With the lunacy of Michelle Gomez’s interpretation of the Master fresh in mind, it’s a relief to hear an incarnation of the Doctor’s oldest friend and enemy who may not always think things through fully, but certainly seems to put some effort into his thinking! Alex Macqueen’s interpretation is a terrific foil for Paul McGann’s Doctor, and the scenes in Matt Fitton’s story where the two are together shine.
When Big Finish began using box sets, they often felt like a convenient way of packaging a set of stories, rather than taking advantage of the inherent advantages of the format. However, both with Scott Handcock’s recent third series of The Confessions of Dorian Gray and with this third Dark Eyes, the production team has taken the opportunity to allow the story time to grow at its own speed – which means that we basically get an episode that to all intents and purposes is an update of The Trial of a Time Lord’s format, as the Doctor is shown what the Master has been up to. That gives Macqueen a real chance to stamp his mark on the character.
The other three stories involve the Doctor and Nicola Walker’s Liv Chenka more fully, as the Doctor comes to realise the Master’s real relationship with the Eminence. The emphasis is very different from where Dark Eyes started: it’s no longer Doctor Who and the Daleks (they get a couple of passing mentions), and while Molly is very important to the story, it’s often more for what she’s not doing. It means that Ruth Bradley fans may be a little disappointed by developments, but they always feel like a logical outgrowth of the story. Sean Carlsen’s Narvin fits in well to this revamped Dark Eyes, and hopefully he’ll be around for some more encounters with the Eighth Doctor.
Producer David Richardson has expressed his concerns about Dark Eyes 3’s reception; he shouldn’t be worried. Although it’s very different in feel to the first two box sets, it continues the series’ emphasis on strong character-based storylines told on an epic scale. The physical set contains the usual notes from writer, director Ken Bentley and producer, all talking about the much-missed Paul Spragg, whose death occurred just before Dark Eyes 3 went into studio – and it’s a fitting tribute.
Verdict: With resonances of some later developments in the new series (which I can’t discuss without major spoilers for disc 4 particularly), this is a cracking continuation of the Eighth Doctor’s travels. 9/10