We’ve reached the final box set in the Dark Eyes series, and everything comes to a head as the Doctor (Paul McGann) and Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) make their final stand against the Daleks and the Dalek Time Controller. Dark Eyes 4, written by Matt Fitton and John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley, picks up shortly after the end of Dark Eyes 3. Molly has been returned to her own timeline by the Time Lords – or so the Doctor thinks. He’s landed in post-war England in search of Molly but stumbles his way into a new mystery that may end in destruction. Bringing together the Daleks, the Eminence, the Sontarans, and the Master (Alex Macqueen), Dark Eyes 4 brings the Dark Eyes series to an explosive finale to a strong series from Big Finish. (There are spoilers ahead!)
Part 1: A Life in the Day (by John Dorney)
This fourth box set in the Dark Eyes series opens with a strong first episode that finds the Doctor and Liv meeting Molly’s old friend/boss, Kitty Donaldson (Beth Chalmers), and her brother, Martin (Barnaby Kay). From the Big Finish website: “The Doctor and Liv return to post-World War One London, where the Doctor meets Kitty Donaldson (Beth Chalmers), and Liv strikes a friendship with her brother Martin (Barnaby Kay). But what mysterious force is hunting them?” It’s a strong opening episode that does a superb job at setting up this box set’s ongoing plot. The one thing I don’t like about it is that it hinges on the Doctor not wanting to let Molly go. It just feels like a slap in the face to the beautiful ending of Dark Eyes 3.
At the end of Dark Eyes 3, the Doctor knew he had to let Molly go. It hurt him, but he knew it was for the best. It seemed he’d come to terms with it. But as Dark Eyes 4 begins, all of that is thrown out the window so we can join the Doctor as he basically tries to stalk Molly (unsuccessfully, but still). It just doesn’t feel right given the character and plot progression over the last box set. But that aside, A Life in the Day is a great episode. It relies heavily on excellent performances from Nicola Walker and Barnaby Kay (as Liv and Martin). Both Liv and Martin have lived through wars and are suffering from survivor’s guilt and their scenes together are really sweet and wonderful. It’s so nice seeing Liv open up to someone and allow herself to become softer and warmer. She benefits greatly from this time spent developing her character and it’s the high point of the episode. Thankfully it’s also the crux of the episode and it’s the reason the episode is as good as it is. (4 out of 5 wands)
Part 2: The Monster of Montmartre (by Matt Fitton)
This, too, was surprisingly good. Like the second episode from the previous box set, it’s a bit slow to start, but once it gets going, it really gets going and it ends with a lovely cliffhanger that segues perfectly into the next story. From the Big Finish website: “The Doctor and Liv’s investigations bring them to Paris, where a monster stalks the streets.” The Doctor and Liv are chasing after the stolen TARDIS and arrive in Paris where they proceed to split up to look for clues as to where the TARDIS might be. Both of their individual investigations lead them to one place: The Red Pagoda, run by Adelaine Dutemps (Rachael Stirling). The thing is, something seems very off about her and the establishment she runs. Particularly odd is her husband, Mr. Dutemps, the Dalek Time Controller himself.
It’s not exactly the most surprising twist, given the Time Controller is on the cover of the box set, but in the context of the story, it does work quite well, and there are plenty of other intriguing reveals that happen throughout the episode, all of which leads to an explosive and rather interesting climax that perfectly sets up the next episode. Of particular enjoyment is the return of the Master (Alex Macqueen) in the final moments of the episode. As I’ve said before, I adore Alex Macqueen’s portrayal of the Master, so any time he returns is a time I will enjoy and celebrate, and this is no exception, though he doesn’t really feature much in this episode; the following episode is the one that really features him. (4 out of 5 wands)
Part 3: Master of the Daleks (by John Dorney)
And here we have the return of the Master to the Dark Eyes series after an absence of roughly two episodes. Unfortunately, he only features in this episode (and not the finale), but that’s okay as his presence in this episode leads to a fantastic set up for the finale. Add in lots of Daleks and a group of Sontarans and you have a ruddy good time. From the Big Finish website: “The Master and the Dalek Time Controller have forged an alliance. History hangs in the balance, and this time the Doctor can’t help…” I don’t wanna say too much about the specifics of the plot of this episode because ultimately it’s far more enjoyable to just listen to it unfold, but you won’t exactly be surprised by where it heads. I mean, both the Master and the Daleks are evil creatures prone to betrayal, so their ultimate betrayal of each other doesn’t really come as a surprise.
