Dark Universe heralds a fresh year of Doctor Who Monthly Adventures at Big Finish. It is a release which makes narrative connections in many directions, but the headline must its be choice of companion. Set some twenty years after they travelled together, the story sees the Seventh Doctor encounter Ace.
The other notable familiar face is that of the villain: The Eleven. In both present and future incarnations, as well as with this current face, the multi-faceted Time Lord has been a presence throughout the Doom Coalition and Ravenous stories, as well as the Eighth Doctor Time War boxsets. Indeed, Dark Universe serves as a prequel, linking to the scene which kicked off the first Doom Coalition boxset.
While that is all fun, none of that is essential to enjoy Dark Universe. The story begins on what now seems familiar turf, thanks to the recent Season 26 Blu-Ray promo and the promise of an upcoming 13th Doctor-meets-Ace novel At Childhood’s End. All three have run with the same notion, gifted in a glorious line of The Sarah Jane Adventures dialogue: now Dorothy McShane, Ace runs an organisation called “A Charitable Earth”. A professor herself, her professional front conceals a sarcastic, embittered attitude; she is more than capable of handling The Eleven.
As the drama builds, with the framing device of the Doctor telling a story, we move to South America. It is the hiding place of another dangerous Time Lord artefact, one which holds the key to another universe…
In the extras, Guy Adams explains his inspiration came from those multi-comic crossover events which escalate into universe threatening calamity. In terms of both threat and consequences, we would agree that he has certainly achieved that goal – and he pleasingly references earlier works The Quantum Possibility Engine and The Heavenly Paradigm to that end. The story offers more than just universal peril though, with great scenes between the Doctor and his estranged companion and weighty consequences from their decisions.
While Sylvester McCoy is wonderfully mercurial, Sophie Aldred brings a world-weariness to this older Ace; she is not the explosive-obsessed teen, nor the Time Lord agent in training either. As always, Mark Bonnar provides a dramatic tour de force as the troubled Time Lord whose personalities quarrel and bicker. The fact that he apparently performs them all in one go is astounding! Also, Lin Sagovsky provides a suitably disturbing performance as the voice of a “Dark Citizen”.
With assured direction from Ken Bentley, plus a vibrant score and sound design from Benji Clifford, this is a story which might just inspire a few Eighth Doctor fans to check out the monthly adventures. We are sure they will not be disappointed.