Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Eighth Doctor Box Sets


Dark Eyes: The Great War: A confident, atmospheric start to the box set with a stop off at an often neglected period of history that is well suited to audio. The TARDIS materialises in a location that is packed with evocative sounds from gunfire and explosions to screaming steam trains and ghostly fog attacks. If there is one thing that is going to knock the Doctor out of the doldrums it is a supernatural mystery during a pivotal moment in human history. Paul McGann’s lust for the material is evident in his energetic performance and we manage to go on a fair bit of the Doctor’s journey (from near suicide to lust for saving lives in the space of an hour) in this first installment alone. What I really enjoyed about The Great War was how Molly’s introduction was a slowly achieved with the audience having very little clue that she is the Doctor’s latest assistant until the last few moments. Until then she is simply a bolshie, vivid historical character who aids him during his investigations and one who makes quite an impression by holding her own with him whilst still respecting his abilities. My initial reaction to the Daleks being wheeled out again by Big Finish was one of despondence so imagine my surprise when they barely featured and when they did turn up it was precisely when the story needed them. This is all set up so its hard to review as an individual piece but I was still very impressed by all of the individual elements that went into making The Great War work. Paul McGann re-energised, a strong new companion, an atmospheric mystery and plenty of vivid historical detail. Listening to this you can almost understand why Big Finish’s website went into meltdown when it was released: 8/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/dark-eyes-great-war.html

Dark Eyes: Fugitives: 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

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/dark-eyes-fugitives-written-and.html

Dark Eyes: A Tangled Web: ‘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

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/dark-eyes-tangled-web-written-and.html

Dark Eyes: X and the Daleks: Trying to condense an entire series into a box set is an ambitious idea and one that should be applauded but falls down on two contradictory fronts; there isn’t the time to tell individual stories in enough depth so they wind up being unsatisfying vignettes and simultaneously the running time is far too long to tell one interweaving arc story because you are waiting too long for the answers and are disappointed by them because of it. Being practically the same format as Trial of a Time Lord it would appear that Briggs learnt nothing from its mistakes. Had the Molly O’Sullivan/Dark Eyes plot been one individual hour long story and not spread do thinly through so many other adventures it would have made for a gripping listen. And had some of the mini adventures been stretched to fill an entire CD (especially the 1970s and Dalek City stories) they would have made far more satisfying adventures. Trying to have his cake (to enjoy all the elements of a 13 part Doctor Who series in one four part box set) and eat it (trying to tell one epic adventure whilst conjuring lots of diverse adventures as well) is Briggs’ downfall here. The Daleks’ Masterplan might be sprawling portmanteau of ideas and adventures in the same vein as this but it has a dramatic drive and a taste for telling something truly legendary that is missing from Dark Eyes. There’s also the feeling that Briggs may have reached a dramatic peak with Lucie Miller/To the Death that comes with four years worth of build up and so this set, for all its agreeable elements, could never quite match up to it. I don’t want to step all over what has been achieved here because there is a great deal to like about this saga – Paul McGann brings the material to life with a rarely seen zeal, Molly O’Sullivan is more than a match for his Doctor and I will be campaigning for more adventures with this delightful companion, Andy Hardwick’s sound design is a work of beauty taking the audience on a trip around some startling audio landscapes and Nicholas Briggs proves that he isn’t short of ideas even at this stage in his Big Finish career with frozen waves, giggling Daleks, evil smog and the distant hammering of the Time War in the near distance all providing great moments. It has all the ingredients to make a delicious soufflĂ© but given the conspicuous plotting and underwhelming climax it never quite rises as high as it should. X and the Daleks runs around for the first half an hour, killing time doing nothing in particular and when the climax arrives despite there being some good concepts in evidence there is the feeling that the revelations are a little inconsequential for such momentous build up. Dark Eyes ends with four people in a room arguing about a plan that has been foiled before the Doctor even got involved. The Daleks’ Masterplan ended with a planet being aged to death and reborn with a companion being slaughtered in its wake. Perfectly diverting on its own strengths but not quite reaching my expectations, Dark Eyes needed another revision before reaching the studio. If nothing else this set introduced us to Molly and it is more than worth the expense of the set just to enjoy a spin around the universe with her: 6/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/x-and-daleks-written-and-directed-by.html

Dark Eyes II: The Traitor: 'The Daleks think they can use her compassion as a way of increasing the efficiency of their workforce. They've done it before...' The first half of The Traitor is a very unusual experience insofar as I felt I was re-acquainting myself with the Dalek Empire series. A subjugated world controlled by the Daleks who are trying make conditions as pleasant as possible to ensure maximum efficiency with the aid of a human slave who everybody else considers a traitor because she is working with them rather than against them. And breathe. That is the basic set up for the first series of Dalek Empire. The second half of The Traitors reveals a plan to create a Dalek super weapon in their quest for supreme power. Just like in Lucie Miller/To The Death. We are reaching Terrance Dicks levels of self plagiarism here. Not only that but the first half has very little of what you could grab hold of and call a narrative, it is a series of events that is setting the scene but not a lot actually seems to happen until we are racing towards the conclusion. Fortunately Nick Briggs' has afforded himself plenty of opportunity to show off in the directors chair and a lot of this material is enjoyable anyway simply because it is so immersive. Shut your eyes and sit back and you really wont have any trouble imagining what is happening. It is extremely well realised. However, I do not listen to Doctor Who audios to be swept away by a bombardment of ambient sounds, I enjoy them because the better examples are fantastic stories that stretch my imagination and take me somewhere exciting and thought-provoking for a time. The Traitor is rehash of Briggs' old work and not an especially inspiring one, adding little to the mix to differentiate itself and following a predictable pattern of events. I'm not sure if something this traditional was ideal to open this box set but now that box has been ticked we can move on to something more novel. Condensing Dalek Empire series one into a single release might have felt like a good idea in theory but in practice it loses much of Briggs' signature ranges nuance and dramatic power. I wasn't bored because there is a momentum to the events (and the acting is superb) but I wasn't engaged either: 5/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/dark-eyes-ii-part-one-traitor-written.html

