14 January 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Paul Magrs

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: December 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"Oooh la la! It's been a long time coming, but the Doctor is about to be reunited with Iris Wildthyme! They're both in 1920s Paris and everyone's flocking to Iris's salon.

But wait...! What's that noise..? Thud thud thud...! It's the soft, approaching feet of a small and acerbic Art Critic Panda...!"

December 2018 for Big Finish’s main range of Doctor Who plays gives us two Winter treats. With Colin Baker in The Hunting Ground, we’ve snow and isolation and wolves a-running, whereas with Muse of Fire we’ve something with a far lighter, end-of-term feel.

The play gets off to a very good start, bursting in with the full edit of the Sylvester McCoy opening theme tune instead of the truncated version Big Finish usually use. It’s a small thing, but it grabs your attention immediately and suggests an attention to period detail… that is almost immediately kicked to the curb for pandas, nude modelling and a bus bound for Putney Common via the Multiverse.

Yes, Iris Wildthyme is back in all her glory and wild eccentricity and Muse of Fire takes that as its lead. The play is set in Paris in the 1920s, a time of artists and poetry and creativity and - but of course - alien ne’er-do-wells. It’s a fun setting that fits Iris well and also the Doctor, not to mention Panda, whose art criticism is sending waves rippling through the city and perverting the known course of history.

Now, I’ve heard some grumbles about Ms Wildthyme in the past; people claiming she should be confined to spin-off media and her own series instead of lumped in with the good ship TARDIS, irrespective of her roots (discounting the Phoenix Court Iris, that is). These same voices will hold up the charge of silliness, idiosyncratic writing and everything being a bit over the top: to which I say, go for it.

Give me an authorial voice that has purpose and drive (and love him or no, Paul Magrs’ writing certainly does when given freedom as is the case here). Give me over-the-top action (seriously, have people never seen the show?)

And as for silliness? Yes please. I said earlier that this play is lighter, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s lightness with a wink and a breath in its lungs, in a script with depth and heart and weight amid the silliness: and oh! How glorious it is to be silly sometimes. Doctor Who is often at its best when it’s smiling and Muse of Fire is worth grinning over.

I noted depth a moment ago, because this play has it in spades. It’s a sincere and sweet look at artistic integrity and feeling valueless when surrounded by others more successful than yourself. It’s a search for validity in your work and voice, and a sombre warning to not let that make you blind to the love of others who aren’t possessive of an artistic mindset. That it has that weight and also a cybernetic panda is about as Doctor Who as you can possibly get. Plus, Hex gets his kit off, which will get a lot of fan approval from certain quarters.

There are fingers one could point if one was minded to. The disposal of the big bad near the end feels rushed, for example, and the final line feels a bit like there is meant to be a musical swirl or follow-up sentence after it; the end theme tune coming in surprises the listener a little. But frankly, I don’t care.

This is a fun play to listen to and everyone, from Magrs to the cast, to Jamie Anderson directing, all seem to be having a lot of fun. Indeed, McCoy is full of enthusiasm in the extras for this release and that’s lovely to hear. Hopefully it’ll encourage more intelligent nonsense: and I mean that in the most loving way possible. Let’s hope that the flame lit by this muse of fire keeps on burning for a while yet and inspires more of this quality down the line.


+ Muse Of Fire is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


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