The final episode of Neverwhere – The Key starts off where the previous episode Market Afloat ended. Croup and Vandemar have taken Door to the Angel Islington who is revealed as their employer. Richard follows Door and is immediately attacked by the dreadful duo who chain Richard and Door up inside Islington’s lair. As for Islington all the geniality and charm he displayed when meeting Door and Richard previously has quite vanished. The purring gentle creature has been replaced with a whispering terrifying creature that sounds like a particularly enraged snake hissing and spitting out his words with total venom.
It turns out that Islington doesn’t just live at the centre of the labyrinth he’s bound there – imprisoned by his Angel brethren as punishment for not saving the people of Atlantis from their watery deaths. He is doomed to remain there until he has “earned forgiveness” at which point he would be sent the key from the Black Friars and an opener to open the black door to his prison and allow him to return to heaven. Lonely, embittered and well, driven a tad insane by 40,000 years of captivity he reaches out to Lord Portico and offers to help him in his aim of uniting the baronies if only he would help Islington with his little problem. Portico, displaying a spectacular lack of judgement, laughed at him instead. Seriously who in their right mind laughs in the face of an immensely powerful, clearly barking mad, utterly vengeful angel who wants help getting into heaven?
So Islington hired Croup and Vandemar to kill Portico and family and bring Door to him so she can open the door to his prison. Poor Richard is quite bewildered at the depths of the angel’s depravity even if the Marquis (who in true style nonchalantly wanders in to proceedings and is promptly chained up by an incredulous Croup and Vandemar who are upset that their marvellous efforts at killing him had gone for nought) huffily reminds him that Lucifer after all started life as an angel.
The episode boasts another quite extraordinary vocal performance from Benedict Cumberbatch. Islington veers from hissing and spitting his words to roaring with absolute hatred and bitterness as he speaks of besting Gabriel and bringing down heaven. If the performance had remained on that level it would have run the risk of being OTT but Cumberbatch tempers it by punctuating the bigger moments with softly spoken words which nevertheless practically drip with malevolence and mischievous wit. You find yourself shivering as he gently, oh so quietly tells Door in honeyed tones that he didn’t kill her family he simply ordered them to be killed – as if that distinction somehow absolves him of the sin of their deaths. Or when he dismisses the horrendous plan he put in action as him simply taking matters into his own hands and moving forward Heaven’s timetable a tad. Or when he hisses “Stuff Happens” as if that is somehow a suitable explanation for the deaths of millions of people in Atlantis.
He’s delighted at the present of Richard “the hunter” as it allows him a pawn he can hurt to ensure Door’s compliance. There’s a real vein of pitch black humour to the confrontation from Vandemar & Croup giggling like school girls at Door’s naivety in believing her father’s final recording which bought her to Islington (faked by Islington with their assistance) to Islington’s deep rumbling laughter at Door’s and Richard’s outrage at his actions, to Croup and Vandemar calling Door, Richard and the Marquis “the soon to be corpses” when they try to manipulate them into turning against Islington by pointing out they haven’t been paid.
And then of course there is that malevolently gleeful and oh so playful rendition of “Heaven…I’m in heaven” as Islington prepares to leave his prison through the black door and re-enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s a delightfully wicked and witty portrayal from Benedict Cumberbatch who brings out all the facets of Islington’s character in a quicksilver performance which uses his vocal prowess to immense effect.
But Door is no standard damsel in distress. When reading the book the section in the marketplace when Door meets Hammersmith and asks him to make her a chain for the key always seemed a little redundant. Nothing more than a way for Richard to meet Lamia. It slowed the action down at a time when it needed ramping up. But we see that it had a purpose after all. Door didn’t just ask him to make a chain for the key. She got him to copy the key so that she could give the fake to Islington (sneaking the real key to Richard who unwittingly had it the whole time). When Islington uses the key Door (who along with Richard and the Marquis are securely chained to the walls) opens up a door to somewhere “half across space and time” and Islington, Croup and Vandemar are sucked in (the later vanishing with a delightfully deadpan “Oh well. Bye Bye” – mention should be made of Tony Head and David Schofield’s incredible performances – they’ve been terrifying and just plain brilliant throughout). But Islington doesn’t go quietly vanishing with a scream of purest rage but not before revealing that Door’s sister isn’t dead. Islington took her as insurance.
Everyone safe and Islington gone the trio make their way to the Black Friars who take care of them (I did enjoy the fact that all the Friars had known that Islington had turned evil but didn’t see the need to point out this small but pertinent fact to Richard and Door when they last visited). Richard is told that as guardian of the key he can use it to go back to London Above if that is his choice.
After some debate Richard decides to leave – he doesn’t belong in London Below he wants his life back. He takes a train to go “Above” which turns out to be the Earl of Earl’s Courts carriage. The rather bored Earl matter of factly knights the rather stunned Richard with the knife Hunter gave him and gives him the freedom of the underside before politely telling him to shove off.
Richard meets Door one last time and she takes him to the “great and terrifying island of Westminster” where she pleads with him to stay with her. She wants to try and continue her father’s work of trying to unite the baronies and to search for her missing sister Portia. Richard is tempted but his life is in London Above so he leaves.
Back in London Above everything is back to normal for Richard – in fact life is going swimmingly. Jessica has taken him back and is excitedly making plans to marry him in Westminster Abbey, he doesn’t have his flat anymore but that’s OK but his estate agent is going to find him another one and waive both deposit and the first month’s rent, goodness even the security guard at work (Neil Gaiman again in another funny cameo) knows who he is. Life is good but for Richard it’s a case of careful what you wish for. He wanted his old life back and he has it but he finds himself speaking in terms that are only relevant to London Below. A job as a worker drone in securities and a beautiful bossy fiancee doesn’t quite compare to being a hunter, revered by many for slaying the great beast, a man granted the freedom of London Below. And as a twitchy Richard recants his woes to an ever so slightly terrified homeless man Richard realised that maybe he got confused as to where he does truly belong. Drawing a door on the wall with his dagger he knocks three times initially getting no response. But as the homeless man scarpers the door opens revealing the Marquis.
And Richard goes home…
Neverwhere was an extraordinarily ambitious project but it was carried off with immense verve by the team of Heather Larmour and Dirk Maggs. The cast were all universally brilliant – not one weak link amongst them. Neverwhere managed to be scary, funny, dark, delightful and nail shreddingly suspenseful all at the same time. It oozed quality from every pore and showed that when it comes to it the BBC knows how to make exceptionally good radio drama.
Neverwhere is not available to buy as yet but the episodes will remain on iplayer unil the end of March. Do consider giving the source novel a read – it is superb. Neil Gaiman has a new novel – The Ocean at the End of the Lane due out this June.