Friday, 22 August 2014
I chose to blog - I'm not sure 'review' is the right word to pick to describe what I do on this blog, which is more of a aimless ramble around the thing I've heard or seen - Dark Eyes as one blog. The four stories are so intertwined it is more like The Trial Of A Time Lord than a set of stand alone stories. I'm not sure you could listen to these individual tales without listening to the others. The threads come together gradually, characters emerge from the shadows and the plot twists one way and then the other.
The first story, The Great War, introduces us to Molly O'Sullivan (Ruth Bradley), who is a former household servant now VAD on the front line in World War One. She's also Irish, which is a nice change. She doesn't respond well to the Doctor initially, referring to him quite sarcastically from the off as 'The Doctor'. Not 'Doctor'. Her arrival in the Doctor's life - via devious Time Lord shenanigans - is not dissimilar to the arrival of Lucie Miller all the way back in Blood of the Daleks. Ruth Bradley is bloody brilliant all the way through. Molly gets added to the list of Big Finish companions that I'd like to see in the actual television version.
The Great War ends with the Doctor and Molly on the run from their enemies and leads into Fugitives, which is best described as The Chase, but good. Throughout these stories innocent bystanders seem to die as the Doctor's enemies seem totally unbothered about collateral damages or the timelines.
I should stop here to praise the non-main performers throughout these stories. There's a number of actors playing multiple or small parts and none of them sounds a bum note. So credit to Beth Chalmers, John Banks, Alex Mallinson, Tim Treloar, Natalie Burt, Jonathan Forbes and Ian Cullen. Cullen actually has the biggest individual part, Nadeyan, in the final part of Dark Eyes: "X" and the Daleks and the most heroic possibly. And Welsh.
Then there's the next level of supporting performance. These are Straxus (Peter Egan) and Kotris (Toby Jones). Straxus is the Time Lord who brings the Doctor into this whole story and being a Time Lord is obviously devious above and beyond the call of duty. Toby Jones's voice drifts in and out of all the stories and we gradually find out more about who he is and what he's up to as the story progresses, although the final revelation about who he actually is comes as something of a surprise even if there are clues sown throughout. Both Egan and Jones are brilliant. Egan's voice is stentorian. If that's actually the correct word and Jones gives Kotris a fine bitter edge. Without these two solid performances this might not be so good.
Really though Dark Eyes is almost a two-hander. Paul McGann and Ruth Bradley get most of the words and most of the action. I've already commented on how brilliant Ruth Bradley is but there's no harm in saying it again. I like Molly O'Sullivan. Her matter-of-fact way of dealing with the baffling things going on around her - expressed well in a scene with Nadeyan in "X" and the Daleks - is wonderful. And she has a solid moral centre too, which in a story where duplicity is everywhere is rather refreshing.
McGann is magnificent to. This is the Eighth Doctor's finest hour and once again you find yourself raging that he never got the proper chance to show us what he could do on television. There's so much depth to the Eighth Doctor. He's suffered but survived. It makes the Ninth-Tenth-Eleventh Doctor's post-Gallifrey soul-searching look light-hearted in comparison. The reason for that is that we've seen the individual cost of recent events to The Doctor. It's felt personal. The destruction of Gallifrey feels epic. The difference illustrates Stalin's statement "One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is just a statistic" perfectly. Yes, the Ninth-Tenth-Eleventh Doctors have their moments but the Eighth Doctors loss feels so much more real. But perhaps that just me.
Molly and the Doctor's relationship seems 'real' as they don't hit it off from the beginning. It takes time for them to bond but in the end they work well together. The Doctor begins Dark Eyes in a - sorry - dark place. He's almost lost all hope after the events of To The Death-Lucie Miller and Straxus offers him some. Then another death almost makes him give up all hope.
You could argue that Dark Eyes is all about hope and how the Doctor gives hope to others. We ask 'who watches the watchman', we can almost ask 'who gives hope to the hope giver', but that doesn't sound as good or look as tidy. Molly gives the Doctor hope when he most needs it and the Doctor gives Molly hope to. And others.
The third story, Tangled Web, begins to explain some of what is going on and why but not everything before the final story, "X" and the Daleks pulls everything together and concludes in a way that - as is traditional in Doctor Who - leaves us in the position for a follow-up. The truth of who Molly is emerges and why everyone seems so keen to get their hands on her. Timelines are adjusted. People do heroic things. There are deaths. There are survivors. Most of all there is hope.
I should also add here that I've said - often - that I think Big Finish do Cybermen better than the BBC do (and if you doubt me compare The Silver Turk with The Nightmare in Silver) but they also do the Daleks better. I think that's partly because Nick Briggs is so heavily involved - as writer, producer, actor and Dalek - and partly because Big Finish can allow the Daleks to be the ruthless and devious little pepperpots the television series can't. Because it lets in too much darkness. There can be hints of it but I don't think the BBC could get away with anything as bleak as To The Death-Lucie.
One of the reason I think I like Big Finish so much is that tonally it fits with how I would like to make Doctor Who but sometimes I think that would be too dark for a prime time Saturday afternoon tea-time audience.
I can't praise Dark Eyes enough. It's a fantastic series. It's as good as anything Big Finish have ever done, which makes it as good as anything Doctor Who has ever produced. In any format.
It's also a great introduction to Big Finish. If you've not listened to Big Finish before - and if that's the case I'm surprised you're reading this - then this is a good place to start. It stands alone, it's fantastically done but it has references to other Big Finish stories. You can listen to this and then go out into the wider Big Finish universe.
Seriously recommended. Seriously enjoyable.