“Good evening. I am Death. I have come for my Queen.”
I grant that this would not fall under my expectation for a conventional greeting, but it would, most certainly, receive my full and undivided attention. It gains my interest, rouses the curiosity beast that lurks within every Doctor Who fan, and makes me want to know more.
When we first learnt of the reunion of the Tenth Doctor and the strident Donna back in October 2015, I recall the feeling of joy that spread at the promise of new stories involving these two confirmed fan favourites. However, I will admit that when I first heard the announcement, I was somewhat sceptical about how the energy of the Tennant and Tate pairing would be contained into a strictly audio format. I was concerned that they might have to reign in their performances and as a fan of the bravado that the Doctor and Donna bring wherever they go, I was worried about how they would fit in the Big Finish universe. Thankfully I had nothing to worry about. We’re in safe hands and, despite my initial worries, both David Tennant and Catherine Tate bring strong performances that translate perfectly from the visual to the purely audio.
In a promotional interview with the Radio Times, the extraordinary Catherine Tate said that returning to the role of Donna was “a bit like riding a bike… It’s a character that you didn’t think you were going to necessarily play again, but she’s in there and you happily bring her out.” Tennant and Tate’s friendship off-screen has always meant that the bond between the Doctor and Donna has been consistently filled with scathing quips and friendly jibes that feel so familiar as if no time has passed since we last saw them on screen together. Indeed, even hearing the theme music gallop through my headphones stirred a sense of nostalgia that made me feel like the pair had never been away.
The final story in the Tenth Doctor Adventures is Death and the Queen, directed by Nicholas Briggs whose work may be familiar to some of you, and the brainchild of James Goss who has previously written for Doctor Who and Torchwood in a few mediums.
We enter the story in the 1780s. Crown Prince Rudolph of Goritania has asked Donna to marry him. But no one has ever heard of Goritania, not even the Doctor. So when the Doctor finds a copy of the Goritania Royal Standard, he is intrigued by the fact that the design of the flag includes small print that the Doctor can’t translate. He is told that the flag is a declaration of eternal peace and stands as testament to the fact that Goritania has not been to war in nearly 500 years. Not even a little one.
Unhindered by such minor concerns, the day of Donna’s fairy tale wedding to Prince Rudolph nears and the Doctor can’t help but cause trouble trying to find the truth about the Kingdom of Goritania. In the tradition of any good fairy tale, coupled with Donna’s previous record when it comes to marriages, not everything appears as it seems and soon the day of the wedding brings a much darker aspect to the festivities.
The Kingdom is completely enclosed by a dark, ominous cloud that closes off all access in and out of Goritania. Prince Rudolph summons his limited army (having been at peace for five centuries) and commands the men to stand firm and show the cloud what Goritania standards for. Their attempts are somewhat belittled by the fact that they are ordered to shoot arrows at the cloud, while the Queen mother applauds the brave men and rallies them to fight for eternal peace. Of course, the Doctor takes notice of this ineffectual attack on the cloud and questions the actions of Prince Rudolph and the Queen mother.
In one particular scene, the Queen mother is sat in the castle as the army is sent beyond the battlements to confront the cloud and whatever lurks therein. The Doctor finds her sat in a room out of which she cannot see her men being slaughtered outside the castle walls and all she says is how proud she is of them. This leads the Doctor to utter a line which sent chills down my spine.
“Never tell Donna I said this, but some people almost, almost aren’t worth saving.”
David Tennant confirmed in the recent Radio Times interview that this particular story “actually goes to some quite bleak places” and it appears that this was not only in terms of the presence of the main villains, but also of where the character of the Tenth Doctor is at this point in his timeline. Personally, I am a fan of the darker side of the Doctor and am intrigued about what this adds to his character overall. In this instance, we question whether he believes what he is saying or just trying to rally the Queen mother into acting. Also, the fact that he doesn’t want Donna to know he said something like this demonstrates how the Doctor is aware of the impact of his actions and how he might appear to his companions.
There are plenty of moments in this particular story, for both the Doctor and Donna, which lead the audience to question how their travels really affect our heroes and not always for the better.
Now, I don’t want to go into the main villains too much for fear of spoiling the conclusion of this tale, but I will make a comment on the foot soldiers that stand vigilant around the Kingdom of Goritania. The Doctor registers that the cloud around the castle changes and notes that it’s more of a mist and we all know that nothing good comes out of the mist. Standing guard, inhabiting the mist, is an army of skeletons. Now when I heard this, I imagined this army of the dead as something Ray Harryhausen might construct in films like Jason and the Argonauts with the hollow eye sockets and the forward leaning stance, waiting for the moment to attack. And I think this physical embodiment of death that surrounds Goritania compliments the darkness that inhabits the bleak places that David Tennant described.
Overall, the story itself is engaging and keeps the listener guessing about the villain and ultimately what it could possibly gain from the marriage of Prince Rudolph and our Donna. It brings the trilogy of the Tenth Doctor Adventures to a close and sends our intrepid time travellers back out into the universe shaken and reminded of the effects of their actions during their time in Goritania.
Death and the Queen is available now, as a physical CD, Limited Edition set with Technophobia and Time Reaver, and as a download, from Big Finish.