21 March 2016

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

The first part of Blood of the Daleks was largely concerned with setting up the adventures of the Eighth Doctor and Lucie, and the second does the same but in a more subtle way. This episode immediately gets down to business, dealing with the more action-orientated plots of Blood of the Daleks. It's very well paced and once again, it's clear a lot of thought has gone into the structure of this story and its characters. None of the three key guest cast are as we first thought, and they all do things in this second half of the story that listeners may not have expected from initial impressions.

It's hard to imagine quite how revolutionary this series of audios was for Big Finish in 2016. Even though the stories were brilliantly imaginative, creative and diverse, breaking away from the 'main range' feels like a real breath of fresh air, like everyone can spread their wings just that little bit further. I don't doubt that this started the box set culture we find ourselves in nine years later, as this was the first example of a fully-fledged Doctor Who series running alongside that which formed the company's backbone.

Largely responsible for this shake-up is Lucie Miller. She is easily one of my favourite sidekicks of all time, thanks in no small part to Sheridan Smith. Lucie isn't just a Northern version of Rose, who had been a huge hit over two television series when these stories were being written. She is a completely different character, and fits far better with Paul McGann's Doctor than she would Christopher Eccleston or David Tennant's - they're both suspicious of each other, but manage to impress each other by the story's climax. There is a certain level of antagonism between them but at this stage you can already see that it's at least partly affectionate. They have no choice but to stay together, and secretly I think they're both glad.

McGann, like Smith, is a revelation. This new run sounds like it's just what he's been waiting for. There's verbal sparring like there's no tomorrow for him to get his teeth into and he seems to relish the chance to be witty, scared, apprehensive, brave and show a whole host of other sides to a character he had been playing near-enough continuously for seven years. These first two episodes seem to promise great things and I only hope the energy continues as each of his scenes are simply electric, and you can tell the dazzling performances from the leads are pulling similarly passionate turns out of the guest cast.

Like I mentioned above, it's clear that Steve Lyons has put a lot of thought into the stories that play out across these hundred minutes. The revelation of Martez's work is probably the most prolific subplot given it is intrinsic to everything we experience on Red Rocket Rising, from the first initial escape to the climactic battle. Yeah, the stuff with the mind swap is a bit of a get-out but the listener has the chance to work it out, plus if The Prisoner could do it in the 1960s, why can't this now? Every act of this story is perfectly timed and adds to what we already know. There's a true blank slate to this one, and it's tragic to know that the next time Lucie meets the Daleks will be at the end of the fourth series, given what happens there.

Again, this is an extremely well produced piece of audio drama. Gareth Jenkins' music underscores the action as well as it does the more intimate moments and he only adds to the mystery in the last few scenes. The sound of two alien forces clashing, a spaceship crashing and footsteps dashing cannot be easy to design but he manages to pull off all three equally successfully. Congratulations too to director Nicholas Briggs, who demonstrates a keen eye for when to keep things moving and when to linger a little longer.

All in all, this is a superb kickstart to the Eighth Doctor's new adventures. Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith make an instantly addictive pairing and wholly believable. As a pair of episodes, this is as solid an introduction as you could hope for, showing off all facets of both the series format, and the main characters, but its works as individual episodes too, each with a separate theme and focus. It's a shame Steve Lyons never wrote for the Eighth Doctor again (and missed the chance to pen another story for Lucie) as he - or however many people contributed to the final script - nails the pairing from the off. This is a dynamic, involving, affecting story that leaves me wanting more, much more - exactly as an introduction should.

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