Following his introduction in the previous box set, Alex Macqueen’s Master takes centre stage as the main villain of this next phase of the saga. After his defeat at the end of Eyes of the Master, the Master continues his quest to gain control of the Eminence and as a result he appears in many of the later Dark Eyes stories. In this sense he is similar to his predecessor Roger Delgado, as his incarnation of the Master would appear often to antagonise the Third Doctor in his quest to escape Earth. Macqueen’s incarnation seems a lot more dangerous, however, as he possesses an element of the unpredictable madness of John Simm’s incarnation. As the events of this series unfold, Alex Macqueen’s incarnation quickly proves himself and he is without doubt one of the best incarnations of the Master in any Doctor Who medium.
3.1 – The Death of Hope
The Doctor meets Narvin, a Time Lord who is prominent in the Gallifrey spinoff series, and through a matrix projection he is able to witness the Master, Dr Sally Armstrong and a hypnotised Molly arrive on a planet called Heron’s World that has been conquered by the Eminence, and is an audience to the ensuing events that follow without being able to actually influence what is happening. This is a somewhat unusual setup for an audio, especially the first part of a box set, as the Doctor is completely separated from the main plot and serves merely as a bystander to events, commenting on them in a manner similar to the courtroom scenes in The Trial of a Time Lord. Whether or not you enjoy the ‘characters watching characters’ element of that TV story will likely determine whether or not you will enjoy this audio.
This audio also presents a bizarre mirror-image of the Eleventh Doctor’s look for Series 6 of the TV series, as the Master dons a Stetson and plays the ‘hero’ in order to infiltrate the human society hiding out on Heron’s World. It is fascinating to listen to, not least because Macqueen does such a fantastic job of making the character his own but also because you can really tell that the Master revels in impersonating the kind of character that the Doctor is by nature. For that reason, The Death of Hope subverts a lot of the classic Doctor Who story tropes, making it an interesting listen to say the least.
Ultimately, The Death of Hope is an intriguing opening story to Dark Eyes 3, and like any good opening it poses a new set of question regarding the Master, the Eminence and how the Time Lords are embroiled in the conflict. The interplay between the Master and Dr Sally Armstrong is great, as are the conversations between the Doctor and Narvin about the events unfolding. While this story is somewhat bleak, which is a given considering the fact that the title is The Death of Hope, it is ironically one of the most enjoyable audios in Dark Eyes overall.
3.2 – The Reviled
The Time Lords direct the Doctor and Liv to a planet on which human colonists are currently facing an uprising by the native species, the scorpion-like Ramossans, during the height of the Eminence War. This audio stars Sacha Dhawan, the Master from the Thirteenth Doctor’s TV stories, as one of the Human colonists who are being held prisoner by the Ramossans, which is an interesting piece of trivia that makes this audio that bit more fun to listen to. The Ramossans also have a very odd audio design, as they are apparently giant scorpions with translators fixed to their mandibles, so their voices are suitably intimidating and it is clear that the voice actors had a lot of fun with them.
In many ways The Reviled is a parallel for a lot of Human-vs-Alien stories in science fiction, as the Humans hold a fair degree of animosity towards the Ramossans, calling them ‘roaches’, and the Ramossans are intent on keeping the Humans contained, killing any who attempt to leave their designated areas. Like the Series 9 TV story The Zygon Inversion, the Doctor is put in the position of mediator in a conflict between humanity and another powerful force, and this audio does a great job of reflecting the good and bad things that both sides have done, just as how in a real conflict neither side is wholly innocent.
This audio also showcases just how ruthless and dangerous the Eminence really are, and they have a profound effect on the Doctor in a way that, up until now, only the Daleks, the Cybermen and perhaps the Master have been capable of. The Reviled does a great job of telling a self-contained story that is also an essential part of the wider narrative, and there are many aspects that are clearly inspired by the New Series in both tone and pacing. So far Dark Eyes 3 has been the most cohesive box set in the series so far, as the central theme of the Master’s grand plan with the Doctor working to stop him in various points across time and space is a great story arc for a series that this audio utilises very well.