Dark Eyes II: The White Room: A jigsaw of a story and one which has some lovely constituent elements but fails to cohere into a complete picture. Quite a lot has to be known going into this story for it to even begin to make sense; especially about Molly, where she comes from and the whole situation with her dark eyes. That's before we even get to the actual plot of this beast of a tale which juggles an alien race known to regular followers of Big Finish, a mad scientist dabbling with viruses, an alien bacteria that plays havoc with time and a great big time bomb that threatens to wipe everybody away. It's messily plotted for sure because the opening 20 minutes seems to keep stacking more and more unwieldy elements on top of each other and it isn't until a lengthy wrap up close to the conclusion that it all ties together and begins to make any kind of sense. Once the explanations are in place it is quite an enjoyably conceived tale but you should never have to work to the point that it is a chore for something to start to cohere. It seems to come from a completely different box set to The Traitor and you could be forgiven for thinking that you have put in a disc from a completely different release. How all these tales will come together is a mystery. Complaints over, what about what works in The White Room? Molly O'Brien. She's been refined slightly (she's less bossy and more quick to observe and theorise) and it is such a pleasure to have her back. I hope she sticks around this time. The Viyrans always were a terrific audio presence and they work just as well in the early days of the 20th Century as they did in the far future. When these two elements come together, this story sings. There's also some temporal jiggery pokery which raised an eyebrow of interest and a dramatic resolution that sees the Doctor inadvertently puts the Earth in danger of being destroyed by a Viyran incendiary device. This is one script that feels like it needs to go through one more re-write to make the first half a little less scattershot and unwieldy. Because if it had been simplified this would have been a tasty instalment of the Dark Eyes trilogy (if one that is based a little too much on co-incidence) that re-introduces the magnificent Ruth Bradley back to the party: 6/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/dark-eyes-ii-part-two-white-room.html

Dark Eyes II: Time's Horizon: Hurrah! Opens like a regular Doctor Who story with the Doctor and his assistant drawn to a mystery in an intriguing setting packed with well drawn characters. If that sounds crushingly dull then I am doing Time's Horizon a disservice because the fact that it plays out like a traditional Doctor Who story (and a good one at that) is one it's biggest strengths. Continuing the Trial of a Time Lord theme, it is the third story in sequence which works best as a standalone adventure despite having threads that will continue on into the rest of the set. Fitton remembers to give this adventure a self contained narrative outside of its arc elements. With them appearing in three different eras now (Doctors four, six and eight), the Eminence are starting to make something of an impression and are exactly what I have been asking for quite some time...an original race of monsters that make the same impact as all the returning baddies that Big Finish (probably for marketing and sales purposes) are obsessed with reusing. They are far nastier here than they were in The Seeds of War with the focus on extreme body horror and injecting them into a claustrophobic setting that adds a great deal of tension to events. The combination of the Doctor, Molly and Liv works very well and hope they both stick around for the next Dark Eyes set. Ruth Bradley and Nicola Walker have extremely good, brassy chemistry and it would be a shame not to exploit that further. I don't want you to think that this is some kind of Doctor Who masterpiece, it is ultimately a strong spaceship under siege story but has no ambitions beyond that. However on those terms it is (once again) vividly directed by Nicholas Briggs and dramatised by a man who has frequently ticked all my boxes of late. Matt Fitton understands that we need to get to know the characters if we are to care about them and that the threat has to be invasive rather than just conceptual. He also seems to have a firm grasp on the Eminence and gets the opportunity to scribble in some of their back story in Time's Horizon. He even has a couple of surprises up his sleeve in the last third. I really enjoyed this instalment, I just wish this was how the Dark Eyes II box set had begun: 8/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/dark-eyes-ii-part-three-times-horizon.html

Dark Eyes II: Eyes of the Master: 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

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/dark-eyes-ii-part-four-eyes-of-master.html

Dark Eyes 3: The Death of Hope: Part One of The Master Adventures. No wonder Paul McGann can't quite keep the irritation out of his voice. It's a clever, backdoor way of showing what a Master series might be like and with Alex McQueen playing the leading role it looks like it would be a delight to listen to. Regardless of the fact that they are in a set and all written by the same person I will be reviewing these pieces independently as they all have their own titles. The Death of Hope is all set up and prompts about the events of the first two series with hints of what is to come. As a story it certainly has more meat on its bones than The Traitor, which opened the previous set, mostly because of the Master's involvement and how Fitton waits until the last possible moment to reveal his true plan, stringing out the tension. There's not a great deal to discuss because so much of the impact of this story will depend on how it is followed up. Heron's world is nicely sketched in, it's populace represented by a handful of nicely drawn characters but I can't say I was overly concerned about their fate. Had this been a world that I was intimately acquainted with it might have made more of a difference. It's the Master that rises out of this story triumphant. He has achieved his aim but we still don't know how he plans to apply his newfound ability. I can't wait to find out: 7/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/dark-eyes-iii-death-of-hope-written-by.html

