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Review: "Death and the Queen"

Spoilerific review after the second listen.

Big Finish really did save their best for last. "Death and the Queen" is definitely the best of the three Tenth Doctor Adventures. It allowed the first two adventures to establish the characters and bring the audience back to the era of the Tenth Doctor, then took the opportunity to delve into deeper themes like so many of the Series 4 stories did. And, it did all this while maintaining a strong sense of fun and snappy dialogue.

It was no surprise at all that Donna was getting married in this story - the previews of the episode proclaimed that loudly - and knowing her story, there was no way this was going to end well. The question, therefore, was how she fell in love and what would cause that turn to sour. She meets Prince Rudolph and, as they fall in love immediately, is whisked away to his homeland of Gorutania, a country that the Doctor has never heard of. Once there, she proceeds to mold the tiny country to her image, until Death himself comes to the door, demanding entrance and threatening to destroy the country. They discover that long ago, the country had made a deal with Death - peace and protection from the rest of the world, in exchange for a bride provided to him at specified intervals; thus, Donna must surrender herself to Death to preserve the peace of her new country. Though Rudolph does love her dearly (he proposed to her sincerely, and only discovered upon returning to Gorutania that Death had come to collect his tribute), he gives her to Death, saying that a king must sometimes do terrible things to protect his people. Of course, it's up to the Doctor and Donna to find an alternative.

The story is rather straightforward, though there are some very delightful twists at the end, but where this story shines is how it handles the complex relationship between the Doctor and Donna. At first, Donna loves Rudolph and is excited to have finally met a worthy man and have her fairy-tale ending, and in running into her future, tramples the Doctor quite thoroughly, treating his concern for both her and the fact that this Gorutania sounds mighty fishy as quite the joke. The Doctor, for his part, realizes that he's keeping his best friend from her happiness, and in a very uncharacteristic move, pours his hearts out to her, telling her how much it hurts him that she's leaving but assuring her that he can let go and that he wishes her the best. (This scene is one of the best, as the Doctor bulls ahead trying, and often failing, to articulate his thoughts, talking over Donna who's trying to get him to shut up for just one moment so that she can tell him something important.) But in his flailing, the Doctor admits (between the lines) how much Donna means to him, and his quiet "Goodbye, Donna" as she's leaving is heartbreaking.

As the story progresses, it becomes an exploration of the sacrifices a person must make to protect everyone else. Usually, this theme is explored with the Doctor being the one making the sacrifice, but this time, it's Rudolph, who is sacrificing the woman he loves. As the audience, we sympathize with Donna, first because she's the beloved companion and second because she doesn't have a choice and it feels like she was conned into the situation (she wasn't, as I noted above, but you can't help feel that way), and it doesn't help that once the sacrifice is necessary, Rudolph is resigned to go through with it and treats her quite callously. This story presents the theme from a different direction than usual (after all, the idea of "sacrificing one for the many" is the same basic idea behind the dilemma of firing the Moment) and manages to convince you that choosing the "one" is the wrong choice - it does help that the characters choosing the "one", namely Rudolf and the Queen Mum, are largely unsympathetic. Luckily, the Doctor figures out what's really going on and how to stop it, assisted by Donna's ingenuity.

As with the first story in this series, "Technophobia", the dialogue is witty and fast. The Doctor is serves as the major source of comedy and he does it well - his interruptions of Rudolf's and Donna's courting and his comments on Hortence's suitability as a companion are some of the most enjoyable scenes. (Hortence, by the way, is another jewel in this brilliant piece.) All in all, "Death and the Queen" is a fantastic story. It doesn't have the importance or impact of the best of Series 4, but it certainly ranks up there.

My rating: 8/10


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 26th, 2016 08:46 pm (UTC)
Last sentences first.... it may not have had galactic/universes wide importance, but the crux of the matter was the complicated personal relationship between the Doctor and Donna, and where Donna truly belonged. I think that I agree with you, that is where it truly shines!

It's true, the listeners, while we know it wasn't done intentionally, truly feel like Donna's been deliberately put into a trap. Rudolph's actions once he finds out what is waiting for them, really reek! Not to mention his "mommy's boy" behavior. He was just cringeworthy at times, and absolutely not worthy of Donna Noble, and neither was his mother.

The emotional moments between the Doctor and Donna, where he truly does begin pouring out his hearts to her, had me crying for him. You can tell he truly admires her, doesn't want to let her go, but will if it's truly for her happiness. He would shatter without her (and did when she did have to leave).

Donna truly acts more regal than any of the so-called royals, not resigning herself immediately to the situation, but looking to act, to find out what is really happening. When she does find out, she, the Doctor and Hortense work out a plan, but she is willing to risk her own death to save "her people."

When the Doctor offered to die in her place, and Death responded by saying he was unloved, I wanted to practically scream out that he was loved; each of his companions, in their own way, loved him, even as they may have suffered. I'm sure Donna does, too.

As you say, they truly did save the best for last. It was truly an emotional rollercoaster, and Donna discovered that her true place was in the TARDIS, at the Doctor's side, for as long as she possibly could be there. And it was done simultaneously with their witty banter!
May. 26th, 2016 08:58 pm (UTC)
When the Doctor offered to die in her place, and Death responded by saying he was unloved, I wanted to practically scream out that he was loved; each of his companions, in their own way, loved him, even as they may have suffered. I'm sure Donna does, too.

I didn't mention this scene in my review, but I nearly screamed, too. On the second listen, I turned to my husband and pouted at him at this scene. Reading between the lines, I think it's even worse than it was presented. The Mephistoles aren't gods - they don't know anything about the Doctor and don't have the ability to see his life and know that he is loved or unloved. Then how did Death know to say that? Well, keeping within the possible power level of that species, perhaps he's psychic to some extent and looks to see not whether a person is loved, but whether or not the person thinks he/she is loved, and he feeds off of that. He wants Donna because she's about to be married and feels love from Rudolph, but when he looks at the Doctor, he senses someone who thinks no one loves him. That's completely within character for the Doctor (especially for Nine and Ten), and makes Death's rejection even more meaningful and horrible.
May. 26th, 2016 09:09 pm (UTC)
Exactly, Death hit on the Doctor's sense that he doesn't deserve to be loved, his own feelings on the matter. Then, there's Donna... even she is leaving the Doctor at the moment, for love. So he feels he's lost her as well. I agree completely, and that's what made me so sad for him. He is loved, but he doesn't feel like he should be. Cruel!

Edited at 2016-05-26 09:11 pm (UTC)
May. 27th, 2016 06:18 am (UTC)
Reading those comments on the heels of finishing the episode... There were so many moments I'd write fics about if I didn't have a lot of things I need to work on for the sake of my future.

My heart was nearly in my throat multiple times listening. I wasn't the only one, was I?
May. 28th, 2016 05:27 pm (UTC)
You definitely weren't the only one! That audio really hit hard. I wanted to cry when the Doctor said, "Goodbye, Donna," in that tiny, sad voice.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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