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Your evil was for so little, mother, if it has to die with you. The legacy of my evil shall be eternal.
~ Childeric, observing Berengaria being imprisoned


Childeric is one of the central villains of the Doctor Who Big Finish audio drama "The Holy Terror". As the hunchbacked half-brother of Emperor Pepin VII, Lord Childeric is obsessed with removing his sibling from the throne and assuming his place as the supposedly immortal god-king; however, rather than simply leading the treacherous High Priest and a handful of other conspirators in an easily-quashed uprising, as was the tradition for previous half-brothers to the king, Childeric has something far more dangerous in mind. Having recognized that the Emperors of the land have not possessed immortality or omnipotence for centuries, he has been conducting an experiment that he believes will allow him to ascend to true godhood - a goal that naturally brings him into conflict with the Doctor and Frobisher when they arrive in the Castle.

He was voiced by Peter Guinness.

Biography

Traditional Beginnings

As it eventually becomes clear, life within the Castle follows strict patterns and traditions obeyed by both the people and the laws of reality in general: an Emperor will always be declared a god; his actions will always be recorded by the royal scribe and entered into the new religion's sacred text (regardless of how banal they actually are); he will always marry a woman who hates him and carries on affairs with other members of the royal entourage; he will always end up with two sons, one kind-hearted but neurotic and despised by his father, the other a bastard born of adultery, disfigured and malevolent. After a long life of tyranny and hedonism, the Emperor will die, immediately proving himself to not be a god after all, whereupon the people will destroy all traces of his rule except for the now-completed bible and declare his kind-hearted son the new god. In an attempt to dislodge him from the throne, the half-brother will join forces with the duplicitous High Priest and lead a rebellion against the Emperor - one that always ends with the conspirators being rounded up and executed. The new Emperor puts aside all previous neuroses, settles into a loveless marriage, and the entire cycle begins anew.

At first, Childeric's existence seemed to follow the traditional patterns almost to a T: he was the result of an affair between Empress Berengaria and one of her husband's guards, chosen largely because he was the only member of the royal entourage who didn't smell. Though he knew that being selected for the traditional role of the Empress's lover would mean his death, the nameless guard loved Berengaria with all his heart - until he was caught, as tradition demanded, and executed by hanging, as tradition demanded. It took the unfortunate lover sixteen hours to die, and though she did nothing to stop the execution (as tradition demanded) Berengaria secretly regretted the man's unfortunate death. Nine months after their affair concluded, the Empress eventually gave birth to a son - disfigured, hunchbacked and by all accounts, repulsive.

From an early age, Childeric showed all the expected signs of following in the footsteps of his villainous predecessors, including regularly pulling the wings off flies, and for a time, Berengaria had high hopes that her bastard child would be able to live up to tradition. In turn, the young Childeric did his best to model himself on his mother, aping her callousness and cruelty with every act he committed. However, to Berengaria's immense disappointment, none of her hunchbacked son's villainy seemed to progress much further beyond petty sadism as he grew to manhood, and he took to spending long hours in the darkest corners of the Castle vaults instead of making an evil spectacle of himself in public, ultimately leading her to dismiss him as a failure. Unknown to her, Childeric was every bit as villainous as Berengaria herself; however, unlike his parents and most of the kingdom, however, his approach to villainy was not grounded in tradition.

While the Imperial rulers continued to indulge themselves in ritualistic displays of hedonism and tyranny, the High Priest prepared to betray the rightful heir to the throne as was traditionally expected of him, and Pepin the younger endured the abuse of both his parents and his wife Livilla, Childeric set his sights on something far more ambitious than any villainous half-brother in the royal history: not content with claiming the throne and declaring himself god-emperor, he wanted to seize control of the heavens themselves and achieve true divinity.

The Godhood Experiment

Several years prior to the events of the story, Childeric came to the realization that being crowned Emperor would not result in godhood, and that the last few generations of Imperial rulers had indeed been as mortal as the rest of the Castle's inhabitants. However, rather than believing that the deification of the royal family was based entirely on falsehood, he instead concluded that in the distant past, Emperors had once possessed something close to true godhood, but had lost it after years of exposure to human doubt and complacency.

