Embrace the Darkness had something going for it for me. I was starting a long drive to Maryland at 5am when I started listening to this one. There was no light at all, and wouldn’t be for about an hour and a half. The drive is 3 hours long. I still refrain from looking at the CDs as I put them into the player so I had no idea what I was getting into. When I heard that first, eerie “embrace the darkness”, I thought: do I have a choice? Luckily, the story was easy to embrace because we get some really creepy aliens… that are not baddies! That’s always a winning move in my eyes. Or ears, as it were! But it has a massive thing going against it. Seasons of Fear ended without closing music; it left off with a cliffhanger with Rassilon talking to the Doctor. One story later and…
So let’s look at Embrace the Darkness. What? You’re wondering how that sentence should have ended? So am I! That was what went wrong with putting this story right after Seasons of Fear! It didn’t connect. We’re back in individual story mode, disconnected from the overall season arc. The Doctor and Charley arrive in the Cimmerian system to see why the sun went out, as they do. They encounter what appears to be a giant mech that’s ready to kill Charley. We spend a good deal of episode one wasting a lot of time with the ROSM unit trying to kill her and being convinced not to. This leads to one of those moronic scenes where the Doctor is talking to Charley through the face of the ROSM unit (which acts like FaceTime) but the ROSM unit can’t hear when the Doctor whispers to Charley! Let me put it this way: you’re talking on the phone but you don’t want the phone to hear you, so you whisper to the person on the other end. You see the problem with this? There’s also a reference in part one to an armada of TARDISes, which you’d expect to mean something, but it goes nowhere. Sure, this would have been a good place to tie in Rassilon’s appearance in the previous episode, but alas, opportunity: lost.
Now, after part one, the story kicks in. The cliffhangers are mediocre, consisting mostly of statements (“Your eyes! Your eyes are gone”) but the story, like Seasons of Fear is remarkably strong for parts 2-4. (And I got lucky with my drive timing, because just as they reactivate the sun, as one does, the sun came up for me. This is a new level of interactive storytelling, I can tell you.)
As usual, the cast is great. McGann is just fantastic. I really wish he had more TV time. Charley has grown on me since Chimes of Midnight even though I can’t say she’s my favorite companion. Ferras and Haliard (Leo Moone and Mark McDonnell, respectively) are a great pair, but Orllensa (Nicola Boyce) is utterly obnoxious for the better part of the story. She comes around and is likable but her bitterness at her own plight makes her a hard character to stomach for too much of the story. And the Cimmerians, a race of creatures that live in total darkness, when described, sounded suspiciously like No Face from Spirited Away. At least, that was my take. Still I liked them a lot and imagined a very eerie experience meeting them.
So the best I could offer is this: as a stand alone story, it’s very good even with a weak beginning. As part of an arc, which is seems like it was meant to be, I think it fell flat. Therefore, if you want to buy one BF audio, and not care about what goes on before or after, this one won’t disappoint. But if you’re going for seasons of a given Doctor, this story will feel strangely lite on arc. But hey, we can embrace that lite! ML