Released November 2012
Big Finish’s Drashani Empire trilogy reaches its conclusion with the Seventh Doctor in Jonathan Morris’s ‘The Shadow Heart.’ With the Drashani Empire having fallen in the fifty years since the Doctor’s last visit, overtaken by the Wrath race whom the Sixth Doctor tasked with becoming a force for good in ‘The Acheron Pulse’ a bit too successfully, past actions threaten to lead the Doctor to his final reckoning.
The TARDIS materializes in the downtrodden Starbaff’s bar on the planet Temperance, and the Doctor quickly staggers into the open with his chest smoking from a laser blast, collapsing at the feet of two roguish scrap merchants, Talbar and Horval. Upon taking the Doctor into their protection, they soon find themselves in the sights of the resolute bounty hunter, Vienna Salavatori. As an employee of both the Wrath and another figure from the Wrath’s past, Vienna is intent on playing the two sides off of each other for her own gain as events escalate and lead to the Imperial Fortress on the Wrath’s homeworld.
One of the strengths of this trilogy is that the authors have been unafraid to implement their own tone and style, and Morris offers a slightly more lighthearted but certainly more convoluted tale than either of the preceding two serials, in the process making good use of the Seventh Doctor’s reputation for manipulation and deviousness. With the Doctor experiencing the sequence of events in a different order than the other characters, ‘The Shadow Heart’ very much channels the more temporally complex plotlines of the modern television series without ever losing track of the concise story it needs to tell.
Where ‘The Shadow Heart’ struggles, though, is in trying to tie itself to the trilogy as a whole. Indeed, the trilogy ends up being about Kylo as much as anything else, but his return to his evil ways before realizing his erroneous ways and earning Aliona’s forgiveness not only undoes the catharsis of the character in ‘The Acheron Pulse,’ but also retreads very familiar territory in the process. Through all three releases, Kylo certainly had some interesting moments, but the character ultimately proves to just not be interesting enough to sustain his presence over so many consecutive stories.
Thanks to some incredible imagery and multiple settings involving the Earth Empire ship HMS Trafalgar and Talbar and Horval’s traveling space snail, Hercules, ‘The Shadow Heart’ moves along at a very brisk pace from beginning to end. This aided by a generally strong supporting cast, Eve Karpf and Alex Mallinson stealing every scene as Talbar and Horval. Chase Masterson is the featured guest start as Vienna, and she projects a strong and charismatic determination, but the character earning a spin-off audio series based on this appearance is surprising since she’s rather one-dimensional as written here as a person putting herself above all others.
Still, ‘The Shadow Heart’ is a very intelligent and engaging script with a grand sense of ambition and scope that showcases the variety Doctor Who offers, bolstered by effective direction and strong performances. Although this story never seems overly enthusiastic about the plot points it has to incorporate to wrap up the Drashani events, and though the trilogy itself doesn’t exhibit a tight sense of coherence, it does effectively offer a look at the growing guilt of the Doctor as the consequences of his previous actions continue to unfold.