Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Ravenous 1

The Doctor and Liv are in pursuit of Helen and the Eleven after the conclusion of the Doom Coalition series, and this brings us to the first of the Ravenous box sets. Separating Helen from the Doctor and Liv is an interesting series arc for this box set, and provides a more pressing reason for them to go searching for the Eleven following the events of Doom Coalition and it also allows for some interesting character development between Helen and the Eleven later on. Ravenous represents a new era for the Eighth Doctor in more ways than one – the first box set of this series is the last to use to the silver Classic Series logo as all audios from this point forward use the new branding for the 2018 rebranding of Doctor Who.

1.1 – Their Finest Hour

Set during World War 2, Their Finest Hour features Ian McNeice who reprises his role as Winston Churchill that he played in Victory of the Daleks, as Churchill calls the Doctor on the eve of the Battle of Britain after several RAF fighters mysteriously disappear. It is interesting to note that Liv Chenka has no idea who Churchill is, as although she is Human she is from another planet in the far future, and all of her information about Earth’s history comes from the other companions she meets such as Molly and Helen, and there is a nice reference to Molly early on as Liv compares the two World Wars that she has now experienced at two different points in her travels with the Doctor. Although World War 2 is a fairly well-used setting for Doctor Who stories at this point, this audio focuses on a very specific aspect of the war that has not been explored in Doctor Who much.

This audio prominently features the Polish pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain, who in real-life history escaped the Nazi occupation of Poland and flew for the RAF in the Battle of Britain. This story’s two Polish pilots, Jan Ostowicz and Wilhelm Rozycki, are the two main pilot characters in the story, and honestly it is refreshing to have a World War 2 story that isn’t populated with over-the-top tally-ho British characters with faux-toff accents that are overused tropes of this historical era, and the pilot characters are very memorable and likeable in their characterisation which is a great surprise. After the sheer number of British pilot stereotype characters that have been featured in Big Finish’s early days, this audio comes as a breath of fresh air.

Their Finest Hour doesn’t shy away from a realistic depiction of war, and the characters are realistically depicted by a great cast. Paul McGann and Nicola Walker are great as always, Liv gets some great scenes as she is separated from the Doctor and trapped on an alien ship with one of the pilots and so must assume a Doctor-like role in order to escape. One of the most memorable things about this audio is its ending, which is suitably bleak given the setting and delivers a great gut-punch that hits home how horrible life was on the front line for those fighting in World War 2, particularly the Battle of Britain. As a series opener, Their Finest Hour does a great job, and it makes a really good first impression for the Ravenous saga.

1.2 – How to Make a Killing in Time Travel

This story begins with the much-maligned scientist Stralla Cushing attempting to invent time travel for her brutish boss, Cornelius Morningstar. Her experiments draw the attention of the TARDIS, and The Doctor and Liv are diverted in their search for Helen to the space station Scapegrace. Unfortunately, several other parties are aware of the developments in temporal technology taking place on the station and the cross-interferences of each group causes absolute chaos as the story progresses. This audio sometimes feels like a play, there are a few larger-than-life characters and bizarre creatures with enigmatic character traits, this is perhaps the closest this era gets to feeling like the Hartnell era, but at the same time it is also fast-paced and snappy like a New Series story. Liv is particularly funny in this story as she calls out the Doctor on his initial blasé approach to meddling, as his assurances that everything will be sorted in a jiffy are, of course, naively optimistic.

The story does take a few dark turns, however, and there are some great performances from the supporting cast that sell the grimmer scenes in this audio, and everyone from the comically deranged Morningstar to the charismatic duo of Gorl and Dron are memorable and give this story a very unique identity. The title is also fitting, as the invention of time travel and the string of crimes and blackmails that follow are the catalyst for a fascinating temporal murder mystery, with an interesting twist that the audience are aware of what is going on and yet all of the characters, including the Doctor and Liv, blunder through the story completely unawares. In a very Much Ado About Nothing-style series of mishaps and innuendos one murder causes a chain of events that threatens to destroy an entire civilisation.

Although this audio plays itself as somewhat of a comedic story, with the ending being played for laughs more than anything, this is a genuinely exciting listen and there are some great character moments between the Doctor and Liv. How to Make a Killing in Time Travel is a fun standalone story that has little to do with the wider story of the Ravenous series, but this is ideal as the next two stories return to the more pressing issue of Helen’s kidnapping. Nonetheless, some of Big Finish’s best earlier works are standalone audios, and this story continues that tradition with a fun run-around that makes for a nice diversion whilst also offering some funny and heart-warming character moments between the Doctor and Liv.

1.3 – World of Damnation

The tone shifts dramatically for the next story, World of Damnation, as the Eleven and Helen are trapped on Rykerzon, a maximum-security prison for the most dangerous criminals. To address the elephant in the room, this audio features the return of the Kandyman from the Seventh Doctor TV story The Happiness Patrol in 1988, who menaced the citizens of Terra Alpha with his deadly desserts. He is seemingly up to his old tricks in this audio after reconstituting himself with a new grotesque body, as he serves sickeningly sweet treats to the prisoners and officials alike on on Rykerzon. The Eleven is held prisoner, and Helen acts as a carer and emotional mentor for him, taking on an almost motherly role as the two characters are given months of time together to form a bizarre ‘friendship’. The scenes between these two characters throughout this audio are some of the most fascinating in the series, and it is good that the Ravenous series is doing more with the character of the Eleven as he is a really fun anti-villain to have around and there is a lot of potential with the character.

The Doctor and Liv finally arrive in pursuit of Helen and the Eleven, and are immediately separated, as is customary. Liv meets up with two of the best of the supporting cast, Ruzalla and Crabhead, who explain that the Kandyman has taken control of the prison and now treats the majority of the prisoners like animals, feeding them troughs of desserts to placate them as a form of crowd control. The setting of a decrepit prison being subverted by the Kandyman and transformed into a sickening sweet factory has some great potential that World of Damnation takes full advantage of.

