There’s no denying that Lucie Miller is an excellent character. Depending on who you ask, she is either the best companion of the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann), or his second-best, behind the ever-popular Charley Pollard (India Fisher). Doctor Who – The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller: Volume One, the new boxset of audio dramas from Big Finish, adds four more stories to Sheridan Smith’s catalogue of adventures.
The first installment is “The Dalek Trap” by Big Finish stalwart Nicholas Briggs, in which Lucie and the Doctor find themselves in an alternate dimension within the singularity of a black hole. The singularity is also home to the Daleks (trapped and in need of a brainwashed Doctor’s help to escape) and the mutant-zombie remains of all the other life forms that have been trapped there before.
Once you get past the disjointed opening, wasting zero time introducing the Daleks struggling to escape the black hole, but shamelessly kicking along the can reintroducing Lucie Miller to new listeners, there are a lot of fun elements to this story: the premise alone is an exciting one; the black hole distorts the characters’ perceptions of time and memory, making it that much more difficult for Lucie Miller to survive without the Doctor’s help; and the odd bits of synth in the score are gorgeous. Although a hypnotised Doctor actually smacking Lucie at one point sounds pretty dark, the fact that this is the only Doctor Who story where you get to hear the Daleks say the word ‘bubbles’ nearly elevates it to god-tier status.
The problem with “The Dalek Trap” is the Daleks themselves. A story about Lucie and the Doctor trying to escape an alternate dimension crawling with mutants inside a black hole that’s slowly eating away at their memories is an entertaining one in and of itself. Throw in a few non-threatening Daleks, ones with no real masterplan outside of their own survival, and it becomes somewhat generic.
It’s Lucie’s birthday in Alice Cavender’s “The Revolution Game” and she’s dragged the Doctor to Castus Sigma in the year 3025 for Heliacorp’s Retro Roller Derby. The pulpy premise sounds engaging at first – the kind that, with a decent budget, would be great to see in the TV show. However, in jumping right into the action, we’re left bewildered and struggling to find a footing.
On the one hand I do respect Cavender for trying to skip the obligatory exposition that comes with exploring a new world. On the other hand, it makes the story feel oddly back-to-front right from the off. Normally a writer might try to counteract this by having the characters equally baffled and asking lots of questions, but here the Doctor and Lucie already seem about four scenes ahead of us. The momentum of the story recovers (eventually), but by then you’ve most likely realised there’s little to make “The Revolution Game” unique. A few intrusive quips from Lucie aren’t enough to save this bland story of corporate fascism from triviality.
In Eddie Robson’s “The House on the Edge of Chaos” Lucie and the Doctor arrive at a colony that has been under construction for generations. Its occupants adhere to a strict (if arbitrary) caste system, terrified of anything that might threaten “order”, while a deadly static beyond the walls of the colony slowly but surely begins to break in.
The titular house refers to the colony itself, which takes the form of a manor house run by the pompous and reclusive Darius (Rupert Vansittart). It is this setting that makes the more exposition-heavy dialogue somewhat tedious; we don’t care how the house-colony works, but rather why it must exist in this form.
It is explained (eventually), but by then we’re more invested in the personal politics of its inhabitants, which aren’t the most imaginative either: a young man of the aristocratic upper floors is in love with a serving girl from below, there’s some family drama, and the Doctor and Lucie are cut off from the TARDIS – you get the kind of the thing.
Where the story shows more promise is in its humour; longtime Big Finish fans will no doubt already appreciate Robson’s dry wit. Indeed, with a little more focus on comedy and less on the technical ins and outs of the plot, “House on the Edge of Chaos” might have ended up with being a modern classic. For what it is, “House on the Edge of Chaos” boasts some snappy dialogue and some highly engaging performances from its supporting cast, even if the pace does drag at times.
Wrapping up this quartet is “Island of the Fendahl” from Alan Barnes, easily the strongest of the set. A sequel to Chris Boucher’s 1977 Tom Baker TV story, “Image of the Fendahl”, Barnes draws heavily on folk horror classic The Wicker Man: on a rural island with a suspiciously tight-lipped community, a teenage girl has gone missing, and a sinister cult is forming. But this time, there’s also a Fendahl.
Separated, the Doctor spars with the cult of hippies, while Lucie joins forces with Deiter Fendelman to find Maxine Mitchell, both relatives of characters from the original tale. The parallel stories have a fun call-and-response structure to them, as the Doctor and Lucie investigate the island and bump into very similar problems; it’s a novel spin on the otherwise tired ‘companion separated from Doctor’ trope that gives the story a swift momentum.
The story is very much self-aware in its referencing its forty-two year old predecessor. Callbacks to the original are fairly minimal, helping put the focus of the plot where it belongs: on Lucie “Bleedin’” Miller. The inevitable exposition dump at its midpoint has Lucie understandably baffled, but that’s what she’s here for – and she’s what we are here for. We know the Doctor, long time fans will know the Fendahl, but they’re not the reason we bought the boxset. We’re here to see how Lucie deals with them.
Although, these four stories are never quite as good as the sum of their parts, its difficult to deny the writers’ obvious glee at returning to such a unique character, and where the scripts sometimes fall flat, that glee (as well as Smith’s energised performance), follow quickly behind to pick up the slack. Indeed, having gone on to national acclaim, it would have been very easy for Smith to phone in her latest turn as Miller, but listening to these four stories, it’s as if she never left the TARDIS.
In a perfect world, the stories themselves would have a little more imagination and perhaps a little more depth. If you are indeed tuning in to see if Big Finish have produced a new classic, you’ll probably be disappointed. If, however, you’re just a Lucie fan in need of a fix, this boxset might just be worth the money.
Doctor Who – The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller: Volume One is available now exclusively from the Big Finish website until August 31st, whereupon it will be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading retailers.