The Skull of Sobek

Posted in Audio by - September 03, 2017
The Skull of Sobek

Released April 2008

Marc Platt has undeniably cemented himself as one of the most important and influential Doctor Who writers ever since his television debut with ‘Ghost Light,’ unafraid of looking deeper into well-established characters while building immense worlds and environments for each of his stories. Accordingly, his transition to the shorter running time allotment of The Eighth Doctor Adventures was always going to be an interesting one, an experiment to see if characterization and world-building would need to be sacrificed to move the plot along more quickly. On the isolated world of Indigo 3 in the Sanctuary of Imperfect Symmetry renowned for its welcoming of contemplation and reflection, something evil from another time has taken up residence, and death follows in its wake.

Fortunately, Platt’s uncanny ability to instill his worlds with imagery and detail is on display right from the beginning, the perfect symmetry of the all-blue world of Indigo 3 centred by the Sanctuary and the locals having some eighty-three distinct words for the colour perfectly encapsulating the essence of this setting. With the opening sequence establishing the core conflict between the Old Prince and Snabb, the scene is immediately and perfectly set for what follows as the history of the world of Sobek and its foundation upon centuries of slavery before the oppressed overthrew the tyrants begins to come into focus. The titular skull acts as a repository for all of Sobek’s knowledge and memory, and the unending ancient battle is about to be played out once more under the prophesied visage of flames, the Doctor and Lucie being chosen as opposing champions.

Unfortunately, the running time does factor into the overall result of the story; there are simply too many ideas for each to get the time for exploration it deserves. While the most obvious example comes from the predictability and inevitability of the two leads being chosen as champions, it also manifests as the cascade of crocodilian creatures, race memory, skulls, and battles all blur into a whole that makes sense and flows easily but that ultimately still seems somewhat ill-defined and undeveloped. This also leads to the strange position of the plot ideas overtaking the individuality and presence of the Doctor who is strangely subdued and little more than a standard physical presence for a substantial portion of the tale as the many narrative threads continue to reveal themselves around him.

Nonetheless, ‘The Skull of Sobek’ does find time to again emphasize the spectacular relationship between its two leads when needed, and Lucie Miller is quickly earning her place among the Doctor’s most memorable companions. Sheridan Smith is afforded a substantial role here as Lucie continues to court different types of danger at every turn, and she commands ever scene here as she must in turn confront her fear of crocodiles, come to terms with her burgeoning comfort around death, and face possession that pits her against her friend. The guest cast is uniformly strong, and the direction and sound design are easily up to Big Finish’s usual high standards to effortlessly bring this alien world to life. However, with the strong pedigree that Marc Platt carries with him, it’s unfortunate that the running time could not be extended to allow this work to truly show the obvious nuance and depth simmering beneath its quick-paced and rather gory veneer.

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