THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
The Twilight Kingdom

Written by Jim Mortimore Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2004
Continuity After The Telemovie

Starring Paul McGann, India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas.

Synopsis: 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? Lost among the dark caverns of an unknown world, has the Doctor finally met his match?


Reviews

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 8/4/04

What an interesting and unexpected season of 8th Doctor plays Big Finish have given us in 2003-04! Starting with the celebratory, yet rambling Zagreus (a standalone if ever I heard one), we've had two experimental and two traditional. There must be something for everyone, and there is plenty to like for most of us.

But I also find myself having mixed feelings about it all really. After hearing them all now, I don't think they are any better than Big Finish's input of recent times - and new Who probably should be. They carry on the experimental theme of 2003 in many ways - the last year or so has been a real experimental one for Big Finish. In fact Creed of the Kromon and Twilight Kingdom really stand out, because of their normality!

But onto the final story of this season, which just about succeeds in restoring this traditionalist's faith that DW can tell straight-forward stories again. It does take a while to get going, to be honest - but the final two episodes were very good indeed. I was pleased to hear the banter that the initial sedate pace allowed between the Doctor, Charley and C'Rizz. After the unusual Natural History of Fear, and the hugely limited interplay between the recognizable characters in that story, this was badly needed for this TARDIS threesome.

The story contains some staples of many Doctor Who stories, and it uses them well. For example, when we meet the soldiers of the underground - the usual stereotypes are there. They are a group who populate many a Doctor Who Story. The main questions are why they are there, and why Koth's monstrous master lives as he does. The bigger cast allows for plenty of interplay. The big stand-outs are definitely Koth and Janto, however well the rest are presented to us. Michael Keating isn't quite as villainous as I expected, but he definitely rises to the challenge - especially in the final episode. Janto is the kind of lovable supporting character Doctor Who does so well - full credit to Alan Rothwell for this. He really doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the soldiers - and we eventually learn the surprising reason why.

From previews I understood that Will Schindler (wasn't that the young chap from The Awakening?) tried to make this story frightening - because that's what he remembered most about Doctor Who. There are moments of tension, for sure, but all out terror is nowhere near this production. I can recall no sudden shocks, or people lurking in the shadows ready to pounce. The threat in the caves is sufficiently gruesome, and an excellent monster, but it's hardly terrifying - especially when its picture is on the cover.

It is nice to see Charley and C'Rizz getting into lots of conventional companion scrapes too (the cliffhanger for the second episode being very effective). Their mistrust of the Doctor (as advertised on the cover) is handled well. A nice contrast between being the traditional Doctor Who companion, and then an apparent rebellion against their mentor.

All in all Twilight Kingdom is a good monster/possession story. It gives us an effective conclusion to the McGann season of audios. It does feature the return of an essential aspect of Doctor Who - I'd missed that piano scraping. The TARDIS returning in fact is a much more effective end than the one we have. One word from the Doctor is designed to lead us into the next season - it seems this universe has elements from the last after all. It's an ending that made me sigh, rather than stand open mouthed (as I did with the Zagreus cliffhanger at the end of Neverland). You kind of wonder why they were even in an alternate universe - isn't the existing one big enough for any kind of story? I'm long tired of the usual Gallifreyan legends.

I suspect many will say that this McGann season was disappointing. I found it quite challenging, with a vast amount to enjoy and contemplate. Only Natural History of Fear reached the brilliance I have come to expect from Big Finish (and that took me multiple listens to appreciate), but there's something very good about all them to be honest. The Twilight Kingdom finishes another fine season of McGann very well. 8/10.


Someone get me out of this universe! by Joe Ford 7/5/04

There is nothing instinctively wrong with this story but I find it very hard to muster up any enthusiasm for it. This disappointing season is brought to a close with another story that is miles apart from the one that preceded it, traditional but in a very different way to Kromon, this is a story that steals ideas from a thousand sources and moulds them all together into a predictable, plotless whole.

Duh duh duh! Another cliffhanging season finale! Another interminable wait to find out how events conclude! Considering how this season has turned out I shall not raise my hopes too high. When the last word of this story is uttered I should imagine fans will be salivating and jumping up and down with excitement. I was bored, worse I can almost predict just where this 'revelation' is going to end up. More continuity, more tedious rewriting of history, more Gallifrey... new creative consultant desperately required!

