Embrace the Darkness is Big Finish’s 31st release of its main range of Doctor Who audios, that was released way back in 2002. It was the fourth of a series of six audios that featured the 8th Doctor, the second such “season” of 8th Doctor’s audios. Paul McGann is back as the Doctor, of course, along with India Fisher as his original-to-audio companion, Charley. Spoilers ahead.
Embrace the Darkness really had potential. It is built around a mystery that has piqued the Doctor’s curiosity: what happened to the star of the Cimmerian system–a world consigned to total darkness. Once there, he discovers a small industrial team who are tasked with putting artificial suns around the system. The story creates an overwhelming sense of dread as the team is basically driven to madness by the pervasive darkness of the area. It provides one of the creepiest moments of horror that the franchise has ever given us when the Doctor and Charley discover that the real reason the team is lost in absolute darkness is because they’ve unknowingly had their eyes burnt out.
But unfortunately, Embrace the Darkness fails to capitalize on this effective atmosphere with a tight and gripping story. This is especially needed given the story’s limited cast (the team is just three people, plus a robot) and enclosed setting. Instead, the story pads out its runtime with excessive emoting, characters sniping at each other, and lots of expository dialogue. Indeed, the four part adventure clocks in at about 2 hours and 6 minutes, which is about 25 minutes longer than a standard four part story on television. If the plot had been taut with a strong forward drive, that might not have mattered, but that’s not the case here. Instead, every interaction, every emotion, every reaction is expressed with about 25% more words than necessary. I know that it’s audio, so we’re dependent on the dialogue even more than with a TV show, but one can still wear out ones welcome if you fail to bring the audience someplace new.
The story hinges on the idea that everything that happens is a giant misunderstanding that is all resolved quite peaceably. That is a novel approach and certainly potentially interesting, but the resolution tends to highlight the clumsy pacing of the adventure. There is only so far that one can believably make the friendly aliens seem threatening, so the story has to contrive ways to keep things dramatic. One of the worst comes when the Doctor makes a very random and arbitrary decision in Episode Three (to finish lighting the artificial suns, just because), which he then spends a lot of time regretting and lamenting about all the way through Episode Four (because that is going to doom the actually friendly aliens).
One feels that the script, by Big Finish bigwig Nicholas Briggs, was really wrapped up in the idea of revealing that the most disturbing thing one could imagine was actually quite innocent, that it forgot about telling an interesting story along the way. The end result, in spite of perfectly fine performances and production, is that the whole thing feels tiresome, and one is glad when it’s finally over.