Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller
The four years that Sheridan Smith’s brash and instinctive Lucie Miller was companion to the Eighth Doctor have become arguably as much of a distinctive era of Doctor Who as any other companion. With that in mind, Big Finish’s decision to revisit her time with the Doctor should prove popular, and the four-disc set comfortably slots into the original audio run in both tone and story.
Directed by Nicholas Briggs and produced by Scott Handcock, Doctor Who – The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller is available from the Big Finish website on general release until August 31st 2019. Read the synopsis below:
"It’s a funny thing, livin’ a ‘life or death’ life. Fightin’ monsters. Seein’ alien planets and spaceships and stuff. Thinkin’ about it… it’s sort of addictive."
It’s been several months since Lucie Miller, Blackpool’s mouthiest, landed up travelling through time and space in the company of the Doctor, the last living person to believe that frock coats are acceptable apparel.
They’ve met Daleks on Red Rocket Rising, Cybermen on the planet Lonsis and alien monsters eating glam rockers at a service station just off the M62. But their greatest adventures are yet to come…
The Dalek Trap by Nicholas Briggs
The thing about black holes is, they’re big and they’re black and they’re deadly, and you’d have to be mad to go anywhere near them. Because anything that falls inside a black hole ends up crushed in the singularity.
Unfortunately, the Doctor just went mad, or so it seems, and flew his TARDIS beyond a black hole’s event horizon, causing him and his companion Lucie Miller to end up marooned on a planetoid just inside the event horizon. Along with a Dalek saucer… and something else. Because this is no ordinary black hole…
This is the Cradle of the Darkness.
The Revolution Game by Alice Cavender
It’s Lucie’s birthday, and her birthday treat awaits. But whatever she’s expecting, it’s not what she’s getting on the colony world of Castus Sigma in the year 3025: ringside seats for the interplanetary Retro Roller Derby – sponsored by Heliacorp, “turning sunlight into gold”!
It’s more than just a game, though. For the competitors, it’s a matter of life or death – a New Life with Heliacorp, or a living death on Castus Sigma.
Or, on this fateful day, a very actual death. Because there are strange creatures living out on the plain, beyond the colony. Creatures with every reason to want to sabotage the games. Creatures with a grudge.
The House on the Edge of Chaos by Eddie Robson
The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Lucie to a vast house on the planet known as Horton’s Orb. The only house on Horton’s Orb, in fact. Outside its outsized windows there’s nothing. No land. No sea. No sky. No life. Just an endless expanse of static.
Inside the house, there’s an upstairs and a downstairs – servants below, gentlefolk from the finest of the house’s families above. Alas, there are altogether too few eligible ladies on the upper floors these days. Meaning there’s a vacancy for Miss Lucie Miller, single and unattached…
Outside the house, the static howls on. Except now, the static wants to get in.
Island of the Fendahl by Alan Barnes
The Fendahl is the death of evolution, the horror that lies in wait at the far end of the food chain.
The Fendahl is death itself.
And the Fendahl is dead. The Doctor destroyed it many years ago, in another incarnation, when he encountered it in a place called Fetchborough.
But if the Fendahl is dead… how can it live again, on the remote island of Fandor?
As the four-episode set amounts to half the usual run of eight episodes back in 2007-2011, it features a mix of episode types to portray the range of adventures the Doctor and Lucie would have together. There is a Nicholas Briggs-scripted Dalek story, a high-tech mystery in the far future, an almost-haunted house, and a returning monster from the Classic series in a contemporary setting. Note: some spoilers follow.
The Dalek Trap
After a recap of Lucie’s previous adventures – both heard and unheard – the story launches into its primary setting, namely a planetoid inside the event horizon of a black hole. Such an atmospheric setting is accompanied by some big ideas – such as a ‘Cradle of Darkness’ – that would suit a series finale. This being an opener story, however, the result is a high-stakes and emotionally rich episode that is more than simply “just another story”.
Given this is her first appearance in many years, Lucie is allowed a chance to take the lead in this story with the Doctor ‘zombified’ by the Daleks. This provides her with an agency and drive that propels the story forward while keeping the focus tight. Smith has been given a meaty portion of the drama – indeed, the Doctor features only briefly – and she was up to the task.
One of the key descriptors of Lucie’s original appearances would be ‘fun’, and this story, like the entire set, dips into that. Sheridan Smith and Paul McGann clearly find much delight in revisiting their characters in studio together, and their energy transfers across into their scenes together.
Despite the tone of fun and adventure, the threat of the Daleks, voiced of course by Nicholas Briggs, is credible and intense. A reunion between the Doctor and Lucie on audio would not be complete without Briggs, who wrote a number of their original episodes. His take on the Daleks here focuses on their cunning nature when targeting the Doctor and plotting their escape from their de-facto prison.
Improvements to sound design and musical layering techniques across the past decade mean everything sounds crisp and modern, whereas some past stories might have suffered from a confusing over-layering of music above the dialogue and sound effects. Overall, The Dalek Trap successfully balances a number of emotional beats with an exciting plot and enjoyable characterisation.
