Audio Here we go again. There isn't a potential gap between To The Death and The Great War, with a year or so between in production terms, we can still well imagine the Doctor's impulsive trip to the future in which he's essentially abusing the TARDIS (which is never a good sign as we heard in Zagreus) happening directly after him taking leave of Susan and hearing again Lucie's final message. This is the sort of thing which simply wouldn't work on television, partly because you couldn't kill off a companion in quite that way but also because it's all about the next adventure. Even the immensely tragic Doomsday gives way to shouty Donna in the TARDIS or "I don't want to go" shifting to "Geronimo". The conclusion of Journey's End is effective (thanks to the intervention of Ben Cook) for embracing the tragedy, but narratively The Next Doctor changes the tone again. Not so here.
It's an interesting choice and one born of the production order, I think. As we've discussed the Charley stories ended after the start of the Lucie stories, but who's to say how they might have impacted one another if the producers, notably Nicholas Briggs had been gifted a period of reflection as here. Briggs is making a conscious decision to continue the narrative in the mode of nuWho. He could have started again with a happy Doctor and japes, but he decided that the loss of Lucie was so impactful it needed to be addressed. Not having listened much to other corners of Big Finish due to money and the like, I don't know how this is treated elsewhere but I expect after Charley wiped the Sixth Doctor's mind there wasn't really a story that followed directly on, they just went and had a look at another piece of his era, perhaps teaming him with Peri again.
Some project notes. Romana's not Lord President of Gallifrey any more, then. I'd forgotten she'd left having not heard any of the original Gallifrey spin-off since they were released though apparently she's returned to office after the release of Dark Eyes. That also makes sense of the Time Lords intervention during the Lucie series when it would have been entirely ludicrous for the Doctor not to pay Romana a visit to have a discussion if she'd actually been there. Like the novels before them, Big Finish has now been writing its version of the narrative for long enough that it's become pretty dense. Assuming they don't simply visit the TARDIS Datacore, perhaps there's a Leland "Holocron" Chee figure at Big Finish who keeps an eye on their internal continuity because with so many product lines and writers working it has be a challenge to keep everything straight (even if Doctor Who's never a been a show which cares that much about continuity) (Atlantis).
Plus the Eighth Doctor has a new costume! Which fine. 'Spose. I think that part of the Eighth Doctor's appeal was that he skewed towards the classic look and there was a distinctiveness to it, whereas this feels like a pre-cursor to the Ninth Doctor, though as we'll see from Night and the Doctor he'll retreat to something closer to his original so that's all fine. It's ironic that having had WETA create this piece so that he could essentially have a bunch of new illustrative photographs taken for future Big Finish releases, a couple of years later he'd repeat the exercise in another new costume. For the special release in which classic Doctors meet new monsters (and the Sontarans), it's Eighth's Time War gear which appears on the artwork. Assuming Big Finish do decide to start extensive populating that future era with stories, perhaps this will be the shorthand they'll use to delineate the three (or so) eras.
Of less interest is that I agonised a bit over how I was going to post about Dark Eyes. Having decided to dedicate a paragraph to each single story since the comics, here we have what's essentially a four hour adventure across four cds. But it seemed wrong somehow to do all of Dark Eyes in a single post or four separates which is why I decided to ignore the rule and write about each cd separately. Now that I've written that explanation, I can't believe that I've not only written it but that you've read it and yet here you still are. Since you are I'll also admit that after the first episode I listened to the other three concurrently before writing about them much as I did with the final Lucie season, while attempting to maintain the pretence of not knowing what happens next. Having done that, I can see how challenging it was for Jac and gang in Time Team to do with overfamiliar episodes in DWM all those years. Now I've told you anyway. Perhaps I won't bother from now onwards.
The Great War
Every now and then Doctor Who makes a conscious decision not to look or as the case here sound like Doctor Who. Even with some of the fantasy elements, parts of The Great War are indistinguishable from a Radio 4, probably Home Front. But writer/director Nick Briggs also makes some deliberate choices in how he kisses the past, with Molly's voice over diary paralleling Charley's introduction and the notion of her being a figure to be saved by the Doctor at the bidding of the Time Lords, similar to Lucie. From what I'd read and heard and indeed seen from his new look, I'd thought it would be a transitioned Eighth Doctor similar to Twelfth in how he approaches humanity, ruder, more reckless in his approach, angrier, but he's not that much different, less jokier perhaps, yet still fundamentally the same character. The cliffhanger ending still came as a complete surprise. Even with the boxed set sitting on my shelf, I haven't bothered to look at the cover.
There's a purposeful structural oddness to Dark Eyes in that it's a single story collecting together a series of incidents working towards a whole. You could envisage in a much longer season, the content of Fugitives opening out and spanning a few episodes with characters like computer expert Sally Armstrong figuring much larger in her own installment. I quite like these "caravan" stories, like The Chase or Seasons of Fear with a string of locales; in a way they seem to illustrate the thrill of the TARDIS and time travel than those episode which are specifically about paradoxes and loops. Briggs is especially good here at tempting the audience with just enough information about the larger story, enough that they might be able to guess at who Kotris is, what Straxus is up to and what exactly is up with Molly. The interaction between McGann and Bradley is delightful. Although you don't want them to be shouty, shouty mouths on legs, the show always benefits when there's a certain screwball comedy like tension between the lead characters.
Here's a honking great spoiler so look away from this discussion now. The Doctor's dream sequence is an odd construction because it tallies almost exactly with a story set in his reality. Published six months after Dark Eyes, Malorie Blackman's Puffin eShort from the anniversary year, The Ripple Effect, is about the Seventh Doctor landing on Skaro and finding that the Daleks have evolved into a peace loving civilisation which covers most of the same story beats. It's one of those occasions when a "later" story featuring an earlier incarnation means a later incarnation looks forgetful. Luckily, Eighth's had enough moments of amnesia, including the big one post The Ancestor Cell, that he's simply forgotten the earlier adventure. On the upside it does provide a hilariously bathetic moment when Eighth dismisses the idea of the Time War out of hand. Ho ho ho,
X and the Daleks
Narratively Dark Eyes also similar to the Clara chunk of the Eleventh Doctor's final season in that Eighth is the viewpoint character through all of this and Molly is a question that needs to be answered. In both cases, the Doctor is rather dragged along by events, choosing certain paths in the hopes of revealing an important pieces of information (the visit to Molly's past analogous to Hide), but there's an inevitability to both of their stories and it's more acute in Dark Eyes, especially in this final episode because the story isn't resolved through something he does, it's because of the failure of others. If the Doctor hadn't been here, providing a sort of interspatial red herring, would the story have resolved itself much differently? As established in earlier episodes the Doctor is something of a mark anyway and only really turns the tables by underscoring the importance of Molly's continued existence. Next...