I really dig the format of the Big Finish Doctor Who box sets. It’s nice to have these serialized box sets where the story is spread over four hour long episodes (instead of their usual format that mirrors the classic series with four 25 minute episodes). Plus I just really like Paul McGann’s Doctor, so it’s time for the next box set in the Dark Eyes series. Written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley, Dark Eyes 3 picks up shortly after the conclusion of Dark Eyes 2 with a kidnapped Molly O’Sullivan (Ruth Bradley) traveling with the Master (Alex Macqueen) and Dr. Sally Armstrong (Natalie Burt). From the Big Finish website: “In his quest for universal domination, the Master plans to exploit the terrifying Infinite Warriors of the mysterious Eminence. The Doctor’s friend, Molly, is key to that plan’s execution, and now, aided by corrupted genius Sally Armstrong, the Master is close to success. Paranoid and perplexed after his recent experience, the Doctor skirts the fringes of the fifty-year conflict between humanity and the Infinite Armies. Wary of changing the course of history, he fears that to fight the Eminence would be to do the Daleks’ bidding. But when Time Lord CIA agent Narvin (Sean Carlsen) provides the impetus for the Doctor to act, Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) joins him in a desperate race to save their friend and stop the Master. As the Doctor goes head to head with his oldest and deadliest rival, this war is about to get very personal indeed…” (As always, there will be spoilers ahead.)
Part 1: The Death of Hope
This is probably the first time I’ve really loved the opening adventure from one of the Dark Eyes box sets, but man was The Death of Hope really good. From the Big Finish website: “Heron’s World, Coloney Ro 351. A defeated, desolate backwater world, a human settlement chewed up and spat out by the Eminence war. Now the survivors may face an even greater threat than the Infinite Armies that surround them. Because a man has appeared from nowhere and claims to offer salvation. A man with a magic traveling box, and a dark-eyed assistant named Molly O’Sullivan. Much more hangs on the fate of Hope Gardner than anyone around her knows. Because the Doctor is watching…” There is a multitude of reasons why I love The Death of Hope, chief among them being the format of the episode. The episode is structured as a Matrix simulation of an event that’s happened that Narvin, a Time Lord CIA agent, is showing the Doctor in order to convince him to help the CIA in their quest to stop the Master and the Eminence. It’s just a really smart concept since Molly isn’t currently traveling with the Doctor. Since the episode focuses on the Master and his actions on Heron’s World, it’s a really easy way for both the Doctor and the audience to be privy to the actions at the same time. It’s just really clever.
And, aside from its cleverness, it’s just a really good episode in general. It’s a brilliant way to continue several of the plot threads from the end of the last box set as well as lay the groundwork for the rest of this box set. It’s entertaining, well written and directed, and well acted. It’s always a joy when Narvin appears in something. I loved him in Gallifrey and I love him in this. I’m enjoying the mystery behind the Master’s use of Molly to further his plans, and I still love the dynamic between Dr. Sally Armstrong and the Master. Plus, Alex Macqueen is still delightful as the Master. It’s just an all around enjoyable episode and a superb way to open the box set. (5 out of 5 wands)
Part 2: The Reviled
Seems like they’ve finally conquered the “second-story-slump” that the last two Dark Eyes box sets suffered from. While not amazing, The Reviled is a fairly enjoyable story that furthers the main plotline. From the Big Finish website: “Above the jungle world of Ramosa, the Eminence war is raging. Sensing the growing threat, the native Ramossans have risen up against the human colonists in their midst and regained control of their planet. While Sally Armstrong negotiates on behalf of her silent partner, Narvin sends in the Doctor and Liv Chenka to try and make a difference. But what is his true agenda? And can the Doctor really hope to save everyone on a world where humanity is despised?” There’s quite a bit about this episode that I really did like, but it’s definitely not perfect. The main plotline is kind of meh. I mean it’s another one of those humans resisting the more powerful species on a planet stories. So, in that sense, it’s not all that exciting. But the last ten minutes or so are when the story really becomes good.
Paul McGann excels at playing an angry Doctor. There’s just something utterly terrifying when he completely loses his cool and I love every time that Paul McGann gets to show off his skill at portraying the Doctor like that. Liv’s terminal illness finally gets mentioned again and seems to have a genuine impact on the Doctor. I love Narvin’s meddling/failure at meddling and the way the Doctor reacts to that. I also thought the resolution of the main plot of the episode was really clever and was a nice twist and I am still really invested in where the plotline with the Master is gonna end up. I’m just really really hooked on the story and so even though the first forty minutes or so were just sorta average, the last ten minutes really upped the ante and got me excited to listen to the next episode. So, minor success? It’s probably my favorite second story of all the Dark Eyes box sets so far. (3.5 out of 5 wands)
Part 3: Masterplan
This part is an interesting change of pace. It takes place in nearly real-time, which is always interesting, and it features nice, long conversations between the Doctor and the Master. It’s good. From the Big Finish website: “When the Doctor decides to stop a war, the last thing he expects is to be trapped aboard a doomed spaceship with his oldest friend — who just happens to also be his oldest enemy. The Master is just as surprised: this isn’t part of his master plan. Meanwhile, Liv and Sally tiptoe around a brilliant and dangerous man. Professor Markus Schriver is a genius in the field of teleportation and neural manipulation. Unfortunately, he is also insane. The clock is ticking, and not everyone can make it out alive…” It’s here that we start learning the entirety of the Master’s plan and it’s done in such a smart way that it actually avoids the evil villain monologues about his plan trope. The Doctor and the Master spend long periods of time talking to each other, as for a chunk of the episode they’re trapped in the cargo hold of a ship, and the Master’s plan comes out naturally in those conversations.
The Master’s plan is a bit convoluted, but then again his plans are always convoluted and this is also a Big Finish audio and they’re known for being a bit too complicated just because they can be. That being said, this episode is still superb. It’s suitably tense and offers one of the best examinations of the Doctor and the Master’s friendship. They examine the differences between the two and the hypocrisy in the Doctor’s oath (similar to how Missy and Twelve compared and contrasted one another in the past few seasons of the show). That, alone, makes this episode a success. Add in another jaw-droppingly good performance from Alex Macqueen, Paul McGann’s now-trademark angry Doctor, and a cliffhanger that gets you super hyped for the finale and you’ve got a successful episode. (4.5 out of 5 wands)
Part 4: Rule of the Eminence
And now we reach the grand finale and it definitely didn’t go the way I expected it to. But that’s not really a bad thing. From the Big Finish website: “History tells us that humanity will win the war against the Eminence. That Grand Administrator Walter Vincent will welcome home the sons and daughters of fighting and starvation. The newscasters of Alliance Update will announce across the Ten Systems that planet Earth is open for business, its air purified and its people victorious. The Eminence will be no more. This is all a matter of historical fact. But the Doctor and the Master both know history can be rewritten. Every line.” A bit of time has passed since the end of the third episode and the Master, Molly, and Liv are set up on earth after the end of humanity’s war with the Eminence. The Master sets his ultimate plan into motion as the Doctor and Narvin arrive to stop him.
It’s just a cracking good episode. There’s plenty of twists and turns that ultimately serve the needs of the story well. It’s nice to have Molly in a more prominent role again as the last time we really got to spend any time with her was in the first episode of this set, and even then it wasn’t that much. In this episode, Alex Macqueen’s Master is at his most despicable as he readies himself to do anything in order to obtain his goal. Much of his campiness is gone and replaced with cold ruthlessness. That’s not to say he doesn’t remain funny, as all good portrayals of the Master are, but his whole persona is just a lot darker in this episode, and it’s good. It’s really just a great finale that ends on a bittersweet note. It’s well written, well paced, and well acted. (4.5 out of 5 wands)
All in all, Dark Eyes 3 is probably my favorite box set of the series so far. It’s consistently well plotted, well paced, well directed, and well acted. It benefits greatly from having one writer write all of the episodes and Matt Fitton was a great choice to be the writer of them all. He wrote the two best episodes of Dark Eyes 2 so it was only to be expected that Dark Eyes 3 would be as good as it was. It’s the Eighth Doctor at his best; not too dark and not too light. You can tell he’s been through a lot, but he’s still trying to hold onto hope. The one downside is that the set ends with what feels like a final note for the Dark Eyes series except there’s another Dark Eyes box set after this and I fear that that set won’t be able to have an ending as good as this one did. But that’s a problem for a different review. I can’t recommend Dark Eyes 3 enough. It’s just superb.
(4.5 out of 5 wands)