In Review: Big Finish – The Blood Furnace

An all new audio drama starring the 7th Doctor, Ace and Mel

Synopsis: The Doctor, Ace and Mel arrive in a shipyard in 1991 Liverpool. Mel’s old boyfriend, Stewart, played by Todd James has seemingly pioneered a steel manufacturing process that creates a substance called dark alloy. A murder takes place on the ship and the killer kidnaps Ace. We find out that the murderer, Vinnie, who is played by Louis Timon, is actually an alien spy who is investigating Stewart’s employers.

It soon becomes apparent that Stewart’s clients are an alien species called the Orjem who are using the shipyard workers to rebuild their military fleet. The arrogant and manipulative Carolyn, played by Julie Graham, performs a blood sacrifice to make the ship fly but this proves not to be powerful enough to sustain the ship in flight.

The Doctor attempts to talk her down but it is ultimately Stewart’s bravery that gives the Doctor and his friends the upper hand. Carolyn is placed in chains and goes down with the ship and the Orjem’s surrender is negotiated by Deneuter, a subordinate of Carolyn’s played by Jade Anaka. Mel refuses Stewart’s offer to come with him and returns to the TARDIS for more adventures with Ace and the Doctor.

Review: This was an intriguing and astute adventure. There is much social commentary here, with Stewart revealing he was in debt after leaving college and this exchange: “People are asset stripping the country. Jobs are going. Ordinary people being thrown on the scrapheap.” Class warfare and the indifference of those in power to ordinary people’s lives is explored when Carolyn casts a spell to make Lee massage her feet and her offhand comment that the blood sacrifice was “beautiful”.

Contrasted with this are Ace and Orla’s reactions of horror and sadness to the killing with Claire Calbray‘s brilliantly delivered “Who does something like this?” There is humanity to be found here; when Ace expresses dismay at the possibility of having murdered Vinnie the Doctor tells her she had no choice but commends her for acknowledging the issue.

Mel’s character is a bit more fleshed out by her former relationship with Stewart and she gets the excellent line: “Most people’s lives aren’t what they had in mind. Mine certainly isn’t.” Sylvester McCoy walks the line between the levity and gravitas of 7 very deftly in this outing.

I would have liked to have seen this Doctor’s Chessmaster tendencies come out more in this story but Sylvester McCoy’s acting is excellent throughout. Imperialism is touched on here when Carolyn claims that the Orjem have to conquer other species or they would develop in a way that offended the Orjem’s culture.

The use of blood is used to make the ship fly is again a reference to ordinary people being sacrificed for the ambitions of those higher up. Also conveying this theme is the spell that Carolyn casts that makes the workers work harder that breaks down their bodies.

In contrast to this, the Doctor uses ingenuity and the creations of the peoples he encounters to help save the day. There are some very human moments in this story; when Orla finds out that Lee is dead she is shocked and horrified and blames Stewart.

Claire Calbray acts stupendously all through this adventure and her anger at Stewart for how he breaks the news of Lee’s death to Lee’s wife is a brilliant piece of acting that really hits home. There are a couple of references to the new series here when 7 uses a Judoon scanner and when he opines that the ship will be unable to capture them unless they have a Magnograb (which the Van Baalen brothers used in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS).

Sophie Aldred shows Ace’s spirit very well in this adventure and she and Orla make a great team. The music in this audio play is lovely and really conveys the sense of power and might of the ship.

The music used when Carolyn captures the Doctor is very exciting and the music when Orla is explaining what she knows is very tense and dramatic. The Doctor’s dark side comes out when he refuses to save Carolyn because he knew she would turn on them. This put me in mind of the 11th Doctor’s last words to Solomon in the episode Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. A nice touch I thought was Jade Anaka‘s Deneuter proving herself a reasonable member of the Orjem and accepting the Doctor’s terms at the end. Stewart makes the very human statement “I knew it was wrong but I just wanted it to work out” at the end of the adventure.

Overall, a great outing with stellar acting by all of the cast.

9.1
Big Finish: The Blood Furnace
  • Story
    9.0
  • Voice Acting
    9.0
  • Audio Production
    10
  • Art Work
    8.5
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