Chris Swanson takes a look at the recent Big Finish Eighth Doctor release, Dark Eyes 3.
The Dark Eyes series has suffered from one major problem: it isn’t what a lot of fans feel it should be.
For those who remember, “To the Death”, the climax of the Eighth Doctor Adventures series, ended with a rather amazing set of tragedies, and the Doctor swearing to do something to change that. From there we went into the first Dark Eyes set, where the Doctor…changes his clothes and gets a haircut. There’s no real follow-up to what he said, and what he said felt very much like a lead-up to the events of the Time War, so we all had quite a bit of anticipation. We knew we wouldn’t get the war itself, obviously, but just the lead-up to it would have been nice!
But no. Instead we got the haircut, the new clothes, and a new companion. Dark Eyes 2 was more of the same, bringing us the new Master, as well as the return of Liv Chenka, a med-tech who had appeared in a Seventh Doctor audio. That story climaxed with the Master somehow kidnapping the Doctor’s companion and, with an additional companion of his own, setting out to do what he does.
Now we’re on the third set, and the Dark Eyes concept, while solid, is getting a bit stale. This was by no means a bad set of stories, but it was certainly the weakest of the series so far.
Of the four stories presented here, the first is easily the most entertaining while the third is probably the best. The first, “The Death of Hope”, features many elements of a western and is very much a “Doctor-lite” story. In it, the Master, his companion Sally, and their kidnap victim Molly, show up at a human colony that is trying to survive against the Eminence and their Infinite Warriors. The Master has a dark and sinister plan, of course, but implementing it requires that he saves the colony; that he becomes, in his special way, the hero.
I quite liked that touch, and the framing narrative of the Doctor and Narvin watching all this unfold worked out quite well. It also did a good job of laying out the stakes for us so we’d have some understanding of the Eminence and what they’re up to, as well as laying the groundwork for the rest of the Master’s efforts.
Sadly, the second story, “The Reviled”, didn’t quite churn along as interestingly. It wasn’t bad, just a bit dull. It also didn’t help that the alien species on the planet where the story took place had voices that were similar enough to that of the Eminence so I had occasional trouble telling who was who. Also, a note to Big Finish and everyone who works with actors, if you’re going to hire a “name” actor like Sacha Dhawan (previously seen playing Warris Hussien in “An Adventure in Space and Time”), don’t hide them under so much make up (or in this case, modulate their voice so much), that we can’t tell who they are. It reminds me of the Transformers franchise, where Hugo Weaving played Megatron, though not so you’d notice.
But then we hit “Masterplan”, which was quite a bit better. In this one we have the Doctor and the Master trapped together in a locked room for quite a good part of the story, and that’s an excellent thing. Macqueen and McGann really work quite well together as a pairing, and I was very pleased with the result of their efforts; so much so that I was annoyed when we kept revisiting what was happening with Sally and Liv.
The set rounds out with “Rule of the Eminence”, and this story was…ok. It wasn’t bad, but it was a bit of a “shrug” story, and it leads to the real problem with this box set and with the Eminence in general: they just aren’t that interesting of an adversary.
Oh, sure, it’s nice to have a break from the Daleks (very nice), but there are so many other, far more interesting villains out there. The Eminence is a gaseous lifeform that basically causes people to turn into zombies that it can control. Eh? How is this fundamentally different from the Cybermen turning people into cyborgs under their control? Or the Daleks turning people into Daleks?
There is nothing especially threatening about the Eminence. There also isn’t much terribly threatening or interesting about the Daleks and Cybermen, but at least with them we have something of a legacy, and we’ve seen them on the TV. The same cannot be said for the Eminence. We’ve seen (heard) them with the Fourth Doctor, the Sixth Doctor and now the Eighth, and they just aren’t working. Big Finish needs to either retire them or rework them, because as it is, my reaction to them tends to be, “Oh. Those guys.” Thank goodness it sounds like Dark Eyes 4 will feature the Sontarans.
Now. Can I recommend this set? Well, first, you don’t have to listen to the previous two, but it does help quite a bit. It’s also good background to listen to the Fourth and Sixth audios that featured the Eminence. I will say that the first and third stories really do make for some great listening, and since you have to buy the set to have those two, I suppose that I can recommend it. But not with any real enthusiasm.
I do understand that the plans are to retire the Dark Eyes line after the next set. I’m quite OK with that. And I very much hope that whatever comes after it is either a real follow-up to the events of “To the Death” or a return of the Eighth Doctor to the main range. I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to find out what happened with Mary, for example (I didn’t really care for her stories, but I hate loose ends), and it would be nice to have more than just one or two appearances by Eight each year.
In the meantime, I think it’s time to queue up some of the old Lucie Miller stories, and remember what once was.
Chris Swanson is a writer and blogger from Phoenix, Arizona. Read more from Chris on his blog, and follow him on Twitter.