Friday, 6 March 2015
REVIEW - DARK EYES 4
A long time ago in 2012, Big Finish embarked on a mission: Push the Eighth Doctor into new territory. Take him to the very edge of his existence. Start his journey to towards the Time War and his eventual end in Night of the Doctor. They emblazoned this outstanding undertaking with the moniker ‘Dark Eyes’ and have been entertaining fans of the Eighth Doctor ever since.
So far, the Dark Eyes series has taken various twists and turns. From encountering the Daleks, to meeting the Eminence to taking on the Master in a massive temporal showdown, Dark Eyes 4 seeks to fuse all these elements into one and finish the Dark Eyes saga in an epic fashion. The timelines are unstable thanks to the machinations of both the Daleks and the Master in the previous box sets and the Doctor sets out to end this conflict…once and for all!
A Life in a Day
Doctor Who meets Fifty First Dates meet Groundhog Day.
This is the complete opposite of what I was expecting from the opening story. Those of you who read my previous review of DE3 or even listened to the last box set will understand that I am not Liv Chenka’s biggest fan. I find the character a walking bundle of misery that does nothing but make the atmosphere in Dark Eyes even bleaker. So imagine my surprise when A life in a Day focused on Liv and humanizing her character after wasting most of her presence in the previous box sets. I do not approve of the lackluster fashion they handled her arc, but A Life in a Day really does wonders for Liv. For someone whose first opinion is difficult to change with a second, I found myself enjoying Liv’s scenes during this piece.
The cast for this opener includes Beth Chambers, who is best known for playing Seventh Doctor companion Raine Creevey in the Lost Stories and UNIT: Dominion. Unfortunately for Liv, the Doctor’s chemistry with Chamber’s generic character here still explodes with more Je ne sais quoi for lack of a better word than with Liv. Also unfortunate is the plot restricting Creevey’s character by having her just ask questions and not doing much else.
While A Life in a Day is a blatant whole plot reference to Fifty First Dates and Groundhog Day, don’t think you know what’s going on. Like any Doctor Who story, there’s a SCI-FI twist and the twist here is such an original spin on a very tired trope that you can almost see the new life being breathed into this piece. For those of you who have been getting a little worn out by the darker and more morose Eighth Doctor, take comfort in knowing that he has chilled out a little between DE3 and now. There’s still that Dark Eyes atmosphere about him, but he is recovering back into the Eight we all know and love.
Rating this story: 7.5/10. The first installment might not rank amongst the greatest DE openers or even one of the best stories in general, but it does succeed in what it aimed to do and that is open the book on page one of the final chapter in the Dark Eyes series, giving us more questions than answers, setting plot points in place and developing characters who desperately needed it.
The Monster of Montemarte
After setting things in motion in the opener, Dark Eyes 4 goes straight to business in this second installment. Yup! Straight to business…but at the slowest freaking pace imaginable. In fact, I’d even go so far as to divide the first and second half of this story because while the second half is fantastic, the first is enough to bore even the most hardcore Doctor Who fan to death. The plot setup is atrociously long and it takes more than half the story before the titular monster makes its first official appearance. Everything up until then is simply set up solely to allow the resolution for this piece to work which is something of a waste as you don’t build a story around a resolution, but the resolution around the story.
Okay, so first half is boring. Second half? Wow! Business picks up in a big way with the appearance of a very special Dalek. Yes, the monster of Montemarte is a Dalek. Not much of a spoiler considering the cover for this story. We also finally learn the truth behind Molly O’ Sullivan’s dark eyes and its importance to the series. This is the real driving force behind this story. The Eighth Doctor is back to his dark eyes self, but mixes it up when he goes head to head with the monster of Montemarte!
Many of you know that I’m not much of a Dalek fan, but having the Daleks appear in this story is very welcomed. It feels like they’ve been away too long and their return is well overdue. Yes. That’s the impression the Daleks had on me during this story.