Oddly enough, despite his notorious reputation in the fanbase, the return of the Kandyman is pulled off exceptionally in this audio as his completely reformatted body allows him to be reintroduced as almost a completely different character. Although the horrific, high-pitched voice of the Kandyman in the Classic Series was one of his defining features, the design of the creature caused several issues for the show and its appearance detracted from any potential explanation for its bizarre sugar-related philosophy. This audio sets up the Kandyman as an actual character rather than a monster, and without the insane voice and stomping costume the character has been changed for the better for audio. He even gets a great reunion scene with the Doctor as the two meet again after many years. The cliff-hanger ending to this story is also suitably gut-punching, though not for the reasons you might expect.

1.4 – Sweet Salvation

After finally meeting back up with Helen at the end of the last story, the Doctor senses that something isn’t right. As it happens, he is right, as the Eleven and the Kandyman have made an alliance to take over not only Rykerzon but the nearby Colony 23 as well, using pacifying sweets and fizzy drinks to take over the planet. As their plan is set into motion the Doctor, Liv and Helen as well as former prison occupant Ruzalla meet up at last and begin to unravel what is going on. This is somewhat of a low-key finale for the first series of Ravenous, though as with Doom Coalition before it lower-stakes finales allow for more room for character development. This story tests the trust between the Doctor and Helen as he suspects her of being manipulated by the Eleven and continues to question her motivations, much to the chagrin of Liv who trusts Helen implicitly. Overall the pairing of Helen and Liv has been a highlight of this era, and there is no better showcase of this than their relationship in the Ravenous series.

Speaking of great character pairings, the matchup of the Kandyman and the Eleven is an interesting choice to say the least, as both villains are suitably deranged and maniacal so the two complement each other quite well, though one has to wonder how anyone was fooled by their attempts to impersonate legitimate officials to deal with the people of Colony 23. The basic plan of influencing the population using particular flavours is interesting and fits with the character, as he is once again playing the role of enforcer for a tyrannical regime as he was in The Happiness Patrol. The Kandyman has some great interactions with some of the Eleven’s earlier personalities, particularly the child-like Three and animalistic Six, as their kid-in-a-candy-shop glee at being evil matches up well with an actual evil Kandyman.

Overall Sweet Salvation wraps up the first box set of the Ravenous series with a great character-focused finale and it sets up several plot threads for later in the series, including the Eleven’s developing character as well as the mysterious screeching entities that are pursuing him and the Doctor. Although this box set is only the first in the Ravenous series, it represents the end of an era in one crucial respect: this is the last box set to use the classic Doctor Who logo on its branding, as releases from this point onward use the new branding introduced in 2018 for the New Series under Chris Chibnall. There is a lot more to Ravenous 2 than a simple change of box art design, however, as from here things start to get spooky, as the next box set in the Ravenous series has one defining theme – Monsters.

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Ravenous 2

Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Doom Coalition 4

As the Doom Coalition series reaches its conclusion, the Doctor and his companions are thrust back together after being separated for a long time, and this final series takes a more measured approach to its storytelling than the previous series. Whilst Doom Coalition 3 had almost a three-part story following its first audio, Doom Coalition 4 returns to the more tried-and-tested format of four audios that tell independent stories that all link together into a wider narrative, featuring returning faces from previous Doom Coalition series as well as some returning characters from even earlier Eighth Doctor stories, and returning monsters from much later in the Doctor’s life…

4.1 – Ship in a Bottle

Following on from the events of Doom Coalition 3, the Doctor, Liv and Helen are trapped in a dead future drifting in a temporal escape pod. This story features only the main cast, with Paul McGann, Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan given the entire runtime of this bottle episode to give their characters a change to interact and converse after almost an entire series apart. After rationalising some of the events of the previous stories, the Doctor, Liv and Helen have some great character moments as they bicker and make up, and it is once again clear that Liv and Helen are two of the best friends that the Doctor has known up until this point, understanding him in a way that many other companions in both the Classic and New series don’t. Liv in particular sees through the Doctor’s bluster and her modern view of relationships leads to her often taking the lead in resolving internal conflicts in the group.

Usually bottle episodes are commissioned for Doctor Who when budgetary limitations are an issue, particularly for things like set building. Episodes like Midnight and Heaven Sent make excellent use of limited sets by focusing on character, so the fact that Big Finish have written a bottle audio story shows that they want to dedicate time to developing the main characters alone, which is definitely welcome after the relatively convoluted plot of the previous series. There is some element of threat however, as the trio are trapped in an escape pod stranded in a dying future with no hope of escape, and as the Doctor fails to get his friends out of this hopeless situation we get to see a really remorseful and fatalistic side to the Eighth Doctor and Liv and Helen really prove themselves here as they take charge when the Doctor loses hope.

This audio is actually somewhat reminiscent of an episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine called Explorers, which also depicts the main characters talking to each other in a tiny ship and, when things go wrong, they use their quick wits and intuition to escape. Unlike that episode, however, Ship in a Bottle focuses exclusively on our main characters with no distractions, making this an atmospheric audio with lots of tension and great character moments for everyone, but Liv is definitely the standout here. At this point Liv has travelled with the Doctor for long enough to know how he approaches fatalistic situations, and so she is able to find hope when Helen and even the Doctor himself cannot. Nicola Walker is excellent as always, and it is bizarre to think that Liv was originally introduced as a stand-in companion as yet she soon becomes one of the best characters in the Eighth Doctor’s era, and this audio is a great example of that.

