Thursday, 27 November 2014

REVIEW - DARK EYES 3


In his quest for universal domination, the Master plans to exploit the terrifying Infinite Warriors of the mysterious Eminence. The Doctor's friend, Molly, is key to that plan's execution, and now, aided by corrupted genius Sally Armstrong, the Master is close to success. Paranoid and perplexed after his recent experience, the Doctor skirts the fringes of the fifty-year conflict between humanity and the Infinite Armies. Wary of changing the course of history, he fears that to fight the Eminence would be to do the Daleks' bidding. But when Time Lord CIA agent Narvin provides the impetus for the Doctor to act, Liv Chenka joins him in a desperate race to save their friend and stop the Master. As the Doctor goes head to head with his oldest and deadliest rival, this war is about to get very personal indeed...

The Death of Hope 
“You should come and see Nurse Molly with the dark eyes. She’s very nice and she talks funny.” – Hope Gardner

Wow! What a boring start to the new box set – a Doctor-lite story? Seriously? It’s been done already! Oh! It’s a Companion-lite? Well, that’s not much better. We’ve had those too. Wait – a Master-centric story? A story that focuses almost entirely on the villain? Well now that changes everything! Fantastic!

Yes folks! Big Finish decided to step outside the normal Doctor Who comfort-zone again, telling the first story as a villain-centered tale. It’s refreshing and something I feel the TV Series could borrow: Dedicate one episode entirely to seeing the villain’s side of things in either a connected or a standalone adventure. We could’ve replaced The Forest of the Night with a Master episode showing us how (s)he escaped Gallifrey and setup the plot for Dark Water/Death in Heaven. Big Finish dedicates The Death of Hope to the Master by having us following him around for an adventure and showing us how he sets up the plot for Dark Eyes 3. Alex MacQueen dominates the script and every scene he is in – and in a Stetson no less! Yes folks! The Master wears a Stetson now. He thinks they’re cool. So do we! The Master depicted here is a manipulator of the highest order and regardless of how he comes across; rest assured it’s all just a charade on his part. The resolution is also deliciously evil which fits this incarnation of the Master who is self-absorbed, but at the same time as cunning as a fox so well that this story just oozes immorality. Alex MacQueen makes the dark side seem tempting. I might actually consider defecting.

Though the Doctor is present, he mostly serves as a framing device allowing us to view the Master. We are also shown what happened to Molly after Dark Eyes 2, though some hardcore fans will end up being a little disappointed by her prominence in the story. The real stars here are the Master and his equally delightful evil companion Dr. Sally Armstrong, who is one of those characters you just love to hate. The more you hate her, the more you love her. She is strong and capable, but has the moral ethics of a rattlesnake. Like Elizabeth Klein before her, she is as interesting and enjoyable to listen to as she is corrupt. 

Rating this story: 8/10 
A clever and unusual opener that accomplishes what it sets out to do.
Pros & Cons
+ Dedicating an entire story to the Master
+ Minimal Doctor involvement
+ Plot and characters
+ Characterization of Sally Armstrong
- Character demotion of Molly O’ Sullivan 

The Reviled 
“We grew up together – studied together. We both found Time Lord Society didn't entirely agree with us but came to different conclusions regarding the rest of the universe. I wanted to see it, he wants to run it.” – The Doctor

(It’s aptly named as I basically despise most of the characters anyway.)
Let’s start with the bad stuff first: Like millions of other viewers/listeners, I can endure/accept watching/listening to a story in which my native species (the humans) are depicted as the monsters. What I CAN’T endure/accept is when this point is repeated to death every other scene like a hundred freaking times. The Ramossans point out humanity’s aggression and selfishness and cruelty so much so that I really wish the humans WOULD just kill them if only to shut them up. At the same time, the human colonists don’t discredit the Ramossans opinions of them so it’s difficult to sympathize with them either. While the Ramossans talk about how bad the colonists are in every scene, the colonists seem to prove it in every other scene so I don’t really know who to root for here. The Master or the Eminence should just put both sides out of their misery.

The good stuff: At the end of the second story it becomes crystal clear that the Master was written into Dark Eyes 3 with the side goal of driving the Doctor up the wall with his mechanizations. The Master’s assistant Sally Armstrong may be the one clashing with the Doctor during this tale, but it is the Master who cruelly delivers the finishing blow to the Doctor. This act in particular is especially malicious because by this point, we are made aware that the Master has already accomplished his and his actions against the Doctor are simply another act of spiteful vindictiveness.

Paul McGan’s Doctor is really being pushed to his limits and the climatic end of this story will feel very Time Lord Victorious to listeners. The aim of Dark Eyes is to see just how far we can drive the Eighth Doctor to the edge without actually knocking him over and if there is one thing The Reviled excelled at it is this aspect. Paul McGann and his 8th Doctor more than make up for his demotion in the first tale.

Molly is completely absent during this story, her place at the Doctor’s side instead taken up by Liv Chenka and my god what a boring character she is! I can understand her position and all, but would it kill you to smile or say something happy or funny – at anything? For someone so desperately clinging to life, you’re like a walking corpse my dear. The human body has 7 million nerves and her general defeatist attitude and ‘pity-me’ personality manages to get on every single one of them. It’s as if the writers don’t exactly know what to do with her but instead of reaching out to another (more popular) companion to aid the Doctor, they saddle him with the medic who continuously carries a mini storm cloud over her head everywhere she goes. 

