I'll start off with a confession. The only Eighth Doctor audio I've listened to, in full, is Blood of the Daleks Part One. Because I downloaded it for free on some special offer day on the Big Finish website. I've got lots of others, such as Neverland, Situation Vacant and so on - but I've never finished them. So to listen to Dark Eyes, a direct continuation from the Lucie Miller arc and the more recent Eighth Doctor series, may seem a bit odd. But Dark Eyes has so often been called a good 'jumping-on' point, and honestly the concept interested me a lot more than the other 8th Doctor stories have. So I've bought it. (And the Doctor's costume always interests me anyway, so that was an added bonus.)
I'll go through each part individually - so Part One. Imaginatively entitled The Great War and set in.. The Great War. And we meet Great War VAD Molly O'Sullivan. And we see The Doctor again. And a Time Lord. And we meet a nice VAD called Isobel as well. That's very nice. But it's what I expected. Part One of Dark Eyes is very much what I expected. Molly is the fiesty, Irish character I expected her to be, the Doctor is fairly predictable and not particularly dark - and I know there are dark moments but these are expressed in a normal angry 8th Doctor way. I don't think the 8th Doctor has the layers of darkness that the 7th Doctor has - the 8th Doctor is either happy or angry, and in Parts One and Two he flips between the two quite easily. Part One is mainly a story of the Doctor convincing Molly to trust him - the Daleks turn up when you expect them to, and it's a fairly linear storyline. When you get to the cliffhanger, it feels like it's stopped you half way through a story. Which it has, in a way, to be fair, but the story doesn't stay at WW1 for Part Two. The Daleks' appearance in Part One is short and fairly predictable, unimaginative, and they do what Daleks do best. Shoot things. There's no real menace or mystery - Dark Eyes: The Great War is simply a standard Doctor Who audio story, with no real twists.
Part Two is by far the best part. It allows the Doctor and Molly, rather strangely, to relax a little bit in between fighting the Daleks, and there are some lovely Doctor/Molly moments, and the Doctor gets to be happy for a short time. Which is nice - but again short lived and he's back to being angry. The best thing about Dark Eyes would have to be the sound design and the music. It's incredible, the music is brilliant in Parts One and Four especially, and the sound design is fantastic in Part Two. The underwater bits at Dunkirk are by far the best from the whole thing. It feels real, and not copied out of a text book. Molly's reactions to another war are, though obviously predictable, handled and written, and acted, well. Part Two is perhaps the most convincing, the most enjoyable out of all of the parts - though it still offers nothing exciting or imaginative, really.
Part Three I expected to be my favourite, I enjoy a companion-back-drop story - but the whole 'what happened to Molly when she was two' storyline is solved fairly quickly. Again, there are no twists, there's not really any excitement. It's exactly what you expect it to be. And perhaps the most disappointing thing, is that after three hours of Dark Eyes, the plot hasn't moved forward at all. Parts One, Two and most of Three are a lead into the end of Part Three (slightly) and Part Four, when something, though small and easily solved, happens. Dark Eyes is not a big story, it's a story that's simple, easy, that's been done before though not under as much scrutiny, and is linear. It refuses to let itself go from the blurbs that have been written almost, it doesn't have any twists. I only listened to Part Three today, and all I can remember is the ending - which shows how linear and unfortunately forgettable it is. Oh of course! I remember! Yeah Part Three tries to do something different - it has a fairly predictable and reused idea of nice Daleks, with a fairly predictable resolution that I guessed with no real difficulty. If you're well versed in the ways of Doctor Who, and perhaps recognise a Doctor Who's audio's penchant for inventing alien worlds with weird names and strange four-eyed aliens, then Dark Eyes is really nothing special. Part Three's attempts to do something differently only work once or twice, and for about a second. Then everything becomes that old age story telling device, that you can guess even from the front cover.
