THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
BIG FINISH AUDIO
OF THE SUN" AND "TO
BIG FINISH 8TH DOCTOR
CD#4.09 (ISBN 1-8443
5-502-0) RELEASED IN
Lucie Miller needs
the Doctor's help.
The whole planet
needs his help. But
he is nowhere to be
While Lucie struggles
to survive a terrible
sickness, a greater
threat to the human
race is about to be
And this will be the
second Dalek invasion
of Earth the Doctor's
had to endure.
(50-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 1 OF 2)
It feels like we’ve been here before. In December 2004, a little naughtily, Big Finish entitled their final pre-revival Paul McGann release “The Next Life” and adorned it with a very provocative blurb, prompting fervent speculation about the eighth Doctor’s impending doom.
Six months later, it looked like number eight’s time really had come when BBC Books finally brought their long-running novel range to end with The Gallifrey Chronicles - a book that had regeneration written all over it, but not in it (not unless you count Marnal’s, anyhow). Even the long-mooted, Russell T Davies-endorsed comic strip regeneration was pulled from Doctor Who Magazine late in the day, leaving me very sceptical indeed when, in December 2006, The Radio Times declared that the BBC7 / Big Finish radio series would take the Doctor up to the point that Paul McGann regenerates into Christopher Eccleston. Needless to say, it didn’t. And so this time around, despite a flood of retrospective podcasts; Daleks; Monks; and Millers, there’s going to be no fooling me. These eighth Doctor adventures might well
be culminating in a fight To the Death, but this time I’m betting that it isn’t going to be one
of the Doctor’s.
The first instalment of the eighth Doctor range’s big finish is, by writer Nicholas Briggs’ own admission, a deliberate re-run of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Bedfordshire is now North America and dilapidated old vans are now nuclear submarines, but the Daleks’ scheme is essentially the same: cripple humanity with a plague, subjugate the populous, drill down to and remove the Earth’s core and then install a great big space engine in its place. This isn’t laziness on Briggs’ part, however, or even homage taken to the extreme – it’s his unique way of mirroring the propinquity of the First and Second World Wars; of passing comment on the inevitability, and indeed the predictability, of war.
Yet in all respects that count, Lucie Miller couldn’t be any farther
away from The Dalek Invasion of Earth or its more recent Stolen
Earth sequel. As inventive as Big Finish can be, in this medium
they couldn’t hope to compete with immortal images of eye stalks
emerging from the Thames or slick CG saucers razing England,
and so to their credit, they don’t even try. This story’s emphasis
is on character, not spectacle; its focus not on the pestilence and
slavery secondary to the Daleks’ grand design, but on the physical
consequences borne of the same. That’s why its opening episode
is called Lucie Miller, and not The Second Dalek Invasion of Earth
or The Dalek Invasion of Earth II.
The first half of the episode has a slight whiff of Briggs’ original
Dalek Empire series about it as he uses the eponymous heroine’s
harrowing narration to encircle events, allowing him to explore the
aspects of a global Dalek invasion that the televised stories didn’t.
The first ten minutes or so, for instance, show us the physical effects
of the Dalek plague that we’d only ever heard about previously, and
they’re far more immediate and excruciating than they might have
been had the episode been presented as a clear-cut play. Sheridan
Smith gives a performance that is as warm as it is devastating as
Lucie gallantly fights on despite being crippled and half-blinded, her
faith in the Doctor fuelling her through her darkest hour and finally
laying the ghost of Christmas past to rest.
Briggs script is also kind to the Doctor’s descendants, particularly the youngest member of the quasi-Time Lord ensemble. The Alex Campbell of this story is a much more mature and responsible young man than the angsty, pliable poster boy that we met in An Earthly Child. Indeed, as its events take place over years rather than months, this episode sees him do an awful lot of growing up in every respect. In the absence of his great-grandfather he has to be a rock for both Lucie and his mother, whilst taking the weight of the world on his shoulders at the same time. For me, the latter aspect is the more significant one, as Briggs complements the nascent qualities that Susan would no doubt applaud in her son with many of his great-grandfather’s gung-ho traits. Alex isn’t content to hole up with Lucie and Susan and wait for the Doctor to come and save the world – he’s out there forging alliances with other plague survivors and rousing rebellion. It’s a confident, convincing performance from Jake McGann – certainly his finest Who turn to date.
The Doctor’s role is limited to
the second half of the episode,
which I suspect was originally
envisaged as Part 2 of 4, as
it is quite different in terms of
both structure and pitch. When
the Doctor arrives on Earth,
he isn’t immediately reunited
with Lucie, Alex and Susan –
instead, he finds himself in
the company of a treasure-
looting Tamsin Drew, and her
conniving clerical chum, the
Monk. Accordingly Lucie’s
narration becomes much more sparse, and the interplay between Paul McGann, Graeme Garden and Niky Wardley has a lot of bounce to it, helping to keep the forbidding tone of
the piece just on the right side of palatable.
As many assumed that he would after The Resurrection of Mars’ dénouement, the Monk has got into bed again with the Daleks, and he isn’t faring that much better this time around than he did back in ancient Egypt. Garden’s performance paints a picture of a man woefully out of his depth; a naughty little boy out smoking with teenagers who can’t do anything but get burnt. Tamsin doesn’t see it, of course; at least, not until the Doctor shows up and makes her realise that her priestly pal isn’t the great philanthropist that he claims to be. By then, of course, it’s too late…
On a final note, I think it’s worth mentioning that, irrespective of how this story concludes in To the Death, Briggs has done a superlative job of bridging the gap between the classic series and the new here, which is certainly fitting, given that a modern, progressive feel has always been this particular range’s greatest strength. Lucie Miller takes elements from Big Finish productions such as Renaissance of the Daleks and Patient Zero and seamlessly fuses them with concepts from recent TV episodes the like of Father’s Day, The Christmas Invasion and even Last of the Time Lords. The use of the glowing TARDIS key to signal the Doctor’s imminent arrival stands out as being a particularly inspired linking touch. However, where this episode reflects the current series most is in its pace and sophistication. I dare say that, if you were to ask Joe Bloggs whether this was a spin-off from the Doctor Who that perished in 1989 or the Doctor Who that he’s been glued to since 2005, he’d say the latter.
Overall then, I couldn’t have been any more impressed with Lucie Miller, and I can’t wait to see how this four-year venture concludes in the next instalment. I’m not expecting to hear the Doctor stumble over Wilson’s body in Henrik’s basement, regenerate, or even start the Last Great Time War, but I am expecting Big Finish to give Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith the send-off that they deserve. And, if Briggs’ script for To the Death is only half as kind to them as his for Lucie Miller has been, then I’m not going to be disappointed.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are copyrighted to the BBC and are used solely for promotional purposes.
‘Doctor Who’ is copyright © by the BBC. No copyright infringement is intended.