Review by Michael Goleniewski
The Eighth Doctor / Lucie Miller era is a fan favourite for Whovians; especially among regular Big Finish audio listeners. Sheridan Smith’s Lucie Miller is often regarded and talked about in the same breath as Rose Tyler or Donna Noble and it’s obvious that she left a major impact on the canon. So it’s really not much of a surprise that after her widely successful initial run that lasted for 4 seasons and 28 stories, she would be invited to come back for another go on the site.
Taking place between Seasons 1 and 2 of the ‘Eighth Doctor Adventures’, “The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller” Volume 1 sees the return of both Sheridan Smith and Paul McGann in 4 new full cast audio stories. With little continuity bringing them down or confining them to a specific set of circumstances, this Doctor / Companion team are free to explore and handle new and exciting adventures through time and space. It’s an interesting idea and a very anticipated return for many fans. But is the set a welcome return and handled well enough to be considered good or is it an unnecessary cash grab exploiting a popular team for monetary gain? Let’s take a dive in and find out….
1. The Dalek Trap by Nicholas Briggs
‘Dalek Trap’ doesn’t waste any time in starting out the set with exactly what you came for. A gigantic opening sets the scene beautifully with the first five minutes giving you Lucie Miller, screaming Daleks, black holes, and a whirlwind glimpse of what this TARDIS team has been up to in that exact order. When things calm down enough for you to take a deep breath, the story kicks in with the Doctor and Lucie following a strange distress call on a suicidal mission into the horizon of a black hole. A couple of addled survivors from a crashed ship are asking for help in escaping…..oh, and there are Daleks there too. But the Doctor is acting strangely with barely a word out of his mouth and it’s almost like he’s been placed in a zombified state….
If there’s one thing that Nick Briggs knows how to do, it’s writing fun Dalek stories with occasional unique angles and ‘Dalek Trap’ fits that template almost perfectly. It takes a standard Dalek plot and spices things up with neat diversions, explosive action, and Nick Briggs both directing and voicing his titular monsters all over the place. The soundscape is minimally appropriate, the side cast in the two sci-fi pilots is fine, the score is epic, and of course, our two leads and their chemistry is immediately apparent and spectacular from minute 1. Even as a minor fan of this team who hasn’t listened to too many of their adventures at time of writing, it’s obvious where some of the comparisons between this team and Ten / Rose come from because the relationship between Eight and Lucie feels very similar.
The narrative doesn’t focus on it too much though for this initial story preferring to give Lucie herself the majority of the focus and the runtime with Paul McGann being more in the background. It’s like if Rose Tyler got a Doctor-Lite story in Season 2 somehow and thankfully Sheridan Smith carries things well enough to make it work. She feels powerfully real in a way that doesn’t grate on you or get obnoxious and her desperate struggle combined with her humorous spitfire personality is a beautiful combination especially when she’s given several inspirational speeches worthy of any onscreen companion.
When you get right down to it, yes there are some major plot holes here and there contained and Paul McGann not talking much in his own story with his amazing voice can be considered a fault no matter how relevant to the plot it is. The secondary plot element of the Darkness is also a tad underdeveloped to where it feels tacked on and unnecessary when Daleks and Doctor trapped in a dark hole would’ve been more than sufficient. But ‘Dalek Trap’ makes up for any big issues it has by being large, bombastic, and very exciting but with enough personal depth to re-establish Lucie’s character in fabulous fashion. It’s a great start to the set and fans of New Who who happen to love Lucie Miller are going to lap this audio up like candy. But there’s more than enough love and Dalek adventure to leave most if not all Whovians relatively satisfied.
9 / 10
2. The Revolution Game by Alice Cavender
‘Revolution Game’ takes things down a notch with the Doctor taking Lucie Miller to an intergalactic roller derby on a dessert colony planet in the nearish future. It’s not just a normal tournament however; this is one with a real prize as the winners are granted a pass for a new future. But the company sponsoring the games has a nasty secret related to something hiding out in the dessert. It’s going to take the Doctor and Lucie everything they have to stop a potential disaster especially when Lucie herself is forced into the ring….
