Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Blood Furnace
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At the end of July, Big Finish released The Blood Furnace, the 228th entry in their long running main range. Once again, Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor has been joined by companions Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Mel (Bonnie Langford).
The Blood Furnace, written by Eddie Robson and directed by Ken Bentley, has been released on digital audio and CD. It's available for Big Finish customers now and goes on general release on the 30th September. Here's the synopsis...
"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…"
My son Ben, massive fan and knowledgeable of all things Doctor Who will be joining me again to the review this latest release...
Baz Greenland (aged 36)
We've been rather spoiled lately when it comes to Doctor Who and Big Finish. The main range has mixed things up with two interconnected stories in the likes of Alien Heart / Dalek Soul, we've had another terrific Classic Doctors, New Monsters Volume 2, Tom Baker in Philip Hinchcliffe Presents Volume 3: The Helm Of Awe and even Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood delivered in the first part of series 5, Aliens Among Us Part 1. So perhaps we were due something a little less special; I really wanted to love The Blood Furnace but I just found it all a little dull.
But positives first; I'm really enjoying the continued adventures of the Seventh Doctor, Mel and Ace together and it's great to see some well-needed development in Bonnie Langford's companion, something which is discussed in the additional extras. And there were good ideas here - the aliens with their ability to mix science with blood sacrifices, psychic links and incantations made for something a little different to the usual fare and there was a strong political thread in the setting of early nineties Merseyside. We all think of the recent recession now, but there was one in that period too and the talk of unemployment and financial stress coming at the end of the Thatcher era is just as appropriate in today's day and age.
It's just as shame that the story wasn't that fascinating. There was no hook for a start; the TARDIS trio land in Merseyside and start looking around a shipyard and the latest build. There was nothing interesting to bring them now and it felt too confidential to have Mel run into an old university friend Stuart (Todd Heppenstall) who is now running the latest project, bringing jobs to a deprived area. Yes it builds on Mel as a person rather than a companion who just liked to scream a lot, but there could have been more depth to their relationship.
The aliens coming through a gateway to build the ship was an intriguing idea but the revelation that it was the first of many warships just felt a little obvious. The rest of the characters weren't that interesting to give much momentum; the only saving grace really was Julie Graham's hard nosed boss Carolyn who really shines in the final installment when she is revealed as an alien commander, working around the restrictions against her own people but contracting the warship design to humans.
The last part is the most exciting; the warship launches and the Doctor cunningly uses digital technology against the aliens. It's a nice idea, that humanity is on the verge of creating technology that the aliens will succumb too and the idea of Ace using an eight-foot digital avatar from a computer game to defeat the alien guards is rather fun. But was there any question of Mel leaving? I would have been disappointed if it was; Heppenstall played the character of Stuart well, but there wasn't enough to him to provide real motivation for her giving up her intergalactic travels.
Writer Eddie Robson has some good ideas but unfortunately the story fails to live up to them. The Blood Furnace is unfortunately not one I will be looking to revisit any time soon...
Ben Greenland (aged 11)
I can't actually think of a Doctor Who story set in a shipyard until now. It was pretty cool to delve deep into Mel's past in the form of Stuart Dale but I found it predictable that he would give Mel a job, as he would like to have her back. It was only logical that after their adventure, Mel would decide to continue travelling with the Doctor.
The title doesn't get referenced at all before part three, and even then, they don't call it the blood furnace; it is just a furnace with a blood crystal inside. It is worth mentioning the extent of goriness in the sacrifices to the ship. The villainous aliens in the story use magic to control people, which was different and exciting, making them quite dangerous. I did wonder, with a mysterious gate transporting a strange dark alloy and other materials to build the ships, why Stuart did not think to question where the gate came from.
There were a lot of 'how do they escape/survive that?' sort of cliff-hangers and I found the story more serious than last month's adventure, but I think the Doctor, Ace and Mel paring works. Oh, and next month it looks like the Pertwee era Silurians are back in china...
A trailer for the September release of the next Sylvester McCoy release The Silurian Candidate which looks to be far more exciting than The Blood Furnace was.
Once again, we get a delightful set of interviews with the cast and crew and it's great to hear McCoy, Aldred and Langford's thoughts on companion development and how Big Finish has allowed some much needed character progression for Mel, a computer programmer who never actually went near a computer during her entire time on the show!