One of the most common questions current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat has had to fend off is whether the Doctor will ever meet that other hero of his, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock. And yet, that very crossover happened twenty-one years ago, albeit with different incarnations of both heroes, in Andy Lane’s New Adventures novel All-Consuming Fire. That novel has become the latest in a series of fan favourites to be adapted by Big Finish into the audio format.
All-Consuming Fire starts off like a proper Sherlock Holmes story, with a case taking in the gangs of London, dog fighting, and a secret library, and with some finely plotted moments of deduction. But when the Doctor visits 221B Baker Street, things start to get unusual. The second half feels more like a Doctor Who story, with a portal underneath an Indian palace and a trip to an alien planet leading to a confrontation with a god-like being. It’s at this bombastic climax where the story falters, becoming a little too simplistic and action-oriented and so not giving us the clever pay-off Holmes fans in particular may expect.
Nevertheless, the story’s simplicity makes it easy to enjoy the team-up of the characters, who fit neatly into each other’s worlds; Holmes being uncharacteristically perplexed upon first meeting the Doctor is a highlight, as are Holmes and Watson’s differing reactions to arriving on an alien planet. The dynamic gets mixed up further in the second half when the Doctor’s companions Ace and Benny show up; it’s particularly enjoyable to hear archaeologist-from-the-future Benny contribute to solving the mystery while challenging Victorian assumptions of how a woman should behave – even flirting with Watson, to the horny old soldier’s delight.
Writer Guy Adams has done a good job of adapting Lane’s novel, having struck a good balance between scenes narrated by Watson or Benny (with the narration reducing the need for awkward exposition), and scenes reflecting Big Finish’s usual play-like style. And though some elements, such as the novel-within-a-novel framing and appearances from Mycroft Holmes and Professor Moriarty, have been cut for pace, their omissions don’t damage the story.
The cast are on fine form, too – as the Doctor and his companions, McCoy, Aldred, and Bowerman work as well together as ever, while Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl are a traditional but solid Holmes and Watson. Watch out too, for Poirot star Hugh Fraser in a role that we won’t spoil for you but which is strongly connected to the Holmes mythos.
So stop worrying about how it fits into the continuity and enjoy this lovingly crafted retro-Wholock; though the later part of the story may rely on one sci-fi action cliché too many, spending time in the company of McCoy’s Doctor, Briggs’ Holmes, and respective companions is a delight.
ALL-CONSUMING FIRE (DOCTOR WHO) / AUTHOR: GUY ADAMS, ANDY LANE / STARRING: SYLVESTER MCCOY, SOPHIE ALDRED, LISA BOWERMAN, NICHOLAS BRIGGS, RICHARD EARL / RELEASE DATE: 31ST DECEMBER 2015