3 December 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £20.00 (CD) / £20.00 (Download)

Release Date: November 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 3rd December 2012

The Doctor is a broken man. His best friend Lucie Miller and his great grandson Alex are both dead, murdered by The Daleks. He attempts to travel to the end of the Universe, desperately looking for one thing: Hope.

Hope does indeed find him, as The Doctor is given a mission by the Time Lords. They have uncovered a terrifying plot to destroy the universe and at the centre of it all is one person.

In the bloody days of the Great War, Voluntary Aid Detachment Nursing Assistant Molly O’Sullivan tends to the wounded and prays for her ailing mistress. Into Molly’s life arrives a very mysterious man and she soon finds herself pursued by strange and terrifying metal monsters and long suppressed secrets from her past. 

The Doctor and Molly are on the run and with The Daleks not far behind, will the Doctor discover the secret of Molly’s unnatural dark eyes... 

In the aftermath of the heartbreaking To the Death, The Eighth Doctor needed time to gather himself together. When we last saw him, he was filled with rage and broken. Big Finish wisely waited for the dust to settle on that adventure before telling us what happens next and as a result we got the wonderful trilogy of Eighth Doctor and Mary Shelly stories. It was the breath of fresh air we all needed as the shock of losing Lucie Miller was still rather raw. 

The time for The Eighth Doctor to return has arrived, and if the crashing of the Big Finish website on the day of its release was anything to go by, it has been greatly anticipated.

So has it been worth the wait? 

Yes. Yes it has.

Dark Eyes is marvellous from beginning to end. A fantastic story comprising a multitude of brilliant performances - this is a very exciting new era for Paul McGann’s Doctor.

Judging from the way he tackles the material, you can tell McGann relished every moment of the experience behind and off the microphone. This can surely be seen in The Eighth Doctor’s new attire on the box-set’s artwork. 

Although no mention of this sartorial change is explicitly mentioned in the play, this dramatic new look fits in with the tone of Dark Eyes. The Eighth Doctor is a shadow of himself; no longer the hopeful Byronic romantic. His usual Victorian clothing gets stained with mud after a mustard gas attack in the trenches of the Great War. Whether a deliberate decision or not, it certainly feels like a metaphorical bookend to that part of the character’s life. The Eighth Doctor is now angry, broody, suspicious and dark tempered. But underneath all that he is a man who is looking for hope.

In fact hope is the theme that runs throughout the core of Dark Eyes. In the face of his most bitter of losses The Doctor needs it more than ever. His hope comes in the form of new companion Molly O’Sullivan, played superbly by Ruth Bradley

Molly is a wonderful character and her no nonsense attitude towards The Doctor is a joy to listen to. The strong Irish accent and little inflections and phrases such as referring to the TARDIS as “Tardy-box” endear you to her almost immediately. Molly though is not simply there for comic relief, as writer, Nicholas Briggs, has given her a wonderful sense of compassion and loyalty, hidden under a tough shell. McGann and Bradley are a great pariring and I sincerely hope that she is not a one story character as the potential for Molly to be a continuing companion is utterly tantalising.

Dark Eyes lets its story build slowly throughout. Despite each episode being self titled, they are not self contained stories operating along one theme, rather they four parts of one epic story. Things get off to a terrific start in The Great War, which introduces us to the players and a mystery amongst the bleak setting of trench warfare. Part Two, Fugitives is a great run around story as Molly and The Doctor are chased constantly by The Daleks as the main mystery of Molly’s past begins to come to the surface. This is explored more in depth in Part Three, The Tangled Web, an incredibly creepy play in which the pieces of the puzzle come together culminating in the dramatic finale X and The Daleks.

So what of The Daleks?

After the events of To the Death it is fitting that the monsters from Skaro are the overwhelming threat dogging The Doctor’s heels in Dark Eyes. Interestingly, Briggs keeps the Daleks at a distance for great portions of the story though they are never far behind The Doctor and Molly. The Daleks here are a force that just keeps coming and they are truly terrifying. If there is one thing that will make you shudder whilst listening to this story it is a moment that comes in Part Three. I will say only one word: Giggling.

One of Briggs' best contributions to the Dalek universe, the Dalek Time Controller, who we last saw in To the Death, is in charge, working alongside Toby Jones’ wonderfully enigmatic Kotris. Both are lurking in the shadows for most of the story, but when they do finally take centre stage in part four it is fantastic to listen to.

Speaking of Toby Jones, Dark Eyes is blessed with an exceptional voice cast.

The two main leads and guest star aside, Peter Egan makes an excellent impression as the newly regenerated Time Lord Starxus, a more devious incarnation than the one previously portrayed by Nickolas Grace. Fantastic support comes from Tim Treloar, Laura Molyneaux, Natalie Burt and a lovely performance by Ian Cullen as Nadeyan. 

There is so much more I could discuss, but to say too much would rob you of the sheer joy of it all. Loyal Big Finish listeners may have had to wait a bit longer to get a hold of this release, but it was certainly worth it.

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