Dark Eyes

Posted in Audio by - February 18, 2016
Dark Eyes

Released November 2012

Following the traumatic conclusion to The Eighth Doctor Adventures in ‘To the Death,’ the Doctor is a lonely and broken man in turmoil who has lost any sense of hope. Hitting a reset switch of sorts for the character to allow new listeners to enjoy as well, Big Finish has released the four-story Dark Eyes boxset in which the now downtrodden and often fatalistic Eighth Doctor tries to carry on with his life.

At the beginning of ‘The Great War,’ the Doctor has sent his TARDIS racing towards the end of the universe. Quite quickly, however, Straxus, a Time Lord with secretive motivations, finds him and coerces him into undertaking a rescue mission for the Time Lords involving the Daleks; driven by emotion and his previous encounters with the Daleks, the Doctor soon finds himself in the middle of World War I, almost instantly coming under attack by mustard gas. Fairly quick on the recovery, he soon finds his intended rescue target, an Irish medical volunteer named Molly O’Sullivan, but is greeted only with an overwhelming sense of distrust and dislike towards him. And, of course, the Daleks are seemingly around every corner, ever present and seemingly closing in on the duo at all times. In terms of setting the scene and creating anticipation, Dark Eyes is a remarkable success.

Without question, this is a version of the Eighth Doctor that has not been explored. To mark this, Big Finish has given him a makeover; gone is the long hair and Victorian clothing and present is a Doctor with short and tussled hair, unshaven stubble, and blue jeans with a black naval jacket. Considering the jacket’s similarities to the Ninth Doctor’s on television, it makes a nice visual to go along with a Doctor who is at some point going to fight in the Great Time War and become racked with guilt over his actions. This is a dynamic visual change for the character, and the effect is superb.

The performances in Dark Eyes are all tremendous as well. Paul McGann, as always, is on top form and successfully explores a new facet to the character as he poignantly expresses the Doctor’s internal battle between optimism and defeatism. Ruth Bradley expertly brings Molly- the ‘Dark Eyes’ of the title- to life as well, instilling her with a strong sense of pride and confidence, becoming a likable character despite her open antagonism towards the Doctor at the beginning. Elsewhere, Peter Egan is impressive as the potentially conniving Time Lord Straxus, especially in a scene where he seems to commit suicide (a bit of a recurring theme) and Toby Jones cleverly and believably portrays the villain that the Time Lords only refer to as ‘X,’ a character who has seemingly allied himself with the Daleks in order to get rid of the threat that the Time Lords possess. It goes without saying that Nicholas Briggs masterfully brings the Daleks back into the fold, adding a familiar threat for this ‘new’ Doctor to go up against.

The underlying mystery behind Molly is unsurprisingly one of the most interesting plot threads of the box set. Just why are her eyes so dark and why did X kidnap her as a child? As Molly’s origins and fate are slowly uncovered, Bradley does an admirable job in faithfully displaying the full range of emotions as she is put through many situations in rapid succession, going from reluctant companion to activist for and believer in a peaceful Dalek race, and she quickly proves that she could make an unfaltering and lasting companion.

In many respects this box set is much more in line with the post-2005 series rather than the classic series, especially with its blistering pace. ‘Tangled Web’ aside, rarely do the characters get a moment to relax and actually consider the situation that they’re in at any given time. Normally this works to great effect in this prolonged tale with epic scope, keeping the threat level high and the confrontations intense- in some aspects eliciting memories of ‘The Chase’- as reveals about the mysterious Scientific Insitutue, Molly, and the Dalek Time Coordinator and the space-time projector are made. Still, there is one notably prolonged chase sequence in ‘Fugitives’ that begins and ends at the same point and doesn’t serve to progress the plot too much while the mysterious Scientific Institute lingers large. As mentioned, ‘Tangled Web’ is the exception here as the pace slows down dramatically; the surprising revelation at the heart of this story gives the Doctor a moment to rediscover hope as a motivation. The ultimate resolution in ‘X and the Daleks’ is superb and adequately answers so many of the lingering questions. It’s quite a non-linear finish to an otherwise linear box set, but it works very well and ends the set on a definite high note while still leaving a bit of room for exploration going forward.

Hope in all of its facets becomes a recurring theme throughout this set of stories, and although it’s never easy to see heroes in a desperate and demoralised state, it makes hope as a force all that much stronger. After so many audio adventures, it’s impressive that so much new territory still exists for the Eighth Doctor as he comes to terms with some new vulnerabilities and assets, and it will be exciting to see where the coming scripts will take him next.

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