Over the course of decades of research conducted within the Castle's long-forgotten catacombs, Childeric observed how past false gods had grown weak in the knowledge of their own fallibility, and how the people who worshiped them stopped truly believing, only clinging to the faith as a result of the notoriously torturous anti-heresy laws - which generally called for the literal decimation of the populace upon the death of the Emperor as retroactive punishment for heresy. Disgusted by what he perceived as a once-mighty empire's devolution into empty rituals, he decided that the cycle had to be brought to an end somehow - and that it could only be achieved by his ascension to true godhood.

Ultimately, he came to the conclusion that divinity could only be achieved through isolation from human society and language, and to that end, began a horrific experiment to create a god in the hopes that such a being could bestow the gift of immortality upon him. By this time, Childeric had married and his wife was already pregnant: deciding that his unborn son was the best candidate for deification, he spirited his wife away to the catacombs and imprisoned her in a cell hidden deep in the Castle's fortifications, letting the rest of the royal court believe that she had simply vanished. Here, he took definite steps to ensure that the messiah could not be corrupted by mortal language, believing that without exposure to human speech, his son would devise a language of his own "sent from Heaven itself": before his wife finally gave birth, Childeric cut out her tongue, then did the same for the servant who provided her with food and water, guaranteeing that his son would not hear a single word of coherent human speech. For a few months, he allowed his wife to feed and care for the baby in near-total silence; then, when his son was finally weaned, he took the child away from her and had the door to her cell walled up, leaving her to starve to death.

From the moment he was old enough to walk, Childeric's son grew up alone, prevented from leaving his tiny cell and forbidden from making any contact with the outside word; even the manservant who fed him never made contact with the child beyond sliding the meals under the door. After some years of this, Childeric's personal manservant had died (presumably of natural causes), and as per tradition, his son Arnulf had claimed the position: because this required him to continue the duty of feeding the child, his tongue was immediately removed, condemning him to an extremely painful life of silence in the darkest pits of the Castle. Meanwhile, Childeric himself kept his interaction with the child to the barest minimum, for though he continued skulking around the Castle dungeons and catacombs as per normal, he also had to appear in the court to maintain appearances until his son was ready to emerge as a fully-developed god and seize power on Childeric's behalf; had everything gone according to plan, this would not have occurred until his son was at least seventeen years of age.

However, the child was barely five years old when Childeric's plan hit an unexpected snag: Emperor Pepin VI died ahead of schedule, having fallen asleep in his bath and drowned; meanwhile, down in the vaults of the Castle, the imprisoned child began showing signs of achieving godhood far ahead of schedule. With Pepin VII already being declared the new god and all hope of a smooth transition to power lost, Childeric began taking drastic steps to advance his plans...

Coronation Coup

Shortly after the audio play begins, Childeric seeks out Berengaria one last time in order to obtain her blessing for the crimes he is about to commit: by this time, the Empress has already been dethroned as a false goddess and is being escorted to the dungeons where she will remain until her execution. Too old and too jaded to expect anything but the usual patterns in reality, Berengaria refuses to give Childeric her blessing, expecting him to kneel in obeisance at Pepin's coronation and die an agonizing death in the failed attack on the Emperor - though in a far more disappointing fashion than his predecessors. Dismissing her son's fantastical designs of seizing control of Heaven and Hell as nothing more than grandiose raving, the former Empress is then sent away to await her torture and execution; for good measure, Childeric bribes Guard Captain Sejeanus to deposit her in the deepest, darkest cell in the Castle dungeons, where she will be chained to the wall.

In the hours prior to the coronation, Childeric is already at work planting the seeds of discontent against his half-brother, using Pepin's obvious nervousness regarding the ceremony in order to recruit High Priest Clovis to his cause; though Clovis is fully expecting to be recruited as per tradition, he is clearly confused by Childeric's unusually self-aware approach, and leaves in a state of some dismay. However, in a further divergence from tradition, the newly-crowned Pepin finds himself unable to continue the pretense of godhood upheld by his forebears, and confesses to the assembled citizenry that the coronation ceremony has not deified him at all; as the crowd swiftly turns on him, Childeric seizes the moment to dethrone his half-brother, insisting that Pepin be executed and replaced unless he can produce a miracle in proof of his divinity.