Dark Eyes 3: The Reviled: I asked for a more robust story for part two of this saga and I was not disappointed. Matt Fitton is one of those rare Big Finish writers that comes along that ticks every box to make a story work - he has ear for memorable dialogue, he never forgets about his characters, his stories are complicated enough to engage but not too ungainly to be able to follow, he adds little details to a setting that make them more memorable than they would have been and he has a way of stirring up drama without cheating the audience. The only time I think he has failed to achieve one of these essential ingredients is when exhausted or failing story elements are forced upon him (Signs and Wonders). When he is left to get on with something original, he always delivers the goods (The Wrong Doctors, Return of the Rocket Men). For Dark Eyes he has been handed a great shopping list of ingredients and none of them are his own creations (The Master, The Eminence, Narvin, Liv, Molly) and yet he rises to the challenge of bringing all these elements together in a way that feels fresh and invigorating, for each of the individual elements and for the Dark Eyes story. There's a dramatic focus to the saga in this set that comes from one writer taking responsibility for all the stories and having a clear direction of where it is going. With The Reviled, Fitton gets to explore the conflict that is taking place and the effect it is having on the 'little people', how so many powers are trying to influence this war that those in the trenches are the ones that are suffering. The Doctor emerges as something unique because he is the only person that isn't trying to exploit the colonies, he's the only one that is trying to help them. It seems that no matter what he does to try and warn them, to protect them or even to intervene with their kidnap the victims of the humanity/Eminence war will always end up under somebody's thrall. It certainly makes for an exciting final fifteen minutes when the Master pulls off a deceptive coup. It's quite bold to snatch victory from the Doctor like this when he is already feeling vulnerable and it brings out an intensity from Paul McGann that quite took my breath away. It's time the rival Time Lords finally ran into each other, I think there will be a few choice words to say: 8/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/dark-eyes-iii-reviled-written-by-matt.html

Dark Eyes 3: Rule of the Eminence: A bizarre story and a disappointing climax to what has generally been the strongest Dark Eyes box set. After listening to this I get the same feeling that I used to when Russell T. Davies was racing towards the culmination of one of the four and a half seasons he plotted. Seasons dropping intriguing hints and building in elements that cohere wonderfully in the penultimate episodes (The Sound of Drums and The Stolen Earth are possibly my favourite episodes of their respective years) and promising one hell of a dramatic conclusion. And then nothing. Or nothing as impressive as I was expecting. Dark Eyes 3 feels like that. Like it had real confidence in its various plot elements (the Master, the Eminence, the war) and explored them all in dramatic circumstances whilst pulling them all in the direction of The Rule of the Eminence where they should have dovetailed beautifully and brought the whole thing to a satisfying conclusion. But it kind of feels as though all the juicy stuff has been dealt with (the Doctor/Master therapy session was the highlight of the set) and this is merely a box ticking exercise to get the story where it needs to be for Dark Eyes 4. It doesn't help that the titular focus of the range has been sidelined so spectacularly throughout these four instalments and so giving Molly such focus now seems like a distraction. More of an administrative exercise than a piece of drama; the Master's plan is revealed and he's not up to anything original, he's defeated and the war is brought to an end. But all of this is done in a perfunctory way without much in the way of drama, sacrifice or desperation. The technobabble catalyst at the conclusion was the biggest shocker and perhaps the greatest indication that this arc has lost its heart at the last hurdle. Perhaps hanging a 16 story arc on retrogenitor particles was a mistake: 4/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/rule-of-eminence-written-by-matt-fitton.html

Dark Eyes 4: A Life in the Day: What's this? Gentle character drama and jokes? Have I wandered in on the wrong Dark Eyes? Liv Chenka exhibiting a little personality and good humour and the Doctor enjoying his adventures once again? Please don't mistake my general good mood after listening to this for a statement that this is the pinnacle that this serial can achieve because when all is said and done the plot for A Life in the Day is little more than a run-around with some time spillage thrown in for good measure. It is the tone of the piece that excites. Gone is the suicidal atmosphere of the third box set and in steps a general joi de vivre that is like a soothing massage after a really hard day in the office. They needed to give the Doctor a reason to live after the events of To the Death but the previous Dark Eyes sets took him on a path of self destruction that dragged some of least impressive performances out of Paul McGann. He's a funny sort of actor because it seems he can make or break a production depending on his mood. If he's disinterested then there is a good chance that you might be too at the end of the story (The Creed of the Kromon, The Last) but if he is enjoying himself you will be dragged helplessly into the world of the eighth Doctor in fugue of excitement (Grand Theft Cosmos, The Chimes of Midnight). This definitely a case of the latter so whilst the script isn't anything particularly challenging I still grabbed ahold of the Doctor's coattails and enjoyed my waltz around wartime London. Minus points? The repetitive nature of Beth Chalmers voice, the unpersuasive romance subplot and obvious culprits behind this madness. Don't go in expecting an intellectual piece but dive in headfirst if you are looking for some much needed fun in this extended serial: 7/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/dark-eyes-4-life-in-day-written-by-john.html

