Kieran Brennan continues his journey through the second series of the Eighth Doctor Adventures with The Skull of Sobek!
On the planet of Indigo 3, the Doctor and Lucie venture into the Sanctuary of Imperfect Symmetry, a place of welcoming and safety. But our heroes are soon to discover a new, or perhaps ancient, evil that lies on this planet, and the threat it places on what should be a safe haven for all those who need it.
Due to its episodic nature, it’s just natural that no series of Doctor Who is made up of entirely great, or even good, stories. A weaker entry or two will always slip through the cracks, and for the time being The Skull of Sobek seems to be the weaker story in this series of Eighth Doctor Adventures. That’s not to say it’s totally without merit, but in honesty I feel as though the line between “a solid entry into Doctor Who’s canon” and “just a bit dull and uninteresting” has been quite thin in this series.
From my perspective, I would put this down to the lack of forward momentum in the stories. It rarely feels as though each story is pushing the overall narrative forward, or even the characters forward, in any meaningful or long lasting way. This is acceptable for the first series as its structure and format were fresh enough to keep the listener engaged, but for the second series we’ve hit the halfway point and nothing truly of note has happened, and it feels increasingly as though we’re going through the motions. Look at the TV show; each series has something fresh to shake up the show, a new Doctor, a new companion, both, an exciting overarching story… but here it feels like Big Finish have tried too hard to make the stories accessible, to the point where they feel skippable.
In fact, the most admirable part of The Skull of Sobek is the brief conversation towards the start of the story where the Doctor and Lucie discuss her getting used to everything and everyone around her dying, and how casually she can deal with death now. On a first listen I assumed this was an interesting set up for Lucie’s arc through the episode, perhaps it could further discuss how the Doctor affects his companions in a similar way as the brilliant story Scherzo, but it becomes very clear very fast that this was a throwaway conversation and not relevant to the actual development of the characters or even the themes of the story, and considering what Lucie goes through in the adventure one would expect at the very least the final scene to be a small interaction between the pair, reflecting on their earlier conversation, but it never comes up again.
Now, it’s fair to say these issues aren’t solely present in The Skull of Sobek and not other Big Finish stories, but the run of adventures has been so solid, if not rather strong, that they only truly begin to become relevant when you talk about a weaker story. There, the absence of a building narrative and character development stands out as a flaw within the structure of the story, rather than a “oh well, it was filler but it was good filler!” the rest of the series has undergone.
The Skull of Sobek has moments of genuine intrigue, but the script is confusing and unclear, the final product is vague and overly complicated. The failing here I think is the story not being properly translated to the audio medium, it’s hard to get a gauge on what’s going on at anyone time, and to be clear I don’t view this as an issue in the sound design as Big Finish are always masterful at that, but rather the scripting of the story itself. Pacing wise, it’s messy to say the least. Some scenes drag, others finish before you can register what’s happened, but in honesty most are just a bit dull and uninteresting. It feels like a weaker story from the Divergent Universe arc, we’re just going through the motions here with no real purpose or aim.
The Skull of Sobek isn’t the worst story Big Finish have put out, but it highlights the weaknesses of The Eighth Doctor Adventures, failing to engage the listener in any meaningful way. Despite a handful of intriguing ideas, there’s no substance here to grab onto, which makes this the whole effort the epitome of “skippable”.
The Skull of Sobek is available as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com