05 May 2015

BF: The King of the Dead

The fifth in this series of Short Trips, The King of the Dead is a new adventure for the underused Season 20 team of the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan. Big Finish Producers' Assistant - and Subscriber Short Trips Producer - Ian Atkins takes up the writing reigns on this one, and does extremely well.

Although it's not his first time Atkins has written official Doctor Who (having previously penned Scientific Adviser and The Doctor's First XI), it's certainly my first encounter with his work, and probably his highest-profile commission yet. It's a very original idea to drop the Doctor into an interactive theatre environment, and almost one that warrants a four-part story - it's certainly more inventive and interesting than some of Davison's main range stories. To be honest, I hadn't actually heard of these events before, but Atkins' writing soon gets me up to speed.

The basic premise is that the TARDIS has landed in the middle of an event where an audience can wander through a play, becoming part of it, where the Doctor is known and strange creatures lurk. Atkins pleasingly decides to deal with a more substantial topic than some previous entries in the series could be said to have done, that of the consequences of the Doctor's actions. One character indirectly blames our Time Lord for the death of his father - to say more would spoil it - and it's perfect to hear Davison's Doctor squirm in such a situation. This man wants revenge, and has a very cunning and likely successful way of exacting it...

Atkins writes very well for all three leads and manages to create an array of three dimensional characters to flesh out this story. It's well-designed for the running time and format too. Rather than being a condensed, more 'traditional' story, it works perfectly within the given constraints. It isn't just the overall narrative that impressed me though, the way the story plays out is expertly done, with some excellent prose. It can be difficult to describe a character's movements or actions without being overly descriptive whilst still getting the point across, but Atkins certainly nails it.

Sarah Sutton's performance throughout The King of the Dead was a pleasant surprise. It's been established before that I'm not that keen on her more recent performances in the main range. I'm also a member of the camp that despairs slightly when Nyssa is announced for a Fifth Doctor story - as with Leela and the Fourth Doctor. However, Sutton goes a long way to dissuading me of this prejudice here. Under the skilled direction of Lisa Bowerman, she delivers an excellent, invigorated performance with a very entertaining series of accents. When asked to deal with the more weighty material in the story's second half, she steps up to the plate just as admirably.

All in all, then, this is a very good Short Trip, easily the best of the series so far. Ian Atkins is more than welcome to write another few for my money, and if he's able to maintain the quality of this release I'd love to see him tackle a full-cast release one day. This is a very entertaining story, punctuated nicely by Toby Hrycek-Robinson's atmospherics and soundtrack and read impressively by Sarah Sutton. The King of the Dead is well worth the money, and I hope we'll now see an upswing in quality of the Short Trips after a couple of months' treading water. I'm certainly looking forward to next year's Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa trilogy a lot more now.

In a Nutshell: A clever, perfectly-formed story, easily the best Series 5 has produced so far.

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