Doctor Who review: Dark Universe features the Seventh Doctor at his darkest

Big Finish’s first Doctor Who release of 2020 is a big one, as Dark Universe explores a key gap in mythology while giving us one of the darkest portrayals of the Seventh Doctor yet.

Wow. Where do I even begin with Doctor Who: Dark Universe? Ever since the Seventh Doctor story was announced by Big Finish last year, expectations have been high for this one. Does it live up to expectations?

It has to be said, Guy Adams had quite the shopping list when he had to write this story. Dark Universe features so many ties, links and nods to a lot of Doctor Who mythology. At the very top of the list were two particularly important plotlines.

Firstly, he had to write about a reunion between the Seventh Doctor and Ace. Not just any reunion, either – from Ace’s point of view, it’s been twenty years since she’s last seen the Doctor. She’s changed a lot from the teenage girl he once knew. As the CEO of A Charitable Earth, she has her own responsibilities to deal with. So when the Doctor comes asking for her help once more, she’s not exactly happy to see him.

Getting to hear older Ace is definitely refreshing. While Sophie Aldred’s been playing the character on audio for twenty years, it’s great to hear how the character has developed over time, away from the Doctor’s influence. The exploration of both the tensions between the two and the sense of disillusionment that Ace has offers a fresh and interesting perspective on this particular relationship.

Doctor Who

(L to R) Owen Aaronovitch (Gabriel), Mark Bonnar (The Eleven) and Sophie Aldred (Ace) star in Doctor Who: Dark Universe.
Image Courtesy Big Finish Productions

Seven and the Eleven

The reunion between the Doctor and Ace was just one of the two key elements that this story features. The other is how it acts as a prequel to Eighth Doctor series Doom Coalition.

At the start of that series, a flashback scene showed the Seventh Doctor observing the imprisonment of psychopathic Time Lord criminal the Eleven. It was clear that the Doctor was responsible for capturing him. But what we didn’t know at the time was how he did that.

Dark Universe reveals that story. This is a key bit of back story that regular Eighth Doctor listeners have been wondering about for a long time. Does Guy Adams’s story live up to expectations?

Puzzle box epic

Definitely. Guy Adams packs in a lot with Dark Universe. The story initially begins as something of a puzzle box mystery. Not just because we don’t know what the Eleven’s plans are, but also because we don’t know what the Doctor’s up to, either. There are a lot of questions raised in the first half of the serial, before the stakes become impossibly high in the second…

When telling a story with as high stakes as Dark Universe has, there’s a risk of overdoing it. Of having to reset everything by the end and leave no real consequences.

Thankfully, that’s not the story that Dark Universe tells. Yes, the stakes are high, but not everything is neatly resolved at the end. There are very serious and personal consequences in this story, particularly to the Doctor’s actions.

Doctor Who

The Seventh Doctor has often been one of the darker incarnations of the Doctor, but Dark Universe features him at his darkest yet.
Image Courtesy BBC Studios, BritBox

Dark Doctor

And this has to be my favorite aspect of Dark Universe: the portrayal of the Seventh Doctor. There are many TV stories and audios where this particular Doctor is portrayed as somewhat darker than many of his other selves. He plays chess games on a grand scale, and he’s made choices that most other Doctors wouldn’t dare make. For a while, it seemed like Big Finish were moving away from that particular depiction, giving us more of a lighter take on Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor.

Dark Universe changes that. This is the Seventh Doctor at his darkest yet. Not just because of the actions he makes in this story, but why he makes them. By the end, you have to wonder whether the price the Doctor paid to capture the Eleven was truly worth it.

This isn’t a depiction of the Doctor that you can get away with often. But not only does this characterization suit McCoy’s Doctor rather well. What’s also important is when it takes place for him. Without giving too much away, there are strong hints that Dark Universe takes place near an important point in the Doctor’s life…

Combining epic storytelling with exploration of key characters, Dark Universe is an extremely satisfying listen. It ties a lot of major mythology up and answers major questions, while also raising new ones. It’s also one of the more interesting and fascinating explorations of the Seventh Doctor that we’ve had in a long while. An essential listen for Doctor Who fans, and a great story to kick off the new year for Big Finish.

Have you listened to Dark Universe? Did you enjoy its take on the Seventh Doctor? What gaps in mythology would you like to see explored? Let us know in the comments below.