Once in a while, Big Finish produces a new Doctor Who audio that is designed as a good entry point to their vast ranges. Given that they produce adventures featuring five different Doctors, this should come as no surprise.
These occurrences aren’t exactly rare, but they do provide casual or aspiring listeners an opportunity to “get into” the range. Dark Eyes is one such occasion.
Released back in December, we’ve delayed reviewing this basically because it’s so good. I’m guilty, dear Kasterborite, of having listened to Dark Eyes five times now, and attempting this review about three. Each time, however, I found myself dipping back in to listen to a specific part, only to be carried away on the journey through time and space with the Doctor (the continually wonderful Paul McGann), his new companion Molly O’Sullivan (Ruth Bradley, who fantasy TV viewers may recognise from the last two British-produced series of Primeval) and those deadly, dastardly Daleks.
It would seem that there is little gap between the previous series of Eighth Doctor adventures and Dark Eyes; at the beginning of this four-part serial, the Doctor is lost, devoid of hope. A chance to overcome his grief is presented in the form of Straxus, a Time Lord who has tracked the Doctor down to the end of the universe.
Straxus, of course, previously appeared in 2007’s Human Resources, where he was played by the equally sinister Nickolas Grace (known to a generation as the ultimate Sheriff of Nottingham in ITV’s Robin of Sherwood). The recasting is unfortunate, but expertly done, in the shape of Peter Egan.
Egan’s silky voice (found on many TV adverts over the years, not to mention various TV, radio and stage performances) is perfect for Straxus a Time Lord, who you’re never quite sure of. Older readers may recall Egan from shows such as Ever Decreasing Circles (in which he starred with the late Richard Briers) or Chariots of Fire and interestingly he’s married to Myra Frances, The Creature from the Pit‘s Lady Adastra; basically, Egan is a long time coming to Doctor Who, but well worth the wait. There is one particularly interesting scene in which he seems to commit suicide (a theme that seems to run throughout this particular adventure), but to explain why and how would require spoiling the rest, and you really, really don’t want me to do that.
Toby Jones – the Dream Lord himself – also guest stars in Dark Eyes, as the enigmatic “X”, a name assigned to him by the Time Lords, although he prefers the name Kotris. He appears to be in league with the Daleks, and it seems that his aim is pretty devastating. Realising how manipulative and interfering the Time Lords are, he has teamed up with the Daleks in order to rid the universe of them. There is some question throughout as to whether Kotris/X is a Time Lord or not, but again, you won’t be spoiled on that particular detail from reading this.
Taking in a range of locations and eras from 19th century Ireland to alien planets, Dark Eyes also spends some time on earth during the 1970s as the Doctor and Molly attempt to outrun the Daleks who are somehow on their tails at every turn. In some ways, its like a modern version of The Chase, but without Morton Dill, although the presence of Ian Cullen (who first appeared in Doctor Who back in 1964’s The Aztecs as Ixta) as Nadeyan isn’t a million miles away.
Dark Eyes heralds the first use of the new images of the Eighth Doctor, whose experiences in The Great War prompt his change of costume. Part Marwood (McGann’s character in Withnail & I) and part future incarnation, it marks an interesting new look to the character and has been credited in Doctor Who Magazine as reinvigorating the actor – no bad thing, I think you’ll agree.
This story really does grab you and carry you along in its wake, and the 220 minute duration seems to pass in half the time. You will be particularly gripped by the origins and fate of the Doctor’s erstwhile companion Molly O’Sullivan, the eponymous “Dark Eyes” of the title. Why is she called that? Why are her eyes so dark? And why did X kidnap her baby self?
Ruth Bradley is particularly impressive as Molly, taking the character convincingly in all of the directions that the story demands from reluctant traveller to an advocate of a possible future race of peaceful Daleks (in scenes evocative of the classic Dalek comics.)
Dark Eyes is released as a four-part boxset, comprising the episodes The Great War, Fugitives, Tangled Web, X and the Daleks. There is also a very interesting “making of” extra, in which you get a nice behind the scenes chat with the director, writer (and in some ways, the star) Nicholas Briggs.
Following the Doctor, Molly, Straxus, X and the Daleks in Dark Eyes, is something else, something huge, unmissable yet subtle, an entity that is all-encompassing and invisible all at once. It’s the wonderful soundtrack, a superb piece of sound design by Andy Hardwick, whose work here easily challenges anything presented by Murray Gold on TV.
Although Dark Eyes features some baggage and continuity questions that you might need answering, by and large this is a self-contained serial that is a testament to the talents of everyone involved. If we had ratings on Kasterborous, Dark Eyes would be a 10. As we don’t, you’ll just have to buy it and find out yourself…
Doctor Who: Dark Eyes is a five disc CD set that includes a fascinating behind the scenes disc, with a total running time of 300 minutes. You can purchase on CD from Big Finish for £40, or download for £35.