Picking up from the end of ‘Isskar’, the fifth Doctor and his companion Amy begin this story face to face with The Black Guardian, a character familiar to fans of Classic Who as appearing in the original ‘Key to Time’ series, and also trying to get the Doctor killed courtesy of his companion, Vizlor Turlough.
However, this Guardian is a very different man, quite literally. Not only is he now played by David Troughton (son of the ‘cosmic hobo’ Second Doctor) rather than Valentine Dyall (“the man in black”), but he’s also reading from a very different script to what we might expect, as he explains the differences between his deeds and those of the ‘White Guardian’:
“Dinner with your mother-in-law. That’s “law”. See, “in law”, the clues are there,” he states as he explains about why there needs to be a ‘flip-side’ to law and order.
Not only does the Black Guardian seem to be reading from a Douglas Adams script, but he’s also facing something new and entirely unexpected; his own mortality:
“I sense the creep of entropy….it’s like being immortal but at some point you, erm, stop.”
The rewriting of almost the entirety of the Black Guardian’s character is a hugely brave move by writer Jonathan Clements and once the huge chasm between what you expect and what you actually get has been surmounted, the story turns into a hugely enjoyable thing indeed. There is a fair element of humour involved, but the overarching plot gets increasingly dark. The remaining pieces of the Key to Time continue to disintegrate and, despite the Guardians’ best attempts over the preceding millennia, neither of the two missing pieces have yet been located.
“I fear that we are wasting time even as time is wasting us.”
Using what is seemingly a random method, the Guardian places the Doctor and Amy into the Sudan of the Ninth Century in order to try and locate one of the missing pieces from there. Split up on arrival, the Doctor has to charm his would-be-captors, whereas Amy has to learn to cope with life as a slave girl. It is this latter part of the story that is the more engaging as, again, we learn more about this most enigmatic and appealing of characters.
This first episode is a bit of a stylistic mish-mash really, ranging from comedic interaction with the not-so-Black-after-all-Guardian, to the comedy/drama of Amy learning her new lowly trade, to the almost entirely without comedy plot of the Doctor trying to convince people that he’s not a spy. As I’ve said, it’s definitely the first two of these plotlines that are the best (and, in the case of the ‘Guardian’ plotline, the bravest), but this is still a very good first episode in what I hope will be an enjoyable and rewarding story.
The Destroyer Of Delights is available from Big Finish as a CD or download