In his current run of audio stories alongside both his TV companions, Ace and Mel, the Seventh Doctor has visited a tropical paradise planet, Civil War era Spain, and more. The Blood Furnace takes the trio on their first trip to present day Britain. Well, 1991, which is close enough to the ‘present day’ of when this era was on TV.
The TARDIS lands in a Merseyside shipyard run by an old university boyfriend of Mel’s – Stuart Dale, played with charm by Todd Heppenstall. Stuart’s become very successful thanks to a mysterious new material he’s been given possession of by a mysterious new client. You can see where that is going. Before long, one of the shipyard workers is found dead, and our TARDIS team has a case on their hands.
What we have here, then, is an imaginative sci-fi mystery that plays out against the background of the political and social atmosphere of the early ‘90s. Real life concerns, such as the shutting down of the shipyards and the difficulties of finding jobs, are brought into characters’ motivations in a way more reminiscent of Russell T. Davies’ later revival of Doctor Who, working well to add depth to the story and its world.
It would be nice to have more development of Mel’s relationship with Stuart, which plays a large part in the opening chapter of the four-part story but becomes sidelined after that, with an offer Stuart makes to Mel seemingly very important at first but not dwelled on as much as it could be. Nevertheless, this trio of TARDIS travellers continue to work very well together, with Mel being more deeply explored (and less shrill) than she was on TV, and McCoy, Langford and Aldred putting in top notch performances as ever.
As far as the villains are concerned, Julie Graham seems to relish playing the sinister Carolyn, and there are some nice ideas behind the history of her alien race and their aversion to digital technologies. On the other hand, the way their machinery operates akin to magic is very similar, perhaps too much, to that of the Carrionites from The Shakespeare Code.
It’s efficiently directed by Ken Bentley, who has particular fun bringing to life the Doctor’s wacky plan in the final instalment; earlier parts, though, could perhaps have gone heavier on the sound effects aurally constructing the Merseyside atmosphere.
Overall, this is a very solid instalment in a run of stories that continues to capture the feel of the Seventh Doctor era well; definitely recommended for fans of rolling r’s, Nitro-9 and ginger curls.
THE BLOOD FURNACE / AUTHOR: EDDIE ROBSON / DIRECTOR: KEN BENTLEY / STARRING: SYLVESTER MCCOY, SOPHIE ALDRED, BONNIE LANGFORD / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW