Written by James Goss
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Review by Billy Seguire
Donna Noble has seriously bad luck with weddings. We all know how the first one went, with Time Lords and Racnoss and Killer Santas making a pretty big mess of the most special day of her life. In Death and the Queen, Donna gets another chance at a fairy tale ending, with a Prince no less, but life with the Doctor is never so simple. The Tenth Doctor Adventures have finally taken us back to the past, wrapping up the box set in a story that shows the darker side of history, giving Donna everything she’s ever wanted and showing her the consequences of that life. We also get the Tenth Doctor on horseback. And… well… that’s just something I think we all just really needed.
Death and the Queen is front and centre about class and positions of power, with Donna engaged to the ruler of Goratania, in line to be its next Queen. Donna actually finds the man of her dreams in Rudolph, a charming and debonair prince, even if he is a bit of a mommy’s boy. Donna’s future mother-in-law unfortunately shares many qualities with her own combative mother, hurling insults and put-downs repeatedly in order to put Donna in her place. Donna’s defeated “it’s not fair” tells you everything about how she’s been treated in her life and makes it all the better when she actually begins to stand up for herself near the halfway mark of Death and the Queen’s story.
For the Tenth Doctor, Donna’s marriage to Rudolph means a goodbye more than anything else, and even though we as listeners know this isn’t their final parting, the Doctor takes the rejection about as hard as he ever has when companions walk away. After all, in the end, they always leave. Even the robot dog left him! But Donna really is his best friend, even if for just a little while. David Tennant absolutely sells the pain of letting go, with his quietly whispered “Goodbye Donna” telling you everything you need to know about what’s going on inside his head after she’s walked away. She’s someone he will come back for, even just to say goodbye. It makes her actual departure even more painful in retrospect, and James Goss is an undeniably cruel writer for making one of the most tragic moments all of Doctor Who feel somehow even worse.
The focus on Donna is the strength of Death and the Queen. In fact, it’s been a strength for all three of the stories in the Tenth Doctor Adventures box set and she has consistently been written with her strengths, rather than her faults, in mind. While the Doctor is moping, Donna is doing, and even if we eventually do get the Time Lord’s answer with all the technical jargon that actually explains the circumstances, it’s Donna’s actions and quick thinking that ultimately save the day. I like it a lot when a companion can take charge like this and solve things without the Doctor’s help. Donna has that capacity in spades and proves it, rallying her maids and servants around her in a show of character that works surprisingly well.
In terms of monsters, Death and the Queen offers us nothing less than the embodiment of Death itself as the enemy in this gothic medieval tale. Naturally, the nuanced truth is a little more complicated and spacey-wacey than that, but it really needn’t have been, as the spectre of Death hanging over Goratania with an army of skeletons at his command tells us everything we need to know. It’s absolutely gothic and classic imagery harkening back to movies featuring the Harryhausen stop-motion effects that Doctor Who only wishes it could achieve. The fact that this story is on audio means you can imagine the scale as grand as you like, and I really can’t remember another episode like it that’s just felt so medieval in all the right ways.
One gripe I think I may have had with this story is how I was never actually sure when I was in the overall setting. Goratania has been said to have undergone 500 years of peace and isolation, and so their ways haven’t changed along with the times. In terms of what Donna and the Doctor’s actions may have had on history, I wasn’t sure if they were upsetting things in actual medieval times or sometime later that only felt like it. It’s a niggle, really, but it’s the only story in the set I really had any sort of issue with, and while it might be as silly as wondering what section of space Calibris was in during Time Reaver, it gnawed on me every now and then nonetheless.
Buy It. The final episode in The Tenth Doctor Adventures feels like what a season finale might have been in the Tennant era if the universe didn’t have to be on the line. There are moments in Death and the Queen that really make you question whether Donna and the Doctor really are going to depart from one another in this story, and the moments between them, as well as the impact of Donna choosing to stand up for her kingdom against Death itself, make this story more than worth the listen.
Overall, I can confidently suggest The Tenth Doctor Adventures as a worthwhile series. The Tenth Doctor isn’t even my Doctor, but if he is for you, prepare to be overcome with emotion at the reunion of these characters at the top of their game. It didn’t hit everything on my checklist. This was an introductory set after all, designed to bring listeners into the series while saving the truly mind-blowing storytelling for later. I have my hopes. I’d really like to see Donna continue to be pushed forward on her strengths and I’d love to see Wilf brought back even for a single episode appearance.
Remember Death and the Queen is only one of three new stories in the Tenth Doctor Adventures range. Check out our earlier reviews of Technophobia and Time Reaver if you think you’d be interested in the entire box set package. Already heard the whole set? Tweet to @RoguesPortal and let us know your thoughts!