So, here it is. It’s the start of something huge. Yes, Big Finish has had the rights to New-Who stuff for a while; but I’m sure that this is the series that a lot of people have been waiting for. The Tenth Doctor is on Big Finish! Now, I know that this will be the jumping on point for a lot of people getting into Doctor Who related audio; but will the third release in this series, Death and The Queen, have been worth the wait?
Donna Noble has never been lucky in love.
So when, one day, her Prince does come, she is thrilled to have the wedding of all weddings to look forward to. Though the Doctor isn’t holding his breath for an invitation. And her future mother-in-law is certainly not amused.
But on the big day itself, Donna finds her castle under siege from the darkest of forces, marching at the head of a skeleton army.
When it looks like even the Doctor can’t save the day, what will Queen Donna do to save her people from Death itself?
Kicking things off, I can say that Death and The Queen has the shortest pre-title sequence of the three stories; the Doctor is insistent on seeing the Queen as Death is coming, and it’s revealed that the Queen is a certain Noble. If I hadn’t have read the synopsis, this would probably have been a great revelation, but I did so it wasn’t really. I wish I wasn’t so insistent on having as much knowledge on everything as possible sometimes.
One thing that immediately grabbed my attention after the titles (which I still think are amazing) is that James Goss has decided to tell the story through flashbacks (although Donna thinks that they’re something else entirely). Almost immediately the Doctor and Donna are introduced to Prince Rudolph who seems to take a shine to Donna and begins to teach her roulette and becomes very cosy with Miss Noble within a few hours.
I have a feeling that James Goss likes to play with convention and spin it on it’s head; within the first five minutes you really get a sense that this story is all about Donna meeting and falling in love with Prince Rudolph, and the Doctor is just somewhat of a hinderance, bursting in at inappropriate moments because he’s never heard of the place Donna’s prince resides.
Now, I’ve no idea if I’m just cynical or whether it was Goss’ intention; but I must say that right from the off I’ve been suspicious of Prince Rudolph and the effect he’s having on the Doctor’s best mate. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m becoming old and jaded at the ripe old age of twenty, but I do know that fairy tales rarely happen in reality; and Prince Rudolph is too good to be true.
A lot of the flashbacks are added to juxtapose the white lies that Donna tells the Doctor, which works well when you’re trying to tell a story that would slip into Series 4, as it adds a lot of comedic moments.
My favourite character from Death and the Queen so far has to be the Queen Mum, who reminded me a lot of Sylvia but to the absolute extreme. Whereas Sylvia was very stern and set in her beliefs as she thought it was the best for Donna, the Queen Mum is downright single-sided and awkward as she disapproves of Donna becoming Prince Rudolph’s queen. Unfortunately for Donna, her husband-to-be is very much a mummy’s boy.
It’s not long before the threat comes to the Donna and her kingdom (why is it always on her wedding day?) in the form of a giant talking, menacing cloud. Of course, with it being Doctor Who, whilst in the face of certain death there’s time for some silliness, even it is at the expense of a prince.
Donna manages again to be the most compassionate person in the vicinity; attempting to save everyone, from peasant to royalty from the deadly cloud by offering everyone refuge in the castle; obviously the Queen Mum isn’t too pleased with this idea. Whilst the army is getting ready to fight with the cloud, Donna begs her prince to stop them from going to their almost certain death. God, I love Donna.
Amazing, perfect Prince Rudolph doesn’t spend too long trying to keep that illusion before he reveals his true colours to his Queen. I’m surprised that James Goss decided to make the prince just so nasty; sure, I never thought for a moment he was as brilliant as he acted, but the actions of the prince were just so low and so barbaric. It takes the skill of both a brilliant scriptwriter and a brilliant actor to make a character so loathsome, but this combination of James Goss and Blake Ritson manages to pull it off in spectacular fashion.
Not only do we get to see Donna’s strong and passionate side in Death and The Queen, but we also get to see her arguably at her most fragile and broken too; James Goss apparently really likes making you go on rollercoaster rides of emotional extremes. All of this within the first half of the story; we’re only just beginning…
There’s a beautifully tender moment between the Doctor and Donna before her wedding where he admits to her that he’s not ready for her to leave and that he’ll miss her terribly which I think is placed at the right point in the story for it to be extra poignant; however I have to admit that I imagined Wilf saying a similar speech at the same time about how proud he is of his granddaughter and that he’ll miss her but she’s going to a better place which was tugging at my heartstrings more, but I understand that these releases have to have a very small cast. James, if you’re reading this and there’s a second series commissioned, please can you beg Bernard Cribbins to come and do a story?
The wedding between and the new King Rudolph and Queen Donna Noble is a somewhat rushed affair which is filled with awkward pauses and an unease in the air. Then, like every wedding, Death enters and is rather polite. Always a shock isn’t there?
Whilst this wedding is going on, the Doctor is being busy by being very clever (nothing changes) and is being attacked by a skeleton army. It’s a blessing that the listeners imagination is a lot cheaper than CGI is, otherwise this episode would cost an absolute fortune.
There’s nothing quite like Tennant’s Doctor trying to solve out a problem of epic proportions by using his gob to try and talk things out; especially with a monster or villain of grand stature; think of the speech he gave to the Devil in The Satan Pit and imagine that he was having a conversation with Death, someone who the Doctor seems to evade on a fairly regular basis. Then, as you think that the Doctor and Death have sorted everything out, Death gives the Doctor a harsh burn.
Like Technophobia and Time Reaver, we have another character who seems to be a could-have-been companion in the form this time of Hortense, one of Donna’s maids, who is very obedient to the Doctor and very willing. Whilst Hortense is the model of a modern companion, King Rudolph on the other hand isn’t, and he gets both barrels from our favourite Time Lord as he did wrong by Donna. That’s a mistake.
The conclusion of the story is incredibly Doctor Who; not every day someone can cheat death with lucky pants. It’s not the perfect ending, but it’s a fun one to have playing in your minds eye; nothing too bleak or distressing to end this Big Finish series, even though the cover might make you think differently.
Yet again, I have to totally commend Howard Carter for his incredible sound design and music; the music was so whimsical and light that you really got the impression that you were listening to a fairy tale, brimming with happily ever afters throughout.
Overall, Death and The Queen is a fun tale, although certain parts like the wedding felt rushed; I have a feeling that if this was a televised episode it would have been a two parter as I feel like it needed another half an hour to fully flesh out the characters a tiny bit more. Other than that, I felt like it was a great Doctor Who story that proved that if something is too good to be true, it probably is.
Should you want to purchase Death and The Queen, it’s currently available as a single release from Big Finish for £10.99 on CD or an £8.99 download which you can purchase here.
Alternatively, you could buy The Tenth Doctor Adventures Limited Edition Box Set featuring all three stories for £30.00 on CD or £25 on download which you can purchase here.