Cavender as a writer hasn’t done too much for the Whoniverse at time of writing with only a few Short Trips and a moderately solid contribution to the “Eleventh Doctor Chronicles” set under her belt. In many ways, it definitely shows as this story is a bit of a far cry from its predecessor. Its narrative is a weird revised mix of Rollerball and “Planet of the Ood” that’s far less interesting than it has any right to be. While the setting is a lot of fun and novel for a Who story, the underlying conflict that eventually rears its ugly head is fairly predictable even with the twists it works to pull off. There is naturally an evil corporate bigwig, a revolutionary separate from his own race, amoral scientists working for a greater good, and a big climax over the future of an alien race unknown to the rest of the world. It feels like something we’ve seen a million times before and the writing and soundscape aren’t quite strong enough to carry it all the way through.
But at the same time, there is a nice flavour to it in the smaller touches that keep it from mediocrity. There are some neat references and jokes that come from a cleverly hilarious source and it does work to balance the leads a lot more. Lucie once again gets to do the majority of the work and her moments on the track are a lot of fun but it’s always nice to hear McGann’s Doctor do his version of a ‘you are a bad corporate entity’ speech. It’s hard to mention anything about this story beyond that though because it really doesn’t do anything else with it’s material to stand out. It’s another weird example of a story where all of the right elements are there for it to work but they are handled in such a lackluster way that it feels like a slog.
In the end, ‘Revolution Game’ is a decent way to pass the time and there’s a more vibrant version of this story hiding here somewhere. But like the rest of Cavender’s writing so far, it’s very unpolished and it’s not worth digging too long under the sand to reach any shine it might have. It might be worth listening to again over time as this is one where a hidden gem status could be possible. But outside of that, it’s fairly skippable.
6 / 10
3. The House on the Edge of Chaos by Eddie Robson
Robson takes a more interesting angle in the third story of the volume with the TARDIS team transported to a strange estate on a colony world in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded on all sides by static and staffed by both robots and employees alike, it’s home to an upper-class family whom the pair are forced to ingratiate themselves with whilst they work to find a way off world. It means that the Doctor might have to go outside into the noise while the lady of the house has other plans for Lucie herself. But they’ll have to figure out something fast before the static finds a way to get to them first….
‘House on the Edge of Chaos’ is a nice little juxtaposition of the structured sensibilities of the refined and the odd nature of chaos and conflict. The script works to balance and combine both elements into a plot that while not quite on the level of ‘Chimes of Midnight’ or ‘Dread of Night’ certainly works hard in trying. Each thread has some fun things to work with especially once the Doctor and Lucie are separated and it leads to some very grotesque revelations that are well handled especially in the way it ties into the family itself. It’s a fascinating manifestation of the guilt and negative effects that family conflicts can bring and the sci-fi elements flow very naturally from that base premise. Granted some of the big twists would’ve probably felt more unique if several other stories both from audio and New Who hadn’t done similar things first but it never drags the story down too much and you still feel engaged with what’s going on.
The soundscape is also a big step up from what we’ve heard so far which is a nice change given how minimal a black hole and a desert ended up feeling. The pacing is standard but good and the cast is fine if a little unremarkable in spots. While Smith gets about the right amount to do given the part the story places her into, McGann himself finally gets some good material allowing to stand more on his own compared to the previous two stories in the set that had him more in a cursory role. There are one or two rather shocking moments from him that place him fully in charge and the final moments of the story really surprise you with just how volatile his Doctor can be though in a rather suspicious way.
