Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Dark Eyes 4

The Dark Eyes saga draws to a close to a final series of audios that tie up several loose ends from the previous sets. After the departure of Molly O’Sullivan at the end of Rule of the Eminence, Liv Chenka has now taken over as the Eighth Doctor’s main companion having had several adventures with him in previous audios. In many respects Dark Eyes 4 is somewhat of a farewell tour for the saga, as unfortunately Ruth Bradley was unavailable so Molly is recast and the story shifts its focus away from her for perhaps the first time, and this is arguably for the best as it allows for some much-needed development of the Doctor and Liv’s relationship.

4.1 – A Life in the Day

After being utilised as a substitute companion until Molly’s departure, Liv Chenka finally gets a chance to develop as a character in her own right in A Life in the Day, which provides a refreshing change from the usual fast-paced antics of the series by opting to tell a small-scale story about death and time travel. The Eighth Doctor is taking care of the brother of one of Molly’s old friends, as he detects some temporal machinations in his house and is intrigued. Liv, in the meantime, gets some light-hearted scenes out on a date to a cinema and a restaurant in a period of Earth’s history that, for her, is ancient history.

Stories about temporal shenanigans are always interesting, and this one is no exception. The concise runtime allows for tight pacing that ensures that not a moment is wasted, and the small cast allows for a sharp focus on the story with some great character interactions that are brought to life beautifully by the cast. Nicola Walker finally gets a chance to show her range as an actress after being limited to a mostly supporting role in most of her stories up until this point, and although this isn’t her first audio as the Doctor’s only companion, it is the first of her audios to truly focus on her in the way that a Doctor Who story utilises a companion, and as such Liv is finally given the character focus that she deserves.

The story itself is a poignant one that makes this a really memorable opening story for Dark Eyes 4. Of all the Dark Eyes box sets, this one probably has the strongest opener as it not only sets up some plot points that will be picked up in later stories but it also proves that Big Finish can still deliver impactful standalone stories that utilise the best elements of Doctor Who in new ways. This audio keeps the references to surrounding Dark Eyes stories to a minimum so it is easy to listen to as a one-off story, which is great because A Life in a Day is easily one of the best offering in the Dark Eyes saga, particularly because it leads directly into the next story, another of the best stories in the Dark Eyes series:

4.2 – The Monster of Montmartre

A classic Dalek romp that harks back to The Great War from the first Dark Eyes box set by using the Daleks as a sinister creepy threat operating behind the scenes and exterminating people from the shadows, The Monster of Montmartre is probably the best Dalek story in the Dark Eyes series. The Daleks haven’t featured since Eyes of the Master despite being heavily involved in the marketing for the saga, but they have a strong presence here which is made clear right from the pre-credits sequence, which showcases the fantastic sound design that Big Finish is known for. The use of the Daleks as a sinister force that operates from the shadows is rare among Doctor Who stories, so that along makes The Monster of Montmartre stand out from other Dalek stories.

The Doctor and Liv are in Paris, still in 1921 after the events of the previous audio. Upon arriving, they soon discover that there is a monster stalking the streets of Montmartre. This audio tells a story that is sinister in several ways, one of which being that the alluring atmosphere of the entertainment in Paris at the time seduces young destitute artists into bars and nightclubs, such as the ‘Red Pagoda’, actually a damaged Dalek ship that has replaced the Moulin Rouge, which is run by the mysterious Madame Adelaine Dutemps, a creation and puppet of the Daleks.

The intrigue and mystery of this audio culminates in an encounter with the Dalek Time Controller, damaged and isolated after his last encounter with the Doctor, who is converting humans into ramshackle Daleks from within the Red Pagoda. The Dalek Time Controller decides to create a council of Dalek Time Strategists, who become important to the Dalek Empire much later on during the Time War, and the Time Controller also mentions that the Dalek Paradigm from Victory of the Daleks is causing the Dalek timeline to fluctuate, a nice touch. There is also a fantastic scene towards the end between Liv and the Dalek Time Controller that is by far the best scene in the whole audio.