What is a surprise is the return of Molly O’Sullivan (Sorcha Cusack), this time under the name Mary Carter (for a very logical reason). It’s fun having her back, and the cast change makes perfect sense in the story. This is a Molly who is roughly forty years older than the last time we saw her, so it makes sense for her voice to sound older, which Cusack’s does. Cusack does manage to sound very similar to Ruth Bradley, so it really is believable that this is an older Molly O’Sullivan and not another actress trying a pale imitation of Ruth Bradley’s performance. As always, Molly ends up factoring very importantly into the plot of this episode, and the following one, but here (again), she gets lots of time to spend with Liv and whenever the two of them really get to interact, I smile. It’s a joy. The episode itself is well written, if a bit predictable, and it does set up the finale very well. (4 out of 5 wands)
Part 4: Eye of Darkness (by Matt Fitton)
And here we are, once again, at the finale. And my oh my what a finale this is. Not only is it the conclusion to Dark Eyes 4, but it’s the logical conclusion to the entire Dark Eyes series. Back are the Dalek Time Controller, the Eminence, Markus Schriver (David Sibley), and the Daleks themselves. Everything the series has been building towards comes to a head in this explosive, emotional, suspenseful, and expertly written finale. From the Big Finish website: “It’s the endgame. Truths will be revealed, and a hero will make the ultimate sacrifice.” Matt Fitton is given the daunting task of bringing both the box set and the entire series to a satisfying conclusion, and he’s able to do it with ease. Seriously, it’s amazing just how easy he makes all of this seem. He’s brilliant at writing for the Doctor and Liv. He captures their dynamic in a real, interesting, and emotionally true way. Any time he’s written an episode for the Dark Eyes series, I’ve been immensely pleased, and this was most definitely no exception.
Eye of Darkness somehow brings everything to a satisfying and emotionally realistic ending as Molly, Liv, and the Doctor fight to find a way to stop the Dalek Time Controller from combining his mind with the Eminence. It’s a gripping hour of Doctor Who, and one full of surprises. But the surprises really aren’t what the episode is about. The episode hinges on the relationship between the Doctor and Molly. How far will the Doctor go to save Molly? Does Molly even want to be saved? Can the Doctor really claim the moral high ground if he’s willing to sacrifice billions of people in order to save one person? Questions like these are asked and answered throughout the episode, and it’s just a really well put together episode. Of particular note is Sorcha Cusack’s performance as Molly. She’s really able to make you feel the pain that Molly has felt over her life (lives?) and it’s because of Cusack’s brilliant acting that the episode works as well as it does. (4.5 out of 5 wands)
Ultimately, this is the strongest of the four Dark Eyes box sets. It is well written, well directed, and well acted and it brings the entire series to its natural conclusion in a way that feels both dramatically and emotionally earned. The one problem I have with the series as a whole is the way Molly’s been written and used. She never really got the chance to be a true companion. She’s always been a plot device necessary to the villain’s ultimate plans, and because of that, we’ve never really been able to get much true character development from her. I understand that the constraints of the story required this to be the case, but I really loved Molly as a character and I just hate that she never really got the chance to shine on her own. That being said, she was still amazing, and I still adored the Dark Eyes series. I’m excited to see where the Doctor and Liv go in the Doom Coalition series, Big Finish’s next series of box sets from the Eighth Doctor. I’ll be starting and reviewing those soon!
(4.5 out of 5 wands)