Muse of Fire

Posted in Audio by - December 12, 2018
Muse of Fire

Released December 2018

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Self-styled transtemporal adventuress Iris Wildthyme has been one of the most prolific characters within the non-televised universe of Doctor Who, appearing both in her own eponymous series of written and audio adventures as well as alongside several incarnations of the Doctor as she rights wrongs and wrongs rights throughout time and space aboard her double decker bus. With a shrouded past and often brash and boisterous presence that puts her squarely at the centre of attention, Iris has always been something of an anomaly as far as the Doctor is concerned, usually avoiding drawing his ire but rarely earning his praise. In ‘Muse of Fire’ by Paul Magrs, however, the disappearances of prominent figures from 1920s Paris draws her squarely into the Doctor’s sights as all of Earth’s history hangs squarely in the balance.

‘Muse of Fire’ uses its evocative setting to its fullest, bringing the creativity and liveliness of Paris to life with gusto as the struggling American poet Kevin Archer comes into focus. This man toiling to perfect his craft and gain prominence amongst the artistic geniuses of the time is played wonderfully by Gethin Anthony, evoking a sense of both sympathy and empathy as he tries to stay true to himself and provide for his wife while all too cognizant of the fact that he has not yet achieved his goal and must rely on the generosity of Isabel’s parents to sustain his pursuit of happiness. Yet the cradle of artistic creation that this era in Paris represents is threatened by the scathing reviews coming from a small publication have resulted in figures such as Hemingway, Picasso, Joyce, and Dali have all giving up their dreams and fleeing, with a particular salon the only clue to these changes after Kevin traumatically overcomes his mental block and a very peculiar map in a local bookstore reveals the disparity of genius in this time.

Magrs has always managed to merge incredibly visual ideas with a more fantastic tone than most, and his introduction of an alien being who looks like a living Picasso piece of art certainly continues that trend. Interestingly, however, the Doctor that he shows here is not necessarily the grand schemer who routinely stands ten steps ahead of everyone else. Instead, this is a man blinded by his distaste and disapproval for Iris, blindly following half of a story without taking the time to discuss the situation with his erstwhile associate when he discovers that Iris and Panda are purposefully driving creative minds out of the city as Panda fulfills his life’s calling of being an art critic. The Doctor has never been portrayed as a flawless being, but it’s quite fascinating to see thought processes he typically reserves for the likes of the Daleks bleed through to a much closer figure when he believes he is all that is in the way of history running off course. Perhaps less successful, however, is the rather callous nature in which he accepts the loss of ultimately innocent lives as his own beliefs are disproven, highlighting his alien nature but arguably taking him a step too far removed from his usual caring persona that remains so prevalent even in the darker Seventh Doctor outside of The New Adventures novels.

Wisely, the vampiric threat of sorts that manifests ultimately forms a rather minor part of the story, allowing the flawed but well-intentioned characters to come to the forefront and creating a much deeper experience overall in this era of artists, drifters, and American ex-pats. This is a story seemingly set fairly early on in the Ace and Hex era of the Seventh Doctor’s tenure, and Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier effortlessly rekindle the more light-hearted relationship between the two sans flirtation that existed before the Elder Gods became so prevalent in their lives. Likewise, Katy Manning in her second leading performance alongside Sylvester McCoy for Big Finish gives an utterlyvengaging and commanding performance as Iris Wildthyme that brings into question her character’s motives exactly as the script requires. This is aided all the more by David Benson’s usual strength as the small Panda who is able to pitch his tone perfectly when his brash character must admit that the Iris he once knew may be no more after their recent interplanetary excursion.

2018 has been a year in which the Seventh Doctor has often come across familiar faces from his past, but this meeting with Iris Wildthyme is quite possibly the most successful since it doesn’t need to dwell on the lengthy history between the two characters or the profound continuity that Iris carries with her. Instead, the relationship between these two is quite concisely laid out from the start, and though their inability to truly talk with each other certainly leads to further issues than could have been avoided, ‘Muse of Fire’ is a wonderfully atmospheric character piece that successfully blends together many different corners of the Doctor Who universe with the usual Magrs vision and scope.

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