This month’s Main Range audio continues with the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Mel combination that, sadly, has failed to really work, mostly due to its placement in Big Finish’s own timeline. While the last story was disappointing, this lived up to the fact that it looked and sounded a bit dull by … being a bit dull. Let’s take a closer look anyway, because that’s how my blog works!
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…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) – The Doctor detects minor alien technology on Earth in 1991, and decides to check it out. Rather than tell his companions why they’re walking around a Liverpudlian shipyard he decided to keep it to himself… because that’s just what he does now.
Ace (Sophie Aldred) – Ace is confused at the Doctor’s decision to walk around a shipyard in 1991, but goes along with it, surely by now knowing there is more to it than it looks…
Mel (Bonnie Langford) – Mel is still readjusting to life back on the TARDIS, which makes it more difficult for her when she bumps into an old college friend… what are the odds?
Carolyn (Julie Graham) – Leader of the evil alien race whose name I’ve already forgotten (sorry!) who wishes to take her army back to war after being stopped by their own magic in the past…
Stuart Dale (Todd Heppenstall) – Stuart thinks he is bringing jobs and money back to Merseyside by opening the docks back up, deciding to ignore the aliens bringing in supplies through a bone-laden portal and giving people special potions that make them more intelligent and quick workers…. Clever! What could go wrong?!
No matter how dull the story, you’re (nearly) always guaranteed a good cover!
Although I was never fully engaged with the story, I will comment on how well it flows from scene to scene. It starts out on a part-built ship with a murder mystery going on, then it shifts to a portal in a warehouse, then suddenly we’re on a flying alien ship and dealing with blood sacrifices and magic words… Somehow, all that actually flows naturally into one another, so writer Eddie Robson gets points there.
I also enjoyed the opening scene, where two people are playing some sort of Street Fighter-esque arcade machine and having a friendly chat, before the whole murder thing happens. It felt very natural and very modern (for both 1991 and today, really). Even though it was a bit hard to visualise and little silly, at the end of the story The Doctor rigs up the arcade machine to project Ace as a large character from the game, allowing her to kick and punch various guards with ease, complete with the cheesy arcade sound effects. Like I said, it was silly, but fun.
Now I’m all for “advanced technology is like magic”, it’s a classic trope, but I think they went way too far here. Carolyn, or whatever he alien name was, uses a few phrases to turn people into her slaves, or turn some soldiers into birds (?) or apparently freeze over an entire island if she wasn’t interrupted. I’m sorry, but that’s TOO much like magic! I fond it really hard to take seriously. Plus at the end she is tied up in chain and left to die with her ship! I’m pretty sure if she can use words to turn people into birds she could probably say a few things to get out of a set of chains…
Once again Ace is very much TV Ace despite where this fits in the timeline, and Mel, despite having a direct connection to one of the lead guest cast, barely does anything again. This “era” is really being mishandled, and needs to end if it doesn’t get any better.
I didn’t really feel anything for the guest cast. Stuart had one tone in his voice the entire play, and the pregnant woman who followed Ace around did little, though admittedly did more than Mel! Even the enemies were just generic chanting “evil” people. Plus one or two of the Liverpudlian accents were a bit… crap?
Nothing directly ties into anything else. The enemy threat here have some similarities to other blood-sacrificial races seen in the books (The Faction Paradox from the Eighth Doctor books) and even the TV series (The Sycorax from “The Christmas Invasion”, a Tenth Doctor TV story), though neither of them had quite as much voodoo word power as the villains here…
The Blood Furnace isn’t bad, but it’s certainly not great. I’ve said this before, but with Audios you can’t talk about great visuals or camera direction etc, so it’s all down to the script, the voice acting and the sound effects, and sadly the script isn’t that interesting and the voice acting was rather plain by most of the cast. With nothing else to fall back on, I have to just say… it’s dull. Not bad, not great, just… there. It happens now and again, sadly…