If you are unfamiliar with Big Finish, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Big Finish has a motto: “we love stories”. It’s simple but extremely evident. When you love something, you take care of it. Two stories back, with The Creed of the Kromon, I ridiculed the writer for the whole “time” thing. Apparently, people can understand French, but the concept of time is too big for them… even though they talk in hours and minutes. (I mean, French?!?!) But The Twilight Kingdom does get around to adding some context to that. Maybe we need to credit writer Will Shindler for bridging that gap, but then again, for a company that loves stories, maybe it was the plan all along. I’d like to believe the best of them, at any rate!
I will say that this episode didn’t impress me as much as the previous one, The Natural History of Fear, but that’s not necessarily saying anything negative about this one. That just happened to be an extraordinarily strong story. This is more of an average Doctor Who adventure with rebellions and monsters and mysteries in caves. All good, but nothing to distinguish it from countless other episodes. I listen to these on my way to work and make notes at stop lights. The last story needed two pages and a lot more stops than I was able to make; this story needed less than a page.
The story basically has the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz find a group of people who are controlled by Major Koth, who seems to be more than just a man. In a short time, we discover something is controlling everyone’s minds. How can the Doctor defeat a being who can walk around in his memories?? Well, as Peter Capaldi’s Doctor put it once: “I’m the Doctor. Just accept it.” But that doesn’t mean the episode didn’t leave a mark on my mind.
The first thing I wondered about was Charley’s burned hand. Chekov may have a gun, but Charley’s burned hand has no real value and is little more than filler. On the other (unburned) hand, the use of the word “stench” really impacted me. It’s one word but it tells us all we need. The Doctor notices a “stench” about the people he met – not a smell. Had he said smell, it would have been a different story. Stench paints a very unpleasant image coming from a hero. Perhaps the monster of the tale was not evil. Wouldn’t that be nice? Speaking of nice, I love that the TARDIS represents hope. This might remind viewers of that wonderful scene in The Day of the Doctor, when Billie Piper’s Bad Wolf tells the War Doctor that the sound of the TARDIS brings hope. Sure, this came long before that episode, but it’s nice to have that continuity acknowledged. Granted, we all know it’s true, so it isn’t a leap, but I still appreciate it.
More than that, the Doctor realizes that the people of the world they are on, a world he calls a “Gauntlet World”, do understand that time exists, but they don’t comprehend the implications. In a clever piece of dialogue, there’s acknowledgement that time does exist here. I still don’t condone the idea especially when people talk in hours, days, etc, but I can at least appreciate that the idea was not totally missed. Speaking of a Gauntlet World, I was thinking of the structure of this world when I started part one. The Doctor and team walk from zone to zone, yet each zone seems to be in another world. Talk about a weird choice for the writers to create the effect of the TARDIS without the TARDIS! And the thing is, the people of this world talk about space travel and other worlds, so there’s definitely something that doesn’t jive. I can understand The War Games (Pat Troughton’s story) where zones are interconnected on a big map, but it makes less sense if you can get off-world too. Now that connection has to be magically connected to multiple worlds too! Sure, you can magic it away saying it’s all about the storytelling but I’m not as quick to buy it. Until the Doctor pieces it together and acknowledges that this is a gauntlet world: a world specifically created to do this, and allow for experimentation, it stands as a weak convention to connect each story. But that leads to a question: who would do this and why? And that’s actually a pivotal question that remains to be answered, even if we all know where that’s heading!
We may not have the answer to the “why” but the mysterious Kro’ka asks the Doctor what he expects to find at the end of his journey and we get a one word answer before the end: Rassilon! Alas, this was long before Timothy Dalton blew me away with such a powerhouse performance as the great Rassilon, and had I ever expected how good that would be this might not have impressed me as much as it did. Somehow, Rassilon’s legend has a magic about it that promised excitement. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. Except… the next story takes us on an adventure with the fifth Doctor. Looks like we might have to wait a bit to see what happens when the Doctor meets the founder of Time Lord society. ML