Rating this story: 7/10 
The hell with the Ramossans AND the colonists. Who cares?
Pros & Cons
+ The progression of Sally Armstrong
+ The clash between Doctor and Armstrong
+ Resolution
+ The inclusion of the Eminence
- Characterization of Ramossans and human colonists
- Liv Chenka

Masterplan 
“You won’t countenance? Who do you think you are Doctor? Judge, jury and executioner?” – The Master

This is the story anticipated most by fans and rightly so. Deciding to use the same tactics the Master and the CIA are employing, the Doctor goes in straight for what he’d normally consider the ‘low blow’. This ends up trapping him with the Master where they are both forced to confront and psycho-analyze the regenerations out of each other! This story is as much a character study about two old friends now bitter enemies as it is about trying to solve the ‘Dark Eyes’ mystery that has been weaved into the three box sets so far. Think Master (the audio story) but with Paul and Alex.

Since this piece is mostly about the Doctor and Master, it’s only natural that Paul McGann and Alex MacQueen should steal the show. Though the B-plot featuring Liv and Sally (yes, this story has one of those) is important, it is almost a distant memory when compared to the scenes we get with the Doctor and the Master. Similar to the discussion the Doctor and the Master get into, you can hear McGann and MacQueen continuously trying to outshine one another which makes for a very exciting listen. There can only be one top dog after all. There is also a very 42 feel to their predicament. However, as their talk carries on the threat remains present, but kind of tucked away in the background until the plot needs it to resurface.

Their discussion is probably the longest Master/Doctor interaction we’ve ever had, taking up a large bulk of the story. Both characters are treated equally and know each other so well that they know exactly which armor piercing bullets to shoot to break through the other’s defenses. From growing up, education, leaving Gallifrey and motivations about the universe – it all gets touched upon here in the long awaited showdown between Gallifrey’s most infamous children.

Onto the B-plot, it’s Liv Chenka’s turn to take on Sally Armstrong in this third installment. Unfortunately it’s such a one sided showdown that ‘showdown’ is perhaps the wrong term. Liv manages to get in a few armor piercing arguments by citing the Master’s past relations concerning companions, but to the viewer who has observed the relationship between Sally and the Master, the points don’t seem to apply in this particular case. The B-plot however is like I mentioned mostly in the background and is only a few degrees off from being a proper companion-lite tale.

A major fault I have with this story is the fate of both Liv and Sally at the end. Despite what we’ve been told about Liv so far, the ending just felt cheap. 

Rating this story: 9/10 
Itsy-bitsy teenie-weenie flawed masterpiece.
Pros & Cons
+ Scenes with the Doctor and the Master
+ Showdown between Liv and Sally
+ The Eminence
+ Resolution
+ Markus Schriver’s endgame
- Professor Markus Schriver
- The B-plot
- The fate of Liv and Sally

Rule of the Eminence
“You saved my life. You gave me hope when all hope was lost.” – The Doctor

The Master’s endgame is upon us. He’s had three (or four if you count DE2) stories to set things up and Rule of the Eminence is when it all comes together. When I first listened to this story, I couldn’t help but compare it to the Series 8 finale we had. Both featured Masters, both featured enemies that convert other lifeforms into a hive-mind, so it was inevitable. I do feel that for its faults, Rule of the Eminence takes home more positives than Death in Heaven.One of those positives invokes a very Last of the Time Lords feel which may seem similar, but still manages to satisfy mostly because we rarely see the Master’s plans actually come to fruition. Likewise, the Doctor’s plan for defeating the Master also feels familiar, but just manages to look different enough to stand on its own feet.


After having limited involvement in the previous stories, Molly O’ Sullivan returns with a vengeance and although her character still feels demoted for bulk of the tale, it’s the interaction with the various other characters that really breathes fresh life (not an Eminence pun) into the Scottish Irish WWI volunteer. She gets a stand out moment with everyone! It genuinely feels like she hasn’t been absent at all.

Liv Chenka has had 5 stories to try and impress me and unfortunately she still comes across as this defeatist character just waiting for death. One of Rule of the Eminence’s faults is her cop-out fate. That makes two in as many stories. In her defense, she does get a couple of great scenes with Molly and the Master, but not enough to save her.

The Master is king of the hill and carries around that smug over-confidence that all Masters have, but the Master here proves to be dangerously genre savvy, one-upping virtually everybody that gets in his way. It’s this aspect that makes the eventual resolution so exciting to listen to. Because of this trait, the only way the Doctor can hope to stand up to him is by making unusual and unorthodox decisions that even the Master couldn’t possibly hope to plan for. But like all Master plans, it’s a component of his own scheme that serves as the important plot point the resolution orbits.

I will not spoil the ending with Liv and Molly for you. Though as I understand it, Big Finish’s recent announcement already did that. I will say it’s tragic. For the characters as well as for me. I don’t agree with it. I don’t like. I will say that it feels very The Angels Take Manhattan/Journey’s End and though it’s not as terrible (as in heartbreaking) as Journey’s End, it still feels like a bullet cutting piercing your flesh. 

Rating this story: 7/10 
Not a perfect ending, but a satisfying one none the less.
Pros & Cons
+ Tighter and strong plot arc than Dark Eyes 2
+ The Doctor and the Master’s schemes
+ Molly’s interactions
+ Liv’s interactions with Molly and the Master
+ The fate of Molly
- The fate of Liv
- The story tends to drag in some places

Overall, this series felt more Dark Eyes 1 than Dark Eyes 2 in that it served as a tighter linked arc as opposed to Dark Eyes 2 which felt like fours stories guided by arc threads. Dark Eyes 3 also manages to combine the best elements of both, but it takes more from Dark Eyes 1 than 2.

To my disappointment, there is no Time War reference in this box set. This is unfortunate as we got some great New Series links in the previous sets with the Daleks/Time Lord struggles and the Master resurrection origin. I will end this review by proudly informing those who don’t know yet that Dark Eyes 4 has been moved up from April 2015 to March and according to Big Finish, there is already another Eighth Doctor Box Set in the works. *Squee*

Overall rating: 7.5/10
 

Sunday, 16 November 2014