Dark Eyes 2 is the latest instalment of the Eighth Doctor’s continuing Big Finish audio adventures, comprised of four stories: The Traitor, The White Room, Time’s Horizon and The Eyes of the Master. This time around the Doctor finds himself, and former acquaintances, caught up in the machinations of the Daleks and a resurrected Master.
As an ongoing series, Dark Eyes appears to be set in the foreboding twilight of the Eighth Doctor’s life, following on from the harrowing events of Lucie Miller. Dark Eyes is titled after new companion Molly O’Sullivan, the last of the companions named by the dying Doctor in Night of the Doctor.
The first Dark Eyes arc was released back in 2012 and whilst being popular it certainly had flaws. Foremost amongst these was that the main story felt rather stretched over the four disc set, hindering the impact the story was trying to build towards. Furthermore the Doctor’s role as a Time Lord witness protection service felt like a bit of a re-run of plot mechanic already used at the start of the Lucie Miller era.
Fortunately Dark Eyes 2 addresses these flaws and is a better story as a result of it. The main improvement comes from the fact that the individual stories that comprise the set have a stronger individual plots. As such this makes Dark Eyes 2 feel more like a mini story-arc rather than a dragged out story like the first. The individual plots fill out the listening time and prevent things from feeling padded, whilst being able to tease out the progression of the overall arc.
Big Finish writers Nicholas Briggs, Alan Barnes and Matt Fitton also take the opportunity to play with the structure of the arc itself. As it transpires, the narrative follows another character as much as either the Doctor or companion this time around.
Molly O’Sullivan, as portrayed by actress Ruth Bradley (who may be familiar to cult watchers from her roles in Primeval and Grabbers) really starts to come into her own as a bona fide companion here. Although still central to the ongoing arc plot of Dark Eyes, Molly now gets to be more active and really shines as a strong characterisation. She almost seems to be a combination of elements from the Eighth Doctor’s other heralded companions – the vintage origins of Charlotte Pollard and the no-nonsense manner of Lucie Miller. Molly is a strong woman capable of dealing with the situations she finds herself in as well as bringing the Doctor down to earth when needs be. She has mellowed a little from her first appearance but that helps her character to round out a little.
Other performances here are good with Alex MacQueen (of The Inbetweeners and The Thick of It) being of particular note for his continuing take on the Master which feels like it draws a little from Andrew Scott’s Moriarty with an incisive and civilised veneer hiding a frenzied sociopath. The confrontation between the Doctor and Master is a wonderfully written and played scene. A joyous performance also comes from a cameo by the one and only Frank Skinner (of that football song), who may be the second biggest Black Country Whovian following your dear author, which apparently came about from meeting Nicholas Briggs on the set of The Five-ish Doctors Reboot.
Following years as the most dashing of Doctors, Dark Eyes saw the Eighth Doctor broken to nearly as low as he could before finding renewed hope allowing him the possibility of moving on with his life. Here in Dark Eyes 2 we see a still fragile Eighth Doctor being drawn into the inter-temporal manoeuvrings on the Daleks and Time Lords as both sides begin to jostle for position. The Eighth Doctor becomes an unwilling hero and is clearly on course to be the individual we see in the Night of the Doctor.
As this character development suggests the overarching pIot threads from Dark Eyes 2 are certainly hinting at some intriguing developments in the future that Big Finish is building towards. The Daleks and Time Lords both appear to be positioning themselves for future events, mention is made of the Doctor’s failed mission to avert the creation of the Daleks in Genesis of the Daleks and even the Master has been resurrected to advance some unknown Gallifreyan agenda. With at least two more instalments of Dark Eyes in the works, one has to wonder whether Big Finish may be leading up to deliver the Eighth Doctor to his fate on the planet Karn. Dark Eyes 2 certainly puts in places the building blocks for what could be a really interesting direction for the future stories, hinting heavily at the prelude to the Time War.
Despite this promise of future greatness Dark Eyes 2 still doesn’t quite rise above being a worthy, solid and enjoyable offering from Big Finish. There are a number of elements that don’t quite hit the mark and one that doesn’t convince is the threat of the Eminence. The Eminence is a Big Finish creation that essentially comes across as a gaseous equivalent of The Flood from The Waters Of Mars, albeit a bit chattier. Despite the terminology used to dress up their mythology The Eminence never really feel like much more than stock sci-fi zombies. Their sound design doesn’t really differentiate them from many other stock sci-fi monsters either. Which is a shame given the importance attached to The Eminence in the plot. It rather feels like greater weight might have been added to this plot function if the Cybermen, with their same traits of conversion and body horror, had been substituted in instead.
Perhaps being a little picky there are still some ideas that seem a little reused, though not as obviously as the Time Lord witness protection in the first Dark Eyes. Such as the Ides Institute as first mentioned in the original Dark Eyes has been brought back but recalls the pan-century operating/manipulating of Torchwood. Although Nicola Walker puts in a good performance as Liv Chenka it seems a bit odd to have plucked a one-time character out of obscurity. Her role does play an important part in linking the different stories within Dark Eyes 2 but tails away at the end.
In conclusion, Dark Eyes 2 improves on the original, to what can probably be considered to be a slightly above average story. Perhaps this is to be expected after the first instalment opened with a broken Doctor it has taken a while for the writers to manoeuvre all the pieces ready for the main thrust of the story they have planned for the Eighth Doctor. Of the individual stories they get better as they go on, with the first seeming a little odd on first listen but does make more sense as the arc progresses and the last story ending on a high bringing the previous stories together. This progression in the individual stories mirrors how the overall arc sets itself up for what could be some great future instalments. So a good step forward though perhaps not, yet, the masterpiece that Big Finish is striving for but well worth getting in order to see what appears to be the beginning of the end for the Eighth Doctor.
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