Dark Eyes 4: The Monster of Montmartre: Delightfully atmospheric, seductive and quite bonkers, this might be my favourite instalment of Dark Eyes to date. Gone is all the severity and pretension and the fun strikes like an arrow to the heart. Had the series been whipped up into this kind of spirit of adventure from the off I would have been chomping at the bit for more box sets. Did the writers of the previous sets look at what they had previously produced and decided to jazz things up exponentially or is this the John Dorney influence again, turning something that is only party working into gold. Dark Eyes I was a bizarre portmanteau of ideas that was perfectly entertaining but didn't really hold together as a whole, the second box set started out in the doldrums but improved in its second half and the third set took a razor to its wrist in taking the Doctor to some dark places with the Master but falling to pieces at its conclusion. The emphasis in the fourth set is to return to the jolly spirit of old whilst still keeping ahold of the elements of previous sets and it is by far the most effective approach yet. This is one of Matt Fitton's most accomplished scripts to date, up there with The Wrong Doctors and Masterplan. He's taken what is essentially another run-around and packed it full of character and life, opportunities for great sound design and some truly macarcbre imagery. One of the delights of Doctor Who is that it indulges in the perverse art of juxtaposing elements that would never come together in any other show. Navarinos in Butlins. Schoolteachers and giant ants. 'Only in Doctor Who...' has become a phrase not to bury the show but to praise it. I can't think of many audio tales that delight as much as this one in lashing up such disparate elements but the net result is something quite enchanting, if utterly bonkers. I thoroughly enjoyed it: 9/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/dark-eyes-4-monster-of-montmarte.html

Dark Eyes 4: Master of the Daleks: '...the plan can enter its final stage!' Effectively a dance between the Master and the Daleks, the third instalment of Dark Eyes 4 is complete fan fiction but sparkling with wit, intelligence and smart ideas. It's plot heavy and unwieldy with elements from the previous sets elements but John Dorney throws in so many wonderful scenes of character interaction and some genuinely giddy ideas that I just went with it and enjoyed myself immensely. The chemistry between the Master and Liv was so entertaining that I found myself wanting to advocate a box set where they travel as companions. I don't know how sustainable it would be but if it was scripted this sharply it would certainly be worth a listen. This nightmarish vision of the future concocted by the Master and the Dalek Time Controller is worth a round of applause too, quite different from anything that we have ever seen of this kind before. If only the Doctor was on as sparkling form as everybody else instead of behaving like a drunken reveller for the most part this might have rated even higher but after two stories where he seems to have found his joi de vivre Paul McGann is lost at sea again in a story that doesn't seem to know quite what to do with him. It almost feels as though the story needs to pause for an hour and so the Doctor is surplus to requirements but as soon as it is ready to progress again he snaps out of this intoxicated fugue and prepares himself for the final confrontation. For scheming machinations of the Master (McQueen is simply exquisite in this) and the Daleks, this is a strikingly different type of story (although it is more of a bridge between tales with too many bright moments to mention than a story) that favours the villains over the heroes: 8/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/dark-eyes-4-master-of-daleks-written-by.html

Dark Eyes 4: Eye of Darkness: 'History is being forged around us!' And so Dark Eyes comes to an end not with a culmination of 16 stories worth of material but a manipulative and technobabble laden piece. The first half of this story feels like you have stepped in to the second half of a narrative without first hearing the first half, it rather takes a lot for granted without explaining a great deal. It feels like it wants to bring the saga to a conclusion just because rather than because this is where it has been leading. The Eye of Darkness is a bizarre experience, not the sort of epic madness that Big Finish usually attempts when bringing a long running story to a close but more of a box ticking exercise with lots of things slotting into place quite neatly. Frankly I think the former approach might have been more appropriate given the insane portmanteau of stories that has come before this. This set should be aiming for a To The Death style climax, something shocking and unforgettable but instead it drowns in technobabble (since when has Doctor Who ever relied on scientific jargon over narrative satisfaction?) and absurd (rather than shocking) twists. Is this really what the Dalek Time Controller has been attempting to attain the whole time? To become the consciousness of the Eminence? Did it really have to go to such long winded efforts to achieve what is essentially a very simple task? I was expecting something more somehow. So what to make of this Dark Eyes experience? Has it been the best that Big Finish has to offer? No, it has been far too bloated, unfocussed and disjointed for that. But has it been a unique experiment taking in a myriad of locations, characters, big, bold ideas and a chance to show how immersive the audio experience can be with Big Finish Productions? Absolutely. I would recommend a listen because it gave Paul McGann some unique opportunities, it introduced us to Molly O'Sullivan and Liv Chenka (who after some ironing out turned out to both be fine companions), it revelled in the use of the delightful Alex McQueen Master and because it gave the Daleks a brand new barking mad figurehead in the Dalek Time Controller. No matter how scattershot and crazy the plotting might have been, these characters kept the whole thing bubbling along a enjoyable to listen to. However it has fallen at the last hurdle during the last two sets leaving a bad taste in the mouth, a damp squib of an ending where a rousing finale was required: 4/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/dark-eyes-4-eye-of-darkness-written-by.html




