❉ Sheridan Smith revisits the role of Lucie Miller in this intimate character piece.
With David Tennant and John Hurt having joined Big Finish’s Doctor Who range in recent years, it’s easy to forget the significance of getting Paul McGann to reprise the role in the early 2000s. The ability to tell Doctor Who stories after the 1996 movie gave not just McGann’s Doctor but also the series itself a future beyond what could be achieved in print media (however good many of those comics and novels were). While some of the early stories pairing him with India Fisher as Charley Pollard are beloved and acclaimed – particularly Robert Shearman’s The Chimes of Midnight – McGann’s Doctor didn’t really hit his stride on audio until late-2006 with the series of stories commissioned for BBC7 (now Radio 4 Extra).
Set much later in the Eighth Doctor’s life, albeit not as close to the end of it as many listeners initially suspected, these were much closer in format to the current TV series. This was reflected not just in the mix of standalone and multi-part stories but also pairing the Doctor with an assertive young woman from contemporary Earth. Though also from a working class background, Lucie Miller – as played by Sheridan Smith – was a very different and ultimately more interesting character than Rose Tyler. She was likewise more compelling than Charley, whose relationship with the Doctor for better or worse anticipated (or influenced) the dynamic between the Doctor and Rose in some ways.
Over the course of four series, the duo encountered many of the Doctor’s greatest foes and despite a rocky start became great friends. She’s also the only one of the Doctor’s traveling companions to have spent Christmas with members of his family. After this chaotic Christmas dinner – depicted in Marc Platt’s delightful story Relative Dimensions – Lucie chose to travel 22nd century Earth with the Doctor’s great grandson Alex Campbell, a decision ultimately led to her death fighting the Daleks.
As the Eighth Doctor’s final words in Night of the Doctor show, he never forgot her. Neither did listeners, and thankfully neither did the team at Big Finish. Since 2011, Sheridan Smith has revisited the role of Lucie in two stories for their Short Trips range. The latest is Flashpoint by Andrew Smith, which recounts another previously unknown chapter in Lucie’s life, prior to her move to 22nd century Earth.
Though not without its share of space-adventure flourish, Flashpoint is a relatively low key affair in comparison to her last full-cast drama, To the Death. That’s all to the good, since the Short Trips range tends to work better with more intimate character pieces like this or last year’s showcase for Adric, A Full Life. In fact, one of the best things about Flashpoint is that it sidelines the Doctor early on putting the focus almost completely on Lucie and her actions.
However brash she may seem, at her core Lucie is someone who will always do the right thing. In this case, it means protecting a boy she’s just met from mercenaries who’ve been hired to kill him as an act of revenge against his father. It may not be her fight, but her moral compass won’t let her take the easy way out – even if it would be safer for her.
This ethical fortitude is beautifully encapsulated later in the story when she’s given the choice of letting the mercenaries have a clear shot at the boy or getting killed protecting him.
Of course, standing my ground wouldn’t change anything. It just meant they’d shoot me before Elrick. “Well, I’m not moving!”
This kind of “stream of anxiousness” narrative is an ideal medium for Sheridan to revisit Lucie. Experiencing the events in first person terms gives them real immediacy and reminds listeners what made her character appealing in the first place.
It likewise serves as a reminder of how good an actress Smith is. It’s a shame that TV and theater audiences outside of Great Britain haven’t seen more of her work, because (as anyone who’s seen Cilla or Mrs. Biggs knows) she’s among the UK’s most versatile performers. Like any group, Doctor Who fans sometimes view our objects of affection through a very parochial lens. Along with its other virtues, Flashpoint is an object lesson in how lucky we are to have her in our world.
❉ ‘Doctor Who – Short Trips #7.07 Flashpoint’ by Andrew Smith was released on 13 July 2017 and is available for download from the Big Finish website, RRP £2.99