Liv Chenka takes a bit of a backseat in this story, in the sense that she is given something to do, but in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t mean much and is easily forgettable. Instead, we concentrate on the Doctor’s budding friendship with a young artist and later his showdown with the Daleks, both of which is quite enjoyable to listen to.
Rating this story: 7/10. A terrible first half that is saved by a spectacular second one.
Master of the Daleks
And the prize goes to John Dorney! Fans have been asking for this particular title utilizing wordplay on both the Master and the Daleks for years and now we finally get it. Dorney gives us the Master teaming up with the Daleks and boy is it a doozy of an alliance.
Whenever Alex MacQueen’s Master shows up, I find myself rooting for the empire (wanting the bad guy to win). It’s a good thing that this is another somewhat Master-centric piece as it really isn’t fair to the other characters having the Master steal every scene he’s in. It’s an absolute delight, but not quite like The Death of Hope from Dark Eyes 3. The Doctor’s role in Master of the Daleks feels a mix of The Christmas Invasion and The Crimson Horror. The payoff to this reduced, but still pretty much a part of everything presence is great and the reasoning behind it doubles as a comical callback to one of the Eighth Doctor’s funniest running gags.
The tension in Master of the Daleks really emphasizes just how close we are to the finale. The Daleks feel fresh in this piece – they feel rejuvenated. The script Dorney has penned for them really works even for fans like myself who aren’t Dalek lovers.
Unfortunately, Liv’s presence in this is completely overshadowed by the team-up that is the Master and the Daleks. Given how many different plot threads are running through this story, it’s unfortunate that another element that fails to stand out is the inclusion of the Sontarans. You could’ve easily replaced them with some other alien race and not even notice a difference which is a shame after Big Finish did such a fantastic Sontaran story in The King of Sontar.
Special mention goes to the last scene which I will not spoil, but will say features such a powerful moment that it will leave listeners on the edge of their seats, as we head into final installment in the Dark Eyes saga.
Rating this story: 8.5/10. The stars of Master of the Daleks are the titular characters and with good reason as this story proves it is possible to have two main villains on equal footing in one tale. You just can’t have three it seems.
Eye of Darkness
The final story in the Dark Eyes 4 box set explodes from the first couple of minutes and goes on to tick every box. Everything that makes a great Dalek story is here. There’s a Remembrance of the Daleks feel here, as well as Steven Moffat timey-wimey trickery, specifically a Big Bang vibe. Paradoxes, alternative timelines – it’s all here and the Doctor, Liv and a few familiar faces from the past are at the heart of it.
It’s been a long time coming, but we finally learn all the answers Dark Eyes have been posing and some of them are too tragic for words. Some are inevitable and maybe even predictable if you’ve been following the arc but it is those tragic ones that really rip out the heart strings. You read correctly. Dark Eyes 4 has no time to waste plucking at heart strings. It’s going in for the jugular.
If I had to nitpick, I’d say it’s Liv Chenka. I just don’t know what the writers want to do with her. Her presence in the box set becomes ever more diminished and less important. For the third time in a row, Chenka takes on the same plot role. The character, ironically enough, was much more interesting in the previous box sets, now being reduced to a generic companion who exists simply because the Doctor needs to travel with someone. The support characters in Eye of Darkness do more than Liv Chenka does and are tremendously more entertaining. I sincerely hope that Doom Coalition, the next installment in the Eighth Doctor Adventures, teams the Doctor up with a more competent, more interesting partner because this one isn’t.
Despite the Daleks taking up yet another story, I’m not feeling Dalek-lagged yet. From good to great to awesome, Eye of Darkness is the epitome of Dalek storytelling. Nick Briggs sounds like he’s enjoying every second of it and he should. This is a fantastic way to end things.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Eighth Doctor is probably at his best in his story. I believe McGann has reached the proverbial ‘ceiling’ and the only way further up is to smash it because the Doctor here is perfect! Paul McGann utterly dominates from A to Z, start to finish, it’s his Doctor shining all the way, going from funny and wacky to hard and serious like that! It’s glorious to hear.
Ranking this story: 9/10. A fantastic mix of all the right elements needed to end a long running series.