The Revolution Game
The Revolution Game is a more traditional adventure to a far-off planet in the future than the series opener, reminiscent of episodes like Max Warp with the Doctor and Lucie being drawn into a mystery where people are being attacked and the alien race of creatures is not the all-out villains.
Alice Cavender’s worldbuilding is rich with a visual creature design and depth to the world’s backstory, revealing an affinity with the short story style of Doctor Who – Short Trips range, for which Cavender has contributed three scripts. This is matched by Jamie Robertson’s orchestral score, raising the uplifting and hopeful moments to greater heights and augmenting the audio world.
Lucie continues to prove herself as the Doctor’s equal by taking charge, making decisions and figuring out the best course of action, with instinct as much as intelligence. The Doctor is a charismatic and moralistic character, but McGann injects humour such as through the imagery of appearing to use his sonic screwdriver as a mobile phone. Indeed, the writing shows a spry wit and quirky humour (e.g. an insect-like alien race sitting in the grandstand eating popcorn), which is well supported by the strong visual landscape.
The tone of exploration is in full force here, where the main aim is to portray Lucie and the Doctor’s rapport and friendship. Yet this does not prevent the story from also expounding ideas of inter-species cooperation, anti-corpocracy, human colonisation and the exploitation of indigenous peoples. The human villain ultimately held responsible for such exploitation exposes a darker heart to the tale.
The House on the Edge of Chaos
The events of the third story occur in a rather peculiar setting, namely a manor estate with all the trappings of aristocratic England – class hierarchy, multi-course dinners and whining sons – transplanted into a region of space that ticks all the sci-fi boxes – robot servants, artificial food production, and an unknown force trying to gain entry.
Robson understands the way a Doctor Who story ebbs and flows from character to action and back again. His mystery develops steadily, piece by piece, with an eventual revelation that satisfies. The episode is jam-packed with a plethora of distinctive characters, and maintains a pace as it jumps from scene to scene, with few gaps between pieces of dialogue.
The final revelation about the nature of the house subverts more than one expectation. Initially, the static force – the ‘chaos’ – threatening the house is set up to be an alien entity threatening the way of life of those inside the house. It logically follows for the chaos to then be revealed as a misunderstood creature threatened by the house’s existence, in a similar vein to the creatures of the previous story. Despite this setup, the story heads in a different direction entirely, exposing the true antagonist as the self-centred and cowardly father figure whose fatal flaws are the cause of the problem.
The dual elements of upper-class sensibilities and sci-fi trappings (“I shot Papa. But it transpires he was a robot anyway.”) create a heightened atmosphere, but one that plays with notions of system, order and hierarchy, and getting what’s coming for you.
Island of the Fendahl
The Fendahl has a dense mythology, and Island of the Fendahl leans into the backstory heavily, but leaves just enough room for newcomers to enjoy the story on its own terms. It takes some time before the threat is revealed, although the build-up is done eerily and mysteriously, if not in an overly frightening fashion.
Island of the Fendahl is not the all-out horror tale of the original Fourth Doctor story, Image of the Fendahl. Instead the Lucie and Eighth Doctor pairing is considerably more irreverent towards the entity’s complex mythology. To this end writer Alan Barnes pokes fun at the common tropes that might be expected in a story such as this, such as the Doctor’s reliance upon his sonic screwdriver to check his instinctive reasoning when solving a problem.
Considering how the first half of the story contains only hints at nature of the enemy, one wonders how much more unexpected and thrilling the reappearance of the Fendahl would have been if it had not been given away by the title. Of course, a balance must be struck between building to a reveal and promoting the story accurately, and the final product is solid enough to stand on its own as an enjoyable hour of Doctor Who.
Listeners left confused by the resolution of The Dalek Trap or who felt there was something missing from that episode can take satisfaction from how the end revelation of the fourth story ties all four parts of set together with an exciting climax.
The music suite from composer Jamie Robertson – attached to the ends of episodes three and four – covers a range of emotions and tones, from fast excitement to prolonged suspense to calamitous action. The hints to the Eighth Doctor’s theme are a delightful allusion to the eras of his life to come – as is Robertson’s sneaky inclusion of a different Doctor’s leitmotif in the final story.
Valuable insights from the disc of cast and crew interviews include: Lucie’s creator Alan Barnes recounting the delight of bringing Lucie back after being forced to kill her off in To the Death; Jason Haigh-Ellery’s travels to Australia and the support for Big Finish from listeners there; Sheridan Smith working with the late, great Verity Lambert; and a number of other anecdotes about the original Lucie run.
The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller is an effective reintroduction to the Lucie-Eighth Doctor pairing. The episodes explore the dimensions of their friendship and the scope of their galactic adventures while telling four distinct and well put-together stories. Paul McGann is never less than consistently enjoyable as the Eighth Doctor, and Lucie is a better character for the enthusiasm Sheridan Smith brings to the role.