Sunday, 16 February 2014

Dark Eyes II Part Four: The Eyes of the Master written by Matt Fitton and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: The Doctor, Liv and Molly arrive back on Earth in the 1970s to investigate the Ides Institute. The timelines have shifted since the Doctor and Molly first travelled here and all is not as it was. Dr Sally Armstrong is still working for the Ides, but her associate has a devastating plan in mind. Soon, Molly's 'dark eyes' prove to be at the centre of a plot to seize control of all life in the universe.

Battle Scarred: I think we could have guessed by now that the force that the Doctor wants the Daleks to destroy out on the edge of the galaxy is the Eminence from the third story of this set. It would have been a bit underwhelming had it been the Daleks. Do the ends justify the means though? Or considering this is the Doctor asking one race of sentient beings to annihilate another can the means or the ends be justified? Or has gone a step too far this time? Are we going to lead up to a revelation that 'a Time Lord lives too long' in Dark Eyes IV. The Doctor still has a Volkswagen Beetle from his EDA days, nicely linking the two ranges together for a moment (it could have been any other car otherwise). He really thinks he should start charging rent on his house in Baker Street. In a lovely moment he orders David to guard 'her' with his life, talking about his Beetle and not Molly. Well it made me chuckle. He can't bear not knowing and the Master likes keeping his secrets. I like the fact that they waited to spring the idea that the Doctor still carries a part of Eminence within him from when he was infected in his fourth incarnation, which was carried through to his sixth in The Seeds of War and comes to fruition here in Dark Eyes. Skipping eras like that creates quite an epic notion of the idea that Doctor can now use that as weapon against the Master (and makes no compunction of doing so) again shows how ruthless he has become. Remember when I said the Doctor seemed like a man with a mission in The Traitor? That is because he was and this is the point in which it is formed. Liv realises that she cannot go with him at the end of this story because he is heading to Nixyce VII and she is already there. He knows now that he has to destroy that Eminence fleet, whatever the cost to his soul.

Dark Eyes: Whilst Liv is having trouble taking in the fact that she has travelled backwards in time and is standing in ancient history, Molly quietly admits that it is just as boggling the other way around for her. She doesn't think she was ever acclimatise to time travelling and so she thinks of it like a dream and that she will get back to reality one day. Until then she's happy not to wake up. A very persuasive woman, she manages to twist the Doctor around her little finger and then works her same magic with David. Listen to how charming she is in this adventure and then tell me that she hasn't developed, when she is being this amiable her Irish voice drips like honey.

Survivor: The Master describes Liv as delightful but a little bit dreary. Certainly it is Molly that gets the more impressive material in Eyes of the Master, Liv is rather sidelined during the scenes between the Doctor and the Master. Still I rather like the idea of Liv and Molly living together as girls out of time in the 1970s. There's a sitcom in the making for you.

Masterful: I've been looking forward to re-acquainting myself with the McQueen Master ever since he first burst onto the scene in UNIT Dominion. I was really impressed with his debut, especially with how McQueen convinced the audience that he was a later incarnation of the Doctor with some quirky and camp eccentricities before turning on the menace in the final story and emerging as a worthy successor to the previous versions of the Master. At first there seems to be an effort made to play down his villainous persona and have him interacting with others as a normal character (listen to how he says 'I am the Master' to Liv, there's none of that Ainley campery) which I rather liked. There is no reason for him to be characterised as a panto villain beyond that is what we have come to expect, it's amazing how engaging he can be as a nasty who is rather polite to his victims. Although his nom de plume as 'Dr Diath' shows that he still has a flair for the theatrical, using nomenclature to direct the Doctor towards him. He found the seventh Doctor quite tiresome and only understood about one word in ten that he spoke (I was hooting at that one). I had completely forgotten that the Doctor and the Master would both be out there in this time in different guises, the Doctor in a velvet cape and the Master chomping on cigars. The Master is working for the Time Lords, plucked from his predicament and made him an offer he couldn't refuse, giving him a whole new life cycle. Although he doesn't know what for yet (the Time War), he thinks he is being softened up for something. This is one of the most direct references to the new series yet. He wouldn't turn a hair at genocide. The last we hear of the Master he is spiralling towards the fleet that the Daleks destroyed at the Doctor's behest, his cloister bell ringing ominously. I'm certain this isn't the last we'll hear from him.

Standout Performance: Alex McQueen has made a great impression as the Master and I would love to hear him play against every available audio Doctor. How great would it be to hear him locking horns with both Bakers?

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I will not be involved in an inane war across the timelines' 'You think you're not already?'
'Is that your excuse? They started it!'