Doom Coalition 1: The Eleven: Gallifrey and I have had an on/off relationship over the years. When introduced in The War Games I thought it was the most terrifying place that the Doctor could possibly visit and The Deadly Assassin re-invented the world as a gripping, political nightmare. But stories such as The Three Doctors and Arc of Infinity revealed how badly the Doctor's home planet could be represented if the writers imaginations and the budget failed to rouse to the occasion. The Gallifrey audio series yo-yoed between offering stunning political drama and tedious parallel world tedium and the novels took it upon themselves to blow it up long before the television series. It's been a chequered history. Matt Fitton proves without doubt that there is definitely room for fascinating stories still to be told on this world as long as the ideas have weight and the characterisation grips you from the outset. The Eleven is a superb Gallifrey based tale that completely restores my faith in setting further adventures here, which surely is a must given the appetite whetting upcoming War Doctor series and given the eighth Doctor's adventures are going to segue into the Time War. What we have here is Paul McGann fired up at the beginning of a brand new epic, paired with a companion that brings out the best in him and butting heads with a villain who dazzles with interest and is brought to life by an actor who imbues the part with serious menace. The Eleven is a man who is literally tearing himself apart from inside, whose hate and rage comes from an insane psychological instability of eleven voices talking all at once. He's an astonishing character and manages to wreck havoc on Gallifrey in a relatively small time. Let loose in the universe, the Doctor is on his tail and now the chase is on with have our ongoing narrative for all four stories. I guess that is the only complaint I can make about The Eleven, is that by it's very nature of being a 16-part story this instalment is all set up with no hint of a satisfying conclusion in sight. The story just sort of ends. It's a piece of the puzzle but a what a stellar piece it is, gripping throughout and featuring extremely vivid performances: 9/10

Doom Coalition 1: The Red Lady: 'She's here...' Coloured me impressed. Remember I said that Paul McGann seemed revved up at the beginning of a brand new epic in my review of the first instalment of Doom Coalition, well wait until you hear how engaged he is with the second piece of the puzzle. I can only think of two times when he has blazed quite this brightly before, in the height of the Charley Pollard days (throughout most of season two) and when the Lucie Miller stories kicked into high gear (series four). There was no part of Dark Eyes where I felt he was this impressed with the material he was presenting. The build up of suspense surrounding The Red Lady is so expertly handled and John Dorney delivers a humdinger of a climax, one of his finest. And anybody with even a passing interest in his work will be able to quantify that statement. The titular piece of art is a dangerously compelling image, one that will lure you in and seduce you to your last breath. It's an marvellously creepy notion that provides some moments of cold sweat of the kind Big Finish hasn't knocked out in a while. I'm not sure how it ties into the overall narrative but as a standalone story to introduce Helen Sinclair you really couldn't ask for more. Hattie Morahan makes a fantastic impression as Helen, initially skeptical but smart enough to know when the Doctor is right and then able to step in and help to save him and Liv at the conclusion. Doom Coalition has completely revolutionised the eighth Doctor range. The first two instalments have been near perfect in themselves. providing some thrilling material and a terrific new team of regulars. But what has impressed me the most has been the confidence, the life that has been injected back into the range. Dark Eyes was sporadically brilliant but it rarely had this kind of assurance. I'm eager to hear where this story is going and for more adventures with the Doctor, Liv and Helen. That's a great feeling: 9/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/the-red-lady-written-by-john-dorney-and.html

Doom Coalition 1: The Galileo Trap: Sometimes a writer and a story fit like a glove. If you were to lay out the names of the most prolific Big Finish writers (and there are nine or ten of those) and told me to identity the writer most suited to writing a story about Galileo I would have immediately chosen Marc Platt. His Doctor Who is always more intellectual and less about putting across an action movie on audio. It makes a nice change to listen to something with a little more substance than usual and this is a massive departure from the more typical Doctor Who run-around (which despite being very good examples of the first two stories of this set were). I really enjoyed the atmosphere of this piece, walking around in history and soaking up the sounds of Renaissance Italy which were expertly handled by Wilfredo Acosta. Shut your eyes and imagine you are there. The pacing is deliberately sluggish so you can savour the atmosphere and sample the delicious dialogue and the gentle character work done with Helen and Liv is lovely. It starts much better than it ends because the latter half drops the sightseeing in favour of the plot, which isn't going to set your world on fire but it does have a few tense moments. If you didn't like Point of Entry or Paper Cuts also by Platt then this might not be for you. It has the same sedate pace, attention to detail and rich character work as those stories. I loved them both so this was precisely my poison and after an exhilarating dash on Gallifrey and a creepy horror it pushes the Doom Coalition series into another direction that really shows its diversity. It's not perfect by any means but it is another winner in what is turning out to be a consistently strong series: 7/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/the-galileo-trap-written-by-marc-platt.html

Doom Coalition 1: The Satanic Mill: 'Witness the rise of chaos and the rise of the new universal order!' Yes, I'm afraid that's how tedious this set ultimately turns out to get. Astonishingly poor, the first half of The Satanic Mill is confused, rambling and probably some of the least engaging material I have heard in some time. It reminded me of Excelis Decays, a tedious location, lots of electronic warbling and not a great deal of explanation or character. Given where the Doom Coalition box set started that is quite a nose dive in quality. The Eleven has gone from being an astonishing concept to a ranting villain who chews the scenery at every opportunity. It appears that his psychotic persona gets most of the air time and dishes out empty threats as a matter of course. There is a great deal of work to be done to salvage this character in the second box set. Even with the weaker scripts that he is handed Ken Bentley's direction is usually enough to provide some level of entertainment but it feels as though he has done as little as possible to The Satanic Mill to make it an enjoyable experience. The sound design is uncomfortable to listen to, there isn't much of a score and it sounds like he has left the actors in the booth to get on with it whilst he works on another, more important, story. This is the last story of the first box set, the culmination of where this has been head and the stepping stone to the second. It's possibly even more important than the introductory tale and yet it feels as if everybody has had enough at this point. Even the regulars sound less enthused. Edward Collier really couldn't make a dazzling idea for a location sounds more boring. The economic synopsis promised much but the story itself delivers so little. The Eleven's plan is ultimately very boring, reliant on tedious Time Lord technobabble to bring a grandiose scheme to fruition. He's just a poor substitution for the Master after all. I fail to understand how this sort of thing can transpire, where a dazzling new eighth Doctor box set can kick start with such a leap in the air and then fizzle away to a limp stumble at the conclusion. Surely the script editor could have coaxed something more engaging out of Edward Collier than this? I'm always moaning about the lack of new writers at Big Finish and to their credit they have taken a punt. Perhaps I should have shut my mouth: 2/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/the-satanic-mill-written-by-edward.html

