|With the February release of Max Warp, we're now a quarter of the way through the second series of Eighth Doctor/Lucie Miller adventures by Big Finish. I've expressed on the forums my near-revulsion at the opening story, Dead London, and am glad that Warp was indeed a better ride than the season opener. Humor, as you'd expect of Jonathan Morris, was present in abundance. The behind-the-scenes interviews at the end of the disc describe this adventure as Top Gear meets Agatha Christie, and that's certainly what it is. For Doctor Who Magazine comic fans, it also shares some common ground with "The Free-Fall Warriors". And like much of Jonathan Morris' writing, there's also the scent of Douglas Adams lingering over the proceedings, particularly in the way that the commerce of the future seems awfully similar to the worst excesses of capitalism today.
As a one-off adventure, you'll have fun listening to this one. The actors never miss a beat, the production values are at the higher end of Big Finish's standard, the 50-minute length feels right for this plot, and there's a good bit of Doctorin' at the end. It's a tasty bit of confection wrapped around a Sunmakers-like morality play.
But, as with London, I continue to bemoan the lack of integration with last season. What happened to Lucie last year was a Big Damned Deal. I still hope we're going to get some portion of one of the stories this year which takes a moment to reflect on that, but I've sorta stopped holding my breath for it.
If we're not going to get a connective thread, what we really need is a story which is again Lucie-centric in some way. The joy of last season was in part its similarity to the Eccleston year. By being companion-centric, we as listeners could discover the Doctor from a different point of view. This allowed both companion and Doctor to do unexpected things. This second audio series, though, isn't particularly shaping up that way. So far, Lucie's just another companion without much motivating her. In fact, she comes across in Warp as having limited deductive reasoning skills — one of her greater strengths in series 1. Moreover, her spunk and defiance was largely leveled at everyone but the Doctor in this story. The sparks between the Doctor and Lucie, so evident in series 1, are so far less than prominent in series 2.
For once, I was actually disturbed by the behind-the-scenes extras on this one, too. Nick Briggs and company reveal at the end of the disc that the script required no rewriting. Really? No rewriting at all? So you boys read the whole thing and thought, "This guy Morris has nailed the Doctor-Lucie relationship"? That's just sad.
It would be entirely depressing were it not for a cryptic line from Nick Brigg's latest to-do list, which not only confirms there will be a third series, but that "Having read [the storyline for the fourth story], I concur with Alan [Barne]'s notes, and make a couple of points about the Doctor and Lucie's relationship in this story. We need to be certain that the development is right from the previous stories." That's a little glimmer of hope, at least, that there might be something special coming in the future.
On the other hand, he also revealed that the format for the third series will be switching to two-parters. He says that the reasons will be made clear, but I doubt the explanation will be sufficient for my tastes. Cliffhangers for every single adventure suck. Plain and simple,. They force the writer to insert artificial dramatic peaks, which can really screw with the natural rise of tension. For every indelible "Cybermen-breaking-out-of-their-tomb" cliffhanger, there were ten pointless ones. On unbroadcast audio, they're especially silly, because you buy the whole adventure at once. Series 1 of this audio series got the balance just right. Why on Earth does Big Finish need to tamper with that success? I suppose for the same reason that Series 2 has stripped us of the best version of the theme music and deprived us of genuine Doctor-companion conflict: because they can.
For my money, Max Warp reveals a series at a crossroads. Whether we're at the start of a devolution of the Eighth Doctor adventures into some sort of weird 80s redux, or merely taking a temporary side trip through the Land of the Forgettably Fun, is as yet unknown. All that' is clear is that this series' kinder, gentler Lucie is no Lucie at all.