Bit of Rough: The Doctor has begun to notice to that everywhere he visits with Molly O’Sullivan the Daleks aren’t far behind and that’s starting to feel less and less like a co-incidence. Coupled to the fact that she seems to be able to fly the TARDIS like an expert warning bells are ringing in his ears. In a moment of self counsel, the Doctor tells Molly all about hope and how its such a raw commodity and so easily bruised. Hope can get you through the worst of times. Its always fascinating when the Doctor has to confront a reformed villain because he has a long memory and an unforgiving nature. Both the third Doctor in The Curse of Peladon and the ninth Doctor in Dalek came across as violently pig headed when they refused to give what was clearly a rehabilitated specimen of a race they has fought a second chance. A similar trick is played here, the eighth Doctor refuses to believe that anything as crazy as a world of hippy Daleks could come into being. He has looked into their core and seen their nature and he knows they are bad to the mutant. And yet faced with incontrovertible evidence he comes across as being quite obstinate and failing to see the delight in the impossible. He has the look of a wounded man who is sick of war. The Doctor says that he doesn’t relish the fact that he has to destroy the Daleks whenever he crosses their path but I think we’ve long passed the point where the lines are blurred in that case. Remember how he so casually took to sending the Hand of Omega to wipe out Skaro in Remembrance? His tribute of the good times in his life is written with far more poetry than a similar scene in Eric Saward’s Earthshock.
Dark Eyes: ‘I will be the death of you, Doctor. The Death of all Time Lords…’ The fact that Molly calls a Dalek saucer a ‘flying dinner plate’ is chucklesome. I find her continual struggle to understand anachronistic technology and how she tries to grasp it by drawing parallels with items of her own time works really well to keep her fresh and appealing. Its certainly far more convincing than the way Jamie suddenly knew what everything beyond 1745 was a couple of stories into his tenure. Molly talks so affectionately about Kitty that you really believe the bond that developed between, especially when she compares her to some of the other abusive and bullying mistresses she was unfortunate enough to be shackled to. All Kitty wanted in the world was a sister and they gave her Molly. She would have followed her anywhere, even a messy War, to protect her. We don’t realise it at this stage but this scene is already setting up Molly’s departure at the end of the box set. Molly is so gutted that the Daleks keep turning up hot on her heels its easy to believe that she is entirely innocent in that respect. Molly isn’t sure if the Doctor is her friend since they just sort of got thrown together.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I think some of those aristocratic types are not quite right in the head. It comes of always getting their own way.’
‘A Dalek City garlanded with flowers? This is bonkers!’
‘That is the difference between me and the Daleks because there is no underneath it all for them. They weren’t made with an underneath it all. They were made by a madman to be what they are. They’re like a stick of rock with exterminate written right the way through!’
Standout Performance: Whilst people are busy critiquing his writing and direction its easy to overlook Nicholas Briggs’ vocal talents which are very much in evidence in this segment of the story. He’s played psychotic Daleks, near human Daleks, robotic Daleks and suicidal Daleks…now he has given himself the opportunity to play a bunch of happy go lucky hippy Daleks! Listening to that grating intonation spouting the most innocuously bright dialogue is a joy to behold. ‘We wish to be your friends!’ ‘Playtime! Time to play!’
Great Ideas: Suddenly with the emphasis on Kotris we understand how Molly remembers being in the TARDIS and how she was manipulated into being a part of the Doctor’s life. At two years old she went missing in her village, an accident but Kotris uses this opportunity so he can steal her away in his Ship and play about with her genetic make up. The only clue that we have is that Molly will free the universe from tyranny although it doesn’t take long for Kotris to admit that he is seeking the destruction of his own people. His plan involves the Daleks and Time Lord technology, specifically a Relativity Map and unsurprisingly Straxus is central to the whole operation. The way the Doctor floats in and out of consciousness with that horrific noise tunnelling the way back into the happy go lucky Dalek reality is a huge pointer that this is all happening in his head. The very idea of the Daleks rebuilding their functional city and garlanding it with flowers to signal their newfound peace with the universe is inspired. I would have loved to have been able to see that on screen. These are Daleks who have fought in a violent war with the Time Lords that ended in total destruction of one race and the ignominy of the other. They have seen the error of their ways and seek retribution, attempting to turn their mutated bodies back into semblances of humanoid beings. Briggs could have run with this story, it is loaded with potential (just the psychological exploration of what the Daleks are attempting could fill a box set) and its nice to see Big Finish touching on the notion of the Time War (even if it is completely retconned before the end of the tale). The walking Dalek mutant, somewhere between the grotesque stage that Davros turned them into and their humanoid form, is another fantastic concept that I would have loved to have seen brought to life. Under any other circumstances I would be suspicious of a Dalek colony that was purporting to spread peace but there is something so unassuming about the realisation that I knew this was the real thing. Or at least as real as the Doctor could imagine it. The mutant having a kip inside his Dalek casing made me howl with laughter.
