I wonder if people knew that the first Dark Eyes box set was the first in a series of four sets that explored the storyline. The first set isn’t really written like it’s supposed to be the first in a series of box sets; the real villains of the series aren’t even introduced until the 3rd episode of Dark Eyes 2, after all. Either way, Dark Eyes ended up being a pretty darn good start for the Dark Eyes series, so how does the second box set fare? From the Big Finish website: “When the Doctor (Paul McGann) defeated the Dalek Time Controller and its Time Lord ally, the timelines shifted and events changed… but the danger is far from over. And new threats to the continued safety of the universe are emerging. Molly O’Sullivan (Ruth Bradley) carried on with her life as a nursing assistant in World War One. She probably thought she would never see the Doctor in his ‘Tardy-box’ again… From the Dalek-occupied planet Nixyce VII through Earth’s history and to the very edge of the universe, the Doctor’s footprints across eternity are being tracked by foes old and new. But when did it all begin and when will it end? Living his life through the complexities of time travel, the Doctor can never be quite sure if he’s experiencing his life in the most helpful order. The only certainty appears to be the advance of the powers of evil and the oncoming threat of a fight to the death against forces that would destroy everything the Doctor holds dear.” (Spoilers follow; don’t read further if you haven’t listened to the box set!)
Part 1: The Traitor (by Nicholas Briggs)
Dark Eyes 2 kicks off in an odd way. Instead of picking up where the last set left off, we jump ahead into a completely new story with an all new companion (well, unless you’d heard her previous Big Finish story, which I hadn’t) that didn’t seem to tie into anything that happened in the first box set. From the Big Finish website: “Nixyce VII is under Dalek occupation. For many, their only hope of survival is decent medical care, as slave working conditions under the Dalek regime are appalling. But when you help people to survive under the rule of the Daleks, are you actually helping the Daleks? Med-tech Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) doesn’t have the luxury of pondering these dilemmas. She must just do what she feels is right. But then there are the soldiers of last resort… The freedom fighters left behind to cause maximum damage to the Dalek war effort, at whatever cost. To them, anyone who seems to be helping the Daleks is a traitor. And when the Doctor arrives, his secret agenda throws him into conflict with everyone.” Um, it’s not bad. It’s an odd way to open the box set, especially when it’s followed by the episode it’s followed by (we’ll get to that).
As for the episode itself, it’s pretty good. It ends on a really needless cliffhanger (mostly because said cliffhanger isn’t really even addressed again until the third and fourth episodes of the set and it adds a level of unnecessary confusion to those later stories). All that being said, it’s still rather enjoyable. The episode itself pits the Doctor and the Daleks on the same side as one another. There’s some race of aliens that the Doctor thinks is worse than the Daleks and they’re on their way by the planet the Daleks are on (on their journey through the universe in order to, presumably, wreak some kind of havoc) and the Doctor wants to use the Daleks to destroy said race of aliens. Adding in the element of Liv being considered a traitor for working with the Daleks as a means to helping the hurt human slaves of the planet and you’ve got an interesting dynamic between the Doctor, Live, and the freedom fighters. It’s a good episode that sets up the main through-line for the box set with panache. (3.5 out of 5 wands)
Part 2: The White Room (by Alan Barnes)
This is easily my least favorite story of the set. Like, by far. I just really didn’t like it. It’s the definition of a filler episode; it’s really just an excuse to get Molly and the Doctor back together and remind everybody of the odd science institute that’s been using the Doctor’s Baker Street house as headquarters (something that was briefly mentioned in the first Dark Eyes story, Fugitives). From the Big Finish website: “Molly O’Sullivan is still trying to help people, but now she is back in London, staying in Baker Street. But there are dangerous forces abroad. Where are the young deserters disappearing to? Who are the Huntsmen? And what is really going on at the Blackwell Convalescent Home? Perhaps the mysterious ‘Surgeon General’ has the answers. To find out, the Doctor must tackle an old and baffling enemy.” The episode has so little to do with anything that’s going on in the majority of the box set that it genuinely feels out of place. It’s what you’d expect a standalone adventure with the Doctor and Molly to be, which would be fine if it were a monthly series or something, but as the second part of a box set, it feels completely useless.
