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.