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6 February 2020

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Guy Adams

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2020

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The Eleven has a plan. A grand plan. An appalling plan. A plan that endangers all life in the cosmos.

With Ace working for the enemy, the Doctor must rely on scheming Time Lord Cardinal Ollistra for help. The stage is set for an epic confrontation.

Because the Doctor has a plan to stop the Eleven. A grand plan. An appalling plan. A plan that endangers all life in the cosmos.

Whichever one of them wins, the Dark Universe won’t want to lose..."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

With so many releases across so many ranges, it is semi-inevitable that at some point they will converge in one place. We’ve seen that recently with the Who/Cicero crossover play Tartarus, and now we are mixing the streams again with the Eighth Doctor box sets and the main range in this, Dark Universe. In some ways this was an inevitable release, what with the Seventh Doctor having kicked off Doom Coalition in the first place. We know he captured the Eleven, so I suppose temptation would always be succumb to in the end and we’d get the story of how it unfolded.

That is not surprising. What arguably is surprising is that Dark Universe very much relies upon you knowing who the Eleven is and how he operates. You get a brief hand-waving exercise of “this is his basic modus-operandi” but not much beyond that, and an entire cliffhanger resolution being wrapped up in knowing that one of his incarnations was nice is the icing on the cake. Unfamiliar with the Eleven? You’ll get the vague gist of things but hand on heart(s) I am not sure this is necessarily the best introduction, which is odd as this is, chronologically speaking, the Eleven’s debut appearance in the world of all things Who. Ah well: the show loves a paradox, doesn’t it?

Speaking of confusing states of affair, Dark Universe sees an older Ace reunited with the Seventh Doctor, still up to his old tricks, years after they parted. If you thought tracking the chronology of the Eleven is hard, good luck trying with Ace. I have listened to every single Big Finish release featuring her (not an exaggeration), and I’m largely lost nowadays. Can you imagine how a casual listener must feel? The Big Finish main range is not a welcoming one.

Back to the play in hand, though. With any prequel, you run the risk of things feeling redundant. We know how everything ends, so just how exciting can the road there really be? A fair bit, it turns out. Guy Adams is definitely having fun here. We expect some of the cliffhangers before they come, but that’s part of the game. A weapon is discovered, it’ll have devastating effects… and the Doctor wants the enemy to have it! He doesn’t think they will use it… but they do! And so on. The game here is to play along, anticipate, hear it happen with a knowing wink, and smile as the episode ends. It’s a playful approach that benefits the script enormously.

I felt that perhaps things ran their course a little by the end, mind. The final episode carries on with what you expect: the Doctor looking at the bigger picture as if playing Chess; Ace calling him on it and the two of them being at loggerheads. It’s something we’ve seen many times before but unlike the cliffhangers and playfulness earlier, it’s so era-specific, instead of the wider tropes from earlier, that it feels like a cliché and little else. Perhaps it will lead to more meaningful things in the range down the line, but that’s hard to say.

As it stands, there is a lot to recommend with Dark Universe. Does it work as an introduction to the Eleven for new listeners? I’m not sure it does. But the play is fun with some nicely imaginative parts, and whatever else, Dark Universe is a declaration of intent.

The main range is increasingly wanting to acknowledge the other ranges Big Finish has to offer. We’ve had these crossovers before, but I’m not sure it’s felt as apparent then as it does right now. (New Series) UNIT dipping its toes into the Lady Christina box set is one thing, but (New Series) UNIT dipping its toes into the main range would be something else entirely. Right now, it feels plausible. Case in point, we’ve Churchill making an appearance soon: a New Series character, yes, but one who has also had two box sets of his own, and I’m sure the play will be sure to remind us of this.

What to make of this approach? It’s probably a smart move on Big Finish’s part, reminding us of just how much there is out there, but as with Ace and her timeline jumping, it’s arguably also symbolic of how intimidating Big Finish can appear from the outside looking in. Maybe having Eleven personalities at once to digest it all would help? Time will tell, it always does… ah, maybe there’s something in era-specific clichés after all.


+ Dark Universe is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


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