A new year means a new start of the Monthly Range of Doctor Who from Big Finish. Kicking off what appears to be a quadrilogy of stories for the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Adric; this month sees the release of Kingdom of Lies by Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky.
On the planet Cicero Prime, the kingdom of Cardenas is divided, with the whole population forced to swear allegiance to either the effete Duke or the fiery, hard-edged Duchess. This is a situation both parties have grown tired of. What use is half a kingdom when, thanks to a carefully engineered murder, you could have it all?
Surely, neither of them would be rash enough to summon the deadly off-world assassin The Scorpion to help with their problem? And surely, this terrifying figure wouldn’t arrive wearing a long cream coat and striped trousers…?
The Doctor is attempting to teach Adric how to plot a course with the TARDIS, and why it’s not as easy as it seems. Mainly because the TARDIS is falling apart in their hands. Quite literally. Who’d’ve thought that Tegan’s thump could so easily save the day? If you ask me, this is how you should kick off any Doctor Who adventure, with a light-hearted mini-romp that can lead effortlessly into the main meat of the subsequent story.
It’s not long before we join the Duke and Duchess of Cardenas on their wedding day; and everything seems hunky-dory. Go forward a year, and this relationship is seemingly on the rocks; there’s trouble in paradise, and the press seem to have a pretty good gist of that is going on.
I think it’s safe to say that the main aspect of this TARDIS team that I adore is the “rapport” between the Doctor and Tegan. The mild-mannered Doctor against an Ozzy with a gob. He doesn’t stand a chance. Janet Fielding and Peter Davison clearly have a great friendship off mic, as there chemistry and their performances are off the charts. It’s in stories like this where I’m reminded that Tegan is quite possibly the prototype for fan-favourite companion Donna Noble. Just imagine Donna against the most meek Doctor. That’s a sparring session I’d love to hear.
You quickly hear just how bitter the relationship between the Duke and Duchess really is; with neither of them trusting the other in regards to anything. They hate each other enough that they’ve quite literally put a line through the centre of the kingdom, with one half being ruled by the Duke, and the other by the Duchess. It’s a good job all divorces aren’t this grand or petty; most houses would be sawed in half.
There’s a hilarious scene between Tegan and Adric where they talk about travelling with the Doctor; the benefits, and the drawbacks that it entails. I love the contrast between the two characters, Tegan is older, wiser and more cynical of the universe, and Adric is young, free, juvenile and slightly misguided when it comes to how others perceive him. If somebody could write a two-hander about Tegan and Adric, you can count on me to be the first person to download it.
Whilst Tegan and Adric are being held prisoner by the Duchess and her guards, the Doctor and Nyssa are being held by the Duke, in the other half of the castle. Tegan and Adric are mistaken for a universally renowned assassin, and there’s a case of mistaken identity for the Doctor too; which wins him favour with the Duke. It seems that the Doctor has also been mistaken for a universally renowned assassin, the Scorpion. The man who will cleanse the Duke of the plague that is the Duchess. If that isn’t true love, I don’t know what is.
If there’s one standout character from the first episode of Kingdom of Lies, it has to be Nyssa. Usually, I’ll be honest, I find Nyssa to be the most boring of the Fifth Doctor’s companions; however Khan and Salinsky have given Nyssa an extremely entertaining and interesting role to play; and the way that Sarah Sutton performs it is some of the best of her Big Finish career. Giving this somewhat meek and mild character the chance to go over the top and pretend to be a bloodthirsty assassin’s apprentice was a genius move, and I absolutely love it.
Personally, I found the cliffhanger to the first episode to be rather satisfactory; with the Doctor having to attempt to be un-Doctorlike and lead an assassination attempt. If that’s an intriguing end, I don’t know what is.
Of course, at the beginning of the second episode, we learn the truth behind the assassination attempt, and how the Doctor’s hand played a part. With the Duchess still alive, you would have thought that she’d be somewhat thankful that the attempt was unsuccessful, but no. Her logic shows that if it was even slightly successful she’d at least have the pity of the people. (If this is what it’s like in a loveless relationship, I’m honestly glad I’m single.)
The rest of the second episode continues with the plot in much the same fashion; the Duke and Duchess and hate one another, the Doctor and Nyssa are playing the roles of the Scorpion and his apprentice for the Duke, and Tegan and Adric are trying their best to keep the Duchess out of harm from the Scorpion. It’s all rather farcical. Imagine if Doctor Who did an episode of Blackadder, that’s what Kingdom of Lies seems to be.
At the end of the second episode, the Doctor, Nyssa, Adric and Tegan are seemingly reunited, and the Duchess appears to have exactly what she wanted all along. Although, something tells me, there’s more than meets the eye (well, ear) here…
The third episode starts with Adric and Tegan getting the Doctor and Nyssa up to speed, whilst wondering exactly what’s happened to the Duchess; it’s not too long before the TARDIS team are held accountable for what’s gone on, and it’s up to Nyssa the Destroyer (yes, that’s her name now) to be the executioner.
During the third episode, the Duke’s problems grow even greater by the arrival of the in-laws. This is almost like a really dark rom-com franchise; where the first two episodes were the first movie, establishing everything and ending with a shock, and then the following two episodes (which, are also on a separate disc) are the sequel, where everything gets amplified by the arrival of the in-laws. Nobody likes their in-laws apparently. (If anyone in the future is reading this, and you happen to be my in-laws, just know that I love you. You’re great. Don’t hate me.)
Of course, the in-laws aren’t as understanding or as tactful as one would like; and it even seems that the in-laws aren’t totally happy being married to one another. Even the people criticising the fact there’s trouble in paradise could be having trouble in their own paradise.
The idea that the Doctor is forced to give marriage counselling as a way to try and resolve planetary matters is really rather fun to listen to; especially when the Fifth Doctor is in a room with two extremely hot-headed people of nobility. Like Tegan and Adric, this could be a story all on it’s own. Coming soon to Big Finish Productions: The Doctor of Love. (But not really! I think, anyway.)
Just as you think everything is fairly neatly wrapped up, you realise that there’s one question that’s yet to be answered, and hardly been addressed. That is, until the final cliffhanger of the story at the end of the third episode… If the Doctor isn’t the Scorpion, who is?
During the fourth and final episode of Kingdom of Lies, we’re properly introduced to the real Scorpion, who is still intending to kill the Duchess so they can get paid. The Scorpion, it transpires, has been hidden in plain sight from the off. Well, kind of. The Scorpion is rather the most brilliant type of assassin; one that can quite literally metamorphose into nearly anything. The perfect disguise for a killer.
There’s a moment near the very end of the story that is quite frankly one of the biggest shocks in Doctor Who history; even if it’s not long before the shock is explained, which, in turn, makes the shock rather less shocking. It would have been more interesting, in my opinion, if the subversion wasn’t there to see what implications the initial shock could have rendered.
The conclusion of Kingdom of Lies is somewhat complicated and convoluted; and I feel as if the revelations at the end mean you’ll get even more out of the story if you listen to it a second time around; I reckon that Robert Khan and Tom Salinksy have probably created a story that you’ll get more out of the more you listen to it, and, if that’s the case, it shows a lot of care and thought has gone into this story.
Overall, Kingdom of Lies is a funny little tale. It’s Blackadder meets Black Mirror. It has everything you could ever want. Nyssa the Destroyer, Adric and Tegan gobbing off at one another, the universes most unhappy marriage and the Doctor giving marriage counselling. Twice.
Should you want to purchase Kingdom of Lies, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £12.99 for the download, or £14.99 for the CD.