The Council of Nicaea by Caroline Symcox

The Council of Nicaea gives us an interesting twist on the usual story about changing history. Its always been simple before – changing history is bad. "History" is defined as something you know happened in a particular way. So the Monk cannot be allowed to destroy the Viking fleet and aid Harold in defeating William because that is not what history tells us happened. The Time Meddler lets us think that history can be changed but then it isn’t and we go away satisfied that the Doctor and his friends not only did the right thing but, because they acted the way they did, they are part of that historical story. Both Vicky and Steven knew what history said about the build up to the Norman invasion and so their actions were never in doubt.

By their very nature historical events are relative to ones position in the time line. Being stuck in the twentieth/twenty first century we know what is the past and what is the future. This line isn’t nearly so clear when the Doctor is accompanied by a historical companion. To us the Council at Nicaea is ancient history – seventeen hundred odd years ago. But for Erimem it is her future. She has no knowledge of what happens as a result of the Council. She is no more able to look back on events with a detached eye than Ian and Barbara are when they see Earth occupied by Daleks in 2150AD. In both cases they are in their relative future, they see injustice and they seek to put things right.

The difference is that the Doctor knows the effects of changing the Nicaea time line but didn’t (unless that has been retconned) in 2150AD. He implores Erimem not to interfere but with little success. This is hardly surprising – Peter Davison does seem to get a lot of "let’s just sit down and discuss this rationally" speeches in his BF audios and rarely commands any authority at all. He (the Doctor) is also hampered by the earlier story "The Church and the Crown" which painted the Church which grew out of the Council in a very bad light. It is no wonder Erimem isn’t won over by the Doctor’s arguments when she knows that centuries of bloodshed will be the result.

Caroline Symcox – author of this and co-author of "Seasons of Fear" – cleverly weaves all this into a story where we are never entirely convinced that Erimem is wrong. The Council is not one of history’s most famous events. Coming as it does in the dying decades of the Roman Empire in the west. The famed emperors are long since dead and in their place are forgotten men who weren’t even considered able to run the entire empire on their own. The theological argument seems trivial – despite what the Doctor says – and we are much more able to empathise with one persecuted martyr than with doctrinal quibbles that simply prove that the Church lost sight of its true light almost immediately. Add to that what we do know – the Inquisition, the politics, the wars, the fear – and we’re left wondering whether Erimem should just be left to her own devices. Let her have a go and see what happens.

She doesn’t succeed of course but it is a testament (no pun intended) to the script that Erimem never becomes unlikable. She doesn’t come across as the whiny, irrational, stroppy, selfish bitch that she could’ve done under the circumstances. Caroline Morris has never seemed terribly impressive an actress (though she maybe handicapped by the stilted delivery imposed upon her – is it me or does she do the Leela thing of not using contractions?) but she gives a powerful performance here and proves herself more than able to take centre stage and relegate the Doctor to a supporting character.

The Council of Nicaea isn’t a blockbuster story. There are no monsters, no alien wars, no threats to the existence of humanity. But it achieves something special – it is a companion’s story which actually works. Not just a token gesture (Adric being brave or Nyssa giving up the rest of her life – and her clothes – to help the sick) but a story which both adds depth to the character without him or her seeming to be a totally different person. The Erimem we see here is the same Erimem we’ve always seen but this time she took centre stage.

As for what constitutes "history" it reminds us of what we’ve been told all along – time is relative.