Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - Iron Bright
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This month's Doctor Who main range release from Big Finish continues the adventures of Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor. Again, the regular TV and Big Finish companions are absent, as Baker shines among a talented guest cast.
Iron Bright has been written by Chris Chapman and directed by John Ainsworth and is available at the Big Finish site here. It goes on general release from the 31st July 2018. Here's the synopsis:
It's London, 1828, and the father-and-son team of Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel are masterminding a dangerous project - the digging of the Thames Tunnel. There's just one problem...The Brunels' tunnel is haunted. Every night, a spectral blue lady walks the excavation.
Now, the 22-year-old Isambard, eager to step out of his famous father's shadow, finds himself dealing with not only the supposed supernatural, but a second unexpected guest - a colourful trespasser who calls himself 'The Doctor'.
Isambard would like to know a great deal more about this strange man and his mysterious blue box...
I'll be joined in this month's review by my son Ben, a regularly second reviewer at The Digital Fix of Doctor Who on Big Finish, and the biggest Whovian this side of Gallifrey.
Baz Greenland (aged 36)
Colin Baker may not have fared too well in his TV stories but Big Finish have more than made up for it and Iron Bright is no different. It's another solo affair for the Sixth Doctor, which sees him arrive in early nineteenth Century London and the construction of the first tunnel under the Thames. Writer Chris Chapman takes an historical event, the flooding and deaths of several workmen and the injury of future Bristol engineering pioneer Isambard Brunel and crafts a strong tale of alien ghosts, warring civilisations and moral ambiguity in true Doctor Who fashion.
The idea of blue spectral figures haunting the excavation adds menace to what already feels like a dangerous and claustrophobic setting and director John Ainsworth is able to capture the atmosphere of the piece from the very beginning. There are a number of delightfully flamboyant characters, including Christopher Fairbank's overzealous Marc Brunel, who is keen to utilise this engineering marvel to become the toast of society. This of course leads to a terrific cliff-hanger to part one as the tunnel begins to flood during Brunel's party.
But the key 'companion characters' of the story are James MacCallum's Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whoplays well off Baker's Doctor and Becky Wright's servant Flo Hawkins, who offers a down to earth perspective of the events as they unfold. Catherine Bailey's Tan and Imogen Church's Rispa round off the impressive cast as the aliens from Luciat caught up in the conflict between humanity and their own people.
The first two parts are really just good set up; it's when the Doctor, Flo and Isambard cross over into the alien world that things get really interesting. The idea that these aliens have windows to Earth, viewing old London as a tourist attraction is a novel idea; the issue of the Industrial Revolution leading to the rise of factories and pollution that has seeped through the windows into Luciat adds some fascinating moral dilemmas. Is it humanity's fault that technology and innovation has created something that will poison an alien race they didn't even know existed? is it right that the people of Luciat viewed humanity as a virtual zoo? And how does the Doctor solve this issue?
The culmination in part four if fun and grandiose, something that clearly wouldn't have been achievable on televised Doctor Who in the 80s (and a difficult budgetary constraint for Nu Who too). Redcoat British soldiers fighting sword-welding ghost soldiers ( the tributes) on the cusp of a portal between worlds makes for a thrilling conclusion. My only small gripe is the discovery that Luciat scientists were responsible for creating the weakening the windows that led to Earth poisoning them; it makes it all to easy for the facility controlling the windows to be destroyed, ending the threat to both worlds.
But it's a small point in an otherwise strong entry for Big Finish's Doctor Who main range. Colin Baker proves he can hold court without a companion in tow and it's an innovate take on a real historic event with plenty of moral dilemma and action to keep the listener entertained to the very end.
Ben Greenland (aged 12)
Iron Bright hasn't been my favourite audio in the Doctor Who main range of 2018, but it hasn't been the worst either. The Doctor is the only character who has been seen before, but Issenbard Kingdom Brunel (Iron Bright) is a companion who works very well with this story.
Because it is based on a historical figure, the setting feels quite obvious, but it works too. I like that the story switches from London to Luciat halfway through, the alien world giving it a more Doctor Who-y feel. The tributes weren't really that effective, but the idea behind them fitted the story. Tan and Flo were a nice team up, and drove the story when the Doctor and Issenbard were off on their own adventure. Colin Baker was brilliant as always and I loved him using the Eleventh Doctor's catchphrase "Geronimo" (or is it his because he did it first?).
Overall, not the best, but not the worst either
Between parts two and three is a gorgeous music suite; it's always good to hear the music that accompanies a story in isolation but this piece particularly stands out. There is an immense, sweeping epic tone to the piece, contrasting against solemn violin sequences and dark, intense percussion beats that capture the mood and atmosphere of the story.
There's also a trailer for the next Sixth Doctor story Hour of the Cybermen, which features the 80's villains in all their glory and a return of the new Big Finish UNIT team introduced in The Helliax Rift.
Finally the usual high standard of interviews with the cast and crew, with writer Chris Chapman giving some real insight into the historical facts (and lack of) surrounding the Thames tunnel construction, Isambard Kingdom Brunel before his life in Bristol and how that formed the basis for this tale.