4.2 – Songs of Love

This audio picks up where Doom Coalition 3, but from River Song’s point of view, as she infiltrates the Doom Coalition by pretending to side with Padrac following the Doctor’s exile into the dead future, which is both hilarious and fascinating to listen to. Although we as listeners are fully aware that River Song is merely buying time and playing along, she definitely does a convincing act while pretending to be part of Padrac’s plan. In the meantime, the Gallifreyan High Council in is disarray having heard whispers in the Matrix that predict the Time War. Padrac’s plan is insane, but one cannot help but sympathise as he has given up his old life as a bureacrat and embraced the renegade life to try to save his homeworld from certain destruction, though his methods of saving Gallifrey leave much to be desired as he essentially betrays the entire universe which is particularly stinging as he was once a close friend of the Doctor’s.

There are some great scenes in this audio, such as a particularly interesting segment in which River Song gets to visit Gallifrey before the Time War, and another sequence in which she is scanned by the Matrix only for it to conclude that the beginning and end of her timestream are confusing, an fun nod to the convoluted nature of River Song’s timeline in the New Series. Speaking of references to the New Series, arguably one of the most direct references is when River Song is able to use her status as the known assassin of the Eleventh Doctor at Lake Silencio that the Matrix recognises as a fixed point in time in order to convince the Doom Coalition that she wants to join them. This audio is full of fanservice moments for the New Series, though this is just the tip of the iceberg for fanservice in Doom Coalition 4.

There are also some interesting scenes in the Gallifreyan High Council in this audio, in which Padrac suggests that the Matrix predicts a Time War, but also the destruction of Gallifrey even should a Time War not come to pass, which is an interesting viewpoint as he may have been somewhat vindicated by recent events of the New Series regarding the destruction of Gallifrey by the Master during Series 12. In the meantime, Liv and Helen get more time to talk after the events of the previous audio, and Helen finally reveals the truth about River Song to her which leads to a great scene of the two becoming closer friends. Despite barely featuring the Doctor at all, this audio is probably one of the most important in the series, as the Eleven, the Sonomancer and Padrac finally come together as the previous arcs of the past Doom Coalition series converge at last. River Song also gets a great farewell with Liv and Helen, as well as a poignant scene with the Eighth Doctor who is allowed to retain his memories of her from their meetings in his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh incarnations if only briefly, making this audio somewhat of a finale for River meeting Classic Doctors.

4.3 – The Side of the Angels

The Eighth Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive in 1970s New York, only to discover that the Time Lords that fled Padrac’s revolution on Gallifrey have established themselves in the city as part of a development firm pushing forward construction in the city on a massive scale, assisted by none other than the Monk in a new incarnation played by the wonderful Rufus Hound. Carolyn Pickles stars as Cardinal Ollistra, a prominent Time Lord official who will be known to fans of the War Doctor audios as a prominent Time Lord official during the Time War who is assisting in the redevelopment of New York. It turns out that Ollistra and the Monk are attempting to set up a refuge from Padrac’s plans by altering Earth history to transform New York into a huge metropolis that replicates the Time Lord cities on Gallifrey.

It soon becomes clear that there is more at work than a simple Time Lord refugee operation, however, as the Weeping Angels are also active in New York in this era. One might wonder how the Weeping Angels can be translated into the audio format, as they are a very visual monster and are dependant on jump-scares during their appearances in the New Series. In spite of everything Big Finish’s excellent sound design makes the Angels’ jump to audio seem totally seamless, and it is remarkable how much of the personality of the Weeping Angels comes from their trademark ‘shriek’ jump-scare sound effect. Ironically, however, this is one of the Angels’ strongest appearances since their very first appearance in Blink all the way back in 2007.

Rufus Hound is also exceptional as the Monk, and he and the Eighth Doctor have a great confrontational scene as the Doctor is still bitter about the events of their previous encounter that resulted in the deaths of Tamsin Drew, Alex Campbell and Lucie Miller. This time, however, the Monk is seemingly working for the benefit of Gallifrey. However, the Time Lord’s plan to side with the Weeping Angels in order to ride out the destruction of everything raises a few questions, as once everything is destroyed, there is nothing to stop the Angels from simply killing the remaining Time Lords and becoming the last beings in existence. Even the Eleven himself comments on how ludicrous their plan sounds, which goes to show how truly baffling it actually is. The highlight of the entire audio is the Monk’s final scene, which provides some karmic poetic justice that has been long due since the Monk’s last appearances in the EDAs.

4.4 – Stop the Clock

The Eleven is back in force for the finale of his introductory series, and the Doom Coalition saga reaches its crescendo as the Sonomancer and her ‘lover’, Padrac’, finalize their plans for the destruction of the universe. The alliance between the three villains is an uneasy one, however, and the Doctor and his companions are able to ally themselves with the remaining loyalist Time Lords by presenting them with the Eleven. One of the best scenes of this audio is when the Eight finally gets his vengeance on his other evil selves, as the Doctor, Liv and Helen are able to encourage the Eight to temporarily take control of the Eleven and divulge his entire plan, allowing the one good man trapped in the maelstrom of the Eleven’s other selves to once again help defeat the Doom Coalition, even long after his death.

It has to be said that Padrac is not exactly the ultimate villain to end all ultimate villains, as even with his new renegade persona he still comes across as a bureaucrat and his attempts to manipulate the Sonomancer’s love for him are clearly obvious, yet she seems totally oblivious to it. The Eleven is the villain who makes the most impact in this audio, there is a brilliant scene between him and his guard while he is imprisoned by the Time Lords that proves that even after four box sets he is still just as fun a villain as he was in his first appearance. Despite this, he is discarded by Padrac as easily as the Sonomancer, and despite his status as perhaps the least auspicious villain, Padrac proves himself to be the master manipulator in the end.

