Released March 2004
Unfortunately for ‘The Twilight Kingdom,’ and through no fault of its own, it’s set in the same series of Eighth Doctor stories as the riveting ‘Scherzo’ and ‘The Natural History of Fear;’ even though it’s a perfectly decent story, it fails to reach those others’ lofty heights and ends up feeling a bit underwhelming as a result.
There are a lot of good ideas in play in ‘The Twilight Kingdom,’ but many of them feel recycled and almost derivative in their delivery. The jungle landscape filled with guerilla combatants is certainly evocative, but the continued and unnecessary show of bravado from these characters becomes a bit tiring quite quickly. The path the story takes at the beginning likewise follows a very trusted formula as various soldiers conveniently decide to explain the entire situation as well as who Major Koth is to the Doctor, Charley, and C’rizz before the story quickly proceeds to a series of captures and escapes.
Fortunately, the plot does begin to take more interesting turns as the story progresses and it becomes clear that there is more than the apparent revolution in play. Koth demanding to be brought more people, the decayed corpses, the mind control aspect, and even the Doctor’s telepathic communication with Koth all create a much more interesting story once they start to appear. Regrettably for new writer Will Schindler- or perhaps he was aware of it- the cover of this release provides the biggest spoiler imaginable and completely takes away from any surprise as the truth behind the skeletons and the lake of digestive juices in the caves is revealed. What remains effective, however, is the revelation that the cave creature is a child that Koth has driven to the brink of insanity. The telepathic capabilities it possesses that allow it to convince surrounding animals to fall asleep within it as a means of hunting is very effective, the visual of the walls lined with organs equally so.
Paul McGann has some very strong scenes throughout this story, particularly as he begins to realise what is going on and eventually confronts the child monster. The internal struggle and agony he conveys as the child fears that the Doctor will kill him is superb, and though the lack of time in the Divergent universe despite what is clearly a concept of past and present again rears its head, McGann is still somehow able to realistically and emotionally convince how lost he seems without time as well as the personal losses he has experienced.
The cave creature is naturally an interesting one, but unfortunately no other character manages to elevate him or herself beyond the others. Michael Keeting’s Koth comes the closest, and he even approaches sympathy as he dolefully remarks that he only wanted to make things better and didn’t intend for all the death and destruction that followed, but everyone else is too clichéd and ultimately banal to make any lasting impression. Even Charley and C’rizz are relegated to the sidelines more than expected, though the events of the story do prove formative as Charley tells the Doctor she wants things to go back the way they were and C’rizz has a devastating moment of self-reflection as he realises that he is learning to arm himself and to kill.
As an ending to this current run of Eighth Doctor tales, ‘The Twilight Kingdom’ is perfectly adequate even if not spectacular and offers some interesting character moments while setting the scene for the next series. The discovery that the events are taking place on a crucible world is sure to bear heavy consequences, and the Doctor’s acceptance in following the path the Kro’ka has claimed they are on in hopes of finding Rassilon gives a clear endgame to what has so far been a path without one.