The Darkening Eye

Posted in Audio by - March 01, 2019
The Darkening Eye

Released December 2008

The Companion Chronicles deftly proved through its first thirteen releases that Big Finish could successfully delve into the realms of the first four Doctors without those lead actors present to anchor events. However, with Stewart Sheargold’s ‘The Darkening Eye,’ a prequel to the Seventh Doctor full-cast drama ‘The Death Collectors,’ Big Finish likewise proved just how versatile the narrative format is as the Fifth Doctor era with Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric all aboard the TARDIS once more came to life at a time before Janet Fielding and Matthew Waterhouse had agreed to officially reprise their roles in an ongoing manner. With the stalwart Sarah Sutton thus featuring, Nyssa tells of her experiences with the Dar Traders, a suave assassin, and an interplanetary war during which a death changed everything.

Where ‘The Darkening Eye’ truly shines is with its thoughtful portrayal of Nyssa as it explores her ideology and motivations both during her time with the Doctor and on Terminus as she consoles a man dying of Lazar’s Disease. This was one of the first occasions to give a glimpse of Nyssa after she left the TARDIS, and it’s refreshing to see that her determined compassion has never faltered as she continues to confront despair. Because Nyssa rarely received a great deal of emotional characterisation on screen, this intimate format is the perfect medium for her to fully develop in, and the hurt she still experiences when thinking of the destruction of her planet and of an evil man wearing her father’s face and causing harm despite being unable to bring herself to harm that one lasting vestige of her father magnificently delves into the internal turmoil she must always carry with her.

The Doctor showed her wonderful and terrible things, but she could never look past the mounting death toll that always seemed to follow them, that facet melding with her own rigorous scientific beliefs to understandably give her a certain fascination with the point between life and death. Accordingly, the Dar Traders are used to good effect to explore the many components of death, their own desire to experience the threshold of death by collecting and studying examples being both hauntingly visual and visceral. Nyssa understands that there is a possibility that the Dar Traders could build up an immunity to the many diseases plaguing the cosmos, and she is certain that her experiences with this race have allowed her to survive Lazar’s and continue her work.

Sheargold understandably struggles with the notion of four leads in this era just as so many others writers have over the years, and the Doctor is essentially written out of proceedings while his companions try to find him and understand the fascination everyone around them has for him. Sutton does a remarkable job bringing Tegan’s forcefulness and Adric’s overbearingness to life, but even these two are very much- and understandably- secondary to Nyssa. They’re perhaps not explored in the subtlest fashion even as contrasting thoughts about death naturally come to the forefront, but Sheargold absolutely captures their essence and proves just how well they can translate to the medium even in this indirect fashion.

‘The Darkening Eye’ is a highly visual script that easily emphasizes its unique setting and situations, but the prose is at times too fragmented by explanatory statements to cohesively flow. Because the visual nature of an assassin cursed with eternal life and death who can travel between worlds but retains a tether doesn’t quite fully manifest as a well-developed entity, this disjointed flow is more noticeable, and it’s easy to question if part of this was simply to compensate for Sarah Sutton being given far too many voices to do. This is no insult to Sutton’s immense abilities and the genuine charisma and love she brings to her work, but the inconsistent pacing and inability to fully explore everything and everyone presented mean that the intelligent story and polished production as a whole don’t quite manage to match her proficiency.

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