The first of two Main Range releases this month, neither of which are directly linked to anything. Muse of Fire is definitely the most interesting though, as not only is it a new Doctor / Ace / Hex story, but it sees the return of Iris Wildthyme, and even her panda teddy bear companion… Panda. All this plus 1920s Paris and Paul Magrs at the helm of the script? You know its going to be something to behold…
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…!
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) – The Doctor has seen a strange fluctuation in time, several of the key artists of 20s Paris are leaving, their dreams unfulfilled. Who is at the root of this problem? Is it a new enemy, or an old friend?
Ace (Sophie Aldred) – Ace knows that The Doctor wouldn’t arrive in a town without an ulterior motive, and she’s soon proven right…
Hex (Philip Olivier) – Hex is still just naive enough to The Doctor’s ways to believe they’ve only visited this time period due to all the famous poets and artists, and not because of aliens and disappearing people…
Iris Wildthyme (Katy Manning) – Iris made a Queen a promise to catch a fugitive, but to do that she may have to mess around with Earth’s history a tad. What harm could she do, really?
Panda (David Benson) – Panda doesn’t feel comfortable using his writing skills to crush the ambitions of many of the Earth’s best artists, but his respect for Iris runs deep… for now.
Dora Muse (Christine Kavanagh) – All Dora wants to do is suck the brains out of the most brilliant minds of 1920s Earth, why is it then that this Iris Wildthyme woman keeps getting in the way! What harm could she do, really? … Oh yeah, right.
Kevin Archer (Gethin Anthony) – Kevin is a would-be poet who travelled to Paris from Detroit to achieve his dream… Sadly, it hasn’t worked out that well, not unless he gets struck by sudden inspiration!
Isabel Archer (Rebecca La Chance) – Isabel just wants to go home to her wealthy family, though its beginning to seem more and more like she’ll have to go home alone, as Kevin is still obsessed with a fleeting dream…
There’s certainly a lot going on with this cover, especially if you’re unaware of the setting and plot!
Muse of Fire, being a script by Paul Magrs featuring Iris Wildthyme, is full of humour and satire, and is well paced to boot. Now, if you’re looking for a more seriously toned Doctor Who story then I’d look elsewhere, but if you’re up for a laugh, then it’s hard to find a better example in 2018’s releases.
The Doctor, Ace and Hex arrive in Paris during the golden period between wars, and surprise surprise there are aliens up to no good. I do like that it’s set early enough in the Doctor/Ace/Hex run that Hex was naive enough to think this was just a trip to a significant era of history, where as Ace called the Doctor out on their being an ulterior motive right away. One of the main things I liked about this story was a reminder of how great this trio was, especially before they all got swept up in the big battle of Gods that ended their run.
Iris and Panda are a good laugh, Iris is still the often drunk auntie who is a good laugh at parties but you wouldn’t want to hang around with all the time, and Panda is a more surreal laugh, as a talking stuffed bear panda being arrogant and threatening tends to be… This is my first exposure to the character, as I do find Iris overbearing after a while so had no interest in her spin-off range, and this story does a good enough job catching me up. I do also love that Iris constantly pokes fun at the more serious tone of McCoy’s Doctor, constantly mocking his dramatic speeches while pointing out the more playful outward appearance he has.
To sum up the main story, basically Iris is following an outcast who is out to literally drain the brains from geniuses, and she figures the best way to stop her is to starve her by getting all the famous artists out of Paris… a tad extreme, really… Dora Muse, who looks like a twisted surrealist Picasso painting is the mind vampire in question, but she manages to convince everyone that she’s the victim (until the end, where she tries to go straw-sucking crazy at a party…) She also seems to be able to possess other beings, as after she turns to dust when exposed to the sun (she’s a vampire in more than one way!) she possesses Panda’s body, which was funny, and leads to a good old-fashioned “a bunch of characters fall off of a balcony and into a river, their bodies are never recovered” ending. Well, the real ending is Iris and Kevin find Panda and everyone apart from Dora is fine, but you know what I mean!
Speaking of Kevin Archer and his wife Isabel, they’re a struggling couple who were on their way back home to the states as Kevin admits his career as a poet is never going to get started. Dora, desperate for food, pushes him down the concrete steps and plants some sort of psychic forcey…thing, into his head while he’s out of it, making him a top-class poet… though his poems are just random gibberish… which people still lap up as the work of a genius, so… seems about right for the art world, to be fair! Isabel is pregnant and wants the support of her family, so leaves him behind, and then Kevin eventually finds out the truth and tries to help deal with Dora. Kevin’s a fun character himself, especially his dramatic readings of nonsense.
Overall the story is full of funny moments (Hex ending up as a nude model of Iris’ art class and the reactions of Ace finding him were great) and clever dialogue. It’s sure to cheer you up listening to it!
That being said, there were a few niggling points. The Doctor, upon hearing of Dora’s entirely made up troubled past, believes her whole-heartedly and starts to work against Iris, who he even says in the episode that she occasionally meddles but never does anything serious like this. I have a hard time believing The Doctor would take this stranger at face value and not at least try to hear Iris’ side of the story. It’s no wonder Ms. Wildthyme is so annoyed when The Doctor turns up at her party to “thwart her plans”!
Also, I’m not sure why Dora just waits around. She looks at her “map of spirits” at all the geniuses leaving, and every night all the remaining ones are gathering together for in various locations, and she does nothing. Hell, she makes Kevin a genius and then waits a good while before taking him to her shop and having a nibble. Then all of a sudden, for the sake of the final act, she arrives at Iris’ party to drain all the geniuses gathered there… and then removes her veil, freaks everyone out and watches them leave. It does feel like she wasn’t acting on her plans solely so the story could move forward for three parts…
Iris first appeared in the many BBC novels from the 90s, but Audio-wise (and the Katy Manning incarnation in general-wise) she debuted in the Fifth Doctor story “Excellis Dawns”. Panda debuted in the Iris spin-off audio series.
Other than that this story is quite stand alone, other than having to take place before the Doctor / Ace / Hex stories got more continuity heavy…
Muse of Fire is a good laugh, very easy to just sit back and listen to without worrying about anything. There are some problems when you stop and think about them, but they don’t hurt the tone Mr. Magrs was going for. Even Iris Wildthyme, who I’ve found far too overbearing in previous releases, was nicely toned down here. A good fun story.