from Big Finish.