4.3 – Master of the Daleks

Featuring one of the best cold opens of any Doctor Who audio drama, Master of the Daleks sets its bar high, featuring the Daleks, the Master and the Sontarans in the penultimate audio in what has essentially been a 16-part space opera saga. Unfortunately, however, this audio immediately jumps to two well-known tropes of the Eighth Doctor audios – expositional dialogue, and the Doctor suffering from amnesia. There are some humorous scenes due to this situation as the Doctor mistakes a Dalek for one of his companions, but it cannot be denied that at this point the amnesiac Eighth Doctor trope has become a tired, worn-out trait of the character that only exists due to the bizarre plot of the TV Movie and has plagued the Eighth Doctor’s era ever since.

The main plot of this audio is interesting, as the Master and the Dalek Time Controller team up to take over Earth, Sontar and a significant portion of the Galaxy using a combined Dalek-Sontaran army. Naturally, this alliance is an uneasy one at best. Alex Macqueen’s Master seems to be great at playing off other villains, one of the things that makes him so great in the Monthly Adventures story The Two Masters, and this is never more true than here as Macqueen and Nick Briggs work really well together. The character of the Time Controller is capable of a lot more expression than a standard Dalek, so this audio has room for some great dialogue between the two characters.

The obvious elephant in the room with this audio is that Molly is recast, having aged several years and now living in the Dalek-occupied timeline working as a nurse in a worker camp. Molly, now called Mary Carter, is played by Sorcha Cusak who does a great job playing the character. Dan Starkey also features in this audio, and does a great job playing all the Sontaran characters who battle with the Daleks at the end in a climatic conflict that requires some broad imagination to picture but is exciting nonetheless. A battle between the Daleks, the Master and the Sontarans is a fan’s dream come true, and Master of the Daleks does a great job of realising this concept in the best possible way without straying too far into the realm of confusing plotlines.

4.4 – Eye of Darkness

Despite the bizarre title (‘Dark Eyes: Eye of Darkness’) this audio presents some really interesting ideas for a story, such as a damaged and desperate Dalek commander trying to herd prisoner while also maintaining its casing’s structural integrity, and a planet dedicated to providing a peaceful and tranquil atmosphere for its patrons. Nicholas Briggs does a fantastic job playing the Dalek Time Controller, a very unique Dalek who displays a lot more personality than even the most ambitious Supreme or Emperor. The Time Controller is easily one of the most memorable Daleks we have ever had in Doctor Who and it is clear that the Dalek characters in the Daleks! animated series for Time Lord Victorious are somewhat based on the personality and mannerisms of this specific Dalek. Its interactions with Liv are a key element of this audio, and the two play off each other well as Liv questions the Time Controller’s every ruthless move.

In many ways, this audio represents the culmination of the Dalek appearances throughout the saga. They started off as the mysterious entity behind everything, with the Time Controller pulling all the strings, and now they return, once again as a sinister entity, but with the Time Controller very much on the back-foot. Listening to this deranged Dalek attempt to claw his way back into power is fascinating, and there are some great sequences involving lesser Dalek questioning the Time Controller’s authority, as his constant meddling with the timelines has lead to the Dalek Empire cutting him off, and we see the fall of the saga’s main villain which is definitely an important aspect of this climactic conclusion to the Dark Eyes saga.

Most importantly for the finale of Dark Eyes, the Eighth Doctor and Molly O’ Sullivan get a reunion in this audio at last, as the plot finally allows the two character’s paths to cross after all the build-up of the previous story. There are other links to the previous box sets as well, as this audio features the return of the creator of the Eminence as the deadly gaseous entity plays one final role in the saga before its conclusion, and we are finally given the last pieces of the puzzle to understand their true origins. Whilst the final end to the saga is somewhat swamped in technobabble, ultimately Eye of Darkness delivers a satisfying conclusion to the saga that end’s Molly’s story on a strong note whilst taking the Eighth Doctor and Liv Chenka into a new era, starting with the first box set in the Doom Coalition series.

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Doom Coalition 1

Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Dark Eyes 3

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

Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Dark Eyes 2

Following the success of the first Dark Eyes box set, Big Finish began to increase their focus more on multi-part boxed sets rather than individual stories. Dark Eyes 2 represents the transition period between box sets being an experiment and box sets being the norm for Big Finish, so the writers go to a great deal of effort to try and sell Dark Eyes 2 as the next chapter in what would be an ongoing saga that lasts for a total of four box sets, making one long 16-part story arc. Whilst the first Dark Eyes was its own self-contained narrative, Dark Eyes 2 begins a story that picks up where the first box set left off and explains some things whilst also posing its own series of questions.