For the first time in my life I am not sure what to say about an audio because The Twilight Kingdom did not leave any impression on my for good or for ill. It was competent certainly with a predictably atmospheric Russell Stone score (although even his work is becoming easy to guess... maybe a new approach, Russell?) and some decent ideas but they are stretched so thin in the eventless first three episodes and with the absent of any original dialogue or commendable performances I was basically hypnotised into a state of pure unawareness. The last episode almost dares to become gripping but then climaxes on a mind bogglingly weak moment of self sacrifice that betrays any sense of uniqueness the story might have begun to grasp.

I think I can explain. There was a moment in episode two where C'rizz is threatened by Commander Vayla by some obscene (and unsaid) method to discover just who he is and what he is about. Such stress is put on this moment and the three of them (Proff Janto is there too) arguing dramatically for about three minutes. There is no actual drama in this situation at all, the writer is just making up some excuse for the characters to bitch a bit because the plot has stopped and the running time needs to be filled. Why should this be a powerful moment? The Doctor and his friends are threatened like this in every single adventure why should this blandly acted version be any more important? And the story is jammed full of similar moments, empty threats and chases and gunplay, which adds nothing to the story but fills up space. Will Schindler is cruising along on autopilot until he reaches the end of episode three where he can finally release his twist and push the plot on. In the first episode Vayla explains the situation with Major Koth and his followers and after the Doctor and co all meet up in his underground lair nothing is added to the real plot until episode four! Stalling for time until the final twist seems to be a recurring theme this season, the twists are often quite good but waiting to get there is bloody boring. This must stop.

Besides I guessed the 'twist' long before it was revealed. As soon as the Doctor and Charley take a dip in the river of blood/acid it becomes painfully obvious just what the true nature of The Twilight Kingdom is. The idea is a fascinating one and besides nicking images wholesale from Jeepers Creepers is effectively brought across especially when people start to die en masse in the last episode.

Before we reach these far more interesting ideas though we are forced to endure some dull Adric-style betrayal from Charley and C'rizz. The way the story deals with the regulars is a bit of a joke; Charley suddenly gets all high and mighty and challenges the Doctor's beliefs that Koth's people are being influenced. It is unconvincingly written, the Doctor is so calm about his friends' sudden change of heart and just continues to babble monotonously about his firm beliefs. There is some blatant character manipulation here but nobody seems to care. Even worse is the end where Charley attempts to apologise and the Doctor in a moment of stultifying awfulness attempts to wrap the entire season's discourse between the two of them (he says "I am really glad I met you Charley") which is a bit of insult to those of us who have been following the series and expected a rather more satisfying heart to heart or falling out or SOMETHING. Where is the bloody script editor for this series?

Another reason to worry about next year is the lack of any sort of chemistry between the three regulars. It disheartens me to see Big Finish cocking up so badly in this department because they have provided some outstanding new companions in the past. C'rizz just does not float my boat I'm afraid and despite some genuine emotion that Conrad Westmaas injects into his scenes his character is still a hugely flawed one. A man of peace who is experiencing the horrors of the universe thanks to his relationship with the Doctor. It's the male Nyssa innit? Only far less interesting, maybe it is the utterly banal story he was introduced in that has tainted my opinion or perhaps it is that his second story saw his mind completely wiped. It was The Twilight Kingdom's job to re-introduce this character, to give him some kind of hook but instead it meanders this role, once again influences affecting his mind. Early scenes in the jungle with the three regulars together lacked sparkle and let's put that "Please don't call me Charlotte" thing to rest, I don't think I can stand another season of it. He is an ex Priest and he lost his missus, that seems to be about it.

