Bit of Rough: Any story that begins with the Doctor on horseback escaping from the Daleks during the First World War can’t be doing anything that wrong! Within this story and its mad rush of locations I saw a real glimpse of the First Doctor running from the Daleks with a precious cargo like The Daleks’ Masterplan (or perhaps The Chase if you are quite forgiving). And when he skips from a horse to a plane I also saw him channelling the man of action third Doctor too. He literally screams with delight as they take to the skies. In the future the Doctor will buy 107 Baker St for some reason that isn’t revealed in this adventure. He’s sick of the Daleks swooping in and killing everybody he gets close to so indiscriminately. It gives a good explanation for why the Doctor was so determined to get away to the end of To the Death…he was perhaps trying to save the universe from him because he leaves a path of destruction in his wake. Its gorgeous to hear him giggling at away with Molly as she fiddles with the console, finally we can see that hope that he was promised that things are going to get better.
Dark Eyes: ‘Time to get you to Gallifrey!’ ‘Is that in Ireland?’ – is for once a line that is very reasonable! Molly makes the obvious comment that the Daleks are something that has been conjured up by the Germans, drawing a parallel with the Nazis. This is where her adventures really start, acting like the Doctor’s unofficial scientific advisor (‘switch the magnetos on!’), ripping her skirts in action and running from some nasty intergalactic pepperpots. If she expresses some anger on the way it is because she has been wrenched violently from the life she recognises into something even more dangerous and incomprehensible than the Great War. This is where she is first introduced to the TARDIS and thus the ‘Tardy Box’ references begin. I think its rather cute that she has her own special name for the ship. I personally wouldn’t have had Molly walk into the TARDIS and say that she had been there before – it’s a very unsubtle mystery that is skipped over very quickly. Instead, Briggs should have just had her be familiar with the controls (as he does in later scenes) and then the audience could slowly start to wonder how that might be. By dropping it on us as soon as she walks into the ship means she never gets the chance to bed as simply another companion, she is instantly a pawn in some grand masterplan (and the suspects are manifold) and integral to the plot somehow. With Charley Pollard we got to know her first before we realised she was a plot expediency and rod for the Doctor’s back. She takes great offence to being called Dark Eyes because it’s an insult that has been thrown at her her whole life. I like how she constantly threatens to give the Doctor a conk on the nose every time he calls her this nickname, she’s not afraid to stick up for herself. I feel that Molly is Tegan how she should have been written, initially quite abrasive and time-lagged, but slowly coming to realise the wonder and the danger that she is being exposed to and softening greatly because of it. By the end of this box set she has developed a far more relaxed chemistry with the eighth Doctor than moaning Minnie Tegan ever did with the fifth Doctor. He might just be telling her the truth but it’s a bit much dumping the news that they have arrived during the Second World War on Molly in the middle of the action – she has to get her head around the fact that the awful War of her time is just one of many.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Some unknown alien power with access to space/time travel has hatched an insane plan to destroy the universe’ ‘Is there a sane one?’
‘Do you go in for this time travel lark all the time?’ ‘Yes’ ‘How does it not mess all your thoughts into a proper jumble?’ ‘Practice.’
Great Ideas: In a very creepy teaser, a rather archaic computer system is hacked into by the Doctor and used to get a message to Sally Armstrong. What I especially like about this is how Nick Briggs manages to tap into that fear of machines just doing what they are told even if that means doing something that is against what they were originally built for in about two minutes when it took him two hours to make the same point in Robophobia. Am I the only person who would love to see an assault squad of flying Daleks taking on the Doctor in a war plane? Like Straxus appearing in the Great War, another element of 8th Doctor continuity reveals their hand in Fugitives – the Dalek Time Controller. Its nice that although this is a good jumping on point for fans who might want to delve into the adventures of the eighth Doctor there are plenty of kisses to the past for those of us who have remained loyal to the character from the beginning. Plus isn’t marvellous that Big Finish have been writing for this Doctor for so long now that he has built up vast swathes of his own mythology, cutting his own unique slice of Doctor Who away from the rest. The mentions of the Time Lords and the Daleks in conflict are certainly appetite whetters, giving this story a feel that the road to the Time War is now being paved. When the Doctor couldn’t contact Gallifrey I have to admit I wondered if Big Finish were going to have the audacity to suggest that the first stages of the War were finally starting. Briggs exposes the Yeti on the loo in Tooting Bec when Molly discovers a Dalek in the bathroom! The TARDIS isn’t translating alien languages for Molly, another sign that there is something wrong with either the Ship or the companion. A giant wave held up by artifical gravity generators that cannot decide what to do with itself – I tell you what that Nick Briggs knows how to think big. Imagine being able to leap into a wave that is in a perpetual state of elevation, gliding through the gravity field and dancing with the aquatic life?