Doom Coalition 2: Beachhead: Short, sweet and comfy. When was the last time we enjoyed a nice traditional Doctor Who adventure with the eighth Doctor? No, I can't remember either. Beachhead might be part of a large whole but it stands alone as a nice reminder of the types of stories that the Doctor universe excels at, an Earthbound location, a few reasonably well drawn characters and an alien plot. You're not going to find your world turning upside down when you listen but in a range that has favoured big, complicated arc storytelling over smaller, more intimate tales this is a quite a refreshment. A breather, let's say. and who do you turn to when you are looking for a good, old fashioned Doctor Who romp? Briggs is perfectly suited to this kind of story and delivers a really nice script with lots of opportunities for atmospherics. I always think he sees a story through a directors eye, even if this is one of the rare times when he is not taking on that job himself. Ken Bentley is the in-house director these days and he does a confident job with this. The plot is slight (so much so that the villains of the piece barely appear) and so the atmosphere and performances carry us through. Sometimes it is nice to just kick back and let Doctor Who give you a glorious massage without having to tax your brain too much...Beachhead is like your first round of therapy in a spa. I felt very comfortable listening to it. For once the fact that this is easy and unchallenging is a Godsend. Enjoy it while it lasts: 7/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/beachhead-written-by-nicholas-briggs.html

Doom Coalition 2: Scenes from Her Life: There is a frisson about this story, a feeling of excitement. It feels different. John Dorney sites Gormanghast as one of his inspirations despite never having read it before. He was aiming for the tone of the piece, that surreal, gothic, disquieting atmosphere. I got more of a sense of The Doctor's Wife from the early scenes, disturbed characters abusing other characters, a fantastic setting and a sense that something is very amiss. Given how The Doctor's Wife is basically TARDIS porn, this was quite an apt comparison. There is also a feeling of Paradise Towers about the story, of a complex infrastructure that has been perverted and left to rot and the inhabitants coping as best as they can with the mess. I like how the focus is much more on the situation playing out rather than seeing the story all from the point of view of the Doctor and his companions. It makes the central narrative feel more important than usual, more attention grabbing. Sometimes when a story plays out and it feels as though the Doctor isn't needed (Planet of the Ood for example) it is simply the writer failing to give him a central role. This isn't the case at all here, the Doctor is a vital component. He's just not the only vital component. These Doom Coalition tales seem very suited to their hour long format too, you can feel these puzzle pieces starting to come together to form a larger picture but each segment is proving delightful in it's own right. As a full length main range adventure the punchiness of this story would be stretched out and it would lose it's strength to knock you for six. At a pacy 60 minutes, Scenes From Her Life delivers a heady mix of high concept and strong character work. Never running out of steam, effortlessly slipping the Eleven back into the mix and reminding us again of what a strong TARDIS team this is, I wanted to applaud before the end. The last ten minutes are especially dramatic: 9/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/scenes-from-her-life-written-by-john.html

Doom Coalition 2: The Gift: One of the delightful things about Doom Coalition as a whole is its diversity, its willingness to play about with different styles and genres. Every story feels very different to its neighbour and that contrast provides a healthy reminder of one of the main joys of Doctor Who - it's willingness to tell any kind of story. Dark Eyes might have been ambitious but each set did have a certain uniformity about it that meant if you didn't like the tone of the piece, you were kind of stuck with it for four hours. The Gift plays out like a disaster movie of sorts, with the Doctor in the unfortunate quandary of having to save the day otherwise the location where he will regenerate in 93 years time wont ever have existed. I hear that can put a serious crimp in your life. It's one of the most crisp and clear Marc Platt scripts for quite some time, clearly he has been given some notes of details to include but he manages to weave them into a gripping tale of a curse that has blighted San Francisco and has been gathering momentum for some time. All roads lead to the earthquake and when it comes it is a truly remarkable audio experience with some serious consequences for the characters. Amongst all the drama, Paul McGann is a mesmeric presence, his Doctor not being this captivating since his earliest audio adventures. How these stories are blending into each other is seamless, one plot point taking us from one independent story to another. I have a feeling David Richardson and Ken Bentley know exactly where they are taking us with Doom Coalition and that is an exciting feeling because with each story the arc is gathering real momentum. Often the journey is more exhilarating than the destination but just this once I have real confidence that this is heading somewhere spectacular. The Gift was thoroughly enjoyable and with it Doom Coalition is become the highest scorer in any Doctor Who line in some time: 8/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/the-gift-written-by-marc-platt-and.html