In the end Padrac’s actions lead to an all-out Time Lord civil war, and as the Sonomancer reveals his true intentions as the mastermind behind her entire ordeal, as when she was the student Caleera it turns out that it was Padrac who was suppressing her abilities and manipulating her teachers and seniors into repressing her potential for her entire life, forcing her to hate the universe. Caleera becomes quite a sympathetic character at the eleventh hour, but the revelation that Padrac was the one that instigated her life of repression somewhat goes against the principle that it was Time Lord society that repressed Caleera’s potential. Caleera’s final moments also calls back to a very specific audio earlier in the Eighth Doctor’s timeline, though it would be a huge spoiler to reveal it here. Overall, Stop the Clock is a fantastic finale for Doom Coalition that brings all of the elements from throughout the series together in a satisfying conclusion that also sets up a lead for the next saga, as the Eleven kidnaps Helen and the Doctor and Liv pursue them into time and space, leading into the next saga: Ravenous.

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Ravenous 1

Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Doom Coalition 3

After escaping from the Eleven’s scheme in The Sonomancer, the Doctor, Liv and Helen finally start to put the pieces of the grand plan together in Doom Coalition 3. Unlike Dark Eyes, which presented a separate story in each of its box sets, it is clear that Doom Coalition had more pre-planning in advance, and so many of the plot elements that have been weaved throughout the previous two box sets begin to culminate here. This series is essentially one long continuous story, with each part building on the events of the last to deliver a climactic finale.

3.1 – Absent Friends

This audio is a fascinating listen as it subverts the standard Doctor Who format for a story with classic misdirection, presenting an example of a situation where the Doctor, his companions and the audience are presented with various clues and theories that cast suspicion on various characters, but instead of dealing with a malevolent entity the Doctor is simply up against a temporal phenomenon, which is oddly a storyline that isn’t used much in Doctor Who. Imagine an episode like Father’s Day, except there are no Reapers, just the presence of a bizarre timey-wimey problem that is causing issues in a town. The real focus of this audio is character development for Liv and Helen, not just individually but also as a companion unit with the Doctor. This trio quickly solidifies as a group of close friends, and this audio is an excellent showcase of that.

As the TARDIS team lands in 1998, Helen sees an opportunity to reconnect with her family, and against the Doctor’s advice, she attempts to seek out her surviving relatives with disastrous consequences. After learning that her still-living relatives despise her for abandoning them in 1963, she realises that she never returns to her family and, after pretending to be her own daughter, she sees how her family have got on without her for over three decades. Intending to apologise for leaving her family behind, she unfortunately ends up making the situation even worse, and as the Doctor explains her decision to see them again has now locked her in a timeline where she never returned home, and she can now never return to 1963 and has lost 35 years of her life.

We also learn a lot more about Liv’s early life, a topic that has barely been covered so far in the audios in which she has appeared. Her character very much lives in the moment, and it definitely comes across that she feels uncomfortable talking about her past and her personal life. Nicola Walker does a fantastic job as Liv throughout her time in the series but Absent Friends is a brilliant illustration of her expert portrayal of the character. She gets some really poignant scenes towards the end, and as this audio deals with the finality of death and how it separates us from our loved ones, the meaning behind the title Absent Friends becomes clear towards the end. In these times, a poignant story about calling loved ones that you miss is a lovely sentiment.

3.2 – The Eighth Piece

This audio starts to slot together the various plot elements of the Doom Coalition series as we finally start to see the ‘grand plan’ of the series begin to take shape. The Doctor, Liv and Helen split up and each search specific time periods looking for pieces of a bizarre temporal device – the Doctor searches Tudor England, Liv is dropped in 14th century Prague and Helen goes to 21st century Italy. This in itself is a really great idea for a story that, when done right, presents some unique opportunities for time-travel storylines. The Eighth Piece sometimes comes across likes it has bitten off more than it can chew, particularly with the inclusion of River Song amongst a large group of supporting cast. However, it is a fun ride and each of the main characters is given their own small adventure and the plan of the Doom Coalition plays a role in each of them.

This audio also features the Eight, the earlier incarnation of the Eleven who devoted himself to becoming a good man. The Eight is in many ways a tragic character, as he is tormented by the angry voices of his previous incarnations and it is only through meditation that he is able to retain his control of his past selves. Interestingly, however, the Eight seems to be a lot better at keeping his previous incarnations contained than the Eleven is, despite the fact that his personality is so at odds with his other selves. The concept of meeting the Eleven’s former selves when they were still alive introduces some interesting opportunities for the character which are explored more later in the series.

Overall The Eighth Piece is a great listen, an action-packed adventure across time and space with some great moments, including River Song versus Clockwork Robots, the Eighth Doctor versus Thomas Cromwell, the Eight and a new villain known only as ‘The Clocksmith’. River Song’s inclusion in the series becomes more important here than in the previous box set, as her status as a time-traveller makes her able to contribute to the grander, universal temporal plan without having to be taken there by the Doctor, which is quite an understated benefit of having her appear in this series as this not only helps with pacing but also allows the audience to be privy to information that the Doctor and his companions are not, which is crucial for later events of the series.

3.3 – The Doomsday Chronometer

Following on directly from the events of the previous story, The Doomsday Chronometer gives us a proper introduction to the Clocksmith, a villain who is defined by his role as an artist. Unlike the Master, who is motivated by chaos, or the Rani who is primarily a scientist, the Clocksmith is dedicated to creating incredible works of art using extremely rare temporal materials, trapping his victims in the moment of their death in order to capture their final moments and immortalise them forever. Despite his clear insanity, the Clocksmith is simply one part of a greater organisation, the eponymous Doom Coalition.

