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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
The Blood Furnace


Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 805 9
Release Date: 31 August 2017

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...

The TARDIS materialises in 20th-century England again in The Blood Furnace, but this is far from being a case of same old, same old. This time we are not in the usual London, but Merseyside – calling for some authentic regional accents (from Clare Calbraith as Orla and Ignatius Anthony as Lee) and discussions on the state of the local shipbuilding industry.

The time period is also unusual. The year is 1991, which was the near future when the classic series of Doctor Who came to an end in 1989 – though given the number of adventures the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Mel (Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Bonnie Langford) have experienced since then, this is probably a more or less contemporary setting for them, if not the recent past.

Period details thrown in by writer Eddie Robson include mentions of teletext (remember that?), an ashtray in an office (remember those?), and the popularity of arcade fighting games (which provides some fun scenes for Ace). The proximity to the time-frame of Mel’s original departure from Earth also means that we can have an old flame of hers turn up (entrepreneur Stuart Dale, played by Todd Heppenstall, who sounds rather like a young Reece Shearsmith), giving Mel a personal stake in the events that unfold. References to the decline of heavy industry (Dale bitterly describes it as asset stripping on a massive scale) are appropriate to the period, though they would also have been topical in the 1980s, and the subject still resonates today. Crucially, from a plotting plot point of view, 1991 is a time before there was widespread domestic access to the internet.

Robson’s plot also includes some fascinating aliens, and it will keep even the most experienced Who fan guessing as to how the various characters and plot elements fit together. One of the races involved possesses intriguingly arcane technology, making use of blood for power, stones under water to control an interstellar gateway, and a fast-burning candle to promote rapid learning.

If the above sounds a bit grim and serious, then the tone is balanced by an enthusiastic performance by the main guest star of this story, Julie Graham, who plays the evil lady boss Carolyn. Graham gives as memorable a performance as she did as Ruby White in the Sarah Jane Adventures story Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith. Carolyn is most certainly not your mean and moody type of villain – she enjoys her work. “Oh,” she exclaims with delight while discussing a blood sacrifice, “can we do it here?” Her actions also result in a couple of unusual TARDIS-based cliffhangers.

All in all, this Merseyside story is hard to beat.


Richard McGinlay

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