|Starring Paul McGann|
|Synopsis: The Doctor is looking for hope. But instead, he finds himself on a mission. The Time Lords have uncovered terrifying fragments of an insane plot to destroy the universe. And somehow, at the centre of that plot is one, random female in Earth's history, Molly O'Sullivan.|
A Review by Matthew Sychantha 24/5/13
In many ways, the Eighth Doctor Adventures was Big Finish's answer to Russell T. Davies. New blond companion, 60 minute episodes, season-wide story arcs and a feeling of restart. By the end of the series, the Eighth Doctor Adventures were just as tied to the Time War as New Who. Both ended with a climactic Dalek battle, but where Journey's End gave us a sense of finality (and hit the freakin' Russell T. Davies reset button harder than a knockout punch to the face), Lucie Miller gave us a fantastic "Now What?" and left us with a broken man in a TARDIS, threatening to break every law of time and space like... well a mad man with a time machine. And at the end of the day, the entire run felt like a Deconstruction of New Who. And so one year (and 3 excellent stories with Mary Shelley) later, we pick up less than a day or so afterwards. The Doctor's INCREDIBLE amount of grief has caused him to all of punch his way through all of known time and space into an area that even the Time Lords have no knowledge of (Utopia?), and he is so incredibly desperate to get there that he's ready to take a pick-axe to his own TARDIS! At which point, the fan in me cringed in pain, because although it was a brilliant moment, I never wanted to imagine the Doctor breaking the beautiful TV movie console, never mind the TARDIS itself. And against this backdrop, our man is going to find some hope.
But enough spoilers, let's get to reviewing:
The Great War is one of those stories where, every time you listen to it, you get something new out of it. Instantly, Paul McGann's enthusiasm for doing a World War 1 story shines an immediate light on the story, and he plays the part of a man just as torn as the soldiers around him with surprising accuracy. You can literally feel a sense of exhaustion that lends a credibility between the Doctor that creates a sense of empathy with the soldiers. Ultimately, though, I think that why this story succeeds is that there's a sense of mystery to it. As the Doctor searches people, looking for his new companion, there's a strong sense of why each person isn't fit for the companion role, and as they're eliminated it brings about a bit of why Molly "is" chosen.
For example, in this story there's another character named Elizabeth who plays a standard Doctor Who girl whom the Doctor takes an instant liking to. In many ways, she's like Jo Grant. For story, there's a small amount of misdirection in that, although we know Molly will be the companion because she's gotten her own solo scene, Elizabeth has an instant synergy with the Doctor that feels like a normal relationship. The problem with the pairing though is obvious: the Doctor at this point doesn't need a regular female to go about the universe. It would be insulting to Lucie Miller if he just found a new companion and went off skipping into the sunset. As such, the Doctor doesn't need an airheaded companion, he needs someone as broken as he is. Point blank: he needs to heal. It is through the healing that we find hope.
The rest of the mystery plays out very well, and even feels Classic Who, in the Doctor going about, looking for clues as to what's going on. The climax of the story is even classic, with the Doctor ending with a great debate and a run.
While this story may have seemed to have little plot, introduction episodes like this usually are. It feels so standard in its setup, that in many ways it takes a bit of a back seat to the character introduction. As such, I tend to be a bit lenient with plot grading. To be fair, if the episode focused too heavily on plot, the character introduction would be an abysmal failure. However, I am happy to say that the plot here is still very strong, and at the end of the day I couldn't ask for much more from the first story. 9/10
Fugitives plays out differently. And what a fitting name, to be honest. The story is about the Doctor and Molly on the run from the Daleks, who are chasing them through time and space and always seem to know their next move and have a counter strategy planned for when they get there. As one of the fastest-paced stories of the box set, this one is probably my favorite. It feels like a great adventure as the Doctor and Molly bounce from place to place, and the characters build a strong friendship as they are tossed about from one fire to another. The way that its set up, is more like three miniature stories that are woven together than an actual standalone tale. Despite being hounded by the Daleks, the Doctor manages to have a Dalek car chase, go swimming in anti-gravity water, and fly a plane all in the space of one episode, and each moment is tinged by a special color of fun that feels infectious despite the severity of the situation. For the first time since Nevermore, the Eighth Doctor feels like a wild improviser flying by the seat of his pants!
Special attention should be payed to the fantastic way this story is set up. There's about 5 minutes over the course of the entire episode that deal with other characters at all. The entire rest of the story either deals directly with Molly and the Doctor or have them in the scene together. They never split up at all during the episode. It's one of those little script touches that you may not immediately notice, but by the end of the episode there's such a fantastic feeling of growth in their relationship that this subtle touch pays off.
