Review – Big Finish Doctor Who #31: “Embrace the Darkness”

This is the next in line of my Big Finish Productions Doctor Who retro-reviews.

#31 – “Embrace the Darkness”

From Big Finish’s site:

The Doctor and Charley travel to the remote Cimmerian System to unravel the mystery of its sun. But darkness has already embraced the scientific base on Cimmeria IV in more ways than one. In a fight for survival, the Doctor must use all his wits against a deadly artificial lifeform and an ancient race whose return to the Cimmerian System threatens suffering and death on an apocalyptic scale.

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

Directed By: Nicholas Briggs


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)

***minor spoilers ahead***

Every Doctor Who fan knows of the Doctor’s reliable Type 40 TARDIS.  As a little taste of what lies ahead in the next episodes, this adventure is brought to the Doctor’s attention after he avoids a formation of shiny, new Type 70 battle TARDISes.  It couldn’t have anything to do with the recent temporal paradoxes or Charley’s rescue from the R101… could it?  Just a little something to chew on and remember as Big Finish showrunner Nicholas Briggs continues to set up the dominoes in preparation to knock ’em down.

Having said that, let’s focus on the adventure itself.  When I see Nicholas Briggs has a direct hand in the scripting, I understand that the story will be special and probably open the listener to something bigger than normal.  This story does both.  By “embracing the darkness,” this story embraces the power of radio.  On Cimmeria IV, there is a mystery that the Doctor cannot resist: what happened to the system’s sun?  There’s no light being emitted from where it should be.  None.  What could do that?  There is a race of being that whispers from the ether, fears the light, doesn’t understand the concept of eyes, and “takes the light” from others by taking their eyes.  To give it that extra level of weird, these creatures perceive light by tasting it.  When a professional creative team harnesses the gifts that radio can bring to something like this, the effect is creepy.  And as we all know by now, Doctor Who lends itself very well to creepy, and this story quickly turns into a kind of story Doctor Who also does very well: the “base under siege” story.  But are these creatures responsible for taking the light from their sun?  And if so, how did they do it?

Overlaid with the creepy is the sense of advanced technology as the Doctor matches wits with the mechanical sentinel known as a ROSM.  I picture in my head kind of a crossbreed between The Black Hole‘s Maximillian and RoboCop‘s ED-209, only far smarter.  The ROSM is charged with protecting the scientific base from any threat, regardless of scale, which includes genetic and microscopic level anomalies.  While it’s trying to protect against the Cimmerians, it also sees Charley as a threat because of energies it cannot identify.  Very likely this is caused by the temporal disturbance that manifests around her in the wake of her rescue from the R101.  The ROSM is also effective and makes it very clear that it is in control.  It analyzes and neutralizes the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver and forces the Doctor to play on the defensive as the ROSM’s reluctant technical advisor.  Add in a couple of extras who have already had their eyes burned out – one pleasant to talk to, the other obnoxious and demeaning – and what you have unfold here is classic Doctor Who, kicked up a notch for modern audiences.

Knowing what we know about Charley’s current existence, and wondering how the Cimmerians can “take the light,” consider for a moment how much more disconcerting it is when, on top of everything else, something like a ROSM starts repeating: “Reality is uncertain.  Reality is uncertain.”  And then when you learn why the Cimmerians fear the light and take it…  Well, how it plays out, I’ll leave that for you to discover.  Suffice to say, this is a solid entry in the Big Finish Doctor Who lineup, and from here, things are about to get bigger for the 8th Doctor and Charley.