Helen and River Song’s side of the story is developed a bit more here, as they are embroiled in a fun romp travelling throughout time and space pillaging lost historical artefacts that have special significance to the Doom Coalition, and the two make for a great duo as River fills the surrogate Doctor role and Helen’s knowledge of history makes her the perfect companion to take on a time-space extravaganza. River is also great here, as her foreknowledge of the Doctor’s future allows for some fun call-backs (or call-forwards, depending on how you look at it) to the New Series. She even meets the Doctor, though thanks to her psychic disguise she is able to conceal her true identity from him, in order to preserve the timeline.

Big Finish have to be commended for creating a massive temporal narrative that they actually pull off, a huge story involving lots of different temporal players including the Doctor, the Eight, the Clocksmith and River Song, not to mention non-time traveller characters like Liv and Helen, Thomas Cromwell, the Clockwork Robots and the various supporting cast, all of which culminate into a complex but gripping narrative that plays out across various time periods. As the penultimate audio to Doom Coalition 3, The Doomsday Chronometer is as exciting and action-packed as any New Series adventure, and the ending delivers a twist that sets up a very interesting finale.

3.4 – The Crucible of Souls

After the Eight was killed and regenerated into the Nine after retreating to the Doctor’s TARDIS, Liv and Helen mistake this new incarnation for the Doctor, setting up a really good premise for the story. The Nine just immediately taking the role of the Doctor whilst also displaying his trademark kleptomaniacal tendencies makes for a great listen, John Hefferman is brilliant as the Nine and his charisma and jovial nature can somewhat explain how he is able to fool Liv and Helen, particularly as the Doctor has been shown to be unstable after previous regenerations which lends some credibility to his seemingly sudden change in personality. He even gets an outfit reveal scene which is remarkably similar to scenes in the New Series where the Doctor shows off the new costume post-regeneration. Just as with the Eight, having the Nine appear in the flesh in an audio is a great touch, it is always great to see more of the Eleven’s previous incarnations and hopefully Big Finish use this idea more in the future.

All things considered, Liv and Helen take the Doctor’s regeneration remarkably well at first, particularly Helen who had no prior knowledge of the process. This is just one of many reasons why Liv and Helen are such good friends to the Doctor, and it doesn’t take them long to start having suspicions about this ‘new incarnation’ once he starts displaying noticeably un-Doctorlike traits such as greed and ruthlessness. In the meantime, the real Doctor and River (still disguised as her time-travelling Nun persona) investigate the Doomsday Chronometer. It has to be said that Liv is given some great scenes in this story, and she alone is able to figure out what’s going on before anyone else, even River and the Doctor.

What follows is an action-packed adventure as all parties finally converge on place. The Doctor is disguised as the Clocksmith and along with River he infiltrates the Doom Coalition headquarters, whilst the Nine does exactly the same whilst disguised as the Doctor. All the while Liv and Helen are caught up in the mix, not sure who they can trust as both the Doctor and River can’t blow their cover and the Nine is soon revealed to be an imposter posing as the Doctor. There is another twist in this audio, one that slots the final player into place as the Doom Coalition’s ultimate plan is revealed. This is where the Eighth Doctor era really starts to intersect with the New Series, and not just because of River Song. This is a fearful ear for the Time Lords, who are beginning to foresee the Time War and yet are powerless to prevent it. Nonetheless, the group of extremists known as the Doom Coalition are willing to take extreme measures to change history.

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Doom Coalition 4

Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Doom Coalition 2

After narrowly escaping an encounter with the Eleven at the conclusion of Doom Coalition 1, the Doctor, Liv and Helen are planning a holiday to relax after their ordeal and find a retreat to enjoy some off-time. Whilst Doom Coalition 1 was mostly focused on introducing the new companion, Helen Sinclair, as well as establishing the Eleven as a primary villain of the series. Following this establishing series, Doom Coalition 2 gets more time to focus on establishing the series arc for Doom Coalition, as well as introducing more recurring elements that feed into the overarching narrative.

2.1 – Beachhead

Set in the town of Stegmoor in Cornwall, Beachhead opens with a bizarre sequence involving two women complaining about the Wi-Fi that ends with a sudden flood that washes one of them away, which would seem to be an utterly bizarre way to open a story were it not for the fact that Stegmoor seemingly holds some significance to the Doctor as he decides to take Liv and Helen there for their planned retreat. This audio is notable for basing several elements of its plot around an ‘unseen’ Third Doctor adventure, in which he, the Brigadier and Liz Shaw investigated a supposed alien crash site during their time working for UNIT, decades before this story set in 2017. Certain characters in the story have knowledge of the Doctor that creates some tension, as some who remember his involvement in previous events hold a grudge against him for his role in a supposed government cover-up.

As the cover suggests, this audio features the return of the Voord, one of their only appearances in a Big Finish audio. This obscure monster first appeared all the way back in The Keys of Marinus, a First Doctor story first transmitted in 1964, and although their costume design and appearance in that story was somewhat lacklustre due to the technical limitations of the time, the audio format allows for the Voord to be fully realised as the sleek, agile creatures that they were initially envisioned as. The Voord are an intimidating presence in this audio which is aided by the excellent sound design, and the cast do a fantastic job with the Voord voices.

This audio is a classic example of a story involving morally dubious Humans along with morally dubious alien invaders, as although the Voord present a clear threat, the Doctor’s previous history with Phillipa Gregson in his Third incarnation proves to be of more harm than good, as the Doctor’s failure to identify the Voord threat decades earlier has profound effects on Phillipa’s life, as well as the events in the narrative of this story. It is interesting to have a villain from such an early period in Classic Who return for a modern story, and in many ways the new TV series could adapt classic villains that were poorly presented by their production design at the time by updating their designs as they did with the likes of the Macra in Gridlock.