Part Four is perhaps the worst part. It doesn't use the sound design to give at atmosphere, like Parts One and Two did, nor does it offer an idea that, although reused, tries to be different. Part Four is simply the resolution. It has cocky, annoying Time Lords, and a plot resolution to the mission set by the Time Lords at the very beginning of Part One. There have been no changes to the plot, no added twists - and yet the writer still feels the need to remind us of the Dalek's plot every five seconds. The ending is also irritating. Basically - SPOILER - Molly leaves the TARDIS with everything never-having-happened. Not only is this the most useful plot device ever, but it means that Molly's care for the Doctor, although only shown a little, has no meaning earlier on. She doesn't stay to ask if he'll be ok. She just leaves. The day is saved, and the Daleks promise revenge. Like they always do. The only attempt at a twist in Part Four, which is that two characters are the same person, is a simple enough revelation that doesn't really enhance the action. It just causes more cocky Time Lord-ness.
So did I enjoy anything? Well, yes, actually I enjoyed Dark Eyes, and I wanted to know what happened. It interested me. But it didn't excite me as much as I wanted it to, it didn't offer any dramatic twists, and it didn't live up to it's potential. For Part Four, a world is shown to us where Time Lords can't regenerate. This is an AWESOME idea - and yet they barely use it. It's mentioned for five seconds - and then forgotten about, except at the end when it's again mentioned for five seconds. Molly has the potential to have a wonderfully complex background - but it's exactly what you know it will be. You've practically got the answers from Part One, and the whole 'dark eyes' idea seems... well, it's good, but gets a little tiring. Dark Eyes simply does not live up to it's potential. Toby Jones, an incredible actor, is just being... well, another rubbish henchmen who thinks he owns the Daleks. He's been augmented with Dalek DNA. It is practically the Curse of Fatal Death. The Doctor isn't given enough of an emotional journey, he just collapses occasionally and cries for Lucie. I feel a character like Isobel from Part One would have engaged with the Doctor more, talked to him about Lucie more. I don't like the idea of dwelling on dead companions much in stories - but there needed to be more of it here. It's too jolly I think. A big race around the universe, with the Doctor and fiesty companion Molly, in an exciting adventure with the Daleks! Yeah there's a bit of emotion, yeah it's always acted well, but it's... just a bit meh in comparison.
The acting is brilliant. The sound design, the music, they're brilliant. The dialogue is also, on the whole, rather good. It's just the plot, though it keeps me interested (probably in hope there will be a twist soon) - it goes nowhere, offers little excitement, and fails to live up to potential. The Time Lords are quite annoying, and the Daleks - well. I'm not their biggest fan, and I don't agree that following their appearance in the finale of the last lot of 8th Doctor audios they needed to reappear here. This could have been the story of the Doctor emotionally rebuilding - Dark Eyes is the story of a prolonged relapse, almost. He doesn't really heal emotionally because he isn't given the chance to. The Daleks prevent him healing. And they couldn't even prevent him healing with an imaginative plan.
I've attempted, in the past, to write Doctor Who audios. And I've always thought repeating the plot lots in dialogue, and using cliched-Dalek speak, and inventing planets with weird names and aliens are overused things to avoid. Dark Eyes uses them all, and it doesn't use the chance it had to give us a real character journey.
The most annoying thing of all is the ending. Because it feels so... lacklustre. Everything is undone, practically, lives are sacrificed, predictably, the Time Lord in the story gets shot, predictably, and the Daleks promise to destroy the Time Lords. Boring. But the most annoying of all the most annoying things within that - is that the Doctor did not need to be in this story. He is, ultimately, pointless. All he does, and to be fair all he is told to, is find Molly. He finds Molly, then follows the story around for the next three and a half hours. The Time Lords control it all, and whatever the Doctor does, the Time Lords would always win. He isn't even the main one who stops the destruction of all the Daleks, it's some incidental character we've only known for an hour. The Doctor does nothing, he's merely along for the ride. And that's irritating, because this could have been his story. It should have been. And I think we've missed out on his story of recovery, I think they could have done something really good with it.
Instead, we get a good (ish) story - but one that we've seen before. It fails, and has left me feeling disappointed. So I'm sorry, Nick Briggs and Big Finish, but Dark Eyes could have been so much more.
Paul McGann and new companion were excellent though. Great acting. 10/10.
But Dark Eyes, the story, itself: I'd struggle to give it a 5. And most of that would be based on Part Two.