Doctor Who
Embrace the Darkness

Starring: Paul McGann
Big Finish Productions
ISBN 1 903654 60 2, BFPDWCD8J
Available now

The Doctor and Charley visit the Cimmerian System to unravel the mystery of its sun, which mysteriously stopped shining some centuries ago. On Cimmeria IV they discover that native life forms have infiltrated a scientific base, forcing the human occupants to embrace the darkness - in more ways than one...

Doctor Who meets Pitch Black? Well, not exactly. The creatures encountered here are quite different to the flying predators that appeared in the aforementioned movie, although the gimmick of a planet that has been plunged into darkness is used here almost as effectively. Since this story is audio only, we the listeners are as blind as the characters trapped in the darkness, and thus we empathise with their helplessness and fear. Not since Whispers of Terror has Big Finish exploited its chosen medium so aptly.

It has to be said that Nicholas Briggs' rather slight plot does drag on a little. The production could have done with having a few minutes of its duration trimmed here and there (the back sleeve proclaims a running time of 110 minutes, but in fact the story goes on for more than two hours).

Fortunately, several creepy and/or nasty moments (including certain aspects that might have come across as either too gruesome or rather laughable had they been attempted within a visual medium) help to maintain the listener's interest. So does the exhilarating character interaction. There's plenty of conflict between the time travellers, the cynical Russian base commander Orllensa (Nicola Boyce) and her far from fearless crew (Lee Moone and Mark McDonnell). Companion Charley (India Fisher) also has a few choice words to say to the Doctor (Paul McGann), as she illustrates the less commendable aspects of his latest incarnation's tendency towards self-sacrifice.

There is no follow-up of the "alternate" version of Charley who came to light during last month's Seasons of Fear. It would seem that we shall have to wait a little longer for this particular plot arc to be resolved. Meanwhile, further seeds for future development are apparently sown during this story.

More of a mood piece than an adventure as such, Embrace the Darkness manages to elude the label of "worthy but dull" by virtue of its atmosphere and characterisation.

Richard McGinlay