Twisted Folklore

Posted in Audio by - December 04, 2021
Twisted Folklore

Released December 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

To further investigate the future and the Paradoxica, the Doctor and his companions travel to Rarkelia in Lizzie Hopley’s ‘Twisted Folklore,’ a nexus world far from Earth that- like the rest of this universe- Earth and Divine Intervention are shaping in their own image. While Helen, Liv, and Tania insert them into various roles in society, however, the Doctor looks to start a revolution.

The previous story took on something of a fairy tale quality with its narrative style and tone, but ‘Twisted Folklore’ more explicitly delves into that realm as parables about the enigmatic Doctor, the Deceiver, and a song that must never be sung take centre stage to serve as warnings for the population of Rarkelia. This is a world that evolves at an exceedingly quick rate in comparison to Earth, and this serves as a suitable shorthand to allow the severe social change that has taken hold of this world since the outsiders’ arrival as well as the resulting forgotten local history to make sense. Of course, true history is littered with examples of books being the guiding focus for civilizations, and it’s quite apparent that the authors of these collected tales for Rarkelians are not ones with noble or well-meaning intentions but who are instead looking to maximize their influence by creating a culture of silence and complacency.

However, while on the surface this is simply a story about a more powerful force attempting a hostile takeover of a weaker one, what unfolds is a surprisingly profound story about loyalty to one’s state and one’s self, and the split positioning of Helen, Liv, and Tania within the very distinct elements of this society on both sides of the conflict brilliantly bring those many motivations and thoughts to life. This is naturally a world and a series of tasks for the companions fraught with danger given the immense power that Earth and Divine Intervention hold as the three provide a nonconforming- and in Tania’s case a directly rebellious- element as the Doctor utilizes the power of the spoken word to bring the truth to light as he continues his own research. And while the story does get a bit muddled with its handling of the two-part parasite that is poised to destroy this world with Liv set to be the sacrificial example to leverage Earth’s ability to create peace through fear, this pervasive creature actually serves to give the story an incredible relevance to the societal human condition that is particularly resonant with recent high-profile occurrences in real life. Passing this parasite off as something Earth did not research enough hardly does the immediate story justice, but framing it as something that has always been present that the Rarkelian civilization naturally has the power to keep at bay is all the more powerful when comparing with the more egregious of human evils that likewise can be subdued but that nonetheless manage to creep through any society’s cracks, more recently with increasing frequency. That an outside power can hold such sway and influence over a group to change even the most basic and necessary of actions to sustain a healthy society- literally bringing it to the cusp of nonexistence- is again particularly resonant with how assumptions about so many societies thought to be unbreakable have recently been challenged as public opinions have changed for any number of reasons.

While ‘Twisted Folklore’ is by no means a standalone tale, it can certainly be listened to and enjoyed with only minimal knowledge of what has come before it, and that sort of openness allows the political and societal pressures to breathe and develop naturally without having to worry too explicitly about tying into other events beyond only the broadest themes. Given the separate plot threads focusing on the acquiescent of Rarkelia, the rebellious of Rarkelia, the sinister and overt threats of Earth, and the research and planning of the Doctor, this is no simple task, but Hopley balances the flow nicely with logical breaks in the action. With deft direction from Ken Bentley, the supporting performances from Robert Whitelock, Anjella MacKintosh, Rakie Ayola, and Aurora Burghart dynamically present the subtle and overt gradations within this conflict, and Paul McGann, Nicola Walker, Hattie Morahan, and Rebecca Root all bring their expectedly robust energy to allow their characters’ morality to find footing and fight back within this paradoxical system. A little tightening of the script’s handling of the parasite could have created a much more streamlined and effective plot device overall, but as a whole ‘Twisted Folklore’ and its focus on the power of words both written and spoken is incredibly powerful and a brilliant reminder of how topical Doctor Who can be when viewed within a certain context regardless of any political or religious affiliation.

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