Doom Coalition 2: The Sonomancer: 'The universe needs your silence!' Matt Fitton commits to an exotic alien world, not always a successful enterprise in Doctor Who but with Ken Bentley to back him up Syra comes to life like a fully established setting that will continue to thrive long after the events of this story are forgotten. To have two stories set on Earth and two set on out there locations has given this set a really miscellaneous flair, much more successfully than the first set (mostly because of the realisation). Atmospherically, I almost had a bit of a Star Wars: A New Hope vibe about the story, which was exciting for Doctor Who. River makes a decent first impression in a Doctor Who audio drama, driving the story for a certain amount of time and certainly less abrasive and self-righteous than she can be in the hands of her creator. Alex Kingston has a natural audio presence and it certainly bodes well for more appearances with other classic Doctors. It's also a firm encouragement for me to explore her box set that is sitting on my shelf. Something I have been resisting for some time. So, a decent setting and decent characters...what about the plot? Meh. Probably the weakest the set if I'm honest. The ideas are good but the journey to explore them seems a little confused and cluttered. After the very engaging second and third episodes this was a bit of a letdown in the entertainment stakes. Let me be clear, it doesn't drop the ball in the same way that the first set did but I am starting to get the unfortunate impression that as whenever the Eleven makes a reappearance in the flesh (he only appeared in flashbacks in the last story) the quality of the material takes a bit of a nose dive. The Eleven has failed to live up to his potential as a truly arresting villain with a psychological angle. Fitton set up his character so well in his introductory story, I've been waiting for another writer to truly get under his skin and see what makes him tick. But he has either been ignored entirely or treated as another raving villain, albeit one that has a number of silly voices at his disposal. Technically he could be the most chilling bad guy we have ever heard. To me though he just seems to be the villain of diminishing returns. It's not a terrible story because it has a lot of fun elements that make it worth listening to (Helen is a bit unmemorable but it is a fantastic story for Liv) but it is just a little underwhelming as a climax to this set. Caleera is dealt with and the Eleven achieves his aim but it feels more like a box ticking exercise rather than a natural extension of the stories that came before it: 6/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/the-sonomancer-written-by-matt-fitton.html

Doom Coalition 3: Absent Friends: Unnerving, emotional and effective, this is a perfect character tale that enhances Helen Sinclair and Liv Chenka exponentially. I have one major problem with Absent Friends and that it is that it has very little to do with the Doom Coalition arc that it takes place alongside. Since this is one of the best stories yet, that is a bit of a problem with the overarching narrative but it is not a problem for Absent Friends, which stands proud and alone. The first two thirds are almost overly simplistic in plot terms and we actually don’t learn an incredible amount more than is revealed in the pre-titles sequence. But it is packed to the gills with useful character development for Helen and re-affirmation at just how effective the Doctor/Liv partnership is. The last 20 minutes is where all the gold lies though, a triple whammy of emotional scenes for each of the regulars. Helen facing her brothers anger is the most obvious but still the rawest scene, Liv’s phone call comes right out of the blue and winded me and the Doctor facing up to his voice from the past is kept agonisingly secret until the very last second of the story. In the plot dense period of Dark Eyes and Doom Coalition, character development can be pushed to the side-lines but Absent Friends makes up for that in spades and shows just how rounded these regulars are. More than that it is an audio that doesn’t use any cheap tricks to get you close to its characters and impresses due to its delicacy. Appropriately, Paul McGann, Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan give their most effective performances to date too. Absent Friends wont present you with dazzling science fiction but it will creep inside you and make you feel. Who ever knew that a ringing phone could be so terrifying: 10/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/absent-friends-written-by-john-dorney.html

Doom Coalition 3: The Eighth Piece: ‘Bumbling around time as though it’s a bric-a-brac shop!’ Diversity seems to be the keyword in the Doom Coalition set as an intimate, intense character drama is followed by a chaotic, sprawling time puzzle of a story. The Eighth Piece sets up an intriguing premise; hunting the pieces of an ominous time device through the earth’s timeline. But the emphasis is definitely on set up, with no resolutions and the debate rages on whether this should be considered a story in its own right or the first half of the story that concludes in The Doomsday Chronometer. Absent Friends essentially honed on the three regulars and studied them penetratingly, The Eighth Piece jettisons any hope of studying them in favour of dropping them off in separate time periods and swallowing them up in plot. I know which approach I prefer. I don’t mind plot heavy Doctor Who, but my method of surviving the rapids of the complex narrative is to grab the hand of the characters and experience it through their eyes. If the plot is simply a tidal wave that crashes into the regulars, I can’t keep hold of them and we’re both lost in its wake. The narrative is nowhere near as coherent as it needs to be, and it is still unclear how it fits into the overall Doom Coalition narrative. It’s starting to feel like The X-Files mythology, god knows what the overarching story is, but the individual elements are quite fun. Raving madmen, River Song nunning it up, living puzzle boxes, horsing about, a huge time piece collection, knowledge of the end of the world… Imagine each of these elements like rocks, constantly being added, but with nothing to carry them in. I was overwhelmed by ideas, incident and revelations, with no reason to care about them. Where is the Eleven? Why is River included if she has to be written out with magic wand technobabble? Who are the Doom Coalition? The narrative of the doomsday chronometer (the device, not this instalment) is assembled with great care, each piece given a story of its own. When a plot device is given such luxurious priority over any one of the characters that are trying to figure out it’s construction, I think the story needs a rethink: 4/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/the-eighth-piece-written-by-matt-fitton.html