2.2 – Scenes From Her Life

This audio is a bizarre listen, as a trio of deranged individuals inhabit a bizarre Gothic castle floating around in the time vortex performing experiments on innocent people, seemingly focusing the powers of a Time Lord girl with intense psychic abilities. Meanwhile, the Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive there after following the trail from the destroyed Voord homeworld, encountering the huge malformed structure floating in the Time Vortex. Upon encountering the barmy inhabitants of the city, the Doctor realises just how insane they actually are. This is where the exceptional supporting cast, particularly Vincent Franklin and Jacqueline King, bring this story to life with a dynamic performance as the Mad Hatter-March Hare duo of ‘Lord Stormblood’ and ‘Lady Sepulchra’.

The subplot of this audio involves flashbacks to Gallifrey, where Caleera, the Time Lord with psychic powers, is first discovering her abilities and is held back by the higher-ups of Gallifrey who want to suppress her abilities. It is not hard to feel sympathy for her, as her origin is a tragic one, though over the course of the story she begins to manipulate Helen and it soon becomes clear that her intentions are less than noble, particularly after years of oppression from the Time Lords. Caleera is definitely an interesting character and the fact that this audio ends on a cliff-hanger means that she is bound to show up again later on.

The setting of Scenes From Her Life is incredible, the constant creaking of damaged machinery and sparking of exposed wiring showcases the exceptional quality of Big Finish soundscapes. Dank, eerie corridors, rotting technology and howling corridors inhabited by crazy aristocratic murderers makes for a great setting for a scary story. This is definitely an audio that needs to be listen to in order to be appreciated, and there are many plot elements that haven’t been touched on here as there is a lot of intrigue and some excellent reveals that make this audio one of the best in the series that presents one of the most twisted and disturbing challenges for the Doctor, Liv and Helen that we have heard thus far.

2.3 – The Gift

Arriving in 1906 San Francisco, the Doctor is seemingly transfixed by music that Liv and Helen cannot hear and soon wanders off looking for a barbershop of all things, while Liv and Helen intervene to prevent a bankrupt theatre owner from being carted away by loan sharks. Despite the seemingly benign opening, there are some elements of strange goings-on in the city, as a man stalks the streets howling about the ‘day of retribution’, and another sinister man offers huge amounts of money to the downtrodden, which is apparently the eponymous ‘Gift’. This audio deals with the theme of temptation in times of destitution, and how seemingly good-natured people can be manipulated by promises of money.

The Doctor’s bizarre behaviour and the seemingly supernatural shenanigans going on in San Francisco are explained when it becomes apparent that a Time Lord’s psychic influence has created an affliction that is passed from person to person, devouring their life force while briefly granting their every wish. The fact that this story is set at the same time as the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 is noted by the Doctor as being a bad sign. The links to this historical event make for some interesting set pieces, and Big Finish do an impressive job of creating the environment of a city devastated by an earthquake and the subsequent fires with excellent sound design.

This audio is quite interesting as we get to see what could happen if the Doctor became an all-powerful being, who immediately isolates ‘problems’ in the universe that need fixing. The concept of an all-powerful Doctor has been played with before, but this audio depicts the Doctor almost giving in to the temptation of absolute power. There is also a surprising cameo in this story that begins the increasing links between the latter Eighth Doctor audios and the New Series, in that River Song becomes embroiled in the Doom Coalition conflict due to its temporal nature and leaves a very familiar message for the Doctor.

2.4 – The Sonomancer

Alex Kingston makes her first appearance as River Song in this story, and from the beginning she brings the role to life in audio form. River’s introductory scene at the start depicts her doing her job investigating an ancient site before being captured by a minion of the Eleven and Caleera, who is now calling herself the Sonomancer. Despite being captured right at the start, River still makes a good first impression in the series and makes for a wonderful addition to an already dynamic cast for this finale. The Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive on Syra, and soon encounter a group of peaceful Syrans lead by Mariam. Unfortunately, however, this audio does spend a fair bit of the first act simply getting the characters into place, with more focus on secondary villains than the main cast at first.

The audio really starts to get interesting when Helen finally meets River, as she is kept apart from the main cast for the majority of the first half but when Helen is separated from the rest of the group it provides the perfect opportunity for the two characters to meet and interact. There are some fun sequences here, such as River showing Helen a selection of the Doctor’s faces and asks her to point out which one is hers, as well as the explanation that River meets previous incarnations of the Doctor in disguise or through a middle-man so that their established ‘first’ meeting in the Library in his Tenth incarnation can still happen.

Another interesting aspect to this story is the interactions between the Eleven and the Sonomancer, as the two are embroiled in an intriguing relationship that is clearly unstable from the start. The Eleven is eventually left to do most of the legwork himself as Callisto distracts the Doctor whilst Liv gets to battle the Eleven in a giant mech Aliens-style, which is awesome. River Song also gets to use Venusian martial-arts on the Eleven which is hilarious to listen to, and Helen’s character is developed further as her secret friendship with River gives her an edge over Liv and the Doctor in subsequent River stories. Overall, The Sonomancer is a fun listen, though unlike previous series finales it doesn’t feel like much of a conclusion story, with many of the plot elements being unresolved and left for later audios in the series. River Song’s introduction takes the main stage, and this is executed quite well and shows how the writing of the series has improved since Dark Eyes, which had each finale conclude its respective mini-arc within the saga. Doom Coalition 2 has definitely impressed and despite the similarities in format to the previous era, the unique identity of Doom Coalition as a series has now been established.

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Doom Coalition 3

Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Doom Coalition 1

At the conclusion of the Dark Eyes saga, the Doctor and Liv Chenka are finally free of the Daleks, the Eminence and the Master, and as one saga ends another begins. Doom Coalition is much more character-focused, as whilst Dark Eyes was a space opera saga in audio form, Doom Coalition is more of a return to the traditional Doctor Who format of many stories in a series linked by a recurring story arc, in this case the malevolent meddling of a renegade Time Lord criminal known as the Eleven. This new series not only introduces a new companion, bringing the TARDIS team to a total of three members, but it also introduces a new villain who has a lasting impact on the next few series of Eighth Doctor audios.

