Big Finish’s new range of Robin Hood audios starts as many of Robin Hood episodes do: with Guy of Gisborne chasing Robin Hood, convinced that “this time, they had him”. Of course, once again, Robin manages to escape.
The sheriff’s latest (somewhat convoluted) plan to catch Robin Hood relies on witchfinders. He spreads the story that Robin is in league with the devil. Gisborne would not disagree with that assessment – but is more concerned that he might be the one with demons.
This release focus on Guy of Gisborne and his continuing fixation on Marian. He hasn’t slept well since he returned from the Holy Land, and has started to see Marian’s ghost. If the witchfinders realise that Gisborne sees ghosts, it won’t be Robin at the stake – it will be him.
He must track down the witch without revealing his secret. Instead, one of the villagers is captured and sentenced to burn at the stake. Marian’s ghost has only criticism for Guy, as he now has another innocent’s blood on his hands. He argues with Marian’s ghost, but he knows that he can’t win.
The plot is hardly original, but that is not the play’s focus. It is never in doubt that Robin Hood and his gang will outwit the sheriff once again, nor that Gisborne will stay loyal to the sheriff – however much Marian’s death haunts him. Instead, the play focusses on a very good portrayal of Gisborne’s state of mind, and his grief over Marian. It manages to make the man who murdered Marian almost sympathetic.
The major characters are without exception well-portrayed. Armitage has Keith Allen’s speech patterns down, with a scarily accurate imitation of the sheriff. The secondary characters are original and engaging: each witchfinder has a distinct personality, and it’s easy to empathise with the accused witch.
Unlike Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles – or, in fact, any of the Doctor Who releases – this play is not told in first person. Richard Armitage reads the play, but does not play Gisborne. This allows the play to cover scenes where Gisborne doesn’t appear (such as inside the outlaw camp), but also adds emotional distance.
Continuity-wise, the website notes that this audio is set between Seasons Two and Three. It is not. As it features both Kate and Tuck, it is clearly set between the second (Cause and Effect) and third episode (Lost in Translation) of the third season. It is a very visual play, and could just have easily been a TV episode as an audio play.
This play fits well into existing Robin Hood canon. Although there is little about the play that is particularly creative, it is an enjoyable way to spend an hour. It’s a strong start to the range, and I look forward to seeing what else is in store.
The Witchfinders (by Rebecca Levene; read by Richard Armitage) was released by Big Finish Productions in April 2009.