Here we go then, not only the last stand-alone Fifth Doctor story in the classic “Main Range”, but also the last single Doctor, four-part story in the Main Range. While I’m sure the boxsets that replace it will be perfectly fine, it is a shame to say goodbye to what has always been the backbone of Big Finish Doctor Who. So before we get to the final multi-Doctor release next month let’s look at “The Blazing Hour”, a Fifth Doctor and Turlough story, which in itself is quite rare. Was it a good send off to the regular range’s standard format? Let’s find out!
The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Turlough to a high-tech scientific installation on the planet Testament in the distant future. The human race have become intergalactic buccaneers, thanks to their ability to generate vast amounts of power for long-distance travel. Testament is the source of that power – and the Doctor has never quite understood how it works.
But experiments are underway on Testament – experiments with potentially explosive and devastating consequences. And even the Doctor may be too late to stop it.
With politicians and bureaucrats getting in the way, the race is on. Not to stop a disaster – but to save as many people as possible.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
The Blazing Hour is, if nothing else, a perfectly fine example of a stand alone four part story. The Doctor and Turlough arrive on the planet Testament and while the latter wonders around, the former finds out a dangerous time experiment is taking place, one that soon ends in a rather large explosion. The blast is kept at bay by a “time dam” but it’s only a matter of time (ho-ho!) before it breaks free and wipes out a “good chunk of the galaxy”. While The Doctor is stuck in politics (I’ll get to that in a bit) Turlough is stuck with two broken legs and an activist called Fionn (Lynsey Murrell), but luckily she is the helping type. Our two aliens (and that’s the interesting thing here, Doctor and Turlough are aliens visiting a human settlement, so we are very much positioned as the aliens here) spend most of the story trying to come up with different methods of saving or getting off the planet, with several flawed characters getting in the way. It’s a simple set up, but it works for the most part.
Politician Violet Hardaker (Rakie Ayola) and a scientist known only as Horobin (Raj Ghatak) keep the plot from resolving too early due to pure greed and insanity, respectively. While particularly Violet can reach comedic parody levels, it does at least show how bad humanity can become even in the most dire situations. The planet isn’t saved, but the people on it are, and frankly the whole experience leaves a bad taste in our lead protagonists’ mouths with sort of suits where they are at the start of “Planet of Fire”. It’s a good story, it kept my interest and the darker mood fits the place in the show it supposed to go in.
In case you’re wondering about the disfigured Igor-like person: some people were mutated by “Time Winds” during the disaster. Well, one was… Good cover overall, by the way!
My biggest sticking point is what I’ve already mentioned, how Violet Hardaker and her higher-ups are so money and power obsessed that they literally hold zero interest in other people’s lives. It’s an extreme version of a real problem, but it’s such an extreme version that it became too unrealistic and took me out of what was otherwise a really good, dramatic story. If the story was a more light-hearted parody all the way through then fine (look at last month’s Fourth Doctor story “The World Traders”) but this story had too very contrasting tones which took me out of it in a few scenes.
This story doesn’t link with anything in particular. That being said, there have only been five solo Doctor & Turlough stories, and one of them was the second ever and first non-multi-Doctor main range story in “Phantasmagoria”, so this release adds an even more pleasing mirror to the start of the range than I first thought!
“The Blazing Hour” is a good two hours, with drama unfolding across the story and some good cliffhangers / false hope moments that get shot down by greed or insanity… or both, but sadly it often changes tone completely with cartoonish characters that feel completely out of place. Still, it was good, and fits into its era perfectly. A fine end to the solo Main Range stories.