Dark Eyes 4

Posted in Audio by - February 21, 2016
Dark Eyes 4

Released March 2015

In 2012 Big Finish set out on a mission to reinvigorate the Eighth Doctor, pushing him to the very precipice and driving him closer to the Time War. The first Dark Eyes box set was a commercial and critical success, and the storyline was quickly expanded to a sixteen-part epic spanning four box sets. The first three have featured confrontations with the Daleks, the Master, and the Eminence; now, in Dark Eyes 4, the timelines are unstable and the Doctor sets out defiantly to end the conflict.

Dark Eyes 4 opens with the Doctor taking Liv Chenka to London at the turn of the century to look for Molly in ‘A Life in the Day.’ While he explores with Beth Chalmers’s Kitty Donaldson, Liv tends to and gets to know Kitty’s wounded brother Martin, played aptly by Barnaby Kay.

Liv has from the outset been walking around with an embittered and almost defeatist demeanour, and ‘A Life in the Day’ finally allows her to come out of her shell as she poignantly comes to terms with just where she is in her life and what she hopes for going forward. Martin proves the catalyst Liv needs to accept her past and to not be afraid or ashamed to live, and finally Liv is allowed to become more of a well-rounded character and show that there is a spark of vigour still in her for future stories.

Kay is superb in his role as well, managing to keep the tone fairly light-hearted while hinting at romance and a greater secret he holds. The atmosphere of the era emanates throughout, and although the plot itself of a single day repeated over and over again is certainly not new, it adds a very deep level of sentiment and interaction to Kay’s character, a sentiment that easily could have fallen flat in other circumstances. As mainstream as the repeated plot contrivance is, though, there is a wholly unique development that only Doctor Who would consider doing that keeps the story feeling fresh.

Much like the opening tale in Dark Eyes 3, the Doctor is more of a background character in this piece. There’s not a true adventure as such to speak of, but future plot threads are set in motion and it is clear as he goes about his explorations that this is a Doctor who is a little less sombre and dark than in the previous sets, recuperating at least to some extent and reclaiming some of the thirst for life that defined his character for so long.

‘The Monster of Montmarte,’ then, jumps straight into business and eventually offers some long overdue explanations and revelations. Following the stolen TARDIS to jazz-age Paris, the Doctor joins up with artist Christian Favreau and Liv is confronted by the debonair George Legrand. It quickly becomes apparent that something sinister is happening in Montmarte, and that Favreau’s muse, Rachel Stirling’s Adelaide Dutemps, is somehow involved.

This story is sadly plagued by a very slow pace in the first half before racing to its conclusion in the second half; in the reverse of the usual story structure, a lot of time is spent setting up different aspects so that the resolution is possible. However, pacing issues aside, this story does allow for the reformation of Liv to continue, having her stepping farther away from the disillusioned soul she has been for so long and starting to take steps toward becoming a proper companion in the classic sense. Likewise, McGann effortlessly steps back into the starring role, ranging from affable companion to rageful man of action as the action unfolds.

It would be hard to classify this as a spoiler given the heavy promotion on the covers and in the leadup to this release, but the Daleks are back, and a very unique Dalek is the ostensible monster of the title. It is through this Dalek that the secret and importance of Molly’s dark eyes are finally revealed, and this alone makes it worth a listen. The confrontation between the Doctor and the Dalek is superb, capturing the unabashed animosity and hurtling the plot forward.

With ‘The Master of the Daleks,’ all subtlety is thrown out the window and the action manically and relentlessly picks up immediately. The Master and the Daleks have allied themselves to repel the Sontaran forces, and the resultant tension as the Dalek’s Time Commander enters the fray makes it abundantly clear that the closure of the Dark Eyes saga is quickly approaching.

The Master is much more in the story’s spotlight than any other character, a delight considering how superb Alex MacQueen continues to be in the role. He continues to develop his innate nuance and theatrical cordiality, but he exquisitely shows off a very sardonic and even witty side as well. In fact, though, the script is quite kind to everyone as each character is given at least one highlight scene. The Sontarans are perhaps understandably sidelined for much of the story given everything that is happening, but Dan Starkey captures the unintentionally amusing but dangerous militaristic stylings of the clone race perfectly.

This is a rarity for Doctor Who¬- but an absolute delight- since the action moves so quickly and so ceaselessly from beginning to end. Writer John Dorney, by design, discards the more deliberate character-driven stylings of his previously penned ‘A Life in the Day’ and unabashedly takes the characters and listeners through a whirlwind of events to heighten the overall sense of mayhem leading into the ultimate conclusion.

‘Eye of Darkness’ has the Doctor reunited with his TARDIS and companions, and events again get set in motion right from the start, bringing in alternative timelines and paradoxes in one grand finale. This is a very continuity-laden tale as should be expected, and every important aspect of the previous box sets is brought back to some extent: Dr Schriver, the retrogenitor virus, the Eminence, various iterations of the Daleks, resistance leaders, and more. Fortunately, for as much as bombastically needs to be dealt with in the running time, ‘Eye of Darkness’ does not fail in providing answers to the questions that arose over the past fifteen stories. Some are more obvious than others, but many are truly tragic and heartbreaking and offer a satisfying resolution to this epic journey.

McGann is truly the standout star in this story, somehow managing to surpass his usual magnificence. He’s very much in a damage control mode given the bedlam around him, but he manages to always seem composed and instantly switches from light-hearted to deadly serious as needed. The Eighth Doctor certainly ends this set on a high note as he continues to rehabilitate himself and find hope in life, and it will be fascinating to see where his future adventures take him. Liv Chenka appears to be his new recurring companion here, and hopefully the reformation she started to undergo will continue to progress as well. ‘Eye of Darkness’ is truly a superlative script for the Daleks, and it makes sense that they would close things out after starting the original Dark Eyes set off, but it will be good to give the Doctor some time away from his eternal foes as he starts to face a wholly new threat in the upcoming Doom Coalition 1 box set.

Dark Eyes 4 is a satisfying conclusion to the epic saga, finally resolving many lingering questions and plot points, often with devastatingly emotional effect. There are still some pacing issues in the early stories and the writers still don’t seem fully confident with the character of Liv Chenka as of yet, but the MacQueen Master and various Daleks are again superb once they reveal themselves and truly drive the manic plot along to its logical conclusion. The presence of the Sontarans is unfortunately ultimately underutilised, but they still manage to add another layer and scope to the proceedings at hand. McGann continues to impress as his Doctor continues his emotional journey back from the brink, and that continuing journey will be fascinating to watch as his adventures progress and the Time War nears.

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