The Sixth Doctor, travelling alone, arrives underneath the Thames in 1828, just as Isambard (‘iron-bright’ in Norman) Kingdom Brunel is creating the Thames Tunnel, only to discover the floods that are plaguing the project are the work of an apparition that haunts the tunnellers at approximately nine o’clock every evening. The work in question marked the last time Brunel worked as assistant engineer to his father Marc, the perfect juncture for the kind of celebrity historical recently more associated with RTD’s vision of Doctor Who, and Iron Bright also includes the kind of secondary character, in the form of Becky Wright’s maid Florence, that might on television have been played by Eve Myles.
Chris Chapman’s third Big Finish story was inspired by his recent relocation to Bristol, and it’s astonishing nobody has teamed our eponymous Time Lord up with the renowned engineer before; less than a decade from Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne, and on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, it’s prime Doctor Who territory.
Chapman pulls together a plot that makes the most of its premise, taking the engineering angle and filtering it throughout both the cause and solution to the story’s specific problem. It’s always to a drama’s credit when its writer maintains this kind of consistency, but Chapman even includes some commentary on the notion of celebrity (and reality TV) in his version of a real ‘celebrity’ TV story, and in the form of the ‘tributes’ also smuggles in a very Steven Moffat-esque affectation of immortality. It’s nicely paced as well, taking its time to get to the peril. We don’t get to ‘see’ an awful lot of London (certainly not as much as the population of Luceat do), but instead we get an intimacy that keeps the listener engaged with the narrative, and at times it’s almost possible to forget it’s Doctor Who we’re listening to - never a criticism - as we become involved with the various characters and their ideals and predicaments.
Colin Baker makes for a very successful solo investigator, his lone Doctor one that’s a delight to listen to. And if Christopher Fairbank’s French accent isn’t the most authentic, it’s a real treat to hear him giving Brunel Senior plenty of texture, rather than making him a villain. Indeed, Brunel Junior is painted equally in shades of grey - allowing us to imagine the Bright Iron he must have developed into, and if there’s one niggle it’s that the obviously very capable James MacCallum maybe hasn’t grown into his voice quite enough to give I.K. just a touch more charisma.
Nevertheless, this is a terrific and fairly easy-going audio drama, one that contains a lot more in its mechanics than meets the eye.
Extras: Interviews / Music Suite
DOCTOR WHO: IRON BRIGHT / DIRECTOR: JOHN AINSWORTH / WRITER: CHRIS CHAPMAN / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: COLIN BAKER, JAMES MACCALLUM, CHRISTOPHER FAIRBANK, CATHERINE BAILEY, IMOGEN CHURCH, BECKY WRIGHT, ANTHONY TOWNSEND / RELEASE DATE: JULY 31ST