All five stories this year were recorded over a week. The Natural History of Fear came first, Scherzo came last and I would be fascinated to know where Twilight Kingdom fitted in. I only mention this because Paul McGann seems to have given up all hope. His performance here might well be his weakest yet as the Doctor because the script offers him nothing he hasn't done already. He makes some absurd observations, threatens to take down the regime, refuses to be goaded by Koth's manipulation of his character and ultimately saves the day just like he knew he always would. He says the lines but there is no interest in what he is saying, no urgency or emotion that Colin Baker would always include no matter how bland the script was. This is how some Doctor Who scripts were saved, cliched and lacking in tension they may be but it is the actor's job to wring every iota of entertainment from them. McGann has been delivering his best and worst work this year, depending on the quality of the script. He needs to find some happy medium, a level of consistency.

Another factor in the stories non-reaction in me is the guest actors who are just as powerless under the script's influence. Lines are spoken but rarely felt and even the characters with the meatiest dialogue, Michael Keating's Koth, fail to bring anything to the production. I was quite looking forward to Keating's scenery chewing but he adopts a far less entertaining chatty style, sounding far too human to be a melodramatic Who baddie. Mind you, with some of his lines (what is it about baddies trying to psychoanalyse the Doctor? Koth spends an age trying to get the Doctor to submit by telling him he is arrogant and always thinks he will win and that this time, oh yes, this time he will lose! He even uses that hoary old trick of getting the Doctor to agree by threatening his companion's lives...), I cannot blame his underwhelming portrayal.

Okay I have come far enough into this review to deal with a problem I feel has been holding Big Finish back for quite some time. I am getting bored, irritated and close to giving up on the series when I see the name Gary Russell emblazoned on every sodding piece of merchandise. He has directed every single McGann story this year and this may go some to explaining why only one of the five has impressed me. A feeling of despondence has plagued the season, something huge has been lacking and that is fresh blood. Yes there are new writers coming in but every story feels the same, lazy and boring. Twilight, Kromon and Zagreus are three of the worst Big Finish productions I have ever heard and their close proximity and identical director cannot be a co-incidence. Last year Jubilee and ...the Pirates were my favourites and lookie they were directed by Nick Briggs and Nick Pegg! I have heard similar comments over on Outpost Gallifrey about Justin Richards' editorship of the books, that he has been in control too long and that somebody else needs to step into the big chair for a while and see what new blood can produce. Shockingly I find myself agreeing with this statement, when the series comes back I genuinely feel that the books should continue under another editor to see what stuff he can give us. Justin and Gary have been in control of their respective media for years and years now, Justin's work I have adored, Gary's work I have reviled but what is wrong with suggesting that somebody else could take the respective series' in new directions? I have seen the direction Gary wants to take Big Finish in this season and I hate it. I enjoy experimental and traditional as much as anyone but the stories themselves have to be interesting and well packaged and produced. The quality of the stories has plummeted over the past two years and I feel it is time for a change. But that is just my opinion.

I could dribble on as I usually do about Gary's sabotage of the script but to be honest I am getting bored of hearing myself say it. I fear something could have been done to inject some life into this story had Briggs or Pegg taken it on but they did not so I shall move on.

Listening to stories like The Twilight Kingdom I find myself desperate to return to the glory days of Big Finish, times when they could produce stories such as The Fire of Vulcan, The Holy Terror and The Shadow of the Scourge in very close proximity. If this season of 8th Doctor audios is anything to go by those days are long passed.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 27/10/04

The Twilight Kingdom is an enjoyable offering because it harks back to traditional Doctor Who, boasting some strong characters, performances and indeed behind the sofa moments. What it doesn`t do is resolve any of the ongoing arc strands. The guest cast fare better however with Micheal Keating giving an understated performance as Koth made memorable because as the main villain he plays against type. Alan Rothwell`s Janto is also a welcome distraction, providing an emotional performance mixed with moments of light heartedness. Enjoyable as the performances are however, The Twilight Kingdom never stretches itself into making more of the divergent universe. Which is a shame because as a season closer, it shoud`ve been more memorable.


A Review by John Seavey 6/2/06

Somewhere in here, there are some not-bad ideas for a story, but it should really have been very obvious right from the start that this storyline just doesn't have enough plot for a two-hour audio as it currently stands. It's blatantly obvious from the very beginning that Koth is in league with some sort of Sinister Psychic Entity that eats people, and it's obvious from about Part Two on that it's manipulating people's minds. Thus, most of the first three parts are an exercise in padding until we get to the "revelation" in Part Four that Koth is in league with a Sinister Psychic Entity that controls people's minds and eats them. At that point, the story sort of limps along to a conclusion, but after three parts of solid padding, we just don't care. This needed more work at the draft stage, and that's just all there is to it.

