Released April 2002
The second run of Big Finish stories featuring the Eighth Doctor and Charley continues with ‘Embrace the Darkness,’ finding the duo in the Cimmerian System after attempting to avoid an unknown presence in the time vortex. The system’s sun has mysteriously vanished, and as the Doctor’s curiosity gets the better of him, he investigates the cause, coming across a troubled scientific base on the fourth planet as well as an evil lurking in the darkness along the way.
Nicholas Briggs serves as both writer and director for ‘Embrace the Darkness,’ and the result is a truly disturbing production that focuses on its own story rather than tying into the larger narrative or continuing on with events from the previous release. The setup for the story is absolutely perfect; the scenes with the Doctor and Charley aptly creating a sense of mystery about why the sun disappeared like it did and the scenes aboard the base with its three main characters beginning to reveal the plight they find themselves in now that darkness is omnipresent.
Plunging the characters into complete darkness actually proves to be a masterstroke not only as a plot device but as a scripting device as well. One of the most recurring issues with early Big Finish releases is that they sometimes rely too heavily on descriptive dialogue. That is obviously impossible here and, as the threat is conveyed solely through sound, the audience is often in the exact same position as the character involved. This can sometimes make the revelation of events take a little longer than otherwise, but it also serves to heighten the tension and, when realization hits such as during the first cliffhanger, to truly increase the value and meaning of events.
The pace and progression of the plot throughout the story is pretty much as good as it can be. Following the exposition in the first episode, the plot twists and revelations of events on Cimmeria IV continue to arrive at perfect intervals, never allowing the action or mystery to lull too much at any one point. The resolution is quite surprising as neither the Cimmerians nor the Solarians seem to be the threat they are initially billed as, and while events all makes sense in the grand scheme of things, it does also give a slight sense of an anticlimax.
As always, Paul McGann and India Fisher are on top form, and the consecutive releases really gives a sense of continuity and consistency to their performances. The Eighth Doctor is again portrayed as one who can’t resist a mystery, brimming with enthusiasm and curiosity, and it’s great to see how inspirational his acts are on Charley who continues to become a seasoned adventuress in her own right. Fisher manages to instill just the right combination of feistiness and emotion in her character and proves adept at anchoring the shocking events of a cliffhanger here as well.
And although the supporting cast is quite small, each of its members gives a fairly strong performance as well, though Lee Moone’s Ferras is relegated more to the background than the others. Mark McDonnell’s Haliard is the standout due to his dry humour and more approachable demeanour, and he is quite convincing when negatively impacted by surrounding events. Nicola Boyce’s Orllensa suffers more negatively in terms of characterization as she is affected by events, turning progressively more cold and cynical. While it’s understandable to an extent, the level of derision is a bit too extreme to be enjoyable and just doesn’t seems like a fully logical progression for the character despite the good acting. The final major character, played very well by Ian Booker, is the Rescue Operational Security Module (ROSM) who proves an interesting foil for the Doctor here as he tries to figure out where he is and what is happening around him.
‘Embrace the Darkness’ is an interesting release and one that, for the most part, manages to make a success of its experimental setting and intriguing storyline. Undoubtedly, though, this tale will most be remembered for the disturbing imagery that the characters physically can’t describe to the listeners, and that is certainly its biggest triumph. The ending may seem a bit of a letdown and some reactions to the darkness aren’t quite in line with reasonable expectations, but the overall experience is an enjoyable one and a decent continuation to McGann’s 2002 outings.