Move, Countermove, Guile, and Deceit

A few weeks ago I picked up The Complete Musketeers on DVD, a collection of The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers as directed by Richard Lester in the early 1970s. (The title is misleading–the collection is not complete in that it does not contain The Return of the Musketeers, the 1989 sequel by Lester reuniting the cast.) I hadn’t seen either of these films in perhaps twenty years, and watching them together on successive nights brought about an interesting observation.

Politics is war, and it always has been.

Here we had an instance of a government–namely France’s–at war with itself. On the one hand, there was King Louis and his Musketeers. On the other hand, Cardinal Richelieu and his allies. Both sides fighting in some fashion, whether personal or political, to achieve power over the other. In modern terms it’s like the State Department and the Department of Defense running at opposite ends, each trying to top the other. In one sense it’s comical, like the right hand not knowing what the left is doing. In another sense it’s dangerous, a turf war that can fracture a country, topple a government, and bring about full-scale war.

Life, unlike fiction, lacks focus. The virtuous don’t always win out in the end.

As for the films themselves, I found them quite enjoyable. There’s a sense of absurd excess throughout, but that was common to the age. Oliver Reed was especially good as Athos, and I doubt I could fault any of the performances. Christopher Lee carried a great deal of menace as the Comte de Rochefort though he seemed somewhat muted and unenergetic at times. The scene of chess played with dogs as pieces stands out as a particularly absurdist moment, funny because that’s something that really would have been done, impractically stupid as it was. And the swordplay! Simply splendid. This was filmmaking on a vast scale, and the two films look the part.

For those of a Doctor Who bent, I recommend the recent CD release, “The Church and the Crown” for an examination of the era of the Musketeers. A pure historical featuring Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor, the story throws the Doctor and Peri into the midst of a plot pitting Richelieu against Louis XIII. The authors of the audio play in their notes remark that they were inspired by Lester’s film and wanted to write something in that vein; it’s a pity they didn’t go the next step and use Dumas’ Musketeers as a backdrop for the story, prefering instead to invent Musketeers of their own. But this is a minor quibble, and shouldn’t impede anyone’s enjoyment of the tale. Historical tales in Doctor Who are all too rare, and “The Church and the Crown” is a good example of why they should be done.

A different style historical can be found in Faction Paradox: “Sabbath Dei.” A continuation of the previous Faction Paradox audios, the newest release finds Cousins Justine and Eliza in eighteenth-century London, the target of machinations by the English Secret Service to uncover their powers and their motives. Again, the personal and political battles of a government against itself are made manifest–a Prime Minister against his King, an Agent against his Service–all in the name of powers positioning themselves for a conflict they know is brewing but know nothing about. This is Doctor Who without the Doctor, a story scribbled in the margins of the Doctor’s story that doesn’t need the Doctor to succeed and insteads succeeds on its own merits as an intriguing politcal play with science-fictional overtones. Sound production and design are impeccable, giving a real sense of being at an eighteenth-century soiree or at the court of King George III. I wouldn’t recommend this to non-fans, and at least a passing familiarity with previous Faction Paradox audios or writer Lawrence Miles’ Doctor Who fiction (particularly Alien Bodies and The Adventuress of Henrietta Street) helps.

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