I was really looking forward to this release. As you may know from previous reviews here, I love The Eleven, he’s always good fun, and to see how he got captured before the opening to Doom Coalition was exciting. Then they throw in an older Ace, which is an interesting new string to the Doctor Who bow, and man… Really excited. *sigh*… A shame really…
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…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Before I get to the actual core story, I’ll talk about the performances, because no matter how much I didn’t particularly like the story, Mark Bonnar’s Eleven was his great cheesy villainous self, McCoy’s Doctor was the perfect “seems like he’s been a fool but actually it was a brilliant plan after all” version we all know he was like, especially towards the end of his life (which is where this is based) and Sophie Aldred does a good job doing an older, more hardened version of Ace, at least up until the end anyway. Throw in Carolyn Pickles as an earlier incarnation of Ollistra and you have a perfectly good cast who all do the best with what they’re given…
Well, actually, I say that, but one thing about the writing I’ll give the story credit for is its non-linear style. You see if the plot followed A to B then we’d know a lot of how The Doctor was planning things and whether Ace was in on it or not and the story would end up worse for it. So, flashing forwards and backwards during the first half was a good bit of writing, but at the same time, the story itself wasn’t? Confusing!
It’s actually a great cover, especially the composite shot of the Seventh Doctor, given his TV movie self had so few official shots…
Okay so maybe I was being a little harsh with some of the wording in the good, but I think the most annoying this about Dark Universe is that the main “shocking twist” of the story is that The Eleven actually wins, he uses the titular Dark Universe (literally an alternate universe where everything was devoured by a race of pure-evil…formless… things) to invade and wipe out galaxies and races (like The Daleks and the Sontarans) and eventually conquers the universe with The Doctor forced to be his jester. If you saw my review of the War Master story “Anti-Genesis”, released just a few weeks before this one, you’ll understand that seeing (or hearing, I guess) a story structure I’d just said was somehow now trad and boring being used again immediately afterwards didn’t make me happy. Hell, even The Doctor being forced to be a source of amusement just reminded me of the “Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords” story from the 10th Doctor’s TV run.
Then we get to my other source of anger towards this story: So Ace is going along with The Doctor’s plan, despite not having seen him in some 20-odd years, an interesting plot point, but in the end The Doctor turns the tables on The Eleven and gains the trust of the Dark Universe at the cost of some lives, so Ace going full on teenage strop, throwing a hissy fit about being used and how The Doctor doesn’t care about the little people etc. The same speech she’s given several times now, but given this is supposed to be an adult, CEO version of Ace it was really disappointing to hear the writers write for her like she was still TV immature Ace. You’d think she would’ve seen this coming, maybe given a more harsher “Same old shit” speech (without the swearing, obviously!), but no, she throws a wobbly as if she somehow didn’t see this coming. What a waste!
Then we have more scenes of Ace and Ollistra in different timelines / post-apocalyptic time line, another trope I didn’t like in Anti-Genesis brought back, and yeah… Not good.
The big one is that the end scene of this story links straight to the opening pre-credits sequence of the first Doom Coalition story, simple titled “The Eleven”. Now that I think about it, Anti-Genesis also linked back round to an earlier box set, so that’s yet another thing these two releases have in common…
Ace being older and running a company called “A Charitable Earth” came about via a throwaway line during Sarah Jane Adventures episode “Death of the Doctor”, but has since been expanded on by the live-action trailer for the Season 26 Blu-Ray release, and a 13th Doctor book written by Sophie Aldred herself titled “A Childhood’s End”.
There are also a few references to The Quantum Possibility Engine from the earlier Seventh Doctor audio story, erm… “The Quantum Possibility Engine”.
I really wanted to like Dark Universe. It has an origin of sorts for one of my favourite Big Finish original villains, it uses the newly established older Ace character and the TV Movie version of The Seventh Doctor, but it just falls flat due to an over-used plot, and a failure to present Ace as having actually matured. If this is your first “Villain successfully takes over the universe but ends up finding it a bit boring before being taken down” story then you may think it’s epic and amazing, because the performances are good, but if you’re familiar with the trope, you’ll just hope this is the last time they pull that trick for a while…