2.1 – The Traitor

This story introduces one of the Eighth Doctor’s longest running companions, Liv Chenka, who had previously appeared in the Seventh Doctor audio Robophobia. By this point she is working as a medical technician on Nixyce VII, under the supervision of a Dalek occupation. In a unique twist for a companion introduction story, Liv proves herself more than capable of dealing with the Daleks before she even meets the Eighth Doctor, and she is easily the standout element of this story. As the eponymous ‘Traitor’, Liv works with the Daleks for the greater purpose of providing medical care to slave workers on the planet, and when rebels attempt an incursion she is mixed up in helping them.

The Doctor, in the meantime, is infiltrating the same facility disguised as a roboman whilst being hunted by the Dalek Time Controller, and the story uses its runtime well to keep the intrigue present throughout and move the plot along quickly and logically. Unlike the previous Dark Eyes stories, there is less reliance on technobabble and instead we are treated to a classic Dalek runaround, which is a welcome change and a promising start to the series. The conflict between Liv and the rebels brings up the interesting question of whether reform or revolution is the best path to take, as Liv uses Dalek technology to help the wounded whilst the rebels kill slaves to hurt the Daleks.

Another thing worth mentioning about this story is the character of the Dalek Time Controller, who returns once again and is as devious as ever. Nick Briggs does a fantastic job voicing this Dalek, the voice is unlike any other Dalek we have heard before, almost sing-song like Dalek Caan yet as arrogant and domineering as any Supreme Dalek. By this point the character of the Dalek Time Controller has been fully realised, and he is a refreshing new twist on the Dalek leadership that allows for more flexibility of storytelling as his motivations deviate from that of other Dalek Supremes. In many ways, this is reflective of The Traitor itself, as it is in many ways a standard Dalek story but it is different enough to be refreshing, and the New Series should definitely look to stories like this for ways in which they can use the Daleks in new ways.

2.2 – The White Room

The Eighth Doctor is reunited with Molly once again, and her dark eyes return as the retro-genitor particles from the previous box set appear to infect her once again. After living in the Doctor’s house until he shows up, she is involved in temporally-related intrigue as a sinister organisation begins abducting deserters and criminals to perform twisted experiments on them that render them almost completely translucent, and capable of limited time-travel. In the meantime, the Doctor hunts Molly down using the TARDIS after she is kidnapped by the insidious shadowy force at large.

The shadowy force turns out to be the Viyrans, a recurring species original to the Big Finish audios who were introduced in the Sixth Doctor Main Range story Patient Zero who are hunting various strains of alien virus that were scattered throughout the universe as the result of a Dalek incursion. Rather like the Judoon, the Viyrans are not necessarily evil but they are often willing to go to any necessary lengths to complete their task, which sometimes puts them at odds with the Doctor. In this case, the Viyrans are attempting to contain a controlled outbreak of a time-active virus, and are willing to destroy a sizeable portion of England in order to neutralise it.

The White Room is the first example of the Dark Eyes series telling a story that is not directly related to the overall story, and instead opts to use a pre-existing monster to tell a story that involves Molly and the Doctor reuniting, and the end result is very good. In fact, this is arguably one of the best audios in the Dark Eyes saga so far, as Molly is finally treated as an actual character first and a plot device second, and we also get a sense that the saga encompasses more than just the Doctor, the Daleks and the Time Lords. More importantly, however, it stands as its own story, and requires none of the context of the previous stories, unlike the next few stories which delve deeper into the series arc.

2.3 – Time’s Horizon

This audio is where the Dark Eyes story starts to get more complex, as the Doctor seemingly aids the Daleks in destroying one of their foes as he has knowledge of the other species that the listener hasn’t met yet and claims that they are in fact a greater threat than the Daleks themselves. The Doctor and Molly arrive on a spaceship at the edge of the universe, where Liv and a crew of humans have woken up from years of cryogenic sleep after fleeing the Dalek invasion. For Liv, this is set after the events of The Traitor, but for the Doctor those events haven’t happened yet, which presents an interesting situation for the two characters as Liv is still dealing with the aftereffects of that story. The intrigue that surrounds her and the other members of her crew plays an important part in this story, unlike many base-under-siege Doctor Who stories, the supporting characters are developed as actual characters instead of as throwaway pawns.