Doom Coalition 3: The Doomsday Chronometer: Much more satisfying, but with the trade off once again being a weight of plot elements obscuring any chance of character development. The answers come thick and fast throughout and it’s possible to think of all this as entertaining exposition but given the denseness of the Doom Coalition arc it is a relief to see it starting to streamline and make sense. I really enjoyed how early instalments of the Doom Coalition series are brought up and have impact on the story. It feels less of a bunch of incoherent pieces but more like a slowly forming narrative. What The Doomsday Chronometer also has in spades is a snappy pace and a great sense of fun, I bounced from scene to scene enjoying the journey very much. You’ve got a likable cast of regulars bringing this story to life and whilst they aren’t being stretched in a great direction, they make the revelations that this story throws up an exciting experience. It’s huge ideas all the way from secret Time Lord groups up to nefarious activities to ashes of dead worlds being used to create a doomsday device; grandiose, exciting, and hugely over the top. Doctor Who melodrama at it’s most epic. The last fifteen minutes are desperately exciting as the clock is finally allowed to count down towards doomsday and everything leads towards an unforgettable cliff-hanger. I’m still very positive about this sixteen-part narrative, despite a few stumbles along the way. The batting average has been well above average and in parts, truly sublime. This instalment has the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the character development of a stone but it’s hugely engaging despite that and promises big things for the future. This energetic adventure more than makes up for the previous hiccup: 8/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/the-doomsday-chronometer-written-by.html

Doom Coalition 3: The Crucible of Souls: ‘How can someone destroy the whole of the future?’ Do you ever wonder if Matt Fitton and John Dorney write each other into a corner just for the fun of it? I’m sure they sit down together and plot out these box sets meticulously but instead I prefer to think of them writing their own scripts and passing them to each other with a maniacal glint in their eyes and saying ‘get out of that, then!’ Dorney has quite a shopping list of ingredients that he has to pay off satisfactorily in The Crucible of Souls (an ostentatious title if ever I heard one); with the Doctor and River having to save the universe from extinction which has been set in motion by the Doomsday Chronometer and Liv and Helen dealing with what they think to be the next incarnation of the Doctor, who is up to something perverse on Gallifrey. Couple with that the return of the Eleven, a bunch of Time Lord scallywags and access to all of the dirtiest Time Lord secrets and Dorney has an awful lot to juggle. A massive strength of John Dorney’s work is these people sound like characters again, and not plot functions so even when there is plenty going on, I felt as if I was learning things about Liv, Helen and almost impossibly given her previous exposure, River. Telling the story through the characters means that suddenly this is personal again. Padrac gets a much bigger role here and his character surprises by taking the weight of a number of heavy plot points from stories past and assembling them into some kind of order and cohesion for us. Thanks Padrac. But for the end of the universe as we know it, you’re a bit of a bastard. I’ve said a lot above about the Doom Coalition arc as a whole so I won’t repeat it here, just to say that whilst we are enjoying something of a renaissance for the eighth Doctor after the stickiness of the Dark Eyes sets that ultimately came to nothing, I am missing the simplicity and the individuality of the standalones. It’s why stories like The Red lady, Scenes from Her Life and Absent Friends were so enjoyable, with a little tweaking they could exist as stories in their own right rather than being dragged along in a tidal wave of epic storytelling. The last twenty minutes of The Crucible of Souls are desperately exciting as big superweapons are deployed, characters are appalled by the scale of devastation that is to come and a villain boasts that his super plan has finally come to fruition. I’m not even sure that the details are even important (because when you focus on them it is little more than exaggerated technobabble and over plotted madness), just that we’re told that things are badder than bad and a wave of emotion is created to drag us into the final set. The end is nigh again but this time we really mean it and there is no way to stop it. Oho! But we have the Doctor to save the day! I would have believed that until the final twist which ups the ante even further and ensures that that is not the case. A brilliant last-minute coup: 8/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/the-crucible-of-souls-written-by-john.html

Doom Coalition 4: Ship in a Bottle: Like the beginning of the previous set, this is an intimate character drama that kicks things off in memorable style. The one thing the Doctor, Liv and Helen have plenty of now is time and it is a chance for the three of them to have it out. After the tidal wave of plot from the previous three stories it is a huge relief to cut things back to just the three regulars and to deal with their reactions to everything that has been going on. John Dorney is scripting, and he isn’t afraid to push these characters into asking tough questions. What I found interesting was how much it exposed about the strength of the eighth Doctor, Liv and Helen as individual characters because this was the sort of economic storytelling that would reveal whether they were hollow or fully rounded people. A lesser set of regulars would flag in this type of story. Pleasingly, they all have solid reasons for being angry and frustrated with one another and it never once feels as though the tension is manufactured. Not only that it shines a new light on how much they need each other and how effective they work together. Doom Coalition might ultimately be another Doctor Who epic to end all epics, but it has brought together a wonderful TARDIS team. I’m so pleased that the personal consequences of this story are being dealt with (because they are so often ignored in Doctor Who) and that meaty acting opportunities are being handed out to the performers. The ‘escape the non-future’ plot is reasonable, but it’s the dialogue and performances that shine here. I felt this was getting back to what audio drama can really achieve; intimacy, emotion and meaning. The last ten minutes in particular are hugely uplifting and exciting, with a memorably ambiguous final scene. A huge thumbs up to Paul McGann, Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan for tackling such a challenging script so skilfully. What a team: 9/10

Full Review Here: https://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/ship-in-bottle-written-by-john-dorney.html

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you forgot Masterplan in Dark Eyes 3... apart from that, great post.

chooo said...

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