1.1 – The Eleven

This audio begins with a great sequence involving the Seventh Doctor played by Sylvester McCoy and a new Time Lord character that this series introduces called the Eleven, played by Mark Bonnar. This Time Lord suffers from regenerative dissonance, a Time Lord condition in which the previous incarnations of the Time Lord live on as voices in their head, and the Eleven is so named because he is the eleventh incarnation, and so possesses ten previous incarnations that periodically take control of his body to comment on events, converse with each other, or attempt to take control. Bonnar’s performance is electric and the Eleven is perhaps the greatest original villain that Big Finish have created, and this audio is a great introduction to the character.

The Doctor and Liv are drawn to Gallifrey as the Eleven escapes his long imprisonment, and we get to visit post-Classic era Gallifrey at the height of its power, that not only tolerates Human presence on the planet but outright seeks the Doctor’s help in stopping the threat, which is a welcome change from previous Gallifrey stories that position the Time Lords as antagonists of the Doctor. Learning more about Gallifreyan society during the presidency of Romana II is fascinating, and the majority of the Time Lord characters are well-developed, although there are still some Time Lords who insist on playing the bad-cop role.

Thanks to an obscure Time Lord law and a brief period as a member of the High Council in his first incarnation, the Eleven is able to seize control of Gallifrey and install himself as Acting President, taking Liv prisoner and attempting to steal the Time Lord’s repository of weapons. There is some interesting banter in this story, between both the Doctor and Farina and the Eleven arguing with his various incarnations, and this is a great series opener that makes excellent use of the run time to deliver a great Gallifrey story that doubles as a fantastic introduction to the Eleven. Paul McGann, Nicola Walker and Mark Bonnar are all fantastic, and the supporting cast do a great job of bringing Gallifrey to life for a new era of audios.

1.2 – The Red Lady

This audio is very memorable, beginning with a fantastic opening in which the collection of a recently deceased art collector is donated to the National Museum despite the fact that his final instructions insisted that it remain hidden from view. This kicks off a mystery involving the eponymous Red Lady, as she appears in every single piece of artwork in the collection which peaks the interest of several academics. The Doctor and Liv arrive in London 1963 in pursuit of the Eleven, and are soon embroiled in the mystery. This audio is steeped in curiosity and intrigue, and makes for a great self-contained story that is similar in several ways to the New Series TV story Blink, as this is definitely one of the most intriguing horror stories in Doctor Who.

This audio introduces us to the newest companion of this era of Eighth Doctor audios, Helen Sinclair, who works in the National Museum in 1963 despite the disdain of her male colleagues. Helen’s struggle to make a name for herself in the predominantly male-dominated world of 1960s Britain makes her a sympathetic character from the start, and she has immediate chemistry with both Liv and the Doctor making her an ideal addition to the TARDIS team. Played by Hattie Morahan, Helen is a great companion for the Eighth Doctor and her introduction in this story is easily one of the best things about Doom Coalition 1. Hattie Morahan is a wonderful addition to the cast and she is immediately likeable in this story despite technically filling an antagonist role towards the Doctor and Liv for the first act.

The Red Lady does a great job of presenting a mystery that is, for now, totally unexplained. One of the best things about this audio is that the threat is ambiguous, its powers are completely unknown, and we are left completely stupefied as to what its true intentions are. There are several mysteries threaded throughout this audio, not all of which are resolved here. Nonetheless, The Red Lady presents a fantastic standalone story that serves as a wonderful introductory story for Helen Sinclair whilst also being a great standalone horror story. The mystery and terror surrounding this unique and unexplained entity makes this audio a thrilling listen, so The Red Lady sets the bar high for the rest of Doom Coalition 1.

1.3 – The Galileo Trap

Helen’s first trip in the TARDIS takes the team to Florence in 1639, drawn there by a message sent by none other than Galileo Galilei, who is already a friend of the Doctor, and as the name implies, is aware that his involvement in this series of events is little more than a plot to draw the Doctor in. There are several non-Human persons at large in the time period, including a particularly vicious pair of mercenaries who are unleashing several murderous creatures onto the citizens of 17th century Italy as part of a hired job from an as-yet unknown benefactor. They themselves are being hunted by extra-terrestrial forces however, which makes for an interesting setup with several parties following their own set of goals.

This audio is important for developing Helen’s role as a companion, as this serves as her introduction to the concept of time-travel as well as the idea of non-Human entities. The interactions between Helen, a companion from the relative past, and Liv, a companion from the relative future, is one of the most engaging aspects of this era and makes one wonder why the New Series has not made use of the time-travel aspect of Doctor Who to establish companions from various eras who can provide different points of view on the various settings and time periods. The characterisation of Galileo is also good in this story, as it makes sense that the two would already know each other in this late period in Galileo’s life, rather like how Winston Churchill already knows the Doctor in the TV story Victory of the Daleks.

This audio does a great job of illustrating the injustice of Galileo’s situation towards the end of his life, as he is imprisoned under house arrest for the simple act of declaring that the Earth must revolve around the Sun. A Doctor Who story that features a historical figure often attempts to humanize the historical figure in the context of the modern day, and this one is no exception. The Galileo Trap is a great story that makes a great build-up to the final story in the first series of Doom Coalition, and gives Helen a story to develop as a companion as well as a character before the finale to her introductory series. Hattie Morahan steps into the role of Helen instantly, and she immediately establishes herself as a valuable addition to this TARDIS team.