In many ways this audio is a turning point in the Dark Eyes series, as it not only introduces the newest recurring enemy of the saga but also shows the first meeting between Molly and Liv, and the disjointed order of the stories in Dark Eyes 2 so far begins to make more sense as the big threat is finally revealed known as the Eminence. This psychic, gaseous entity transforms living beings into bizarre entities known as Infinite Warriors, and is soon identified by the Doctor as a serious threat from the times he met them in Fourth and Sixth Doctor audios. The Doctor’s willingness to help the Daleks against the species that we now know to be the Eminence in The Traitor makes a lot more sense as they are arguably just as deadly a threat to humanity as the Daleks.

It is worth mentioning that there are some genuinely horrifying scenes in this audio, and the sound design, soundtrack and excellent performances from the cast come together beautifully in some really tense scenes surrounding the introduction of the Eminence and the Infinite Warriors. Interestingly enough, this audio features an eerie electronic remix of the Doctor Who theme used as part of the soundtrack, which is one of the few times in the entire history of the series that this is done. As one final treat, Time’s Horizon delivers an incredible twist that proves once again that Matt Fitton is one of the best writers Big Finish currently have at their disposal.

2.4 – Eyes of the Master

This audio culminates the wider story of Dark Eyes 2 whilst also rounding off several elements of the the original Dark Eyes, making it one of the most gratifying audios of the series as answers are finally forthcoming. However, this one is not for the squeamish as the Master has set himself up as an Optician and is literally harvesting the eyes of unwitting humans. Speaking of the Master, this audio features the first appearance of Alex Macqueen’s Master in the Eighth Doctor audios, and for many this is the first chronological story for the character that they will have encountered. In that sense it is unfortunate that the title spoils the reveal that Alex Macqueen is playing the Master, as it would have been an excellent reveal of it hadn’t been spoiled in advance. Macqueen makes an exceptional Master, and it is unfortunate that this incarnation has never had any appearances on-screen as he is a perfect blend of John Simm’s jovial insanity and Roger Delgado’s gentlemanly charm and seems to be tailor-made for the tone of the New Series.

This audio also features the return of Dr Sally Armstrong, another link to the previous Dark Eyes box set. Since the events of that series never happened for another other than the Doctor, Molly and the Dalek Time Controller, Sally is still alive, only in this timeline she has been recruited by the Master as an assistant. The Master’s plan is suitably ruthless, as he is quite literally harvesting humans with little regard for life, and this makes Eyes of the Master a suitably high-stakes finale. The Master’s shockingly domestic ‘optician’ personality is a great call-back to the very personal attacks on British home life that Roger Delgado’s Master employed, such as disguising himself as a rural vicar in The Daemons.

The Doctor and the Master get some great scenes in this one, and Alex Macqueen and Paul McGann are brilliant in their respective roles. The Master questions the Doctor’s decision to not destroy the Daleks in Genesis of the Daleks, and then to spare the Daleks again in order to save Molly in the previous Dark Eyes box set. This questioning of the Doctor’s good nature is a crucial aspect of the Master’s character that Alex Macqueen absolutes owns, as his ability to chew the scenery whilst simultaneously retaining a villainous presence is showcased perfectly in this audio. As the conclusion to Dark Eyes 2, Eyes of the Master does a fantastic job of rounding off story points from the previous two series, slotting the final story points from the non-linear narrative of this box set as well as introducing Macqueen’s Master to the mix, making it one the most effective finales of the Eighth Doctor’s era so far.

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Dark Eyes 3

Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Dark Eyes 1

As the Eighth Doctor’s relatively lighthearted adventures with Lucie Miller came to a devastating end in To the Death, a new era for the character begins that takes a much darker path than his previous outings. The first audio in Dark Eyes, The Great War, introduces new companion Molly O’Sullivan, an Irish Voluntary Aid Detachment nursing assistant played by Ruth Bradley who the Doctor meets after landing in World War 1 France. We also get an updated look for the Eighth Doctor, as Paul McGann took updated cast photos for use on the covers of newer audios that features a new outfit and shorter hairstyle. Overall, this is perhaps the biggest divergence for the Eighth Doctor since the Divergent Universe, and this new era wastes no time getting into the action.

