THIS STORY TAKES
"THE JUDGEMENT OF
BIG FINISH CD#118
RELEASED IN FEBRUARY
The search for the
Key to Time has
stalled: the next
segment does not
appear to exist
anywhere in the
Universe. Forced into
a temporary alliance
with one of his
greatest enemies, the
Doctor suggests a
course of action that
is a validation of
across Space and
Time, the Doctor and
Amy arrive in 9th
Century Sudan, where
the greedy Lord
Cassim is hoarding
gold from the Legate
of the Caliph. But why
does Cassim look so
familiar? What is the
that lives out in the
desert? And why does
it need so much
Titled as this play is “The Destroyer of Delights” and emblazoned as the CD cover is with David Troughton’s portentous visage, Jonathan Clements’ middle act in Big Finish’s Key 2 Time trilogy looked set to be a suitably gloomy affair, following in the stead of such notorious ‘middle acts’ as The Empire Strikes Back, or even The Two Towers.
However, much to my surprise, “The Destroyer of Delights” has an astoundingly light and comical feel to it. Of course the stakes are still frightening high, and the play is certainly as tense as it is humorous, but even so here Clements succeeds in reinventing the archetypical old Guardians of Time in a fearlessly dynamic and often quite uproarious way. It is ironic, though, that this new lease of life for the characters is born as a result of their slow deaths; the power of each Guardian waning as reality gives way to entropy...
“Let’s see you eight feet tall and spitting with the voice of a God!
You’re stuck in that body like you’re stuck on this planet. You’re stuck in five dimensions. You’re stuck in five boring old dimensions like the rest of us! You’re a slave of time.
You’re having to experience the universe through human eyes!
If you find the segment of the key you’ll get a little jolt, won’t you?
A little fix of what you once were…”
These new, neutered Guardians are trapped in five dimensions and limited to just one time and place – ninth century Sudan on Earth. But just because their omnipotence has faded,
the Guardians are still both influential men; the White Guardian has set himself up as the Legate of the Caliph al-Mutawakkil, whilst the Black Guardian has taken on the guise of
Lord Cassim Ali Baba, the gold-hoarding king and renowned opponent of the Caliph. As it would have been incredibly tricky for Clements to convey the enormity of the Guardians’ conflict on a universal scale with their omnipotence in tact, the way the two waning
Guardians are pitted against each other here effectively shows their ongoing battle in microcosm, allowing the listener to gain a better understanding of each.
What really makes this so absorbing though is that Clements very purposefully moves the characters away from their white versus black / good versus evil starting point. In “The Destroyer of Delights”, Clements paints the White Guardian as law and order and the Black Guardian as chaos and anarchy, and because of the clever way in which his story has been set up, Clements does not even have to use metaphor – the White Guardian is the law man, and the Black Guardian is the criminal. But as the story progresses it soon becomes clear that law and order is not always a good thing, and similarly that chaos and anarchy are not exclusively evil, and so suddenly the Guardians become much more remarkable than the two-dimensional ciphers that they were on television.
And, happily, Jason Watkins and David Troughton (who play the White and Black Guardians respectively) both have their characters utterly nailed throughout. Troughton’s “cheeky chappy” Black Guardian put me very much in mind of the Star Trek universe’s Q – particularly early Q, before they softened him up too much – in how he conducts himself. The way that the story opens with him as the “big shouty man” of old really brings this change
into sharp focus, just as it does the wisdom of Big Finish casting Troughton. Not only can Troughton pull of a John de Lancie-like turn, but he is equally capable of doing a very good (and very booming!) Valentine Dyall as and when needed. Watkins’ White Guardian is similarly engaging; the sweeping moral force of the television series giving way to a doddering old bureaucrat, more concerned with red tape and procedure than he is justice. It really is a joy to uncover the moral blind spots and virtues of both Guardians over the course of these four episodes.
And so against the backdrop of two wrangling Guardians, the Doctor and Amy must try to locate the fifth segment of the Key to Time – a segment that neither Guardian was able to locate at any moment in history across the whole universe. Now I do not propose to go into too much detail on this point because I would not wish to spoil the fantastic twist for fellow listeners, but rest assured that the Doctor and Amy’s search is both a charming and an enthralling one.
“Nissrin, I have disobeyed you. And Omar disobeys Cassim. And Cassim is mad.
And I serve all of you and I don’t know who I should obey…”
Amy’s stretch of the journey is especially entertaining. Separated from the Doctor and enslaved by Prince Omar, Amy has to learn from fellow slave Nisrin all about the harsh realities of life - including a few lessons that the Doctor could never have taught her! Ciara Janson and Jess Robinson are an utterly delightful double act, and as a result of their characters’ interaction Janson is able to really let rip with her characterisation of Amy and start to build upon the tentative foundations laid in “The Judgement of Isskar” which, somewhat bizarrely, was recorded after this play.
“I am the same man, it is the world around me that shifts like sand!”
Now when I reviewed “The Judgement of Isskar”, I noted that Peter Davison’s Doctor was a little off-kilter, although I suppose given that the whole of creation was at stake, this was only to be expected. In this story though, Davison is on magnificent form; his Doctor totally redoubtable. Clement’s script gives the Doctor some wonderfully meaty scenes as well as some agreeably comic ones, and the actor devours both. His scenes with the White Guardian in the second episode are particularly momentous.
Last month I also remarked on the tremendous level of detail that Simon Guerrier put into his script. Obviously with this one being a historical tale, rather than invent much of the source material, Clements had to really do his homework and then inject this knowledge into his script. And although this play owes as much to the story of Aladdin and One Thousand and One Nights as it does to historical fact, Clements’ script is still very informative - just check out the stargazing scene, for instance. Al-dabarān, Aţ-ţā’ir… I never realised that the Arabs named so many of the stars.
Better still though, Clements does what Doctor Who historicals do best in that he gives a science-fiction explanation to a historical mystery or, in this case, a legend. Who would have thought that the Genie (voiced here by Will Barton of “Survival” fame) were alien traders…?
Lisa Bowerman should also be given due credit for her direction of this one; the first Doctor Who that she has helmed, I understand. Aided and abetted by some stunning sound design and wholly apposite incidental music from Simon Robinson, Bowerman really tears the Arabian Nights vibe straight from Clements’ script and deposits it seamlessly on the CD (or the subscriber’s download account).
My only real frustrations with “The Destroyer of Delights” were that the story failed to end on
a bona fide cliffhanger, which irked a bit; and secondly that the Guardians did not come to blows at the end (though to be fair, it was close).
All in all though, this superb audio drama is without question Clements’ greatest contribution to Big Finish’s mainstream Doctor Who ranges by a mile, and I cannot do anything other than recommend it most highly. This one truly has something for everyone.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
to be identified as the author of this work.
Though their production codes suggest an unlikely placement between The Caves of Androzani and The Twin Dilemma, the Key 2 Time audio dramas actually take place between the audio drama Mission of the Viyrans and the television serial The Caves of Androzani. Presumably the Doctor returns to collect Peri (who is busy changing back into her original outfit…) following the end of The Chaos Pool.
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