And in that moment, the TARDIS arrives in the Castle throne room. Upon exiting, the Doctor and Frobisher are immediately declared messengers from Heaven by the congregation, inadvertently saving Pepin's life. Despite Childeric's attempt to disrupt the situation further and Pepin's own hysterical denials of godhood, the "miracle" is firmly cemented by royal scribe Eugene Tacitus, who claims that Emperors always experience mental fatigue upon being crowned, ensuring that the lives of Pepin, Livilla, the Doctor and Frobisher are spared. Furious, Childeric can only watch as the Emperor and his "angels" leave the throne room in safety.

With his plan to seize the throne by mundane means currently unfeasible, he descends into the vaults to enact his next backup plan, where he is promptly joined by Arnulf and Clovis - now firmly on his side, though still not sure of the royal bastard's approach. Unwilling to share the details of the child-god imprisoned in the catacombs at present, he orders the High Priest to retrieve Eugene Tacitus from his quarters, insisting that he is integral to his plans; however, because the Doctor was studying the scribe's library of past bibles at the time, Clovis is forced to bring him back to the vaults along with Eugene.

Dismissive of "this idiot" and refusing to regard him as a threat, Childeric nonetheless decides to spare the Doctor's life for the time being while he explains the situation to his prisoners and minions: as he leads them into the catacombs, he reveals the experiments he has been conducting in his attempts to transform his son into a god. However, since his son has ascended to godhood ahead of schedule, he must study him in detail before he can ultimately release him from captivity; to that end, he needs Eugene to perform the study in his stead and write a new bible for the first true god in the history of the Castle. Of course, this requires Childeric to cut out his tongue. Having no use for the Doctor, he decides to simply cut out his heart instead. For the time being, he has the two of them chained up until Clovis is ready to carry out their mutilation.

It is at this point that Livilla arrives in the Castle dungeons. After being apprehended by Arnulf, she reveals to Childeric that she is here to swear her allegiance to him, having lost patience with Pepin's neurotic behavior; refusing to die as a false goddess once Pepin denounces himself a third time, she wants to share in the power that the royal bastard will wield as the new god-emperor, ideally by marrying him and giving him a son. Childeric doesn't take her offers seriously, openly slapping her across the face when she tries to suck up to him, though he is clearly interested when Livilla offers to let him mutilate her face if it means sharing in divine power. Just when it seems as though he is going to simply kill the intruder, Livilla then reveals that Pepin has abdicated the throne and declared Frobisher the new Emperor.

The Holy Terror

The sudden change in leadership forces Childeric to accelerate his plans even further: though confident he could have easily dealt with Pepin when the time came, Frobisher (AKA The Big Talking Bird) is an unknown quantity; desperate to remove this newest rival from the throne and unable to remain cautious any longer, Childeric decides to finally release his son from captivity. For good measure, he also allows Eugene to retain his tongue and spares the Doctor's life for the time being, and grants them the privilege of watching the new god being unveiled.

Summoning Clovis, Livilla, Eugene and the Doctor to a meeting point in the catacombs, he commands them to observe as Arnulf carries the sleeping child-god up the stairs towards them, unable or unwilling to listen as Eugene unexpectedly begins to panic. Commanding his son to awake, Childeric is immediately surprised to discover that he can speak and comprehend mortal language; indeed, the child knows everything: the experiment has been a success, and Childeric's son has become a divine being known only as the Child.

Livilla is immediately indignant over having her offer of allegiance turned down by Childeric and loudly decries being forced out of the limelight by "a precocious brat," but Childeric only responds by permitting the Child to claim her as a plaything. To the shock of all present, the Child mentally assaults the fallen empress at length, invading her mind and regressing her to infancy before finally killing her; disappointed by how little entertainment he got out of his toy, the Child immediately demands another one from Childeric, and throws a temper tantrum when his father refuses. The tantrum results in a psychic explosion that sends Clovis, Eugene and the Doctor running for cover, leaving Childeric alone with his son; fortunately for him, a single slap to the face is enough to get the Child to behave himself, and the two begin discussing their plans to seize the throne. Over the course of their conversation, however, the Child demonstrates his bloodthirstiness by killing Arnulf - casually restoring his tongue so he can hear his last words along the way.

