At universities, subjects that fall under the humanities category--like history or literature--seem constantly threatened as schools find economic incentives to favour more measurably profitable things like business and engineering. Trust a Doctor Who audio play to posit that, in at least one case, it's because someone's trying to build a time machine in the physics department. Most of the first half of the 2013 Fifth Doctor audio play The Lady of Mercia deals with university politics as one history professor gears up to host a conference while students outside protest reduced funding for the humanities. It's an amusing concept played out well--the second half, occurring in the Dark Ages and centring on Æthelfrid, a character based on Æthelflæd, Queen of Mercia, feels a bit too much like a slightly embellished history lecture but it's entertaining enough.
Unsurprisingly, this audio was written by a university professor, Paul Magrs, who taught at Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of East Anglia--the stuff about university politics really feels like it comes from someone who lived in the midst of them, the Dark Ages stuff less so. Peter Davison, whose birthday was yesterday, Friday the 13th, the lucky fellow, is good as usual as the Fifth Doctor. He happily presents Tegan (Janet Fielding) as an Australian expert on tenth century Britain so they can get into the conference and there's some amusing business as Tegan bluffs her way through. She takes a much more prominent role in the Dark Ages section, something foreshadowed when the Doctor suggests that Æthelfrid could be a fitting feminist role model. Tegan has opportunity to talk with Æthelfrid (Rachel Atkins) about just how hard it is for a woman to rule in the Dark Ages.
The main plot kicks off when Tegan spots a professor stealing a sword that belonged to Æthelfrid--no-one else notices because, someone dryly remarks, academics are typically too busy getting drunk at conferences. The wife of the history professor is a physics professor who needs an ancient artefact, like the sword, as a catalyst for her time machine. Of course, nothing goes according to plan.
Also in the university scenes, there's an amusing thread featuring Turlough (Mark Strickson) who's snobbish about this school--and students who in turn look down on him, assuming he comes from Eton--"Brendon!" he corrects them. It's funny hearing him switch from being offended by people assuming he's human to being offended by people not knowing what school he went to.
Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) is also featured in this story but mainly only to prompt exposition by asking questions in dialogue, the default mode for a Doctor Who companion. All in all, a solid audio.