Iron Bright

Posted in Audio by - June 28, 2018
Iron Bright

Released June 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

With 2016’s Fifth Doctor anthology tale ‘The Memory Bank’ and 2017’s feature-length Sixth Doctor story ‘The Middle’ to his credit, Chris Chapman has quickly established himself as yet another Big Finish writer with an incredible imagination and firm grasp of character and plot that should be watched for great things going forward. With ‘Iron Bright,’ Chapman once more returns to the Colin Baker era- albeit here with no companions or continuity restraints- as the Doctor visits 1828 London as the father-and-son team of Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel mastermind the digging of the Thames Tunnel. With Isambard eager to make a name for himself, however, a supposed supernatural haunting and a very peculiar visitor who resides in a mysterious blue box prove to the young Brunel that there is far more to the world and universe than even he could ever dare dream.

Fulfilling the role of celebrity historical as coined during the Russell T Davies era of the television programme, ‘Iron Bright’ makes the most of the ingenious mindset and creativity of Brunel at a time when his confidence is brimming but when he also remains young and open-minded enough to accept that his world is not finite and set in stone, and James MacCallum captures this dichotomy expertly while forming the perfect bridge between the morality of the Doctor and his father whose self-serving capitalistic and opportunistic inclinations know no bounds. Indeed, the script benefits immensely from initially building its world through the eyes of Isambard as the tunnel construction suffers from fatal floodings and seemingly supernatural hauntings from a spectral blue lady, and the Doctor ingratiating himself to Marc to regain entry to the tunnel to explore under the pretense of ruling out any superstitious paranoia is the perfect reintroduction of the verbose and persuasive Sixth Doctor currently traveling on his own.

‘Iron Bright’ fails to adhere to any set preconceptions or expectations, however, and what seems like a traditional ghost story steeped in atmosphere and true educational moments takes a most unexpected turn after the Doctor learns that there seems to be a schedule to the flooding and that something within the tunnels is being provoked and growing stronger. It’s to Chapman’s and director John Ainsworth’s credit that the switch to heavier science fiction elements works so seamlessly, and the tale of glitching ghosts, weaponised subatomic particles, and the mysterious five hundred observation windows that allow the denizens of Luceat to observe life on Earth (both ‘generation’ and ‘generations’ are used to describe how long they have been present) that unfolds is enthralling from beginning to end, making the most of constant misdirection and fragments of information through different viewpoints that allow certain assumptions to be made while withholding the truth until the needed crucial moment so that everything before can slot easily into place with an added new dimension of understanding. The story wisely doesn’t dwell too heavily on the reason for why London and its rapid changes during the Industrial Revolution have affected Luceat so profoundly, but it puts a nice spin on the historical context and provides an intriguing backdrop for the creation of fearsome warriors and what becomes an invasion on two fronts on these worlds that unknowingly find themselves so inherently intertwined because of a ground-breaking experiment gone disastrously wrong.

2018 has truly been a strong year for the Big Finish Main Range so far, and ‘Iron Bright’ continues the momentum in spectacular fashion with a bevy of imagination and style that continue to add layers to the story until its very end. With Imogen Church providing a suitably strong villainous presence and Catherine Bailey and Becky Wright (who at times does sound unnervingly like Lisa Greenwood’s companion Flip Jackson) utterly engaging in a subplot that fleshes out this version of London in greater detail, every performance is wonderfully pitched and nuanced as each new piece of information is revealed at a satisfying rate as the different storylines converge satisfyingly and cohesively. ‘Iron Bright’ is a fine example of a plot making the most of Doctor Who’s long and storied past to set up particular needed elements in familiar fashion, but its willingness to break the mould and take unexpected turns along the way truly set it apart as something quite singular.

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