(WARNING: Significant spoilers follow!)
When we last saw the Eighth Doctor at the end of season four’s “To the Death”, he was…not in a happy place. Lucie Miller and Tamsin were both dead. The Doctor’s great-grandson Alex was dead. The Monk had escaped and the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan was an emotional wreck. We see the Doctor vow to somehow go back in time and rescue Lucie (and presumably Alex and Tamsin). Then the episode ended and we all looked eagerly to the resolution of this plot.
Well, it’s been a couple years now, and Big Finish have finally released “Dark Eyes”, a boxed-set that basically amounts to season five the Eighth Doctor Adventures. One would expect it to pick up where the last story left off and to see the Doctor trying to find a way to save his friends and family.
One would be wrong.
Instead what we get are a set of stories that are almost stand-alone. You could listen to these without ever having heard any of the previous four seasons and all you’d do is wonder a bit who Lucie was and why the Doctor seems to be so dark. But that would be all. Now that’s good for luring in new listeners, but imagine that the fabulous Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Best of Both Worlds Part 2” had simply picked up a few months later with no explanation for how the previous episode had been resolved. It isn’t quite as frustrating as that, but it is a bit.
To give a short recap of what happens here, the Doctor (Paul McGann) seems to be near suicide when a Time Lord named Straxus (Peter Egan) shows up to offer him a bit of hope. This apparently takes the form of sending the Doctor to the Western Front in World War One where he meets a woman named Molly O’Sullivan (Ruth Bradley) and then gets to spend the remaining stories fighting off the daleks and being manipulated by a Time Lord named Kotris (Toby Jones). Also, the Doctor is wearing a new outfit and has shorter hair. Please note that none of this really has anything to do with resolving what happened at the end of “To the Death”.
Additionally, I was really let down when we learned the true story behind Kotris. I had all sorts of theories as to what Time Lord in disguise/new incarnation he might be. None of those theories turned out to be correct, and while that doesn’t bother me, the actual revelation as to who he is and why he does what was does was rather unsatisfying. It didn’t seem like a grand enough payoff for a character like him.
Now those two complaints aside, do bear in mind that I quite liked this story. I liked the various different points in time and space that the Doctor and Molly visited. I liked the mystery behind her character. I liked the new version of Straxus and Toby Jones (seen on TV who as the Dream Lord in “Amy’s Choice”), was a really excellent villain. Plus Nick Briggs (who also wrote and directed these stories), did his usual excellent job as the daleks (and hearing a dalek say “Please?” and offer someone a blanket was wonderful fun).
I also liked the fact that the Doctor is clearly being moved and pushed into a place where he becomes the person who was able to fight the Time War that has been mentioned so many times in the new series. I also found if more than a little interesting when I realized that this story is, essentially, the opening battle of that war. You have the daleks messing around with time to eliminate the Time Lords and the Time Lords doing the same to eliminate the daleks. I do hope this is the shape of things to come for the next set of EDA stories.
I said at the outset that you didn’t really need to have listened to the previous stories to enjoy this one. I’ll now go further and say that if you haven’t listened to them, you might like this one more than someone who has. But whether you have or haven’t, if you like a good Doctor Who stories with plenty of daleks and lots of dark things happening, you’ll love this one.
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