Audio Landscape: The whole sequence set on Skaro is beautifully brought to life by Andy Hardwick. Birds wheel through the air, children sing and dance and the Daleks are giggling their tentacles off! Coupled with some delicate fluting music, its a triumph by all concerned. Thunder rumbling, rain lashing outside, screaming horse, a flashback to Lucie’s death erupts in a grand explosion, birds screaming, an echoey cave, dripping water, a trans solar disc descending on the city, Daleks and children laughing together. The sudden time ram at the climax really made me jump!
Isn’t it Odd: Proof conclusive that most actors cannot sound natural donning a fake Irish accent. Its one of the most elusive of drawls. There is no way on this Earth that the child that Kotris is holding on the cover is two years old. That’s a baby! Its at this stage that the cuts back to Straxus and the Lord President start to tire. Ultimately their presence does make sense but not until the last installment. There are plenty of moments like that in Dark Eyes that jar and that is the sagas greatest fault – the best writers can slip in clues early on that come to fruition during the conclusions. In Dark Eyes, Briggs has a habit of crowbarring in random scenes that rather point out that they are important set up because they have absolutely nothing to do with the story that is being told at that point. They leave you thinking ‘erm, how is that relevant to anything?’ and yet during the last installment you’ll be thinking ‘oh I see what that was all about now!’ I have certainly seen a more seamlessly plotted epic, or ones with slightly less obtrusive set up. Gah! The revelation that the trip to Skaro was just a narrative cul de sac and has no impact whatsoever on the story is, frankly, infuriating. Its by far the best location this adventure has offered up to this point and yet it proves to be the most irrelevant segment of the entire four hour tale. Superb time filler but time filler all the same (although I did like the label ‘psychotic crusader’ for the Doctor). As soon as the illusion has done its work (killed half an hour or so) the Daleks sweep in and kill those responsible for bringing it to life. Its an unsubtle metaphor for Briggs cutting that intriguing storyline dead. By the end of A Tangled Web (basically anything after the Dalek City illusion is revealed) the clunky plotting starts to make the narrative stutter with plenty of moments when the disc could end on a great cliffhanger (I personally thought that ‘if that doesn’t whet the Doctor’s appetite, nothing will…’ would have been the best place for the music to kick in) but it just feels like it goes on running on the spot for ten minutes before suddenly tripping to a forgettable halt. Kotris has simply been classified as ‘X’ and there is only one reason for obscuring his identity – he’s either going to turn out to be the Doctor (been done before), the Master (surely they wouldn’t pull off that trick with another box set?) or Straxus (because that’s the only surprise left).
Standout Scene: ‘All God’s creatures can do evil deeds and with a bit of luck all of them can do good too…’ In a moment that should warm any of her detractors to Molly, she points out that the idea of good Daleks existing is a possibility the Doctor should be excited by. Proving that she is a forward thinker, she draws a parallel between the Daleks and the Germans, suggesting that German girls must have been patching up their brave soldiers just as the British were and thinking that they were the monsters. There are always two sides to every story, it just depends where the emphasis is placed. There are two sides to every coin – if there are evil Daleks out there trying to tear the universe down why can’t there be good Daleks as a consequence trying to rebuild?
Result: ‘A war with the Daleks that wiped out the Time Lord? That is just about the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard!’ The first fifteen minutes of A Tangled Web gets down to the nitty gritty of explaining the story at the core of the Dark Eyes box set with Kotris stepping out of the shadows and the Doctor discussing the rawness of hope and how it has seen him through the worst of times. The former feels roughly thrown into the middle of the story to allow the conclusion to make sense whereas the latter proves to be an extremely thoughtful moment of self reflection. How Dark Eyes fluctuates like this between the handicapped and the genius baffles me. Unlike The Key to Time season but very like the Hartnell epics that skip from place to place, the actual settings that they are visiting are completely irrelevant. It’s the journey that is important. Those of you who are expecting each of the locations that the Doctor and Molly visit to have some part in the overall plot are going to be very disappointed – it’s the fact that they are travelling together that is the key. With that in mind it is the detail in these locations that counts and the trip to the city of affable Daleks is an absolute joy. Can you imagine anything more inharmonious than listening to the metal meanies giggling like mad and playing with children? Its during these scenes that A Tangled Web really comes alive, Briggs stretching his imagination and appearing to dare to reveal the fate of the Daleks long after the Time War. That it all turns out to be a massive con is disappointing and so is the some of the really ugly, clunking set up that is becoming continually more intrusive as the story progresses. Its frustrating because there is so much that is good in Dark Eyes and yet it is failing to cohere into a successful whole. For the twenty odd minutes with the gleeful Daleks however I could almost forgive anything and during this segment Paul McGann has never been better: 7/10