The initial Dark Eyes series was one of the best box sets that Big Finish had produced up to that point – and was duly honoured. This final collection of four CDs more than lives up to the promise of that first set, sending the series off in some considerable style, picking up on some of the themes that Nick Briggs introduced in the opening episode (compare the Doctor’s melancholy in that with his speech to his companion at the end of this to see just how far things have come), providing a riproaring adventure along the way and combining the classic series’ more plot-driven stories with the 21st century inclusion of emotional development and characterisation.
Matt Fitton and John Dorney – together with producer David Richardson and director Ken Bentley – very rarely put a foot wrong in this set. Loose ends are tied up, time anomalies explained and, where appropriate, corrected; old friends reappear in unexpected guises (and in one case, I really thought that a cast member’s name had been deliberately omitted from the credits to avoid a spoiler – when you’ve heard it, you’ll understand who I mean). There’s plenty of opportunity for Paul McGann and Nicola Walker to bounce off each other as the Doctor and Liv Chenka, but each gets a lot of time interacting with the guest cast.
The set opens with Dorney’s A Life in the Day, which plays with some familiar time travel tropes in a very affecting – and effective – way. Barnaby Kay plays Martin Donaldson who is able to provide Liv with a day she’ll remember forever, with Big Finish stalwart Beth Chalmers as his sister. Fitton’s The Monster of Montmartre brings in Rachel Stirling as Adelaine Dutemps (and wait till you meet her husband!), as well as Blake Ritson and Alex Wyndham in somewhat different roles.
Things heat up with the brilliantly titled Master of the Daleks from Dorney, the script of which Alex Macqueen takes and runs with in what is the best of his performances as the Master to date. Witty, sardonic, sarcastic, scheming, and above all, constantly overcomplicating matters, this is an incarnation of the Master that we need to see on screen! Alongside the sparkling repartee between Macqueen and Walker is the introduction of Nurse Mary, a perfectly judged performance by Sorcha Cusack, as well as Dan Starkey getting a chance to multi-task his Sontaran voices. And of course one must not forget the many and various Dalek voices that Nick Briggs has to provide!
The set concludes with Eye of Darkness, about which, frankly, the less you know going in, the better. Suffice it to say that Matt Fitton draws things together, keeping true to the characters we’ve come to know and providing what is, of necessity, a bittersweet ending but one that is completely right for the series.
The epic scale of the Dark Eyes concept has been maintained with Ken Bentley and sound designer Howard Carter creating soundscapes that feel cinematic – both in their grandeur, and, when appropriate, in their smallness.
Verdict: The perfect end to this era of the Eighth Doctor’s travels. 10/10