Kieran Brennan is back with a second series of The Eighth Doctor Revisited! Today, he looks at the first of the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller’s adventures together: Blood of the Daleks!
A stowaway on the TARDIS, a planet on the brink of destruction, unseen forces interfering in the Doctor’s life, and supposed alien saviours who may be more than they seem. It’s a whole new era for the Eighth Doctor, and these opening instalments don’t hold back for a second.
Following the incredibly successful relaunch of Doctor Who in 2005, it was decided that change was needed for the Eighth Doctor range at Big Finish. What had once been the only place to find new content that pushed the universe of Doctor Who forward was hit with a massive blow, and perhaps an extremely unfair sense that maybe it wasn’t worth keeping up with Big Finish and the Eighth Doctor. Following the announcement of the revival, Big Finish cut short the Eighth Doctor’s Divergent Universe arc within the Monthly Adventures, and readapted planned scripts to fit inside the monthly ranges regular episodic format.
The results were mixed, but thankfully the decision was made to more or less remove Paul McGann’s Doctor from the Monthly adventures range and give him a range all to himself: eight (wink) episodes of roughly 50 minutes in length, with a brand new companion and ongoing storyline. It was a big change in format and writing style for Big Finish, probably the biggest since they first started to put out stories. The biggest question and gamble: was it possible to recreate the feeling of excitement and energy of the new series on audio as well as Big Finish had with the classic series?
Luckily the answer is not only yes, but yes, and they make it look easy.
Blood of the Dalek kicks off with a purposefully disorienting opening; we arrive in what feels like the middle of a thought as new companion Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith) appears in an out of control TARDIS. After failing to return her to her time, the Doctor lands on the decaying planet Red Rocket Rising. The political situation of the dying planet is soon made clear and the story expands from there.
While one could see splitting this opening adventure into two parts as a way to continue with the Monthly Adventures style of two-hour adventures, it’s very clear that from a pacing and structure standpoint these are two very different beasts. Blood of the Daleks is fast and effective in its setup, having to both exposit the situation of this world, set up a second part and provide a satisfying place to end the narrative on. All of these are expertly achieved by writer Steve Lyons whose script gives the actors so much to work with.
Speaking of actors, everyone here is on top form. Paul McGann comes out swinging with his best performance in quite a while, his tiny mannerisms give him a physicality I don’t believe any other Doctor has been able to capture on audio. His chemistry with the wonderful Sheridan Smith is instantly engaging; their snappy back and forth takes up many of the early scenes of this story and it’s a dynamic that quickly endears itself to the listener.
Alongside them, now-MCU alum Hayley Atwell makes an appearance, though unfortunately she often plays against the rather similar sounding Anita Dobson. While they both do a good job, especially Atwell towards the latter half of the story once the characters are separated, it does become a very careful listening experience when they both share a scene. Though to be fair, in part 2 she spends nearly the entirety of her time on her own and is excellent. Atwell really suits the audio medium and I really hope Big Finish can get her back someday.
Also a quick mention of Nicholas Briggs, who of course is featured here playing the Daleks. It seems almost silly to point out how good he is in this role, but I felt he was especially good at adding just a little bit of personality to the Daleks he plays here, getting more to work with in the story’s second half.
Blood of the Daleks doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does have the idea to stick two wheels together and make a bike. With a fantastic script, wonderful performances and great effects, this really does feel like a new era for the Eighth Doctor, not just thanks to new companion, but an entirely new feeling and way of telling stories that hadn’t been touched by Big Finish up until this point.
Blood of the Daleks: Part One and Blood of the Daleks: Part Two are available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com