Audio Landscape: There is an astonishing moment when we experience Molly falling into water and head beneath the waves with her into the swirling, bubbling depths before surfacing with bullets ricocheting about. Big Finish’s audio stylings are on another level these days. The primitive voice and clunking software of V-SAY, Dalek extermination blasts en masse, a coughing, chocking plane descending into the air, the Daleks flying through the air, the plane being struck and decelerating fast, crashing into the ground, flames crackling, squelchy footsteps, explosions, a windy planet, honking animals, splashing in water, sopping wet footsteps, dripping in the TARDIS, bullets hitting Dalek casings, traffic, a grunting bus engine, the Daleks flying through the air, crazy alien voices, hover cars, the giant Halalkan wave, dolphins screaming.
Isn’t it Odd: This is the point where you realise Dark Eyes is going to be one continuous story that just happens to be chopped into four more easily accessible chunks with the second, third and fourth installments featuring an array of different locations rather than the solid focus of the introductory tale. Its not a bad approach and it certainly does feel epic (although I’m one of those people who doesn’t mean that the more ambitious the story in scale, the better it will be) but it is quite jarring to cut to scenes like the suicide of Straxus in the middle of events that have absolutely no relevance to the plot until the last CD. It just leaves you thinking ‘what the hell was all that about?’ as we move on to the next segment. And Fugitives does that a lot. Its odd to cut back to the introductory scene now we have met Molly and finally have Straxus tell the Doctor what his mission is. It would hardly have been giving away anything important to have had the scene continue on at the beginning of the box set. In fact it might have made The Great War even more fun to play a guessing game of who the Doctor is there to save. Sally feels like should be far more relevant to this story than somebody who does a bit of running and exposes the ruthlessness of the Daleks. Her death is more shocking because she hasn’t done anything yet rather than the act itself. We understand later why the Doctor is allowed to leave (they need him and Molly to continue to travelling together to dose her up) after he squares off with the Daleks but it does seem very strange for him to instruct them to kill him and then cut to him and Molly having a right giggle in the TARDIS with little explanation as to how we got from A to B.
Standout Scene: There’s a rather wonderful moment when the Doctor starts getting introspective when Sally is murdered and Molly slaps him right out of his depression. Its no time to start questioning yourself when you are on the run from the Daleks. She makes a terrific parallel between the Doctor and his useless battle with the Daleks and the English and their seemingly useless battle against the Germans in her time – you’ve got to keep going because giving up isn’t an option.
Foreboding: ‘I really don’t know why I’d send instructions and funds to a top secret scientific institute in 1972 telling them to build a completely anachronistic device in my house, in Baker Street. That’s what I really don’t know!’ And if you’re expecting answers in the Dark Eyes box set then you are going to be disappointed. The stop off to 1970 is the oddest of the lot because it ponders far more questions than it has the time to answer. I thought that perhaps we were on course for some circular storytelling and that at some point in the final two installments we would head back to 1970 and set all of this up. But its completely ignored. So I am assuming that this is a plot point that is going to be picked up at a later date. Otherwise pondering all of this is a bit bizarre.
Result: This is still rather engaging but I do have some issues with the plotting of the piece. If you are going to go on the run from the Daleks in a Hartnell era style chase then you better make damn sure that your landscapes are as varied and as gripping as possible. Fortunately Any Hardwick is more than up to the task and each location is brought to life with absolute conviction and striking sound effects. If you wanted to expose the ability of Doctor Who’s format than Fugitives would be a great place to start as we hop from France in the First World War to the same point during the Second World War to England in the 1970s and finally on to an alien planet. The Doctor and Molly step from one dangerous situation to another which means the story is remarkably fast paced (it was over before I knew it) but also a little scatterbrained. It feels frustratingly like we are only seeing glimpses of much larger, more absorbing stories. I first listened to Fugitives whilst giving the garden a long overdue tidy and thanks to its brevity of fast moving sketches and its stunningly interactive soundscapes (I ducked at one point when a Dalek squad zoomed overhead) the work flew by like charm. Gripping vignettes for sure but the story feels all over the place with things being set up that have no relevance yet (Straxus’ suicide, the time machine at Baker St, the Daleks failing to kill the Doctor and Molly when they have the opportunity), many questions unanswered (especially surrounding Molly and the TARDIS) and there is no sign of the main villain of the piece doing anything relevant. Molly continues to impress, adjusting to the Doctor’s insane lifestyle with remarkable swiftness and frankness of character. Fugitives is part of a jigsaw and is in no part a cohesive piece of storytelling but with enough action and strong ideas thrown in the mix, it’s building a fairly appealing schizophrenic narrative. An awful lot of questions have been posed so I hope the answers are due: 7/10