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In the month of Big Finish’s 20th anniversary, it’s interesting to note just how many outings there have been for the 8th Doctor this year. We’ve heard him team up with his nemesis, the Eleven to do battle with the Ravenous, spar with Derek Jacobi’s War Master, he’s about to team up with Professors Song and Summerfield and later this year he’ll meet the Valeyard on the battlefields of the Time War.

And quite right too, it’s no exaggeration to pinpoint the 8th Doctor range as the key to Big Finish’s success since 2001’s Storm WarningPersonally, I rather miss those earlier carefree days of the 8th Doctor, free from the shackles of on-screen continuity and Time War portent. Luckily, the other key to Big Finish’s success is their ability to tap into nostalgia for Classic Doctor Who in all its forms. So, imagine my delight when they announced four new adventures for Paul McGann’s Doctor and his beloved companion Lucie Miller, played by beloved national treasure Sheridan Smith.

Pleasingly, listening to these four stories is like stepping back in time to those halcyon days of 2007 where we had new Big Finish on the radio. Those original Lucie Miller stories were a clear attempt to better reflect the TV series. Shorter, snappier hour-long stories, a mixture of new and old monsters, history, the future, alien planets and planet Earth.

Will Brooks' slipcase artwork for The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller
Will Brooks’ slipcase artwork for The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller

The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller, therefore, takes us from the centre of a black hole to a strange pagan community via a futuristic roller derby and a manor house on a meteor. The overall result is a whirlwind of a boxed set which is full of variety, re-energises Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor and places Lucie Miller front and centre of the action.

Nevermore so than in Nicholas Briggs’ The Dalek Trap which, after some clunky exposition to reintroduce the character and place these adventures within her established timeline, isn’t even about the Doctor and the Daleks.  Stranded in the centre of a black hole with a catatonic Doctor and some oddly compliant Daleks, Lucie is forced to use her wits and her wit to cure the Doctor and rescue some stranded astronauts. This is a proper bleedin’ Lucie Miller story where following battles with Daleks and Cybermen she’s afforded the opportunity to display everything she’s learned as a companion thus far.

It’s a strong opener and the focus on Lucie rather than on yet another battle between the Doctor and the Daleks allows Briggs to write and perform some truly bizarre Dalek characters. It’s a story that, like many of the original run, could easily slot into televised Who, invoking Asylum of the Daleks and Into the Dalek by being a story that is about character rather than extermination and explosions, though of course, there’s some of that too. It also has an unnerving ending that this listener had to return to in order to confirm or deny some suspicions that there was a wider arc being hinted at.

If there is, there’s no evidence of it in Alice Cavender’s The Revolution Game, a breezy romp of a story which would have fit neatly into a mid-season slot during the RTD years. So much so that I’m sure I can hear Russell hoot “Doctor Who does roller derby! Fantastic!” on an old episode of Doctor Who Confidential. The story finds Lucie’s birthday upstaged by a conflict between subjugated natives and their corporate overlords set against the backdrop of an intergalactic roller derby championship. This is Cavender’s first full-cast Doctor Who audio, and I hope to hear more from her in the future.

Impeccably plotted, this is a simple Doctor Who story that never feels simplistic, Paul McGann gets some killer lines in his confrontation with company man Clegg, played with a sort of insidious charm by Jonathan Keeble. If there’s a criticism, it’s that it feels like Lucie is slightly under-served. Without spoiling too much of the plot, she commits an act of misdirection which results in her being largely absent from a lot of the big plot reveals.

If this were a television story, it wouldn’t have mattered as the nature of Lucie’s act would have provided some amazing set-pieces, on audio, however, it feels like she fades into the (excellent) sound design. Far from being the cringey ‘down with the kids’ story, it could have been indifferent hands, The Revolution Game is the big surprise of the set, a well-written and entertaining slice of proper comfort blanket Doctor Who that manages to feel fresh and new as well as comment on the current state of capitalism. A tall order, but Cavender and her cast certainly deliver.

Nicholas Briggs, Paul McGann & Sheridan Smith AKA The Doctor & Lucie Bleedin' Miller
Nicholas Briggs, Paul McGann & Sheridan Smith AKA The Doctor & Lucie Bleedin’ Miller

Eddie Robson’s The House on the Edge of Chaos, however, is less fresh, cribbing on some of his earlier Big Finish plays such as The Condemned. In it, the Doctor and Lucie land on an unfinished planet called Horton’s Orb, where the only sign of civilisation is a vast manor house beset on all sides by deadly static and an interior decorated with multiple pictures of the same mysterious woman. In the stronger moments, it’s a beguiling, atmospheric piece of high concept sci-fi which also manages to feel like a Daphne Du Maurier novel.

In the weaker moments, it does begin to feel like a Children in Need sketch where Sapphire & Steel are assigned to Downton Abbey. That being said, these upstairs, downstairs scenes of second dessert and arranged marriages is elevated by Sheridan Smith’s performance as Lucie, her boldness and brashness cutting through the (not very convincing) cut-glass tones of her hosts. Ultimately, The House on the Edge… is a sharp class satire about status and one’s position in society.

Rupert Vansitartt is excellent as the mysterious Mr Horton, whose solution to the howling chaos outside is to imprison people in pre-defined roles determined by their societal position. It’s just unfortunate that the denouement feels incredibly familiar and the performances by the rest of the Horton family grate somewhat, but it’s an intriguing enough story that once again brings a sense of variety to this set.

Rounding things off is another completely different sort of Doctor Who story and, bizarrely, the second Fendahl audio from Big Finish this year! You don’t make it 20 years in the Doctor Who audio market without taking a few risks I suppose. Alan Barnes’ Island of the Fendahl, begins as Doctor Who’s take on The Wicker Man but spins off into something quite different in the last quarter. It’s a bold move to write a sequel to Image of the Fendahl, let alone do it on an audio medium, but of course, the real threat of the Fendahl is the cult that it attracts and this is realised to rather a creepy degree by Barnes’ script. And what a script it is, full of black comedy, evocative dialogue about the mysterious Fandor isle, some wonderfully tart and dismissive lines for McGann’s Doctor, and a rather brilliant bit of business involving the Doctor and Lucie being stuck between two warring collectives of weirdos.

Once again, due to various plot contrivances, Lucie Miller is the one driving the action; calling for medical assistance, investigating the possible kidnapping of a young girl, saving the world and shouting at seagulls. As much as this is a play about ritual, meaning, death and giant caterpillars, it’s also a play that hinges on the Doctor and Lucie’s friendship. These are two people who (almost) know exactly what the other would do, who are absolutely loyal to each other and are also one of the funniest TARDIS teams ever.

Big Finish has spent the past 20 years giving us new adventures for our favourite Doctors, companions, monsters, spin-off properties, recurring characters, and one-off guest stars so I would very much like to request even further adventures of Lucie Miller. That “Volume 1” tag gives me a great deal of hope.

Hey Who fans. In this week’s show…

The News

It’s that time of year again when San Diego Comic Con is upon us and lovers of artwork will want to check out portraits of all 14 Doctors by artist Jeremy Enecio which will be on display all weekend.

Merch Corner

A bunch of SDCC exclusives are available, a new blu ray set “The Complete David Tennant” is releasing in the US in September and Donna Noble is returning to Big Finish next year.

“Human Nature and The Family of Blood” Review

An often loved two-parter and a story we’ve spoken about fondly but after a recent re-watch are we still into this one, listeners of ours?

Next week our review will be the SJA story – The Mad Woman in the Attic. Until then have a super week and remember – Allons-y!

Wrapping up the interesting series of Torchwood VS Doctor Who monsters is Sargasso, a claustrophobic tale about plastic pollution featuring Rhys Williams and the Autons!

Right off the bat, Sargasso feels different from the previous releases. In much the same way the previous Rhys-solo adventure, Visiting Hours worked, Rhys is a character who didn’t work closely with Torchwood but someone who was dragged into it by Gwen. Stuck in the middle of the ocean without any form of communicating with the outside world and no way to get a message to his wife, Rhys has to work it all out by himself with no idea of the real threat he is facing.

Also from the word-go, author Christopher Cooper, makes commentary on the plastic pollution but like all the best Doctor Who-ecological stories, it isn’t a message that’s front-and-centre, its something that is gradually drawn out, a warning about what might happen if we don’t stop dumping plastic in our oceans. Of course, a giant Nestene won’t really come out of the ocean, (that we know of) and convert people in plastic replicas but the idea of plastic coming back to kill us is a great way of getting the point across, especially now that we know there are traces of plastic in the fish we eat.

To his credit, Cooper comes up with some rather interesting ways of utilising the Autons, the big one being rubber-ducks popping up across the Sargasso. We’ve got keyboards that melt and the ocean spitting back everything we’ve dumped into it. It is a little upsetting that there weren’t any proper-proper Autons here as I think more of the fantastic gun-sound design could have been used and I had an image of Rhys running through a ship swearing his head off and dodging Auton-gunfire. But what we have is great and another brilliant example of how anything plastic can be used as a weapon. Cooper even throws in a few amusing lines about previous methods of attack including living telephone wire.

The Cover for Sargasso
The Cover for Sargasso

I’ve always liked Rhys in Torchwood, especially as he really came into his own in Series 2 and Children of Earth on television, proving to be an unconventional yet invaluable asset to the team, saving their collected bacon many times and Cooper keeps him a strong character here. While he acknowledges it would be better if Torchwood, Jack or Gwen were there instead, Rhys doesn’t try to hide the fact that he’s got no idea what’s going on and it makes a change to hear an audio adventure where the listener knows more than the main characters do from the beginning.

As with all the Torchwood single-releases, there is only a small cast and Rhys is paired with Kaitlin, played by Sydney Feder, who when you listen to the extra’s, clearly had a ball here. And she is a great character, a self-proclaimed Eco-Warrior, her character is given plenty of depth when she explains that her father runs a company that dumps its plastic waste into the sea. And the way she plays into the plans of the Nestene Consciousness is pretty interesting and leaves the story with perhaps a promise of a sequel. Feder does a brilliant job here as a newcomer to the Big Finish world, she works brilliantly with Kai Owen and the pair form quite the dynamic duo over the course of the story.

Also delivering a really enjoyable performance here is Chloe Ewart as Captain Anika Banaczik, who, as well as playing the Captain of the Cargo ship, is ultimately the mouth-piece for the Nestene Consciousness. While it is clear that she is pretty obviously the baddie from the beginning, the reveal is pretty brilliant and she plays all her scenes brilliantly, never once stepping over the line into ‘moustache-twirling’ villain mode, instead rightly choosing to play the moment with a cool and calm conviction. As a result, she is much more terrifying.

And it is great to see Robert Jezek’s name back in the Big Finish catalogue. He played the companion Frobisher, a shape-changing alien who stayed in the form of a Penguin and travelled with Colin Baker in Big Finish’s early years. Does this mean we might be getting some more Frobisher adventures Big Finish? Pretty please?! And he does a brilliant job here too, proving why he is such a missed audio contributor.

But what of the leading man himself? Well, Kai Owen is brilliant as always, playing terrified, confused and down-right hilarious brilliantly, sometimes in the same sentence! As I said above, I’ve always really liked Rhys and any release with Owen in will be a must-buy from me. He doesn’t disappoint here either, easily leading the cast and really gelling with the other members of the cast to bring home a story with a fantastic ensemble. He is clearly delighting in getting a solo-outing, as great as he is with the rest of the main Torchwood cast, it is still a great thing when he gets one of his own.

Overall Sargasso is another hit from the Torchwood range. Written with a brilliant concept from Christopher Cooper and some tight direction from Scott Handcock, the whole cast brings together another great story. And like The Green Life a few months ago, it proves that Torchwood can deliver messages on ecological problems just as well as its parent show can and like The Green Life, it promises to stand out from the rest because of those messages!

Hey Who fans. In this week’s show…

The News

A bunch of guests have already been announced for next year’s The Capitol event from the DWAS in April (as well as the ruddy good read The Cosmic Masque VIII) and sadly actor Glyn Houston who played Professor Watson in “The Hand of Fear” and Colonel Wolsey in “The Awakening” has passed away aged 93.

Merch Corner

The modern series steelbooks continue to roll forward as the Series 4 – The Specials has been announced and a great looking book titled “Target Trawl” is now available from Nick Mellish at LuLu.com where Nick reviews every Target book released to date.

“Torchwood – Out of Time” Review

Ah Torchwood Series 1, you’ve been a strange beast for us so far. Some stories are ok, some are not great and a few have been great. This one changes the tone and formula quite a bit and brings an emotional wallop. Is the Hub crew back on form or are the tissues wasted on this one?

Next week our review will be the 110th Doctor two-part story – Human Nature and Family of Blood. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!

Hey Who fans. In this week’s show…

The News

On Sat 20th and Sun 21st July, Big Finish is running a 20-hour live stream to celebrate their 20th Anniversary over on their YouTube channel and this Sat 6th July, BBC Radio 4 Extra is running a special Jon Pertwee centenary program hosted by his son Sean.

Merch Corner

Danilo has released their new 2020 Doctor Who calendars which are available over on Amazon or their site directly consisting of the usual wall hanging calendar and the small desk block style.

“The Leisure Hive” Review

A chance for us to bust out the Season 18 blu ray set and check out that opener with the longest panning shot ever! As you know Tom Baker is a favourite here but does this story that kicked off the JNT era with lots of changes maintain that classic “Tom” charm?

Next week our review will be the Torchwood story – Out of Time. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!