|The Twilight Kingdom by Will Shindler|
It's funny how one story can reverse the fortunes of a whole season. Amongst many other problems Big Finish have with their McGann seasons, or this one in particular, is that there are only four stories. It's surprising nobody remembered the problems they ran into back in '87 - nobody minds a duff story in a season of six of them. When you only have four to assess, a rubbish one really matters. Two clunkers, and you've sprung a terminal leak.
I gave up on this season a few months ago, more because of a general apathy with Big Finish. The McGann seasons might be McCoy-style in length, but between-season breaks for Big Finish as a whole simply don't exist. Those CD's just keep rolling out and, well, I need a break now and then. When I headed for the metaphorical door, I'd just listened to the challenging "Natural History of Fear". The stinky "Creed of the Kromon" was fresh in my mind, as was the rather superb "Scherzo". I think it was significant that I'd left on the iffy-"Natural History" - an unfriendly tale that I nevertheless suspected might eventually reveal genius on multiple-listens. But when you're 1-1 on the seasonal score stakes, and then you tackle a story like that... a bad impression of McGann's third foray was left.
So here we are, a few months later. "The Twilight Kingdom" is going to be held aloft as a classic by nobody, and yet I find that this refreshingly familiar, easily visualised adventure has made an odd sense out of the whole season. It now becomes apparent that this entire Divergence idea was a bit of a mistake - all it does is rob us of the chance of a jolly historical, present-day escapade or, in short, of any possibility at all of encountering something (or someone) familiar. It worked for "Scherzo" because unfamiliarity was that stories reason d'etre. It's just a pity our heroes didn't escape back to their "proper" home Universe at its end. Why? Well because the traditional is what we love. It's what we identify with. It's what we can never have here. Except of course, that "The Twilight Kingdom" dishes up just such a treat.
There's a nagging feeling of a patchwork coat story about it, true - like "Meglos", it's constructed of a lot of previously used story idea's stitched together. But in a tapestry as wide as Doctor Who's, does this really matter? Michael Keating's Koth is a scarred rebel leader (ironically resembling a certain Blake) except even he answers to another voice or two. There are factions of soldiers, and gun-runners, making this practically "The Caves of Androzani" re-located in its early stages. Then there is the Creature which turns out to be a confusing schizophrenic entity, born of an accident. "Face of Evil" anyone? Except it more reminds of "Time Flight" and the multi-personalitied Xeraphin. India Fisher winds up with not much to do, possibly the least-accomplished aspect of the script, yet even her betrayal of the Doctor is somewhat familiar from another time. If only she didn't mention the fact that the Doctor's her best friend at the end, AGAIN. I bet it makes his teeth grind as much as it does mine.
So there we have it. At least "Twilight" ends the season on an even keel, even if it's isn't particularly great. It enables us to applaud "Scherzo" as a brave experiment, now that it can be juxtaposed against its more reassuring fellow season bookend story. We can forgive "Creed" for being crap because every other story is at least okay. And we can allow "Natural History" as an 'oddity' story, cushioned by "Twilight's" recognisable goalposts. Thank goodness for that, eh?