Another thing Fugitives does beautifully is introduce these special TARDIS moments where the Doctor and Molly talk, and in there they share a magic chemistry. The Doctor talks of life, hope, and we delve into the emotional center of the characters. Part of what make these scenes so powerful is that the TARDIS as a set piece is something we all can picture, and there's a sense of safety inside it. That safety brings out, bright, emotionally charged moments that feel so incredibly right because of this context that is so easy to feel and imagine.
As for the plot, these self-contained stories weave together incredibly well this time. Even though they're a bit lightweight on their own, each contributes to a larger overlying tale which in turn contributes to the arc of the box set. The emotional, adventurous roller coaster is positively gripping, and the manic feel is up there with the finest Doctor Who adventure stories ever told. 10/10
Tangled Web is the most difficult story of the box set. It's full of continuity-heavy jokes and references that require quite a bit of Doctor Who knowledge to get. That's not to say it's bad by any means, and in fact it's a few cuts above the average Doctor Who story in that it tries so many fantastic ideas, some of which hit EXTREMELY hard, and some of which bounce off like a rubber band, but none get offensive.
To begin, indeed this story is the heaviest in character exploration of any of the Dark Eyes stories. There's a sense of healing that takes place and there's sparkling dialogue (to steal a phrase from Mr. Joe Ford) inside the TARDIS that quite honestly brought me to tears, though for personal reasons. This happens at the beginning of the story, and it's one of my favorite moments from the box set.
What follows is a long, slightly convoluted tale that's very heavy on continuity and science-fiction elements. References to previous Dalek tales, the Eighth Doctor Adventures, the Time War, and many other episodes pop up, some more humorously, some played a bit too straight. It's the more subtle jokes that got me legitimately laughing. For example, at one point there's a scene where it seems like the Doctor will never have the Daleks for enemies again, and for a moment McGann plays the Doctor with his head in the clouds similar to William Hartnell, and in the moment it's one of those moments that make you feel fannish.
Moments like these are balanced out by more... overtly-silly like moments. For example, very early on, the Doctor and Molly are hiding in a cave, only for the Daleks to ask them to come out, saying "Afraid you might get cold in there?" While it is kind of funny, just hearing it made me cringe a tiny bit inside at just how silly it could be.
All this is wrapped up in a big red sci-fi bow that feels like a bit of a copout of an ending. I won't spoil it for you, but to be honest it feels like they wrote themselves into a corner with too many funny ideas to have an ending they could carry forward anyways. 8/10
X and the Daleks is a strange beast to judge. First, can I point out the episode name joke? It's a reference to Doctor Who and The Daleks, which is the name of The Daleks story on the Target novelization and certain releases of the story. Nick Briggs is good at a subtle reference.
Anyways, X and the Daleks is a strange one to judge because it doesn't stand alone well at all. It's the only episode of the box set that I can't listen to without listening to another one first, which is strange. Indeed, every one of the stories leads into it, too. Every story has a strange way that it works (try going from Fugitives into this one; it actually gives the story a different feeling).
Stranger still, for a wrapup story, we get a whole mess of new characters that haven't been explained at all some of which work for the moment because they have an instant synergy and bring a set of fresh eyes (excuse the pun) to the overarching plot so that it's easier to digest this thing that's been pushed to the back for quite a while. In all though, these characters don't get much in the way of character development, which defeats the entire story style of the rest of the box set.
However, the overarching plot is glorious. Nicholas Briggs learned a thing or two from New Who about how not to end an overarching plot (Hint: giving the Doctor god powers at the last minute to defeat the Master ISN'T a good way to do that), and instead carefully takes the pieces and creates a very emotionally satisfying climax. Said climax is grand in scale, with a very tough but obvious conclusion that pays off the Doctor's character arc handsomely when one remembers Lucie Miller, while the aftermath doesn't drag on for thirty minutes (The End of Time).
It's getting there that's weird. This story is somewhere between mystery and adventure, and again takes a very Classic Who approach. The action is there, the sense of scale is there, but it's undermined by the idea that a very different kind of story and personal story has been told up to this point. I think that given two episodes to work it out, the story would have been a conclusion as powerful as To The Death/Lucie Miller, but as it stands it's just a home run bunt that should have been a grand slam. 7.5/10
Overall, Dark Eyes is an very strong box set that matches up well against the "Specials" season of Doctor Who or the recent half season trend of New Who. And kudos to the new costume. Hopefully we'll see it on the new show. 8.75/10