1.1  – The Great War

This audio opens with the Doctor desperately launching the TARDIS towards the end of the universe, and also features a merciful return to the original theme for the Big Finish Eighth Doctor audios, composed by David Arnold. This theme is the definitive Eighth Doctor title theme for many, and it remains such to this day outside of the Time War audios. After the loss of Lucie, the Doctor is driven half-mad with grief, travelling to the end of the universe to try to gain some perspective on the suffering of the universe. Straxus arrives to dissuade him on behalf of the Time Lords, and sets him on a new mission: to find hope. This leads the Doctor to France during World War One, but unfortunately some old enemies are waiting for him. As the blurb states, the Doctor is searching for Molly O’Sullivan, the woman with the eponymous ‘dark eyes’, who is an experienced VAD tending to wounded soldiers on the front line. Her somewhat callous outlook on life is a result of the horrors she has witnessed during the war, and as such she is a wholly unique companion as the war has given her a very distinctive worldview. Although she comes across as standoffish and negative throughout, one cannot help but sympathise with her as by this point she has clearly seen some of the worst of the conflict already, whilst her younger peers have not. Through Molly’s letters home we hear her true thoughts and feelings, and we can begin to understand her as a character before she becomes a companion.

This audio is a fantastic example of the Daleks skulking around in the darkness, and spices up their appearance with some creepy scenes involving some fantastic sound design. It is nice to hear the Daleks being used to inspire fear, as it proves there are still ways they can be used that the New Series had not explored yet. Placing the Daleks in a historical setting is also a great opportunity for unique storytelling elements, and the idea of the Daleks skulking around the trenches of World War One invokes some very strong imagery, likely due to the similarity between the trenches of wartime France and the environment of Skaro during Genesis of the Daleks. Despite their appearance on the cover, the reveal of the Daleks is held back for quite a while, which makes their shadow that permeates throughout the story all the more intimidating.

As the mystery of this audio unravels, we begin to understand the story as the pieces fall into place, and like any good opening story of a series The Great War introduces the new companion and tells a concise, self-contained story all while making great use of its run-time to deliver a well-paced adventure that keeps the listener’s interest throughout. By this point Big Finish had definitely hit their stride when it came to setting up a story arc, particularly after the success of the EDAs, and this audio is a promising start to the Dark Eyes saga that poses several questions for later audios in the series to answer. Overall, The Great War is a great start to the series and sets up the story arc for the next era of Eighth Doctor audios excellently.

1.2 – Fugitives

A slightly more lighthearted audio than the previous story, Fugitives is Molly’s first run-around in the TARDIS and fills the role of bringing her up to speed with who the Doctor is, what he does and what to expect from being around him. Whilst this is crucial for kicking off the plot of the series, it does seem to be there for the purpose of taking Molly to different points in time and space, although fans of the William Hartnell TV story The Chase will appreciate the time-hopping nature of the story. Despite the somewhat contrived plot, this audio does give Molly a lot more room to grow as a character, as she is freed from the context of the First World War and given a chance to grow as a companion outside of her role as a VAD. In keeping with the idea of Dark Eyes as a space opera, we are treated to a plane chase involving flying Daleks going against a biplane, and the Daleks chasing the Doctor throughout time and space at the behest of the Dalek Time Controller.

It soon becomes clear that Molly is of some special significance to the story at large, as she is identified by the Doctor as the source of the hope he has been searching for. Although her introduction as a companion is somewhat sudden, her link with the Doctor is clear, as she recognises the TARDIS and seems to be able to operate the controls somehow, and the Time Lords believe that she is the result of an experiment by an as-yet unknown third party. As a result of his failed attempt to take them to Gallifrey, the Doctor accidentally takes Molly to World War Two, which results in some great scenes where Molly not only comprehends time travel but also sees some horrific visions of her future. Despite this she takes everything in her stride and proves herself a capable companion from the get-go.

This audio also introduces Doctor Sally Armstrong, a supporting character who works for the Ides Scientific Institute in the 1970s who receives a message from the Doctor with very specific instructions and funding of one billion pounds to create a time-space portal in the Doctor’s residence in Baker Street. Chaos ensues as a Dalek Time Squad invades London in pursuit of the Doctor, and the sound design for the Dalek attack is excellent, as it includes a medley of Dalek sound effects from across their history, from the 1960s to the 80s to the 2000s. Overall, Fugitives is a great first outing for Molly in the TARDIS and sets up some more interesting questions that add to the ongoing story arc, needless to say Dark Eyes gets off to an excellent start as the wider scope of this series is fully realised by the end of the second part.