Great Ideas: Kotris never existed in this universe to send the Ides Institute to Baker Street, instead it wound up in Harley Street. Reality shifted at the end of Dark Eyes I so we can't really take anything from the initial box set for granted. It means that if Briggs, Barnes and Fitton want to use the ideas that were presented but tweak them for their purposes there is a perfectly logical reason for them to do so. I really like the notion of meeting one character as a young man and returning to the same setting so many years later and catching up with him as an old man. It is a great way of sketching in a character without much effort. The Ides sent Randall from Time's Horizon after Liv and that all started here. Time to find out why. A deep freeze with rows upon rows of eyes. Only the Master would cultivate something so obscene. As a result of time resetting at the end of Dark Eyes I, the Eminence have emerged as the final, almighty being at the end of time. Now he has gained control of the Ides Institute, the Master is going to ensure that it strides forward into the history books. The Time Lords think that it would be ideal if they could gain control of the Eminence, especially if they can consume the Daleks for them a later date when that might be necessary. If the human race has immunity against the Eminence then the future where they displace the Daleks will never happen, it puts the Daleks back in the game. It's not like Big Finish is being at all subtle in their build up to the Time War these days, these are indirect references to the great conflict that is to come. And why not? Given McGann's triumphant minisode Night of the Doctor there has been a great deal of curiosity about how he reached the point where he would choose to turn into a War Doctor and Steven Moffat explicitly asked those who were curious to turn to Big Finish for more eighth Doctor stories. Here they can kill two birds with one stone, offering a gripping new take on this incarnation and build a vivid picture of how we reached the events in Night of the Doctor. The Doctor meeting Molly again reactivated the retro genitor particles. They were created to target the Daleks but now they seem to work against the Eminence. The Master has wired an Eminence coffin into his TARDIS as a way of running Finite Warriors, Eminence foot soldiers but for him to command. When time shifted, the Doctor, Molly and the TARDIS were left unchanged. When they are together it is like they are a beacon, a struggling fly trapped in the web of space/time. The Eminence will keep coming for them, again and again.

Audio Landscape: Daleks embarking from a lift, a drill taking out somebody's eyes, surgical instruments, traffic, the Beetle honking, growling engine, opening a door, sonic screwdriver, the TCE activating, groaning Finite Warriors, screams.

Isn't it Odd: Why wasn't more made out of the extraction of somebody's eyes and replacing them with new ones. That is a horrifying act but it is realised with no urgency at all, just like a commonplace procedure (which it might be for the Master but not for the audience). The reason why the Master is extracting peoples eyes is given a decent enough explanation but tidying up that plot seems a little too tidy at the end (oh they'll be alright...).

Standout Scene: Don't forget to hang around after the credits to see what happens to Molly. It points the way forward for the Dark Eyes story, suggesting which cast members will be making an appearance in the next set. Molly and the Master? I can't wait, she'll have his guts for garters.

Result: Eyes of the Master manages to be both electrifying (drawing together lots of plot elements from previous stories in a very dynamic way) and anti-climactic. It is clear from the conclusion of Dark Eyes II that this is going to be one enormous narrative that continues until the range comes to an end because there is no climax to be found in here, just a pause in the action before the next set picks up the story again. Saying that, this seventies pot-boiler is really rather tasty; successfully continuing the Dark Eyes story and bringing together all the characters from this set in an entertaining way, hinting at the Time War to come and dragging plot points in from all of the Eminence stories to help make this as ambitious a story as possible. The best parts of Eyes of the Master feature Paul McGann and Alex McQueen coming together and delivering huge gulps of exposition in a way that only two seasoned pros who are very comfortable with their characters can. The self-contained narrative isn't exactly life changing, merely window dressing for the more epic elements of the Dark Eyes story to be hung on but a lot of the ideas that are presented (why the Master has been resurrected, the Eminence gaining dominance because the event of the first Dark Eyes set, the significance of Molly) are exciting. I can imagine that the overall Dark Eyes storyline will be a marvel to listen to in order and perhaps the ultimate experience in serial storytelling for Doctor Who. Dark Eyes II has gone to some lengths to correct some of the problems I had with the initial set (the stories can be listened to in their own right to a certain extent, Molly's character has been softened, plot elements such as the Ides Institute that seemed to be superfluous in the first box set have been adequately explained) and despite my problems with the first two stories this has proven to be a more enjoyable experience overall. Nick Briggs has delivered typically sterling direction and I must compliment Wilfred Acosta's on his stunning sound effects and music which have kept my interest ticking over even when the stories have (at times) been lacking. Let's say I am cautiously optimistic heading into the third Dark Eyes set. I hope Briggs can deliver something a little more original and Barnes irons out his crazy plotting but one thing has become abundantly clear going forward - Matt Fitton's contribution should be a given after producing the most impressive pair of adventures here. All three seem to have a good idea of where the story is heading and there are lots of little hooks that are tempting me on (not least the impressive cast they have assembled). I hope it can live up to its promise: 8/10


Dave said...

Great analyses of all four episodes, Joe. The way you present the events and your thoughts is really good. It helps clarify your stance on it, and also invites readers to make their own choice too.

It's interesting to me that you say here that you've enjoyed Series 2 more than Series 1, despite it not only getting a lower overall score but also more general negativity in the first two stories.

It seems a bit of a shame to me that every story of Series 2 featured a returning monster (I was hopeful with The White Room until I saw the cover), wouldn't it be great just to have the Doctor and Molly just land and explore somewhere for the fun of it? Even just for one story, I mean.

Perhaps this should have taken a leaf out of Jago & Litefoot's book, which seems to marry over-arching storylines with great individual stories, coming to a climax in the fourth story. Not to say this is bad - far from it. I agree that it has the potential to be Big Finish's greatest arc, but that all depends on the creative forces behind it.

Once again, thanks for your insight on Series 2, it's been really interesting.

Kory Stephens said...

Speaking of DE3, someone on the BF Forums got their CD and the booklet said that the next box set will be written by both Matt Fitton and Jonathan Morris