26 August 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Eddie Robson

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: August 2017

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Ace and Mel to a recently reopened shipyard in Merseyside. It's 1991, the hardest of times - but now they're shipbuilding once again, thanks to the yard's new owners, the Dark Alloy Corporation. A miracle of job creation - but is it too good to be true?

While the Doctor and Ace go in search of an alien assassin at loose in the yard, Stuart Dale, discoverer of the near-magical Dark Alloy material, has an extraordinary proposition to make to his old college friend, Mel.

But who is the Corporation’s mysterious client? Who does she really represent? And what's the secret of the Blood Furnace? Seeking answers, the Doctor and friends are about to find themselves in very deep water…"

After last month's play proved a surprisingly lacking affair despite the ingredients being so promising (great writer plus great TARDIS crew), I was a little hesitant to embark upon this play as it had the same set-up: very good writer (Eddie Robson this time) and the same crew as before. Would lightning strike twice and not in a good way?

Thankfully not. Whilst not perfect, The Blood Furnace is a highly entertaining play and a good way to spend a couple of hours.

The TARDIS lands in Liverpool, 1991, where ships are being built and Stuart Dale, an old flame of Mel's, heads up the operations. Someone has been murdered though and The Doctor suspects more than just humanity is involved, suspicions which very quickly are proven right.  Who is the mysterious manager? Why does Mel's ex- keep getting nosebleeds? And why are computers a no-go thing?

Off the bat, this one is a lot of fun but with a nice edge of realism in it.  Liverpool proves to be a very effective setting as even now Doctor Who struggles much of the time to give us locations that aren't extremely Southern (or Welsh). The colour Liverpudlian accents give proceedings is to the benefit of the tale and makes the script and story all the more notable and, I suspect, memorable because of it, even if nearly all of the cast aren't actually from Liverpool as revealed in the CD extras. (Speaking of which, there are no extended extras for subscribers in tandem with the play's download this month.  Seeing as that's one of the perks for subscribing to the range, this feels a pretty poor show, especially when the gap between the play being released and the extended extras available seems to vary on a whim from no time at all to an entire month or more.)

As is typical of Robson's work, the characters' dialogue flows easily and feels natural, and the whole play has a real heart to it. People don't just die, they die with consequences be it leaving a family behind or a grieving co-worker. This feels very in keeping with the McCoy era and grounds the play whilst giving characters some nice shading. There is an especially lovely moment of this in the final episode where a phone call needs to be made and it's amazingly awkward and painful to listen to, which only adds to the sense of truth across the four episodes.

The regulars all get a fair crack of the whip. Indeed, the rapport between them in Part One almost makes me long for an episode one day where it's just the three of them being terribly happy.

Across the play, the Doctor gets to be at once the smartest man in the room and the most fun; Ace enjoys some computer game fun (which features the best music of the play: authentic, catchy and perfectly suited to the beat-'em-up coin guzzling arcade machines of the period); and Mel catches up on the past whilst looking to the future.

I wonder if every second play in a Mel/Ace/Doctor trilogy will feature Mel being a bit loved up or if it's merely co-incidence? An ex-boyfriend here, a love interest before. Maybe we'll see her future baby next time around.

When the final episode comes and alien plans are revealed and, inevitably, unravelled, some of the momentum is lost but Julie Graham is clearly having fun and relishing the theatrics.  It's by no means bad (it's not, it's good); it's just perhaps a bit more reliant on action and descriptive dialogue of the "Look at those thousands of things that tower above us by eight feet!" ilk, but this is only notable really as it doesn't fall into the trap before then and is handled pretty well.

All in all there is a sense throughout The Blood Furnace that people are enjoying themselves, and this is a solid play in a range that has for a while now felt a little out of steam. More of this calibre is welcomed.



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