Tony Fyler remembers the Eighth Doctor’s bezzie.
Clara Oswald is apparently from Blackpool, though blink and you'd probably miss the allusions to her home town.
But before there was Clara, the Eighth Doctor travelled with another northern lass – an audio trailblazer who blew the doors off the Tardis with both her sharp wit and her compassionate heart. Welcome to Lucie Miller.
Lucie Miller was not a typical 'wandered on board' companion. She was scooped out of her own life and dumped unceremoniously - and without enough in the way of explanation - in the Doctor's Tardis. Right from their first moments together, Sheridan Smith's Lucie and Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor had both chemistry and fire, sparking off each other in the same way as the Tenth Doctor later would with a companion who was picked up and dumped on him - Donna 'no pockets' Noble. In Lucie's case it's actually the Time Lords who have done the scooping, in a well-meaning but poorly researched attempt to avert the creation of a timeline in which they think Lucie becomes a ruthless dictator.
As you might expect, modern girl Lucie is properly peeved to be landed with the floppy-haired ponce with the impossible box - and vice versa. But throughout Blood of the Daleks, her first story and an interesting masterclass in what would happen if the universe’s go-to nutters in terms of racial purity ever discovered that someone else had been building Daleks too, she copes more than admirably with mad scientists, war-torn terrified worlds, and blokes with tin-foil helmets. Oh and Daleks. Did we mention that? Right in her first story, Lucie’s dropped in it with the Daleks and she comes out fighting.
But there’s much more to Lucie than just attitude. She’s sweet, sarcastic and has a genuine enthusiasm not only for all the robots and spaceships and wonders, oh my, but for the people she meets along the way, whoever and whatever they may be. She’s really keen that people should all get along and help each other out if they can, and she exemplifies that in her own life – in Horror of Glam Rock, she cares for Tommy Tomorrow as a human being, while the alien nastiness is going on all around them. In The Cannibalists, she feels a genuine sympathy for Servo, the poetic robot, and so on. But to be fair to her, life with the Doctor gives her only moments to stop and take things in – there’s deep cover to maintain and cyber-plots to expose in Human Resources, a story which explains much about how she ended up with the Doctor in the first place, interstellar Jeremy Clarksons to almost slap upside the head in Max Warp, crocodile gods to embody in The Skull of Sobek, Zygons and Spiders and Krynoids to fight – all in a day’s work on board the Tardis.
Lucie’s travels certainly broaden her as a person, but the point is that she’s cool from day one, when she finds herself on board the time machine. Her growth is multi-faceted as, for instance as early as Dead London, she has to work out a senseless timey-wimey puzzle almost entirely without the Doctor’s help, and makes the friends she needs to make to take a more than healthy crack at it. By the time of Book of Kells, she’s almost one small quantum leap away from having her own spin-off show – Lucie Bleedin’ Miller, Protector of the Web of Time, Mate, How’d Ya Do?
But her involvement with the Doctor is by no means straightforward. Whereas the Eighth Doctor’s other big audio companion, Charley Pollard, is straightforward in her emotional reaction – she loves him, just as Rose would later love Doctors 9 and 10 - Lucie is far more down to earth. She grows to see the Doctor as a bezzie mate, who just so happens to be in the planet-saving game. But it’s really not that simple. In just her second story, Lucie introduces us to her Auntie Pat, one of her favourite relations. She introduces us to her decades before she herself ever knew her, when Pat was in a band, and there are subtle differences between the Pat she knows and the Pat we’re shown. They are differences that will come back to haunt Lucie Miller and the Eighth Doctor, and drive a wedge between them. They meet Pat again in a story it would be a humungo-spoiler to name, and the differences are explained – to everyone but Lucie. The Doctor, fearing to interfere with the established history of her life so far, makes the decision to lie to her, setting up the grand betrayal Lucie feels he has perpetrated against her when the tone turns dark and we come to Death in Blackpool for a Christmas of secrets, deceptions and hurt. They may be best mates, but the glory of that is that Lucie has the gumption and the self-possession to not stand for being stabbed in the back, even by him. She’s a fully-formed person in her own right, and won’t travel around being happy and jolly with a man she feels has done her wrong.
With trust destroyed between them, Lucie stops travelling with the Doctor – but in no way stops travelling altogether. With the regularity of a number 25 bus, she simply finds another pan-galactic time traveler to tool about with, but comes to blows with them too after the events of The Book of Kells and The Resurrection of Mars. When the Doctor, rather than her new time travelling friend, comes back for her, enough time has passed for Lucie to put the deception behind her, or at least try to do so – allowing them to begin to build their best mate status back up again.
Perversely, but in another foreshadow, this time of the tangled family history of the Ponds and River Song, it’s when she meets the Doctor’s great-grandson Alex that Lucie leaves the Tardis again – to go travelling with the younger, rather more human scion of the vagabond Time Lord’s family at the end of Relative Dimensions, another Christmas filled with alien peril by the bucketload.
Lucie Miller came in to the Doctor Who world and started battling Daleks, with a quip and a verbal spear, a practical, sometimes-just-whack-it solution and a caring nature. It’s an appalling emotional wrench that she finished her time in Doctor Who battling them again – years after the events of the Dalek Invasion of Earth, the tin pot metal gits are back, and this time we hear some of the effects of their insidious invasion, which begins with a plague. A plague which Lucie contracts while travelling in Asia with Alex. Over the course of two-part season finale Lucie Miller and To The Death, the Daleks destroy a large swathe of the Earth’s population, and even the Doctor’s friends don’t escape unscathed. What happens to lesser-known and lesser-loved companion Tamsin Drew is simply shocking in its brutality and suddenness. But no fate so ignominious is in store for Lucie Miller. When she leaves the Doctor Who world, it is not with a scream, but with a yell of her own name, in a gesture so utterly true to character – so selfless and yet self-determined – that the words ‘Lucie Bleedin’ Miller’ will surely be burned on the memories of Daleks for all time to come.
It’s tempting to think that Sheridan Smith’s performance may have influenced the development of on screen companions of the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors – she combines the scrappy have-a-go spirit of Donna Noble, the slick wit of Clara Oswald, and the compassionate heart of both Donna and Amy, going above and beyond for her family, her friends, her Doctor and the people she meets in the blinkin’ mad universe to which the Doctor introduces her.
Big Finish, it’s safe to say, does good companion, whether they’re there for the long haul, like Evelyn Smythe, Charley Pollard and Lucie Miller, or the short, like Tamsin Drew, Flip Jackson, or Oliver Harper. In Lucie Miller the spirit of the modern age is written down, and then given to an actress of Sheridan Smith’s calibre to bring to life. Even in a tightly packed and highly effective field, Lucy Bleedin’ Miller will always be something special. Recently online, the question was asked – ‘I’m new to Big Finish, what should I start with?’ One response simply said it all: ‘Anything with Lucie Miller. Just anything.’
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk