Market Afloat is non stop action and heart breaking reveals from beginning to end. Pop out to put a cup of tea on when this episode is airing and you’ll miss a vital plot point. It’s an incredibly exciting 30 minutes that powers through to the finale.
Richard, Door and Hunter find their way to the floating market to meet the Marquis. It turns out that the reference to “Belfast” means the HMS Belfast where the denizens of London Below are hawking their wares. While Door gets an old friend Hammersmith to make her a chain for the key they have acquired from the Friars Richard and Hunter are tasked with finding them food. Richard bumps into the lovely Lamia and flush from his success passing the ordeal in the Abbey fails to heed Hunter’s sound advice and instead hires Lamia to be their guide to help them to find their way to the labyrinth and the Angel Islington. At this point naturally you were all shouting at your radio “honestly Richard London Below is a very dangerous place and the overly familiar oddly seductive breathy voiced trollop probably doesn’t have your best interests at heart – wake up man!” But Richard is organising things now as he tells the utterly unimpressed Hunter and so Lamia will guide them to Islington.
Meanwhile Old Bailey has done a fine job of haggling for the Marquis’ corpse (for a bottle of Chanel No.5 no less) and retreats to the rooftops with him where he cracks the egg that nestles within the silver box the Marquis gave to him several episodes ago. With a whoosh of noise the Marquis’ lifeforce is returned to him. His swagger barely affected by his recent demise (and the fact that his throat is still cut) he thanks Old Bailey and races off to catch Hunter, Richard and Door for he knows that they are walking into a trap.
Lamia leads Richard, Door and Hunter to the way to the labyrinth and while Hunter and Door go ahead cosies up to Richard. It’s a lovely seductive performance from Lucy Cohu – just what you imagine a mermaid leading foolish sailors to their deaths on the rocks would sound like. Richard feeling a little more confident after triumphing in the ordeal is thrilled to be the focus of the lovely Lamia’s attention particularly when she starts breathily telling him that all she wants as payment for her services is a little warmth. But while Richard is imagining kisses and cuddles and long nights in front of the fire she promptly tries to suck the life out of him. That’s what you get for trusting strange women and ignoring Hunter Richard. Thankfully he is saved by the revived (and seriously pissed off) Marquis who forces Lamia to return Richard’s life or suffer a broken neck. As he threatens to burn the Velvets (clearly London Below’s version of vampires) as they sleep if they mess with Richard again we see that stripped of the bluster and swagger the Marquis is a man who is most definitely not to be messed with.
With Lamia skulking off into the shadows to re-unite with her Velvet brethren the Marquis points out what Hunter and Door have missed – Croup and Vandemar waiting patiently in the shadows several floors below them waiting to spring their trap.
A desperate Richard (leaving the wounded Marquis behind) races to warn them and catches up just in time for Hunter to knock him flying allowing Croup and Vandemar to grab Door and enter the labyrinth with her. I remember when reading the novel for the first time it was a real shock when Hunter is revealed as a traitor who was first employed by Croup and Vandemar’s employer before she ever even met Door and the gut punch isn’t lessened any in this adaptation. Hunter may be the taciturn sort but she’s been with Richard and Door every step of the way so her reveal as a traitor who cares more about obtaining a mystical spear that she can hunt the great beast with than Door’s life is just devastating and horribly disappointing. I remember being personally outraged that the strongest female character in the book was a no good traitor and she’s not even all that apologetic about it cheerfully explaining the significance of the spear and the value she places on the hunt to Richard. She is a hunter – that is what she does. Looking after Door is inconsequential in the face of that. Still she doesn’t get to enjoy her spoils for long as the Marquis arrives to save the day for the second time in 5 minutes. The “so not dead yet then?” exchange Hunter and the Marquis share is a vicious barbed delight before he forces her to go with them into the labyrinth to save Door.
Door meanwhile isn’t as scared as she should be. Captured by Croup and Vandemar and traversing a labyrinth made up of sections of London Above from different centuries – portions of time which have just fallen through the gaps (such a lovely image) she gloats over the fact that they are clearly scared that the token Door has in her possession (given to her by Islington) won’t protect them from the Great Beast and she is outraged on Islington’s behalf at what treacherous murderous deeds Croup and Vandemar have in store for him when they arrive at the Citidel – his home in the centre of the labyrinth.
The beast does ignore Croup and Vandemar and would have ignored Richard, Hunter and the Marquis too as the Marquis also has a token – the one he lifted from Portico’s office. Unfortunately for the beleaguered trio the Marquis develops butter fingers and drops the token. With the beast bearing down on them Hunter has no choice but to fight. She is quite in her element but she ignores Richard as he tries to tell her about the dreams he has been having about the beast. Hunter fights the beast but she mistimes her attack and he gores her. Lying mortally wounded she seeks to redeem herself by assisting Richard to fight the beast. Relying on his dreams and with Hunter bravely beside him he fights the beast and wins leaving it slain before him. It’s a very difficult thing to dramatise the charge of a great terrifying beast when you have no visuals to work with. The sound design does its best to convey the horror of something huge lumbering towards you, all hideous breath and snarls but inevitably the listener does rather have to rely on his/her imagination to convey the ginormous creature and the terror that seeing it brings.
Hunter, redeemed for her earlier misdeeds dies in Richard’s arms but not before telling him how he can get through the labyrinth and reach Door.It’s a shame to see Sophie Okonedo go. The nature of Hunter’s character meant that she had to give a more restrained performance than others but I enjoyed her snark and her barely suppressed frustration at her lemming like charges but at least at the end she went out a true hero.
Meanwhile Door, Croup and Vandemar have reached the door to the citadel where they are greeted by the deep sonorous tones of Croup and Vandemar’s employer – the Angel Islington.
The utterly shocking reveal of Islington (he’s an Angel for heaven’s sake (pun intended)) as the force behind the brutal murders of Door’s family is one that by necessity is revealed in the source novel rather earlier. This is one occasion where I wished I wasn’t familiar with the source text as the dramatisation allowed the shocking reveal of Croup and Vandemar’s employer to be delayed until the last possible moment and while you could certainly have guessed hopefully it was a hell of a shock for anyone who hasn’t read the novel.
What could Islington possibly want with Door that would justify murdering her whole family?
Neverwhere concludes tomorrow on BBC Radio 4 Extra at 6:00 p.m. with The Key.