1.4 – The Satanic Mill

This audio starts with another sequence of the Eleven attempting to regain control over his other incarnations, and its worth mentioning that the character is brilliantly realised in a way that the audio drama complements perfectly. Over time it becomes clear which of the Eleven’s incarnations are which, be it the murderous Six, the mischievous Three, the kleptomaniacal Nine or the remorseful Eight, each of them become as much their own individual characters as the Eleven himself and Mark Bonnar puts in a wonderful performance here that makes the Eleven one of the most dynamic villains in Doctor Who history. The Doctor, Liv and Helen finally catch up to him on a bizarre planetoid-sized Workhouse that Galileo named ‘Phaiton’, which they discover is filled with seemingly hypnotized worshippers who walk around around the place like zombies. The Eleven has set himself up as the leader of this facility, which is in fact an abandoned stellar manipulator from ancient Gallifreyan history that the Eleven locates using the Regeneration Codex, a device he stole in the first audio of this box set.

During some slow-paced scenes early on which serve as a welcome break from the usual fast-paced action of Eighth Doctor series finales, Liv and Helen get some time to chat as the two learn more about each other, and Liv tells Helen more about the Doctor and the nature of regeneration, and we are once again reminded of just how long Liv has known the Doctor, as she first met him in his seventh incarnation, the same one which trapped the Eleven. It is worth mentioning that despite the fact that the two companions are from completely different time periods, Liv being from the far future and Helen being from the 20th century, these differences are rarely an issue save for the occasional colloquial misunderstanding which is often played for comedy.

The Eleven’s plan is suitably devious, and there is a great scene in which the Eleven’s previous incarnations discuss the plan and offer their various opinions on how events are unfolding, including the Eight who is the only one of the Eleven’s incarnations who isn’t evil and expresses regret and remorse at the actions of his successor. One of the things that makes the Eleven an unpredictable villain is that he has to appease his various other incarnations, particularly the Six who is often quick to ask for the murder of whoever happens to be in the room. In many ways the Eleven brings out the darker side of the Eighth Doctor as he is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his friends, and The Satanic Mill is a perfect example of this. As the finale for Doom Coalition 1, this audio is excellent, as it is not only a fantastic outing for the Eleven as a villain but it also solidifies the new TARDIS team whilst also posing several questions to be addressed in later releases in the Doom Coalition series.

Next – Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Doom Coalition 2

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

Doctor Who – The Collateral of Ivonhoe Audio Drama Review

For those of you who aren’t aware, the Thirteenth Doctor is already getting audio dramas, and for once, it isn’t Big Finish that are creating them. This time, it’s a production spearheaded by prominent Doctor Who Youtuber Mr TARDIS, created and performed entirely by fans. Perhaps best known for his reviews of Doctor Who stories, including his 2019 Dalekcember reviews of each Dalek story from 1963-2019 and most recently his Cybercember reviews of every Cyberman story, Mr TARDIS is easily one of the go-to Doctor Who Youtubers for professional reviews delivered in an entertaining way.

Aside from these projects, however, Mr TARDIS has also been hard at work writing, casting and directing his own Thirteenth Doctor audio story, called The Collateral of Ivanhoe. This audio stars Wendy Abrahams who does an exceptional impression of the Thirteenth Doctor, Jonathon Carley as the lovable Graham O’Brien, Duane Gooden as Ryan Sinclair, and Shannon Rewcroft as Yasmin Khan. For a fan-made audio production, this project is ambitious and exciting, and the cast that were chosen for this audio do a great job representing the current Doctor Who cast, and although not all of the impressions are spot-on, each of the cast are still excellent voice actors and it is amazing how good a job the quartet do of representing the Thirteenth Doctor’s TARDIS team.

The Collateral of Ivanhoe has some great moments that showcase the unique writing style of this fan-made production, including some humorous scenes involving the ‘Fam’ discovering the fate of football in the 29th century, as Humankind has decided that the standard football simply isn’t fun enough anymore, as the ball becomes explosive once a goal becomes certain. Moments like these cement The Collateral of Ivanhoe as a genuine Doctor Who story, this story has been lovingly written and produced by all of those involved and it shows. The Collateral of Ivanhoe represents the spirit of Doctor Who at its purest, as despite budgetary and technological limitations the end result is a great story that is elevated thanks to the sheer quality of the writing and dedication of the cast.

The format of this audio is similar to a Companion Chronicles story from Big Finish, in that the performances of the cast are supplemented by a narrator, and the writing style is very reminiscent of the fantastic New Series novels. When listening to this audio, bear in mind that it is an unofficial production, this has been made by fans and does not have the same standard of audio recording as a professional company like Big Finish. One must keep an open mind while listening, because it doesn’t take long before any concerns about the quality of the audio are eclipsed by the quality of the writing and energy from the cast. Again, it is difficult to express just how good a job Wendy Abrahams does as the Thirteenth Doctor, the her voice is uncannily similar and she has the Doctor’s vocal mannerisms down to a tee.

We feel that it is very important to support other Doctor Who content creators in their endeavours, and there is no greater feat that writing, directing, casting and creating a full-blown audio story for a Doctor Who fan. What Mr TARDIS has achieved with The Collateral of Ivanhoe should not be understated, it is a testament to the enduring love that the Doctor Who fanbase has for the series. Mr TARDIS has suggested that a sequel to The Collateral of Ivanhoe is in the works, and whether it is a direct sequel that builds on the story elements of this audio or simply another fan-made Thirteenth Doctor audio it is safe to say that we will be eagerly anticipating the next audio story that Mr TARDIS has in store for us. In the meantime we strongly recommend that you give this audio a listen.

For those interested in listening to The Collateral of Ivanhoe, you can follow this link to listen to the story on Mr TARDIS’s Youtube channel. Alternatively, you can click this link to browse the rest of the videos on Mr TARDIS’s channel, including reviews of every TV Dalek and Cyberman story.

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

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