Written by Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley
Starring: Paul McGann (The Doctor), Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka), Ruth Bradley (Molly O’Sullivan), Alex Macqueen (The Master), Natalie Burt (Dr Sally Armstrong), David Sibley (Professor Schriver and The Eminence), and Sean Carlsen (Narvin).
Big Finish Productions – November 2014
The third boxset in the Dark Eyes series is something of a departure from the first two releases. Rather surprisingly Nick Briggs has taken a back seat from being involved in this release and some fans may have been relieved that the four episodes of Dark Eyes 3 are a Dalek-free zone. Instead, these episodes focus instead on the mysterious origins of the Eminence and its Fifty Year War against humanity plus a goodly helping of Alex Macqueen’s delightfully camp yet utterly sinister incarnation of the Master. In Briggs’ absence, all four episodes are written by Big Finish stalwart Matt Fitton and whilst there may not always be the same flair of originality which made the first Dark Eyes such as success this is a consistently solid sequence of stories which sows together various elements neatly in preparation for the fourth and final instalment of the saga.
The opening episode, The Death of Hope, picks up fairly directly from the cliffhanger coda to Dark Eyes 2 which saw Molly abruptly kidnapped by the Master and his accomplice Dr Sally Armstrong. The Doctor’s quest to save his companion finds him united with the Coordinator Narvin of the Celestial Intervention Agency. Sean Carlsen reprises this character who has previously only appeared in the spin-off series Gallifrey and it is fun to hear a character who has been at times both an enemy and an ally to Romana and Leela finally cross paths with the Doctor. This story makes clever use of the narrative device of the Doctor and Narvin witnessing a matrix projection of the Master’s activities, in which he appears to be offering salvation to a planet under threat of invasion by the Eminence. It certainly gives Alex Macqueen’s Master and Natalie Burt as Dr Armstrong a chance to shine as the main protagonists for this episode.
The second episode pitches the Doctor and his newest companion, Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka firmly back into the action on the planet Ramossa where tensions are rife between human colonists and the indigenous insect-like Ramossans. Particularly notable is an unrecognisable Sacha Dhawan (An Adventure in Space and Time) as Ramossan General Jaldam. The final scenes feature Paul McGann’s Doctor at his best. Believing himself to have been outmanoeuvred by both the Master and the Time Lords and learning with some dismay of his companion Liv’s terminal illness, the Doctor resolves to take drastic action.
Masterplan finally delivers on the promise of this boxset’s unofficial subtitle “Doctor vs Master” as the two Time Lords finally come face to face in a scenario where they are given some enjoyable verbal sparring which will call to mind their future encounters in the TV series guises of Tennant and Simm. Meanwhile, Liv is working under-cover as a research assistant to Professor Markus Schriver, the mentally unstable scientist destined to create the Eminence (nicely played with a lighter contrast to his sinister Eminence voice by David Sibley). Here she is confronted by the Master’s companion Sally Armstrong in a nice mirroring of the stories main confrontation between the Doctor and the Master. Considering Sally was originally a potential companion to the Doctor in Dark Eyes, the outcome of this story will be disappointing to some listeners.
The boxset concludes with a suitably large-scale finale. The Rule of the Eminence sees the Master attempt to take control of the human race using the Eminence’s controlling gas combined with Molly’s progenitor particles. Whilst this story is reminiscent of Last of the Time Lords, it does have enough originality to stand on its own. Having only appeared peripherally in the first three episodes, it is a joy to hear Ruth Bradley as Molly, playing such a central role in the action. Knowing that there is a further final Dark Eyes box set to follow, Molly’s apparent exit in this story is a surprise but it seems Big Finish made good plot expediency of Ruth Bradley’s limited availability for recording in what has proved to be her final audio appearance. This listener is a fan of the character of Liv Chenka, so her continuing as a regular companion into Dark Eyes 4 and the forthcoming Doom Coalition series is welcome. However the magical cure bestowed on her in this story to enable this to happen was rather convenient and could have warranted further development. Overall, this is a worthy conclusion to this boxset which makes particularly good use of the Macqueen incarnation of the Master (who sadly only features in one of the four episodes of Dark Eyes 4). Hopefully Macqueen’s Master will be have another chance to spar against the Doctor in the not too distant future.
It seems a fitting addendum to mention that the fifth CD in this set, featuring the usual round of interviews with members of the cast and crew, reminds listeners that this set of stories was recorded in the immediate aftermath of the untimely death of Paul Spragg in May 2014. Paul was a much loved member of the Big Finish production staff who worked on numerous releases across many audio ranges over the preceding five years. He continues to be missed both by those who had the pleasure of working with him and by many fans who either met him or just heard him on Big Finish podcasts and extras. This set features well-deserved and at times deeply poignant tributes to him, led by actors Paul McGann and Nicola Walker.