At this point, the Doctor returns to the catacombs to confront the pair, and a standoff ensues. However, Childeric is more interested in claiming ultimate power by this point: the Child wants to enter his father's mind and join with him in perfect symbiosis, becoming one divine entity ruling alone for all eternity. Dismissing the Doctor one last time, Childeric allows his son to begin the merger, eagerly waiting to ascend to godhood - only for the Child to suddenly discover that the royal bastard is not in fact his father. Despite Childeric's protestations, the Child loses his temper once again and slowly tears the unfortunate conspirator to pieces.

Ultimately, Childeric's goals are revealed to be entirely futile: the ending proves that he could never have achieved godhood by the method he chose, and his experiment only worked because of phenomena entirely outside of his control. Like all the other inhabitants of the Castle, Childeric was just another one of Eugene's imaginary constructs, built to perform a specific role in the incarcerated scribe's fantasy world: he never had any choice in what he did, nor did he ever have any chance to be anything other than a villain in Eugene's badly-written story.

Personality

Childeric was born specifically to play the part of the villain in Eugene's recurring story, and unlike Clovis, he embraces his role with an enthusiasm that disturbs even the harshest traditionalists of the Castle: sadistic, manipulative and traitorous, he values ambition more than any other villainous trait in his character, having disregarded the traditional goals of his predecessors in favor of true deification. Childeric is determined to attain divinity by any means available to him, not out of a desire to comply with tradition or even in the belief the people of the Castle would fare better under his rule, but out of disgust for the complacency of the Castle's inhabitants and a megalomaniacal desire to seize ultimate power.

In conversation, he treats others with a mixture of theatrical affability and acerbic contempt, treating the tongueless Arnulf as his treasured pet, cheekily suggesting that Clovis should saw a woman in half for the coronation miracle, and even shaking Eugene's hand upon being introduced to him - scant minutes before informing the hapless scribe that he is to have his tongue removed and spend the next twelve years alone with the Child. However, this amiability quickly evaporates as the more unpleasant aspects of his character rise to the surface, most prominently his ambitions and sadistic streak.

Childeric has very little in the way of true empathy for anyone in the Castle: even his own wife was regarded as nothing more than a means of providing him with a son, mutilated in order to serve his plans and left to rot when her usefulness came to an end. Though he seems to regard Arnulf as a friend, he scarcely objects when the Child decides to kill the mangled servant for his own amusement; and though he toys with the notion of taking Livilla as a consort, he only does so for the possibility of destroying her beauty, and readily hands her over to the Child as his first toy - then watches with rapt fascination as his son fatally transforms her into an infant.

About the only person he truly seems to respect is Berengaria, who he admires as the most evil person he has ever known and has tried to model himself on throughout his life. The only person he actually cares about (other than himself) is his son, who he refuses to abandon even in the face of a psychic temper tantrum; however, even this affection for his child is still warped by his own villainous nature - he genuinely believes that his son will be grateful for being imprisoned from birth if it means ensuring his divinity. Ironically, he proves to be something of a moderating influence on the Child's behavior, insisting that they can't kill all the inhabitants of the Castle - if they do, then who will be left alive to be subjugated?

Trivia

  • Childeric's name - along with that of Clovis and Pepin - has actually been drawn from the early Frankish kings, three of which were named Childeric.
  • Though clearly based on the villainous stereotype of the traitorous pretender to the throne (including such figures as Mordred , Claudius and Scar), Childeric's character has drawn particular inspiration from King Richard III: not only is he a disfigured hunchback (as Richard was often claimed to be in folklore), but he actually quotes directly from the play in his introduction, noting how he was "sent before my time into this breathing world" and how "I am determined to play the villain." Ironically, the Doctor Who Big Finish audio dramas actually featured the historical Richard III as a villain in The Kingmaker.
  • Disturbingly enough, Childeric's language-deprivation experiments have actually been conducted in the real world: popularly known as "The Forbidden Experiment," it was not used in attempts to achieve godhood, but to study the origins of human language; in the version most likely to have inspired Childeric's story, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II ordered several children raised without speech or any interaction beyond feeding or cleaning, apparently in an attempt to discover the original language that God imparted to Adam and Eve.


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