On the other hand, while Rupert Vansittart is a great nasty villain as the lord of the house with a dark secret that colours and influences everything going on, the rest of the cast is pretty boring standing out only in personality and not name. None of the deaths or bigger character interactions really land outside of the ones including Vansittart and they have none of the charm or whimsical weirdness that the cast of ‘Chimes’ had in working with a similar vibe. It also has the problem of having an interesting idea behind what’s going on but then copping out in a way too easy climax. Given how much the threat was set up and how much time is devoted to it, it’s surprising then just how fast it seemingly ends after a fairly strong confrontation.
As a penultimate story of the set though, ‘House’ is certainly good and a major step up from ‘Revolution’ though it doesn’t compare to the outright blast that ‘Dalek Trap’ ended up being. If you want a sci-fi Downton Abbey-like adventure with arguably the most Victorian incarnation of all of the Doctors, then you’ll definitely get your fill and the final moments alone are definitely worth hearing as they do seemingly link into the final story. It doesn’t hold a candle to other stories that do this kind of thing so much more memorably but it’s still a damn fun ride while it lasts.
8 / 10
4. Island of the Fendahl by Alan Barnes
A nasty shock from the TARDIS separates the Doctor and Lucie on a remote Earth island. While Lucie is mistaken for a missing girl from the mainland and interacts with the people of a small village, the Doctor finds his way to a monastery nearby whose members have apparently been expecting him. Something malevolent is manipulating the island itself and draining the inhabitants and it’s the Doctor’s destiny to meet it once more….
As a reviewer who has never fully encountered the Fendahl in a Doctor Who story before, “Island of the Fendahl” certainly was going to be an interesting adventure regardless of personal viewpoint. There are significant ties back to the TV story “Image of the Fendahl” but they aren’t entirely necessary to understand what’s going on. The script by Alan Barnes is strong enough to not only inform but also entertain in good measure and even without that connection, this is a story that stands very well on its own merits. With more than a little bit of atmosphere and inspiration stolen from “The Wicker Man” guiding its way, this is a tense isolated horror drama with a great cast both primary and secondary. The soundscape is incredibly gripping with strong landscapes, tense moments, and dark ideas galore and it really fits in nicely with the idea of the Fendahl and what it’s supposed to be. Both Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith are fantastic as usual but the side cast also works fairly well with some great character turns that aren’t entirely unexpected but are still enjoyable.
But what’s most surprising is how much it ties into everything that’s happened within the past few stories in the set. From what the vibes and synopsis of not just these individual stories but the entire set, it seemed like things were going to be fairly standalone for each one. However, smaller elements that were briefly glimpsed or even mentioned as problematic or suspicious in the other three stories suddenly make a whole lot more sense and it’s almost like a mini-arc for the set in a way that’s fairly unexpected. It also makes the Doctor a minor instigator of everything that’s happened in a fantastic twist that makes things suddenly feel so much bigger. It immediately makes you want to go back and listen to the rest of the set again just to make sure you caught everything and it’s a nice and seemingly final end to a monster that doesn’t get remembered as much as other Classic Who villains.
If the other Fendahl stories of Who canon are interesting as this one, then they might be worth revisiting sometime because “Island of the Fendahl” is a fantastic story and a strong climax to the set. It does require the rest of the set as necessary listening to a degree which is a welcome surprise but kind of a sad one in that it isn’t as good on its own like the others. But all together and as a culmination of the set, it’s a real highlight and well worth the journey to get to.
9 / 10
FINAL VERDICT “The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller” Volume 01 is a great set of stories that will satisfy both old and new fans of Lucie Miller alike. While there is an obvious weak link in the chain that’s novel but not very enthralling, each story has something fun or at least interesting to it that will keep you engaged at the very least. It’s also a great entry point to the Lucie era that will also most likely get you wanting to hear more from this Doctor and companion if you by chance haven’t done so already. With classic monsters, new threats, strong performances, and a few big surprises, even despite its minor problems it’s very hard to not give a strong recommendation for this set and I’ll be hopeful and curious to hear more in the future.
8 / 10