Its only use in the grand scheme of things is getting the Doctor and Molly back together, something it wouldn’t have had to do if the first Dark Eyes hadn’t ended with Molly leaving. It’s this aspect that makes me suspect that Dark Eyes wasn’t originally planned to be a series of box sets. It just feels… sloppy. Maybe it would’ve worked better if the story that surrounded and necessitated their reunion was actually good, but it wasn’t. I listened to it a few hours ago and I barely remember anything that happened. It’s utterly forgettable and works at being timey-wimey for the sake of it. Some future race is trying to manufacture a virus and it’s going haywire and it ends up all being a bootstrap paradox when the future race finds the dead bodies of themselves, try to reverse-engineer the virus, end up sending themselves back in time, and then die of the virus, leading their future selves to find their dead bodies and so on and so forth. I normally wouldn’t spoil the ending of the story, but that’s what it all amounted to. A whole lot of nothing. You can genuinely skip this story. Just know that Molly and the Doctor end up traveling together again, and move from the first episode of this set to the third one. (2 out of 5 wands)
Part 3: Time’s Horizon (by Matt Fitton)
And here we’re introduced to this set’s main villains and (spoiler alert), it’s not the Daleks. From the Big Finish website: “The Doctor and Molly find themselves at the very edge of creation. But something dangerous seems to be heading back into the known universe from the very end of time. The crew of the cryo-ship Orpheus, including its medical officer Liv Chenka, have their mission parameters to adhere to; but the arrival of the Doctor and Molly changes everything. An ancient and terrible force is on a collision course with them all and the outcome seems to be a matter of divine destiny.” I have mixed feelings about this episode. The first half was a bit of a drag to get through, but I liked the way Liv’s character was developed. For her, it’s been something like 900 years since the events of The Traitor happened (she was in cryosleep; she’s not actually 900+ years old). However, the Doctor hasn’t experienced those events yet. So, Liv is pissed off at him for the way he cooperated with the Daleks (though she doesn’t yet know the reason why he cooperated with them) and the Doctor is confused as to why she’s mad at him since the last time he saw her, they departed on good terms. It’s a fun dynamic not that dissimilar to something you’d find in Steven Moffat’s era of the Doctor Who reboot.
That being said, it really takes a while for the story to get moving. Once it does get going, though, it really gets going. The Eminence (voiced by David Sibley) is introduced (or, rather, reintroduced, as apparently they were in another Big Finish audio, as referenced by the Doctor in the episode itself, but, again, I haven’t heard that one, so this is their introduction for me). I dig them as the villain. They’re some kind of consciousness (maybe?) from the end of the Universe who have traveled back through time in order to cause mayhem and destruction (and part of them resides in the Doctor’s mind or something? This was probably referenced in said earlier audio, but I hope it will be further explained in later box sets). They’re different from the Daleks and they’re the alien species that made the Doctor team up with the Daleks in The Traitor (although that aspect isn’t really touched on until the next episode). Molly and Liv get a lot of good scenes together and it’s nice that the Doctor has two companions again. I always love it when the Doctor has two companions. I can’t really explain why, but I just like it. All in all, it’s a fine episode that sets up the finale well. (3.5 out of 5 wands)
Part 4: Eyes of the Master (by Matt Fitton)
And in the blink of an eye, we’ve reached the final episode of the box set. And with it comes the Eighth Doctor’s first encounter (since the 1996 TV movie) with the Master (this time played by Alex Macqueen). From the Big Finish website: “The Doctor, Liv, and Molly arrive back on Earth in the 1970s to investigate the Ides Institute. The timelines have shifted since the Doctor and Molly first traveled here and all is not as it was. Dr. Sally Armstrong (Natalie Burt) is still working for the Ides, but her associate has a devastating plan in mind. Soon, Molly’s ‘dark eyes’ prove to be at the center of a plot to seize control of all life in the universe.” To say that this episode is easily my favorite episode of the set would be an understatement. It’s probably my favorite episodes of both sets so far. But, then again, I do like the Master quite a bit.
Speaking of the Master, Alex Macqueen is brilliant in the role. He’s a perfect blend of the Master from Classic Who and the Master from New Who while also bringing his own spin to the character. He’s got that perfect blend of deliciously evil and manipulative while also seeming like a good guy. I love his plan in this episode, and it 100% ties together the loose ends from the first episode of the box set. By the ending of the episode, we know why the Doctor was on Nixyce VII, who was so dangerous that he’d team up with the Daleks, and how Liv Chenka factored into everything. The episode then offered a whole bunch of new questions such as what the Master’s ultimate goal is, how does Liv Chenka factor into everything, why are Molly’s eyes going dark again, and much more. It’s a brilliant stroke in answering questions and tying up loose threads begun by the box set while beginning new mysteries for future box sets to address. Plus, it’s a really enjoyable episode full of unique body horror, a lot of great scenes for the Master and Sally, ridiculously campy jokes, and action that I genuinely wish I could see on TV. (5 out of 5 wands)
All in all, Dark Eyes 2 is a lot more uneven than the first box set was. It doesn’t help that it seems as though the first box set was planned as a standalone thing and had to retroactively work as the introduction to a whole series of box sets. But aside from that, the stories themselves are uneven. Half of them are just fine, one of them is dreadful, and the other is excellent. All of them have superb soundscapes designed by Wilfredo Acosta and strong directing from Nicolas Briggs and superb acting from all the cast involved, but the scripts often let down the episodes and all those who worked on them. (3.5 out of 5 wands. Raised from 3/5 solely because of how excellent the last story was)