THE EVENTS OF THIS
STORY TAKE PLACE
BETWEEN THE TV STORIES "BLACK
BIG FINISH 'COMPANION
CHRONICLES' CD 3.6
RELEASED IN DECEMBER
BATTLEFIELD IN DEEP
SPACE, THE TARDIS
CREW ARE SALVAGED
BY AN ANCIENT RACE
OF COLLECTORS KNOWN
AS DAR TRADERS.
SEPARATED FROM THE
DOCTOR, ADRIC, TEGAN
AND NYSSA are AT THE
MERCY OF THE TRADERS'
CURIOSITY, and They
HAVE SALVAGED A
CABINET FROM THE
BATTLE THAT COULD
BE VERY DANGEROUS
WHAT DOES THE SUAVE
HYDE, KNOW OF THE
CABINET? AND WHY
IS EVERYBODY SO
INTERESTING IN THE
MISSING TIME LORD?
TO FIND THE DOCTOR,
THE TARDIS CREW
WILL HAVE TO ENTER
A VIOLENT GALACTIC
WAR. WHERE SOMEONE
WILL DIE, AND IT WILL
The Darkening Eye
I was surprised to see Sarah Sutton’s face adorning the cover of a Companion Chronicle. Even though Big Finish’s third season of the popular talking books had twelve slots to fill as opposed to just four, I had assumed that the run would simply be made up of four adventures for each of the non-Big Finish Doctors; the thought that a ‘later’ Doctor’s companion might feature hadn’t even occurred to me. After all, why settle for a mere audio book when you could be producing a lively, full-cast audio drama?
Well, The Darkening Eye couldn’t really have worked as an audio drama for two reasons. Firstly, and I dare say insurmountably, reassembling the teeming TARDIS crew of 1982 would have been something of a feat, to say the least. Matthew Waterhouse has made it clear that there is no chance in hell he’ll ever return to the role of Adric, and though Janet Fielding is now less reticent than she once was, I still get the firm impression that her aural appearances are going to prove the exception rather than the rule. Secondly, and perhaps most critically, without the insight that unfettered access to Nyssa’s thoughts and feelings offers, The Darkening Eye would’ve been a dawdling husk of an adventure, devoid of the morbid unease that the Trakenite’s harrowing perspective affords it. Indeed, at its best Stewart Sheargold’s story reminded me of the exceptionally unsettling Torchwood episode Dead Man Walking, albeit with a major shift of emphasis and a markedly gentler approach.
Over the years, Nyssa has been portrayed terribly by some writers, but thankfully her Big Finish renaissance has led to a deeper exploration of the character and some beautiful, thought-provoking storylines, of which The Darkening Eye may well be the most alluring,
if not the very best. Listening to this story, it is evident that Sheargold shares many of the gripes that I had about the character as she was presented on television – most obviously, that she lost her father and her whole world, yet rarely did her über-cool mask slip. This tale seeks to redress the balance, tackling Nyssa’s grief head-on and marrying it with her trade-mark scientific curiosity to take her on a journey that will lead her beyond death itself… and back again. It’s a bold and brilliant move that would have worked well even if this story were simply set between Black Orchid and Earthshock, but relayed as it is many years after the event from Terminus, the effect is absolutely devastating. Sheargold should win some sort
of award for the production’s final line, which lingers long after the CD has gone back in the box.
Those familiar with the relatively recent Sylvester McCoy play, The Death Collectors, will already be familiar with Sheargold’s disquieting Dar Traders, who are voiced once again here by Derek Carlyle. An intriguing race of “ghoulish” collectors and traders, these strange creatures roam the universe “salvaging” the bodies of the dead in a quest to experience the moment of death as closely as possible… without dying. In this production though, the Dar Traders come across in a different way to those featured in The Death Collectors. For one thing, Sheargold uses some graphic prose to build up a much more comprehensive picture of the Traders in the listener’s mind, covering everything from the taut layer of skin across their skulls to the pervading stench of formaldehyde inside their ships. Better still though, through Nyssa we see things from the Traders’ perspective. We see the beauty in death;
However, it has to be said that The Darkening Eye is a brooding and a deliberate tale. The listener is expected to listen carefully as the author slowly weaves his intricate tapestry, and so those who prefer their adventures to have a little more… um… adventure, might find this one slow going. That said, Adric does get brutally stabbed at one point, demonstrating that the story’s moments of action are well worth the wait!
In all seriousness though, The Darkening Eye’s
violent blasts of incident – Nyssa in the cabinet,
teetering on the threshold of death, the Trader
subjecting her to extreme pain just so that he
can ensure she‘s still alive; Adric’s stabbing;
the Doctor’s shooting; Nyssa’s resurrection on
the bed of leaves – stand out even more thanks
to the story’s measured pace.
On the whole then, The Darkening Eye came as a real surprise to me, but a welcome one. Within the space of just over an hour I was taken from “what’s the point of that?” to “bloody hell!”, which is really quite a leap in anybody’s book.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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