3.3 – Masterplan
This is the audio where many of the questions throughout the last 2 box sets begin to be answered, as we get more information about the Eminence and this incarnation of the Master to provide some context at last, as well as some fan-service in the form of a fantastic conversation between the two characters. Trapped together as a result of one of the Doctor’s traps, the Master and the Eighth Doctor get some time to talk things over, and we are treated to some great honest conversation between the two that closely resembles the interplay between the Delgado incarnation and the Third Doctor in the ’70s. Each Time Lord tries to outwit and deconstruct the position of the other, both while thinking of how they can escape, and it makes for great listening. For anyone who has yearned for a modern story in which the Doctor and the Master sit down and have a nice hearts-to-hearts chat, this is the audio for you.
Liv, in the meantime, competes with Dr Sally Armstrong to influence the scientific research that would eventually create the Eminence, and Liv gets some excellent character development as she delivers some stinging criticism to Sally about how the Master is clearly using her for his own ends, and that she will be killed as soon as she outlives her usefulness. The tragedy of Dr Sally Armstrong is that, in the original timeline of Dark Eyes 1, she wanted nothing more than to travel with the Doctor before she was tragically exterminated by the Daleks. In this new timeline, however, she has been corrupted by the Master and is now seemingly just as sadistic and utilitarian as he is.
Overall, Masterplan is a fantastic story that is well-written and well-executed, with wonderful performances from all the cast that is only enhanced by brilliant sound design. As the story develops and inches closer and closer to the eventual conclusion the tension builds and builds, and of all the stories in the Dark Eyes saga thus far this one is the most intense.
3.4 – Rule of the Eminence
This audio presents humankind with its ultimate challenge, a politician who gets himself elected on empty promises and recycled rhetoric, a man who exploits the populist mentality to broadcast his own polluted agenda, a politician who takes advantage of a bad situation to ensure that he remains on top and the people beneath him suffer. No, it isn’t Boris Johnson, it is something slightly less evil, The Master, up to his old tricks. This is perhaps the Macqueen incarnation at his most evil, and it is clear that Matt Fitton has a clear understanding of the character of the Master and writes his appearances as naturally as any of the writers of the Jon Pertwee era. When is comes to high-stakes Doctor vs Master stories, there are few that can compare to this audio.
The idea of a world controlled completely by the Eminence, which is in turn controlled by the Master, is probably the most devious means that the Master could use to conquer the Earth, as unlike in the Classic series where the Master often wanted to destroy humankind or in the New series where the Master seems to be more focused on converting humans into slaves or puppets, this audio shows what the world would be like if the Master achieved his original ultimate goal of controlling all of humanity but in a subtle, behind-the-scenes way. In this case, the Master has literally grown a politician to use as a vessel to control the human race and everyone is hypnotised by modified Eminence gas that has permeated through the entire population. The Doctor is trapped amongst all this and tries desperately to regain some kind of sanity in the human characters he encounters, and listening to the Doctor evading the mind control of the Master as the two try to outwit each other is always fun.
We are also left with one of the most fundamental changes in this era, as Molly leaves the Doctor and Liv takes her place as the primary companion. This has been hinted at for some time, as Liv had accompanied the Doctor for many adventures before taking over as the main companion. Molly’s role in the story is not over, though her time in the TARDIS concludes in this story and as such it feels like the conclusion to the Dark Eyes saga has come a bit early, despite there being one more box set in the series. However, there are some loose ends that Rule of the Eminence leaves for Dark Eyes 4, as it focuses a lot of its attention on the Master which is important as Macqueen’s version is a relatively new incarnation who needs time to establish himself before the proper finale at the end of the next box set. Overall, Rule of the Eminence is a strong conclusion to Dark Eyes 3 that shakes up the status quo and concludes story arcs that have been running since the start of the era.
Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Dark Eyes 4