1.3 – Tangled Web

After two stories of questions surrounding Molly, Tangled Web finally starts to give us some answers as to her origins. Laced throughout previous audios were eerie commands given to the Daleks by Toby Jones, who in this audio is revealed to be playing the rogue Time Lord Kotris. He is every bit as sinister and villainous in this series as he was as the Dream Lord in the Matt Smith TV story Amy’s Choice, so he was certainly a great choice for Kotris. This audio also progresses the relationship between the Doctor and Molly, as he is suspicious of her ability to pilot the TARDIS. Molly’s character setup is remarkably similar to the kind of story arcs for companions in the New Series for Rose, Donna and Clara, as Molly is introduced as the driving force behind the story who has been identified by both the Doctor and the Daleks as important, but the reason for this is as-yet unknown.

There is some remarkable imagery in this audio that draws on some bonkers concepts – the most striking is by far the idea of a Dalek city adorned with flowers, and Molly’s plea to the Doctor to attempt to see the good in the Daleks is definitely one of the standout moments for her character. The age-old question of the concept of a good Dalek is brought up again, and Molly’s personal experience with the horrors of war makes her just as anxious to believe that the Daleks can be good as the Doctor is. When presented with a bizarre reality in which the Daleks have dedicated themselves to humanitarian goals and discarded their evil ways, the Doctor is understandably sceptical, as is the listener, but it is a great setup and Tangled Web makes good use of its runtime to explore the idea of a Good Dalek City.

This audio begins the process of linking the Eighth Doctor’s timeline to that of the Time War, as although the ‘war’ mentioned throughout that threatens the Time Lords is not the Time War itself, it is a time war of sorts, and definitely serves as a prelude to the main conflict. Ultimately, the idea of the Daleks shedding their desire for conquest and retro-engineering themselves back into peaceful Kaleds does seem to be a promising conclusion for the Daleks, the ‘Final End’ envisioned back in the 1960s but one born out of peace, not destruction. Tangled Web presents one possible end for the Daleks, one that does present some hope for the universe, and that in itself makes the Doctor suspect that it is too good to be true. Overall, this audio is a great listen that answers a lot of questions posed by the previous audios and solidifies Molly’s status as the Eighth Doctor’s new companion.

1.4 – X and the Daleks

The Doctor and Molly find themselves on a planet in which Time Lord regeneration is impossible, and are soon embroiled in a conspiracy involving the mysterious ‘X’ and the Daleks, hence the title’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek riff on Doctor Who episodes that end in ‘the Daleks’. This story culminates many of the plot elements laced throughout this box set, and although the Dark Eyes saga is just getting started, it is safe to say that the first box set stands as its own self-contained story. Unfortunately, however, there are some issues with the conclusion, not least the significant amount of expositional dialogue and technobabble involved in explaining the plot. Exposition and technobabble are not necessarily bad in themselves, but when they are used in conjunction and in excess for too long it can make the story appear tedious and dense, especially in the audio format. Thankfully, the sound design is strong throughout, as with all Big Finish audios.

Ruth Bradley does an exceptional job as Molly, as she is not only a symapthetic character but also a great companion to fill the void left by Lucie Miller. Like Lucie, Molly has a spiky personality, but her native time gives her a temperament similar to that of Charley. In many ways, Molly reminds the Doctor of both of his previous companions, and it is for that reason that her friendship with him does not seem at all forced, despite the fact that the two were literally forced together by the plot. Toby Jones is also fantastic in this audio, as even though he is given a lot of ranting exposition his distinctive acting qualities make the character a treat to listen to.

The first box set in the Dark Eyes series comes to a satisfying conclusion with X and the Daleks, as Kotris’s plan makes sense and as it comes to fruition we see exactly why Molly was so important to him and the Daleks all along, and bizarrely Kotris becomes somewhat of a sympathetic character in the end. In hindsight the first part of Dark Eyes very much stands as its own entity, it is distinct from the previous era but is also separated from the other box sets in the Dark Eyes series as many of the saga’s wider story arcs hadn’t actually been written yet. This first box set completes its most important objectives, however, in that it introduces the new companion to great effect and lays the groundwork for the later Dark Eyes box sets to come.

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Dark Eyes 2