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This is the official blog of Phoenix Roleplaying, a multi-genre simming site, created in August 2010.

Run by the players, we hope to achieve great things.

Where our journey takes us, who knows.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Now that's how you do Daleks! (Review: 'Doctor Who: Lucie Miller/To The Death', 2011)

The Daleks have definitely been the most prolific villains in the history of Doctor Who, with at least 37 appearances in the main run of the show and countless EU encounters with the evil pepper pots. Indeed, the first seriously planned spinoff series would have starred them, but Terry Nation's plans for the US show fell through before it had even gotten to pilot stage.

As a result of their frequent appearances, the Daleks have become susceptible to what TV Tropes calls Villain Decay; sometimes they can be truly hard to beat... and sometimes you just have to shoot one in the eyestalk to blow it up. Generally speaking, one Dalek is a huge threat and a fleet is surprisingly easy to destroy. Even Terry Nation forgot that they're not robots, they're essentially tanks with a mutated Nazi inside.

So, it's good to know, as my Twelve Faces series moves to the era of the Eighth Doctor, that sometimes you can do a brilliant story with them.


If you haven't seen The Night of the Doctor, I strongly suggest you do so now. Note in particular the five names the Doctor gives about 5:36; these are all companions who have featured in the audio adventures starring Paul McGann in Big Finish since 2001.

This story in fact features no less than three of the Big Finish companions (one not named in the five there)... and what happens here is a major reason why the Doctor does what he does in "The Night of the Doctor".


Earth in the late 2190s; former companion Lucie Miller is travelling in Thailand with the Doctor's great grandson Alex Campbell when a deadly plague devastates humanity... and then the Daleks launch their second invasion of Earth. The Doctor will be needed... and in in this case, the battle will be to the death... in some cases literally.

The plot
Most of the opening episode is from the POV of Lucie as she records a space-time distress signal to the Doctor; he doesn't even appear himself until about 40 minutes into the first episode. Lucie relates the plague and the subsequent Dalek takeover, followed by the efforts of a resistance movement led by the Doctor's granddaughter Susan Foreman as they cross the Atlantic in an attempt to destroy a mining project by the Daleks, who want to turn the planet into a giant time machine. It's a superbly bleak opener, followed up by a spot of derring-do in the later bits of the episode. Lucie is not a happy bunny at the late arrival of the Doctor, that's for sure.

In the second episode, we follow the Doctor and his companions as they try to stop the Dalek plan, dealing with the meddling Time Lord known as the Monk, who was allied himself with the Daleks for typically selfish reasons. The climax is truly dramatic; I can't really say too much here, but it makes "Bad Wolf" look tame in overall character impact.

Things get occasionally a bit confusing and the second episode is a bit talky; having listened to previous audios here might have helped.

The regulars
Paul McGann has had a considerable time since the television movie to develop his portrayal of the character and it shows here; his Doctor is commanding (it helps that he's got a great voice) but also a clearly weary man. He also demonstrates a considerable deal of anger at times; his incarnation is now finally getting the plaudits it deserves.

I'm familiar with Lucie Miller from the first series of the New Eighth Doctor adventures when it was broadcast on BBC7 (as was) in 2006/7; in fact it got a radio airing before release. In addition, I have listened to "Max Warp" also featuring her; it contains a rather good parody of Top Gear. Miller is definitely a headstrong and verbally aggressive companion (best line: her desire to introduce the Monk to the big picture by shoving his face into it) who gets a real slurry pit of a story - she ends up losing the sight in one eye and requiring calipers to walk after she gets the plague; that's just in the first episode. This is her final story for BF and it's no spoiler to say it's a spectacular finale. Sherdian Smith, an increasing presence in British television since Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps (she now has two Olivier Awards and a BAFTA), does a superb job and makes this original role her own.

Alex Campbell (played by McGann's RL son Jake) is a bit of a weak link here; he didn't stand out at all to me and I didn't even know he was an ex-companion of the Doctor's.

Tamsin Drew, a former actress and another companion of the Eighth Doctor, spends her time here in what is also her final story as a companion of the Monk - she eventually learns that he has been lying to her about his motives for working with the Daleks. Again, a moment I can't spoil proves rather shocking.

Susan Foreman, played by Carole Ann Ford, is of course of the first ever companions, who was left on Earth by her grandfather in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" after she fell in love with David Campbell (now deceased). Ford plays a far more mature version of the original, rather irritating Susan (well for one thing, it's been almost fifty years since her TV role) and does it well - she's a commanding presence, although there are stronger performances in this.

The Daleks
Superb; they are ruthless, twisted and for most of this, brutally effective - they kill a lot of people and their plan is truly worthy of them. It takes an awful lot to stop them - and the Doctor will feel it for the rest of his current life. Nicholas Briggs does a great job with voicing them (he also wrote and directed this story), but one can't help thinking thinking the Dalek Time Controller is some ersatz Davros.

The Monk
Another character from the First Doctor's era (he only appears in two stories, one of which, "The Daleks' Master Plan" is incomplete in the archives), this renegade Time Lord is happy to do a deal with the Daleks for his personal reward - and in this case, he realises too late just what he has done. When the Doctor learns how much he caused the situation in the first place, he is justified in ordering him out of his site. Graeme Garden, one of the Goodies (a famous former British comedy trio, although a bit less known than the Pythons), does an excellent job as a manipulator; I can see how he got two former Doctor companions (Lucie and Tamsin) to travel with him.

Sound design
So good as usual, it's not really worth covering this in any more depth.
A superb drama from Big Finish; while it does slacken a bit in the second half, the strengths of this far outweigh the weaknesses - Nicholas Briggs has shown he is good for far more than monster voices.


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