The Dark Eyes 3 box set is out and Ol’ Eightie is back – although not, for the most part, in the company of his current companions, Irish pretend nurse Molly O’Sullivan and mopey erstwhile botwrangler Liv Chenka.
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.
It is pretty clear that DE3’s writer Matt Fitton faced a number of structural challenges with the scripts for the four stories comprising this box set, caused in no small part by the unavailability of key cast members for recording at the same time due to other work commitments. That the box set is as good as it is, therefore, is no mean feat and a cause for praise in itself; but there’s a certain heaviness to the plotting nonetheless that makes it all, sadly, a little laboured.
The first of the quartet The Death of Hope, for example, is told as a series of flashbacks – or at least, flashsidewayses, the Doctor himself not being involved in the actions he views – of the Master’s manipulation equally of Molly, a failing Terran outpost and the invading undead of the Eminence’s Infinite Armies. And a nice little story it is too, with its fair share of pathos and bathos (where the other Musketeers got to I have no idea) and efficient, effective exploration of the Master’s motives and MO for the stories going forward. However, weirdly, it feels to be largely expositive, due to the fact that the Doctor’s involvement is basically as an audience proxy, having fellow Time Lord Narvin explain what their old friend and nemesis is up to in a sort of show-and-tell session. And talking of ‘show-and-tell’… it’s the old adage ‘show, don’t tell’ that springs to mind here: as a narrative rule it’s absolutely respected by Fitton’s writing, but ultimately it still feels like a telling rather than a showing because of the flashsideways conceit.
Like I said, weird.
And there are similar issues with the following three plays The Reviled, Masterplan and Rule of the Eminence. Which is not to say in any sense that they’re not good: they absolutely are, with compelling themes and great narratives at their core. Fitton has done again what has come to be expected of him: taken a well-trodden franchise and breathed new life into it with a great breadth of imagination and a superb attention to detail. (It is this latter skill which enables him to beautifully restitch tattered canon, of which there is much in the Whoniverse – as he does, for example, in such stories as The Wrong Doctor. Now, such canon-smithing is not needed here in the middle of a consistent and self-contained BF franchise, of course; but it’s welcome in the writing nonetheless.)
Of course, there’s a lot to commend this box set. I need hardly mention the fantastic performances from all key cast members – Ruth Bradley’s Molly is now a staple of the Eighth Doctor’s reign every bit as much as Charley and Lucie, and Nicola Walker’s Liv is not far behind. And Alex Macqueen’s Master is fast becoming a camp and evil favourite; and even Natalie Burt’s corrupted Sally Armstrong, for all that she sounds like the aforementioned Charley from time to time, makes her presence felt.
Similarly, sound design and production are at BF’s usual standard-setting heights. And I’ll say it again: logistics-induced minor narrative clunkiness aside, Fitton’s writing does McGann’s Doctor proud.
To be fair, it might just be me. This narrative structure may work brilliantly for many people – please let me know if it does for you; I genuinely look forward to being in the very small minority on this. And let’s face it, for all that I whinge, I’m more than glad I had the opportunity to listen to Dark Eyes 3. This really is a series worth hearing, and only whets the appetite all the more for DE4, due in the Spring.