20 March 2016

Audio Review: Doctor Who - Blood of the Daleks (Part One)

Coming to Blood of the Daleks in 2016 feels the same as when I finally got round to watching An Unearthly Child. This is where the Eighth Doctor and Lucie stories, considered Big Finish's golden era by many, began - there's a great weight of apprehension and nervous, please-be-amazing excitement attached to it. 

And do you know what? It is amazing. Steve Lyons provides an incredibly well-balanced script that manages the split between the salvation of the people of Red Rocket Rising and launching a new chapter of Paul McGann's Doctor's era in fine style. The most commendable example of this is towards the end of this first episode, when the edges blur and the two strands of the story begin to feed into each other - to the peril of both Lucie and the Doctor. 

And so finally I meet the famous Lucie Miller. Sheridan Smith is one of this country's most beloved actresses, and for my money, easily one of its most talented. I feel like getting her for a single release now would be a real coup if the producers of this new range - Nicholas Briggs, Jason Haigh-Ellery and Sharon Gosling - had chosen someone else for the part, so the fact we have four full series of Sheridan to enjoy is brilliant. Lucie is easily the most interesting character over this first hour; as good as all the stuff with Red Rocket Rising and the Daleks is - and it is good - in every scene without Lucie, I was waiting to return to her. 

Smith is only equalled by Paul McGann. He is on blistering form here - and although I haven't heard all that many Eighth Doctor stories, he seems more energised and ready to go. Certainly from the CD extras - which are excellent, maybe (dare I say it) better than the current supply - he sounds fired up. He gets to show a real emotional range in Blood of the Daleks, but that's not too say the Doctor's characterisation is inconsistent, it's simply his reactions to events as things spiral out of control all around him. What's nice is he gets a few more heroic moments too, such as working out one character's secret, and how it links to why the Daleks are here. 

Lyons has put a great amount of effort into making Red Rocket Rising a truly believable environment. It's an intriguing array of characters that he uses to populate it, and some of the journeys they go on, even in this first sixty minutes, are very well thought out. Tom Cardwell, for example, is set up as an incredible nutter - complete with tin foil hat - so that when the Daleks arrive, no one believes him about what an evil force they are. The Doctor is almost in the same situation, so seeing how the different approaches play out is extremely entertaining. This a powerful use of dramatic irony that we know won't end well for the citizens just trying to escape the end. 

The guest cast are uniformly sound too, with Hayley Atwell (yes, that one) standing out from the crowd as the most complex character, Asha. Gareth Jenkins' music is brilliant, and likewise with the accompanying sound design he provides. They add a real atmosphere and pace to the piece and even coming to it nine years later, there's a discernibly fresh vibe to this episode. It's as if everyone is giving just that little bit extra here to make it really special - and it works.

This is truly a landmark release. Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith nail their dynamic from the off and Nicholas Briggs brings Steve Lyons' script to life in attention-grabbing fashion. Listening to Blood of the Daleks Part One was one of the most immersive audio experiences I've had in a long time. This is surely an essential purchase for any follower of Big Finish and I can't wait to pick up the action as soon as I finish this sentence.

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