The blood of innocents has been spilt – a terrible sequence of events has been set in motion. The forces of darkness are on the move.
Deep underground, an army of light prepares itself for the oncoming war.
The Doctor’s used to winning. Stumbling in, reading the face of the enemy, and then beating the odds…but what if this time he’s got it wrong? Charley and C’rizz think he has.
Stripped of all that is familiar, just who is the Doctor? Major Koth thinks he knows.
The Twilight Kingdom brings the first stretch of the Eighth Doctor’s adventures in the Divergent Universe and sets up the following stories. This one is a bit of a slow build, as it starts off feeling like quite a generic adventure that has a twist that works quite well, but it is a flawed story in a run of four stories with mixed results.
I’m not sure what it is about these stories that does not resonate with me. I was wondering whether it is the absence of the TARDIS that makes it feel strange, but then again, I love Season 7 where the TARDIS is out of the game anyway. I also think it might be that the setting almost requires a more inventive story, and when Big Finish has delivered on this in stories like Scherzo and The Natural History of Fear, but it makes it all the more frustrating when it reverts to a story like this one which feels overwhelmingly generic. The Twilight Kingdom, like a lot of Doctor Who stories, features a lot of body horror, but in these stories it feels much more grungy and slightly out of keeping for the show, especially here with the decaying torsos floating in the lake of the cave and characters decaying before the Doctor and his companions’ eyes. A lot of the stories in this run feel as though they wouldn’t feel out of place in an era script edited by Eric Saward.
Ultimately though, the story throws away the almost generic plot around halfway through when it is revealed that the war the soldiers believe that they are fighting is actually a charade. The Doctor seems to cotton on to this revelation slightly earlier than the audience are let into the loop, which understandably confuses Charley as, in her experience, the Doctor does everything in his power to help rebellions and overthrow tyrannical regimes. The fact that the story has been taking place in a living cave is a good one, and writer Will Shindler should be commended for this, but it is disappointing to see the big reveal given away on the story’s cover, which may ultimately help the rug pull work a lot better. Ultimately, the twist doesn’t save a story that feels quite generic, and like some other stories sent in this Universe that we are told is so different to ours but the only difference presented by stories like this one is that its inhabitants are unaware of the concept of Time. Shindler sets up what the remainder of the Doctor’s adventures in this universe will be seeking – Rassilon, of course – and teases us with glimpses of the TARDIS but none of this feels surprising or giving any incentive to continue with these adventures.
The cave drain the feelings and emotions from its inhabitants, but this unfortunately results in some quite bland and generic feeling guest characters being portrayed with no real distinguishing features. This results in no characters really standing out from any others and I especially found that Vivien Parry and Dale Ibbetson came across particularly badly as Tysus and Quillian and it feels that there might be a better way of conveying people being drained by a malevolent force when this story is being written for audio. I think that Alan Rothwell as Janto manages to come across slightly better than the other characters, and even manages to come across as sympathetic at the end, which is more than can be said for Kayla, a character with an equally tragic back story. Major Koth feels very generic and possibly ill-served by the dialogue that he is given, especially in his exchanges with the Doctor.
Paul McGann’s performance feels stilted, but I’m not sure if this is a seeming response to the Doctor being cut off from time and his TARDIS, something that feels so fundamental to the character of the Doctor that it would inevitably change him. It sounds as though McGann is trying his hardest, even if the script doesn’t allow the Doctor to function on all cylinders. For instance, in the limited interactions the Eighth Doctor does have with Charley, he doesn’t put two and two together and realise that Charley’s anger might be down to a malign telepathic influence, despite it being established early on. Speaking of Charley, this is quite a bad story for her, and she spends most of the story complaining and wishing that things would go back to how they used to be. Again, I think India Fisher is done no favours by this story and it would be difficult for anyone to make the character likeable. It’s a shame, as I really liked Charley in the early adventures with the Eighth Doctor and feel like this story has gone some considerable way to spoiling that dynamic. I think that if there is one character who comes out of this well is C’rizz, even if he does still seem underdeveloped. We learn some more here from him, like he is able to change colour and that he seems to have surprisingly violent tendencies perhaps unsurprising considering the traumatic origins of this character in Creed of the Kromon. He feels underused in the last couple of stories so I hope that we get to see more of him going forwards in the remainder of his time travelling with the Doctor, as it would be good to see Conrad Westmaas actually be given something to do. It’s difficult to get a handle on his character and how he fits into the Doctor and Charley dynamic as it feels like they spend very little time together as a trio, so it was good to see them have some more time together here, but they are quickly split up again and only really reunited in the closing moments of this story.
Verdict: The Twilight Kingdom ultimately feels quite generic and doesn’t quite have enough plot to cover the bones of the story. The twist is a good one but it’s not enough to save this story. 5/10
Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Conrad Westmaas (C’rizz), Michael Keating (Major Koth), Alan Rothwell (Byzar Janto), Ann Carus-Wilson (Commander Vayla), Dale Ibbetson (Sub-Commander Quillian), Jeremy James (Sergeant Bryn), Vivien Parry (Captain Tysus), Alison Sterling (Tarrith Koth), Nicholas Briggs (Lieutenant Fraxin), Stephen Fewell (Lieutenant Deral), Gary Russell (Corporal Orvik) and Stephen Perring (The Kro’ka).
Writer: Will Shindler
Director: Gary Russell
- Michael Keating played Goudry in The Sun Makers, as well as appearing in Year of the Pig and The Evil One.
- Jeremy James (also known as Jez Fielder) has appeared in a number of Big Finish productions including The Marian Conspiracy, Dust Breeding and The Defectors.
- Alison Sterling appeared in the previous Eighth Doctor story, The Natural History of Fear.
- Stephen Fewell also appeared in stories like The One Doctor, Red Dawn and Seasons of Fear.
It’s funny, you can travel all over one universe then turn up in another and it’s still about opening locked doors. Who says there isn’t a greater plan at work?The Eighth Doctor
Previous Eighth Doctor review: The Natural History of Fear