The Doctor and Charley travel to the distant Cimmerian system to unravel the mystery of its sun. But darkness has embraced the scientific base on Cimmeria IV in more ways that one…
In a fight for survival, the Doctor must use all his wits against a deadly artificial life-form and an ancient race whose return to the Cimmerian System threatens suffering and death on an apocalyptic scale.
Nicholas Briggs’ early Big Finish stories show promise but ultimately fall short and sadly Embrace the Darkness is in this mould. This story does feature a lot of problems that beset the four part stories in the original run of Doctor Who, including what feels like a shortfall of plot which makes the middle of the story sag a little bit, whilst it also manages to make the finale feel rushed.
Where the story does really succeed, however, is in the audio landscape. Nicholas Briggs has been done a really great job here of creating a creepy and unsettling atmosphere through mostly sound effects rather than music. Like all of the Big Finish audios I have listened to so far for this blog, I listened to this on headphones and this story really felt three-dimensional and believable. The Cimmerian voices are also suitably unnerving and reminded me slightly of the voice of Gollum from The Lord of Rings films. This is also true of The Sword of Orion, Briggs’ previous story for the Eighth Doctor, but this story feels slightly more confident and ever so slightly better.
The story also has an interesting idea in its central premise – a star system devoid of light, afraid of the return of the light due to a belief that it will lead to their destruction. We also have a lot of time spent with the Doctor believing that his actions will lead to the Cimmerians destruction and questioning the effect of his interference. A story set on a planet devoid of light naturally lends itself to audio and helps the listener feel engaged in the story. There are some other stories which use the constraints of audio to their advantage in the Big Finish range – another one that jumps to mind is The End of the Line in which the characters spend a lot of time stranded in thick fog. Whilst this element works really well, the story feels as though it spends a lot of time treading water in the middle, especially as those stranded on the base don’t seem in any urgent hurry to leave in the rescue ship. The story doesn’t take the opportunity to delve into giving the guest characters more characterisation despite a small cast. They can largely be described as being one dimensional, and only really have one defining characteristic each. Orllensa is lucky and has two – she is Russian or at least East European and cynical. We do get some of her bask story but Haliard and Ferras get nothing.
The ending is also pretty poor, with the reveal that the perceived descending army of Solarians are actually Cimmerians feeling both rushed and overly simplistic. It does skirt around the idea of fear enhancing to the point where the Cimmerians are terrified of the light and deprive it of everyone in the system, which leads to some particularly effective body horror when we learn that Orllensa and Ferras have had their eyes burnt out. What I do like about the story is that, despite the Doctor and Charley mentioning the TARDIS and even trying to escape from the advancing Solarians, the story doesn’t allow them to take that shortcut. Despite my issues with the conclusion, I also really like the idea of their ships which are powered by solar sails.
This is not a tremendous story for the Eighth Doctor or Charley, however, McGann and Fisher do some good work here. The story spends a lot of time with the Doctor feeling like a pedestrian to the plot and he seems to spend most of it being quite reactionary but the moments in which he ponders whether interfering in the life of alien races and planets is right. Meanwhile, despite spending most the story apart, Charley doesn’t feel as though she has very much to do. She does have some good moments – I like her reaction when ROSM disables offensive weaponry previously targeted at her. McGann and Fisher feel as though they have really got the relationship between the two characters down and even in a story like this, they are capable of elevating it. The story does not advance the ongoing arc about Charley’s survival and its impact on the Web of Time, although the gathering of the Type 70 TARDISes at the beginning of the story might be hinting at the Time Lords tightening the net, and ROSM states that his readings flag something up as unusual, but nothing more is made of it.
Verdict: A story with an interesting premise and great sound design, which falls down in its execution. The ending feels particularly rushed. 5/10
Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Nicola Boyce (Orllensa), Lee Moone (Ferras), Mark McDonnell (Haliard), Ian Brooker (ROSM/Solarian/Cimmerian) & Nicholas Briggs (Cimmerian Voice).
Writer: Nicholas Briggs
Director: Nicholas Briggs
Behind the Scenes
- The story was originally supposed to feature the Morestrans from Planet of Evil, but the rights could not be obtained from the BBC.
- Nicola Boyce and Lee Moone also appeared in The Time of Daleks and Neverland, along with Mark McDonnall who also appeared in The Fear Monger and Dalek Empire.
- Ian Brooker has played numerous roles for Big Finish, most notably playing the shortest lived alternative incarnation of the Doctor (who lived for 11 seconds) in Full Fathom Five.
The build-up to the cliffhanger at the end of the first part, ending with the reveal that Ferras and Orliensa have no eyes.
What about them?
You’ve lost your eyes.Charley Pollard and Ferras
Previous Eighth Doctor review: Seasons of Fear
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