MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW…
The Doctor Who Universe is ever so lightly changed after the 50th anniversary. We met new Doctors, discovered long kept secrets and, perhaps most excitingly of all, got to see the Eighth Doctor on our television screens once more. It was fleeting, shocking and heartbreaking all in less than ten minutes; some might say that the Eighth Doctor’s end was far better than his beginning.
One of the elements that made Night of the Doctor so ball-beltingly fantastic was the Eighth Doctor’s final goodbye, which included a name check of several of his Big Finish companions (in what seemed to be chronological order) finishing with one Molly O’ Sullivan, the Dark Eyes that is referenced in this box set so much. It’s this link – the first time that televised Doctor Who has so audaciously referenced the Big Finish universe of adventures – that serves as the game changer for Big Finish productions, especially their Eighth Doctor audios.
Dark Eyes 2 is a brilliant box set, full of life and adventure as well as mystery and intrigue. McGann’s performance seems almost brand new, his enthusiasm and new found glee in the role coming directly from filming new televised scenes as the Doctor is evident in his voice here. The Eighth Doctor that we encountered in the first Dark Eyes box set has gone, the self loathing and anger has subsided and what we’re offered this time round is far more agreeable. Although the initial story The Traitor starts off with the Doctor in something of a conundrum, his lust for life and joyful adventuring are easier to jump onto than his reintroduction in 2012 in Dark Eyes, after suffering the terrible losses of To the Death.
Maybe the delay of Dark Eyes 2 was planned all along in order to let McGann film his new scenes as the Doctor to give him just the boost he needed; who knows, eh? Who knows? Whether serendipity or severe scheming, the end result is a triumph for the Eighth Doctor.
And what of the stories themselves? Do they cut the mustard, so to speak? Of course they do, in fact the tone for Dark Eyes 2 is a whole different beast than its predecessor. Whereas Dark Eyes felt like a one-off event, a long story told over many hours, Dark Eyes 2 feels like a proper Doctor Who miniseries. Nicholas Briggs has split the writing duties with Alan Barnes and Matt Fitton and the result is tremendous. Briggs’ initial Dalek story is well paced and sets up the remaining three tales with questions that need resolving. Barnes pens a return of the Viyrans in a touching timey wimey style tale and Matt Fitton takes the helm for stories 3 and 4. This reviewer will admit that story 3, Time’s Horizon, was the cherry on the top of the box. A glorious mash up of Alien, 2007’s 42 and 2013’s Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. Not only that, but it also uses retuning foe the Eminence in an interesting and significant way, giving the listener a rewarding experience.
Of course, many of you will be tearing out your hair to get to the final story of the set, Eyes of the Master, which promises a long desired rematch between the Eight Doctor and the Master, played here in his Alex Maqueen incarnation last seen in 2012’s UNIT: Oblivion. The story itself is very good, and keeps the Master and the Doctor apart until the last possible minute but their eventual reintroduction to each other leaves one feeling rather let down.
Perhaps it’s the two leads, and that is by no means a disparaging remark on either Paul McGann or Alex Macqueen who are both brilliant as the Doctor and the Master respectively, as they are both softly spoken actors. Maybe the similarity is too much. McGann and Maqueen’s rich voices seem to do one another a small disservice and cancel the effect of their tones out. The last time the Eighth Doctor fully encountered the Master, he was a shouting maniac; Maqueen can do scary shouting maniac very well and it would be nice, if the rematch ever occurs, that the two incarnations could appear to oppose the other’s personality.
Dark Eyes 2 is a full-on event miniseries by Big Finish. It’s bold and original storytelling that gives the adventures of the Eighth Doctor a whole new focus and meaning. We know now where this particular Doctor is heading: somewhere in his future, the barren surfaces of Karn are waiting for him and the Time War is waiting to be fought, something that is alluded to in this very box set. But for now, we get to have the Eighth Doctor as we have always had him, the never ending and undying Doctor. The Doctor that never gives up and always moves on, because for this incarnation the story truly never ends.
And if the stories continue with the high level of quality as experienced in Dark Eyes 2, then long may it continue.