Oh, and C'rizz continues to be a total waste of space. The actor's uncharismatic, the character's uninteresting; it's so bad that for large chunks of the audio, you're not sure where he is because you don't actually realize that he's not meant to be just another minor character wandering around.


A Review by Charles Berman 14/11/10

The Twilight Kingdom brings to the table a number of elements which should work to its advantage. After C'rizz's introduction in The Creed of the Kromon and the experimental side-step that was The Natural History of Fear, it had the opportunity to plunge the Doctor and companions into the Divergent Universe proper, and to develop their working story-to-story relationships. Story-wise, it presents us with the Doctor and company encountering a camp of so-called terrorists who seem to be under some sort of mind control, and we can't be sure how "terroristic" they really are.

That's a solid premise, and The Twilight Kingdom turns it into a decent Doctor Who story. However, a number of aspects of the writing let it down, and when all is said and done it can't be said to be much more than decent.

There's a not-uncommon unfamiliarity with audio writing in Will Shindler's script, as characters are inclined to describe their surroundings to each other on a number of occasions. Beyond that, though, there's too much of a reliance on "tell don't show" writing in some other areas as well. A lot of exposition towards the beginning is very clumsily handled, most obviously with a large infodump clueing us in on the background of Koth, his society, and the splinter group he has formed. This could all have been much more interesting to discovered if we were let in on it slowly. In addition, the character of Vayla has what could have been a rather powerful emotional moment as she talks about the death of her sister, but it's more as if we are being told what's she's like than actually experiencing it through her actions.

In addition, once the Doctor, Charley and C'rizz involve themselves with the plot, we find ourselves meeting what is quite frankly a large number of characters at once, none of whom sound especially distinctive and all of whom have unfamiliar alien names. It may be a petty complaint, but the extra brain power required to make sure once knows who is talking makes it more difficult to become involved in the story. This is exacerbated by the unremarkable performances of the guest cast. Michael Keaton as Major Koth seems to be playing a villain stereotype, but perhaps he is just doing justice to the part as written, which has him repeating old chestnuts like "I must feed!" fairly frequently.

When this story was released in 2004, the subject of terrorism resonated strongly with regard to the United States' highly controversial "War on Terror" (and it still does today). This story constantly hovers near to being topical or offering commentary, but never really seems to do so. I could see that being taken either as cowardice or as the author nobly keeping his hands clean, but either way not to reflect on these implications of so-called terrorism groups after introducing them as central to the story leaves what feels like a significant gap.

On the plus side, we get rather more of a feel for C'rizz, his motives, and his relationship with Charley and the Doctor through some spiky dialogue at the beginning, though the regulars are soon separated in traditional fashion. In his somewhat naive and peace-loving-but-troubled personality, we can start to see an interesting third regular and a revealing perspective in the setting where these stories take place. It is also nice to hear Charley's thoughts on her relationship with the Doctor and their reactions to recent events, though the fact that her actions are motivated by mind control (which is fairly evident early on) takes a good bit of the potential power out of these scenes. In fact, having almost all the characters under mind control for most of the story defangs the play as a whole to a certain extent, as none of the affected characters' actions can totally be said to be their own.

There was really no suspense about whether Koth was controlling everyone's mind, but I for one did not see the twist coming at the start of Part Four. That was a nice touch and well seeded, but not explored especially throughly afterward. That said, Part Four picks up the tension and drama considerably, but elements like a Noble Self Sacrifice at the end don't feel like they quite have the weight that they should. And the plot point about compassion being the only emotion strong enough to defeat the villain just feels trite and saccharine rather than earnest.

The Twilight Kingdom has enough solid elements in place to be an acceptable Doctor Who story, but its execution lets it down in ways that let one see how it could have been much better and make it something of a disappointment. And I still can't explain the title; there doesn't seem to be a king in sight!