I may have finished all the main sequence of BF audios, but am happily working my way through the other bits and pieces of the range, starting with the Paul McGann / Sheridan Smith audios made for the BBC by Big Finish. A definite shift of format here – where the main sequence went for four episodes of around 25 minutes per story, these are single or double shots at 50 mins apiece.
The first of them is a rather good double feature, Blood of the Daleks, introducing new companion Lucie and bringing her and the Doctor to a planet under threat from natural disaster but seeking help from, of all people, the Daleks. There are some neat developments of the history and ideology of the Daleks: riffs on two of the best Dalek stories (Power and Genesis), and then the question of how the Daleks would react to a secondary creation. The politics of the human colony is well thought out too.
I was not so sure about Lucie Miller. This is not a criticism of Sheridan Smith’s portrayal – as a northern lass reacting to the Eighth Doctor’s airs, she is rather good and builds up a memorable presence very quickly. But her back story is much less credible: snatched from (where?) by the Time Lords, and then the Doctor wilfully failing to interrogate her fully. This story came out at the same time as The Runaway Bride, which also had a companion mysteriously manifesting in the Tardis, but dealt with that rather better, I thought.
Good stuff from Anita Dobson as the civilian leader and Hayley Attwell (who was the Duchess’s husband’s lover in The Duchess); also Kenneth Cranham was new to me, and I thought must be Bill Oddie at first, though a glance at the credits put me right.
Horror of Glam Rock is the Funny Episode, with Bernard Cribbins as a 1970s band manager stuck in a snowstorm on the M62, when his band members start getting eaten by horrible creatures. Stephen Gateley from Boyzone appears as an Irish wannabe popstar (incidentally revealing that he is a popstar who is a wannabe actor). There are lots of reasonably good bits here which almost gel together: Lucie’s aunt, the musical aliens, Una Stubbs. I wasn’t quite convinced, partly because Gateley’s performance drags the whole down, but it’s OK.
I think I liked Immortal Beloved best of these. It’s a fairly standard sfnal storyline, the rulers of the planet having a lifestyle which involves horrible exploitation of their subordinates – in this case, clones whose personalities are wiped at maturity for the sake of a full brain transplant. Strong echoes of Zelazny’s Lord of Light, and I thought also a bit of Today We Choose Faces. The Doctor and Lucie have to work out What Is Going On, and then How To Stop It. Not trying to be too clever, not trying to wow us with big name guest stars, just competently done sf.
On Phobos, the Doctor and Lucie find themselves in a leisure resort on the eponymous Martian moon, where there are peculiar things afoot. It turns out to be a bit of a mess of aliens, robots and conspiring humans, with Big Name Actors such as Nerys Hughes and Timothy West. It gets unpacked more or less convincingly, with a couple of lucky escapes and fortunate coincidences. Wikipedia sees links with The Fearmonger and The Impossible Planet/The Satan PitThe Leisure Hive.
I may be unfair to No More Lies but I didn’t think it worked at all. Suddenly the Doctor and Lucie are chasing time-travelling wrongdoers – where did that come from? And where did the timeloop they get inserted into come from? And it’s kinda cute to bring back the Vortisaurs from the first Big Finish story with McGann’s Doctor, but maybe someone could have taken the time to explain to Nigel Havers what he was doing? Because he doesn’t seem to know.
Given the parallels between The Runaway Bride and Blood of the Daleks, I wasn’t surprised when the office environment where Lucie was meant to be all along turned out to be a front for an alien plot. But actually it turns out to be an Ender’s Game scenario, with added Cybermen and feuding Time Lord factions, and a nearly convincing resolution to the storyline of the Head-Hunter. Sheridan Smith gets some very good moments as Lucie, realising the extent to which she has been manipulated by the Time Lords and others. A fair enough conclusion.
Basically, all of these (apart from No More Lies) are decent fare, but none really blew me away with their brilliance. I’m only listening to them now because I’m running out of BF audios to listen to. Perhaps the second series will have higher peaks.
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