An English Gentleman: The Doctor is in a particularly facetious mood today and is having great fun baiting the Black Guardian. Somebody should warn him that that isn’t the smartest of moves. He likes the stars on Alpha Three, they bunch together to make a lovely pattern in the sky.
Tracer: After growing into the role in her debut story, Ciara Janson takes several leaps backwards here. She plays the role in true Perils of Pauline style, all shrill voiced ineptitude. Is Amy really supposed to be as useless as she is characterised here? All she seems to do is scream and trip into trouble and need rescuing. Did Terrance Dicks co-write this and have his name taken off the script? Amy felt as if she was making some real leaps in The Judgement of Isskar (one of the best things about it) but she’s back to being a vacuous, shallow, ineffectual shell of a creature here. At one point she actually says ‘if only the Doctor were here!’ in a high pitched whiny voice as though we had devolved back to the time of Susan! She likes being told what to do because it makes life so much easier. Some characters have it in them to hold their own in a narrative (Evelyn did it in her first story and Hex and Flip) but without the Doctor around Amy is a complete non-entity. I get that Amy has to try and mould herself on the people around her but there must have been a better why to explore that idea without her coming across as being so wet. Ideal companion material? Get out of here!
Standout Performance: David Troughton is an extremely versatile character actor that can take on pretty much anything you can throw at him. He starts off by playing the role as a cod version of Valentine Dyall’s interpretation but soon drops the act and settles into Troughton’s usual mellow menace. It’s a good performance (I don’t think he can give anything but) but its just a woefully characterised part. Troughton can’t be held responsible for the words that he has to say but for his part he does try and say them with conviction.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You played Spin the Bottle with the Black Guardian!’
Great Ideas: The Black Guardian is responsible for 50% of the universe and resents the fact that his counterpart is the only person who gets any decent press. There is an argument in the fact that too much law is bad as exemplified by Orwell’s 1984. The Black Guardian points out that a segment to the Key to Time could easily be an atom of snot. Lovely. If you have tried searching for it methodically and that doesn’t work then an alternative option is to search in a way that is heedless of sense and entirely rule by chaos.
Audio Landscape: Lisa Bowerman sure has her work cut out on this story! Fortunately she is more than up to the task! Travelling on a magic carpet over the surface of the Earth, dodging pools of spitting liquid hot magma, the humming of Alpha Three, quite a potent Arabian atmosphere is brewed up with market reveller, musicians, city folk and insects jostling for attention on the streets.
Musical Cues: I’m never all that keen on ‘comedy scores’ unless they are done quite subtly (I think the only time a Big Finish has pulled off a blatantly obvious comic soundtrack is The One Doctor) because there’s nothing more irritating than being told when to laugh. Not only that but in true Leisure Hive style the music is relentless, slavered all over every scene and making the overall experience of the audio too loud persistent for its own good. Its almost as if Robinson is channelling Keff McCulloch the music is so discordant with the action in places. There is one sting that played over and over, a wind instrument following an ascension to the heavens, which really started to get on my nerves by the end.
Isn’t it Odd: Wow, I’m really glad they got rid of the ‘previously on Doctor Who…’ This isn’t an American cult TV show, you know! ‘I know what you’re thinking, Black Guardian – he’s going to be a giant man in black with a loud shouty voice! Well I think that’s a bit of a stereotype!’ Is reducing the Guardians to squabbling kids who can’t get their own way a good idea? Not really, its one of the cornerstones of the series and bringing it down to Earth quite so mundanely does rob it of some of its mystery. Apparently he didn’t mean any harm when trying to convince Turlough to kill the Doctor…he should be let off the hook because he practically volunteered! Often Big Finish stories can bring back elements and innovate them, sometimes that can poison whatever made them special in the first place. Unfortunately this is a pretty spectacular version of the latter. Clements has studied Arabian society in some depth but at times (much like the odd Hartnell historical) his research spews out in great gulps of factual information. When the White Guardian turns up and winds up being even more of a school playground shover (its basically ‘you’ve been seeing the Black Guardian behind my back!’) than his counterpart I realised that Clements has fundamentally misunderstood the nature of these beings. Forcing them to experience the universe through human eyes does diminish them rather (whoever wanted to hear a Guardian say the line ‘yes it bloomin’ does!’?). You could make an argument that by taking omnipresent beings and forcing them to exist as humans and play out their game of conflict on such a mundane scale might show them in a malleable, intelligent light but that really isn’t the case here. I would much rather see their machinations take place on a grander scale with entire planets caught in the wake (Armageddon Factor style). Star Trek tried a similar thing once when they drag Q from the heavens and forced him to exist as a human for an episode but they primarily played it for laughs whilst having him learn some quite profound lessons. The result was a hugely entertaining episode (Deja-Q) with a point. If only Clements had approached this tale half that amount of dexterity. Hearing the sound of the segment being converted was pure bliss…it meant that the story was soon to come to an end. The final scene features the Black and White Guardian having being outfoxed by the Doctor walking through the desert together having a bitch fight. No, seriously.
Result: Given that it is written by one of my favourite Bernice Summerfield writers and directed by Benny herself (and also the person responsible for the best of the companion chronicles range), I was hoping for great things fromthe middle segment of the Key2Time trilogy (see what I did there?). This wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Kick starting the trilogy format for Big Finish, these stories seem to be going out of their way to be as busy as possible as if they are trying to distract the audience from the fact that they really aren’t particularly good. I always thought that they missed a trick in season sixteen (one of my favourites, incidentally, so must have done quite a lot right as well) by not allowing the Guardians to have a larger presence (especially with actors of the likes of Cyril Luckham and Valentine Dyall to play them) but The Destroyer of Delights proves that I should be careful what I wish for. Mis-characterised horribly, they indulge in an overly theatrical version of some Arabian soap opera in what I can only assume is supposed to be a really bad joke. There’s plenty of scenes of people standing around jabbering, issuing threats and insulting each other but not a lot actually seems to happen. Episode four seems to consist of all the characters indulging in a bizarre amount of technobabble. At least the direction is more fluid this week with Lisa Bowerman giving the extra an extra layer of polish but it feels in parts that she has lost all control over both the actors and the musician which makes the sound design its only salvation. Once Russell T Davies said that you needed a recognisable element to every story (hence why so many of his were set on contemporary Earth) to give the audience something to recognise and invest in. I often thought that was hogwash because alien environments when done well can be just as involving but with the past two releases my faith in that belief has been sorely tried. There has been so little to grasp hold of that is either something I can buy into or even give a damn about its almost as if they are making this trilogy for somebody from another planet. The trouble is it felt as though nothing mattered; the situation felt contrived, the characters one dimensional, the consequences irrelevant and the Doctor’s involvement little more than shouting to be heard. In all these cases it was really hard to care. Apparently every story has its champion but surely this isn’t anybody’s favourite: 3/10