Dark Eyes 4 review

Dark Eyes 4 slipcaseAfter four boxsets, the award-winning Dark Eyes series came to an end with the simply named Dark Eyes 4. With the writing credits taken by John Dorney and Matt Fitton (Matt wrote Dark Eyes 3 single-handed) and a host of villains (Daleks. Sontarans, the Eminence and the Master). How did this turn out? A fitting end to a great series, or an over-the-top riot of ideas with no organising thread? How will the Eighth Doctor defeat those lined up against him? What about Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker)?

Find out (‘ware the odd spoiler) …

The stories

Full details of the stories are on the Big Finish product page, but here are my synopses and immediate thoughts.

Dark Eyes 4.01 A Life in the Day

John Dorney started the set with A Life in the Day. London after World War I; the Doctor and Liv are looking for Molly. They meet the Donaldsons, brother and sister Kitty (Beth Chalmers) and Martin (Barnaby Bay, Nicola Walker’s husband). Looking for clues to find Molly, a series of increasingly unlikely coincidences comes to the Doctor’s aid and they all involved Martin. Meanwhile Martin and Liv spend time together and a relationship grows.

Despite all, the Doctor is unable to save Martin from destiny but we enjoy the trip and a Dorney-esque take on Groundhog Day. The Doctor is also unable to save the TARDIS.

Dark Eyes 4.2 The Monster of MontmarteMatt Fitton moved the action to Paris in The Monster of Montmarte. Here the Doctor and Liv split up (for a change) and Liv gets side-tracked by some dubious police / intelligence agents while the Doctor makes the acquaintance of a local artist who is besotted by a certain Mademoiselle duTemps (spot the clue in the name) who runs the local Red Pagoda club. It is here we find out Daleks are involved and are bent on changing history, led my a none-too-healthy Dalek Time Controller.

Neither party gets to a conclusive victory and action moves forward, though not without casualties.

Dark Eyes 4.3 The Master of the DaleksJohn Dorney adds lots of villains to the mix in Master of the Daleks (or should that be The Master’s Dalek Plan?). The Sontarans are on-stage for moments before being utterly defeated and are seen by the Daleks as a great source of ready to steal DNA (a brilliant idea). All this is a side-show and action moves to future Russia in a time-line twist where we also find the Master working with the Dalek Time Controller, of course both are plotting to deceive the other. Into this comes a nurse, Mary (Sorcha Cusack) and the Doctor.

Events come to a head and the Sontarans get their revenge on the Daleks, but not before the Master (Alex Macqueen) gets to torment Liv and deliver several great lines with a wonderful dry humour.

Dark Eyes 4.4 Eye of DarknessAnd it’s to Matt Fitton to bring the story to the boil and finish the story of the Eighth Doctor and Molly Dark Eyes in Eye of Darkness. Here we learn all about the Eminence, how it was created and the role of the Dalek Time Controller. We also learn of Molly’s fate and Liv Chenka grows even further as a character and once the dust settles it is the Doctor and Liv who will travel on to the next set of boxset releases.

Although the ending is poignant and involves sacrifice, this Doctor is not the one who was so angry at the end of To the Death he tried to flee reality, and found himself in World War I where he met Molly o’Sullivan in the first place. This Doctor has hope and a focus on the future.

The storytelling

Each boxset has had its own feel and this delivers plenty of contrast in the way John and Matt flip-flop through the story. Big Finish four-disc sets have a certain rhythm but this particular one comes together well, feeling more coherent than (say) a Jago & Litefoot set. It’s normal to praise Ken Bentley’s direction and all the actors but this is absolutely the case with this set. Beth Chalmers and Camilla Power are both versatile actors and the chemistry between Liv and Martin (unsurprisingly) is rock-solid. The whole time-loop from the outside is done with enough reveal to ring little bells but not spoil the listeners enjoyment.

Matt’s Paris oozes Eighth Doctor somehow, much as the character just worked in Nazi occupied Paris in the Eighth Doctor Adventure Scapegoat. If Liv’s part was more nugatory the balance of the second story was more than redressed with the tale of the young artist.

[pullquote]a big story with clever dialogue[/pullquote]

John Dorney does a big story with clever dialogue and minimal fuss and also laces it in with future occupied Russia. There’s a real lesson in story-telling here and plenty of space for Alex Macqueen’s Master to shine as he chides and torments Nicola’s Liv.

The ending is difficult, the Eminence still seems somewhat divergent from the creature we first heard challenging the Sixth Doctor and the threat never flourishes. After the excellent Dark Eyes 2 the sting has been removed from this villain This mattered little as we explored the links to Molly and the Time Controller.

Final thoughts

Pause to remember how we (and Doctor) felt after the brutal deaths and sacrifices at the end of the Lucie Miller era. This time the Doctor can look forward — he has a companion in Liv who is more than ready to contribute to future adventures, has a clear identity and connects to Molly without displacing her in the Doctor’s affections. She has grown as has the Doctor and behind the sorrow of the ending of this set and of the series.

A lot to enjoy here and another set of stories goes on the ‘must listen again’ pile.

What did you think? Let me know!

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