Brand new adventures with Lucie Miller. That’s what Big Finish promised us with its latest boxset reuniting the much loved duo of Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith, and that’s what we got. And that is why it’s brilliant.
There’s a fair argument to be made that some ‘fan service’ in Doctor Who consists of combining popular elements and characters for the sake of it, and the law of diminishing returns can often apply.
The Big Finish production team doesn’t want to diminish Lucie’s departure in 2010’s To the Death, the last of the Eighth Doctor Adventures radio series, so The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller takes place between her first and second series as companion.
Script editing the set is Lucie’s creator, Alan Barnes, who also pens the set-closing story Island of the Fendahl. Joining him on writing duties are Nicholas Briggs, Alice Cavender, and Eddie Robson, who have all written for this Doctor-and-companion combination before.
A classic Doctor Who monster headlines opening story The Dalek Trap, but from the start it’s a Lucie-led adventure. It kicks off with a worried Lucie recording to a cassette, possibly the same one used in a certain Third Doctor television story, but it is, in fact, a tribute to a scene from a very different Doctor Who story, and one that will immediately pull the heartstrings for Lucie fans.
The adventure itself has echoes of the recent War Master release The Persistence of Dreams, with its scarce number of characters slowly losing their minds in the far reaches of space. Lucie often doesn’t have the Doctor to bounce off for our entertainment in this story, but it shows the strength of character and actor that she’s just as much a joy to listen to when her only conversations are with Daleks, a computer, and two mentally unwinding side-characters.
There is one slight criticism though. At times, Smith pitches her vocals a little too high compared to her performances from 12 years ago. It’s certainly noticeable, but doesn’t detract from your overall enjoyment.
The Revolution Game nudges closer to the Eighth Doctor Adventures’ second series with its setting, but also pulls on comic strip inspiration for its roller-skate-derby-turned-planetary-danger plot. It’s a imagination-churning tale that would be a great introduction story for young listeners.
Given Cavender has also written the Eleventh Doctor for Big Finish, it’s not entirely surprising her story does have a Series 5 vibe to it, but there’s also some underlying similarities to Thirteenth Doctor story, The Ghost Monument and some brilliant world-building.
The cultural references all serve the plot, including an alien whose first words are “I’m Spartacus”, and a conspicious remark on the future of one social media giant.
The House on the Edge of Chaos sticks mostly to its title, which is the source of much of its tension. Like any ‘base under threat’ tale, it examines what makes the characters tick, and there is one early scene that is thankfully touched upon in a revealing way, albeit in distressing circumstances, later in the story.
Given the rather ambiguous title of the boxset, the closing moments of The House on the Edge of Chaos confirm these stories are linked, and combines the best of classic and new Doctor Who to turn everything on its head.
And we’re already on to the final chapter of Lucie Miller’s audio drama return. While the first three stories are entertaining, but mostly a reminder of why so many of us wanted to hear Lucie again, Island of the Fendahl is Doctor Who at its very finest.
Following on directly from the previous disc, the listener is taken straight into peak Eighth Doctor Adventures territory with a contemporary 2007 setting, a creepy location with some gothic horror (inspired by The Wicker Man), gripping msytery, and the Doctor and his companion firing on all cylinders.
It takes little more than two lines of dialogue for most of the supporting characters to establish themselves, which is a double compliment to the writers and actors as the rug is pulled out from under the audience later on.
While the Doctor finds answers, the listener is given more questions, which becomes an increasingly rewarding experience as the plot advances. There’s more NuWho nods, most notably in a remark about pockets, but also through its tone and structure. Despite this, it is the most authentic in-period Eighth Doctor Adventures story of the boxset.
Resisting the temptation to endlessly praise
Fendahl Barnes’ story, this has to be one of the best Eighth Doctor and Lucie stories – an immediate classic that becomes gratifyingly excellent towards its end.
While Lucie’s original tenure coincided with the Russell T. Davies television era, there are more influences from latter-day NuWho here (even in the musical score), not surprising given these productions are made by huge Doctor Who fans.
The layers and surprises that add up through the four stories are gloriously executed in the boxset’s climax, and the realisation for the listener is only matched in pure joy by the incredible one liners written for Lucie dotted throughout the release, none of which I shall spoil.