The Blood of the Daleks.

Radio A figure, an intruder, appears in the Tardis. The Doctor doesn't know who she is and for now doesn't know where she's come from but as time passes it becomes apparent that she doesn't particularly want to be there and with her behaviour, he doesn't want her to be there either. She's from England in the early twenty-first century so he sets the co-ordinates of his ship as close to home as possible and dropping out of the time vortex materialises and ... mysteriously bounces back into the time stream.

Whether by coincidence or design, the first story of this brand new series of Big Finish made adventures for digital radio BBC7, The Blood of the Daleks, began in much the same way as The Runaway Bride except over and over it flouted expectations and Steve Lyon's script appeared to be a reaction to all of the excepted norms of the television set-up. The reason the ship doesn't appear in the contemporary Northern England is because of a forcefield bounces them off it (nice); the timelords are alive and well; The Doctor is far less huggable and as Paul McGann pointed out in the pre-publicity a bit cantankerous; the companion Lucie Miller really doesn't want to be there, and she and the Doctor spend most of their time bickering, but unlike Donna the Bride neither are really in much of a position to do anything about it. And unlike Sixth and Peri, the bickering is funny. For the first time in ages I've wanted to re-listen to an audio adventure simply to enjoy the dialogue.

Even the story is somewhat darker than the current television series might attempt. A human colony on the alien world of Red Rocket Rising is in its death throws after a devastating impact from an unknown object from space. A random selection of humans have been sent into space looking for help; the remainder have worked through their remaining resources and are about to start turning on each other when a rescue ship arrives flown by the Daleks. As usual the Doctor is in the middle of it, no one is listening to him and the colony's deadly secret is slowly revealed. Far from being two standard, twenty-five minute episodes rammed together in the middle, this revealed the story slowly over its running time and even with an initial 'action sequence' it's quite a shock to be back in the territory of hearing quite length scenes and time being spent to create a world. But at no point did it feel as though Lyons had stopped the action to describe the scenery, which is quite rare.

If this had been made for television it would been in the seventies in the cold war and would have looked like the tv adaptation of John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids, the scorched landscape, the acid rain, the hopelessness. The only levity is in the brilliant charactersation of the Doctor and Lucie. Elsewhere, everyone is dying and things can only get worse with the arrival of the pepperpots. And these are the Daleks at their most sinister, absolutely passionless and deadly and with a dribble of cunning. Nick Briggs has a wail of a time here and when he says 'Dok-tor' for the first time and I actually sat up in my chair wide eyed (although that could also have been all the caffeine I'm drinking to keep me awake this New Year's Eve).

Perhaps understandably, there's no real indication of when chronologically this Eighth Doctor story is set to keep it independent of the other strands, the novels, the comic strips and the other Big Finish stories in particular; as far as some listeners know it could be directly after the television movie. That's good, I like that none of the McGann stories are fixed although it's a shame he didn't have a grander re-introduction, Storm Warning style, working his way through the TARDIS library. That's the only concession to the new way of things. Bang and they're into the story, landing the Tardis is really the wrong place. Pleasingly, the David Arnold mechanical mix of the theme tune was all present and correct when I'd expected the Murray Gold special.

It features Paul's most effervescent performance in years. For some time, the Eighth Doctor has been a bit subdued, lacking the passion that was so enjoyable in the first couple of seasons of the audio stories - which seemed to be a mix of new writers not being able to get a fix on who he is and the actor looking for the darkness. The magic really does return here, and although some of the Byronic romance is missing (perhaps because of something that may yet be revealed or just his age) the bluff is all there.

Spot the amazing, slightly Pythonesque scene when he agrees with everything rebel leader Lowell is saying in order to gain more insight into the situation or the chilling moment when he tells the acting President that the question she should be asking is 'How am I going to save you from the worst mistake you're made in your lives?' That's a very Eighth Doctor line and McGann plays it beautifully. But really I think he's just loving the challenge of playing opposite Sheridan Smith who is on fine form. Lucie is a really, really promising companion even though she's exactly what a contestant on a timelord only episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? might suggest as the world's worst person to be sharing a type-40 with.

She might be cut from much the same jib as Sam, Izzy and Rose, she really doesn't want to be there and says so, a lot. But unlike Donna she know who the Doctor is, what he is, and what she's doing there and that makes a difference because it also means she can undercut his authority at every turn telling him really, really amusingly what she thinks of him. The most polite description is 'frock coated ponce' - which as you can see also makes her a great audio description device. It's quite fun to have the image of this Doctor, threadbare after all these years being made fun of in this way (and apparently, according to Beyond The Vortex, the short Confidential-style making-of programme that closes out the hour slot, McGann really loved these sections having had to wear the stupid wig during the filming of the movie).

Smith's delivery is excellent and there's a real chemistry with Paul. Don't expect any declarations of love between these two though -- this is going to be a union born of grudging respect. I'd imagine that some will be slightly annoyed by her constant quipping and sarcasm, but I thought it was refreshing. It's just a shame that just sometimes Lyon's writing loses the shock of the real for family purposes. It just doesn't seem right to me that a northern lass from 2006 would be saying Blimey. My other reservation is the confusing spelling of her name - what is wrong with simply 'Lucy'?

It's just really refreshing to have a Doctor and companion team were you're not entirely sure what the next move will be but you know it won't be what you expect. Lucie and the Doctor don't yet have that connection yet in which they each know what the other is thinking. At one crucial moment, she makes a particularly wrong decision, and although it is with the best of intentions it's the kind of rookie mistake the Doctor simply doesn't expect.

For once, the shoe is on the other foot because Lucie is the one with the big secret and the pretty potent potential plot arc - why she's been put in the 'witness protection programme'. I like that there will always be the nagging feeling that not everything is being revealed and that at some point in the future something really big is going to happen. Especially since she thinks, as she shouts to the Time Lords 'This Doctor of yours is a bit rubbish.'

The episode was a textbook example of how well a story can be told with very few characters and cast members. Anita Dobson's Klint and Hayley Atwell's Asha spend most of the episode in their own two handed story naively misunderstanding the Dalek's intentions; both are very good with Atwell (who played Rosa in the BBC's recent adaptation of The Ruby and the Smoke) in particular showing an authority that'll become really important across the story. The other major character is skeptic Tom Cardwell, played dependably by Kenneth Cranham, whose guttural tones provided the sad background to the colony's problems.

It's with some relief that I can report that this is a good an opening for a new incarnation of Doctor Who the franchise as you'd want and even if, and I hope this doesn't give too much away for those who are listening again or waiting for the cd, the story isn't as original as it could be, for me the familiarity works in its favour since for much of the time it works against expectations. Even with its slightly generic music, like The Runaway Bride, this has been put together with real heart and an ambition to push the franchise forward, and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series.

Oh and look - a real old fashioned cliffhanger!

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