The Blood Furnace

Posted in Audio by - August 22, 2017
The Blood Furnace

Released August 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The adventures of the Seventh Doctor alongside both Mel and Ace continue with Eddie Robson’s ‘The Blood Furnace’ and its alien incursion in what would have been that era’s modern-day Earth as the trio lands at a recently reopened shipyard in Merseyside. But as the miraculous promise of job creation from the Dark Alloy Corporation comes to fruition, the secrets of the Blood Furnace and the Corporation’s mysterious client come into focus as Mel is given a personal proposition that could end her time aboard the TARDIS.

It’s no secret that Mel was one of the least explored companions in classic Doctor Who, but Big Finish continues to do wonders with adding small pieces of backstory to the character to make her a much more dynamic and well-rounded individual. Not that ‘The Blood Furnace’ is strictly dedicated to Mel by any means, but learning of her former boyfriend while again seeing her put her computer programming skills to use is a natural means of seamlessly giving this otherworldly story a personal element to keep it somewhat grounded. Although it’s not surprising that Mel ultimately does not take the job offered her, the offer itself and her willingness to consider it are firm reminders that traveling aboard the TARDIS is not necessarily the only driving motivation behind these companions. As always, Bonnie Langford gives a spectacular performance that here highlights Mel’s conflicted feelings about her past and present, and she proves to be one of the strongest elements of this tale.

Unfortunately, the alien threat fails to come to life quite as well, though it’s quite insightful to realize just how much people are willing to look past when promised jobs and income. It’s hard to say exactly what’s missing that keeps the menace from realizing its full potential since the seemingly magic-based technology and strong performance by Julie Graham as the gloriously evil Carolyn are by themselves enjoyable components that set strong precedents. Apparently the remit of the story was to focus on a shipyard since that location has not been spotlighted in Doctor Who before, and perhaps that basis of forming a story factors into it since, even with the inclusion of Dark Alloy and the unknowing creation of a spaceship, the visual setting and visceral menace never quite cohesively gel. The tone shifts from dark to campy far too often as the disparate threads are introduced and consequently explored, leaving a somewhat jarring feeling as the story as a whole progresses. Nonetheless, ‘The Blood Furnace’ does at the very least prove the credibility of this cold and dangerous new alien species as it crosses paths with the Doctor.

Regarding aesthetic and sound design, ‘The Blood Furnace’ certainly fits in well with the trajectory the franchise was beginning to take at the end of the televised era, though it’s a bit disconcerting to hear such dramatically different levels of maturity from Ace throughout these releases featuring both Mel and Ace. That is not a fault of this story in and of itself, but it very much seems as though this TARDIS team has been put together mostly for spectacle and fan service rather than for an overt reason or to reach a specific goal. McCoy, Aldred, and Langford are truly wonderful alongside each other and bring each scene to life vividly, but a prolonged meshing of eras- even within the same Doctor’s timeline- should lead to greater character growth and shifting of perspectives, something that is obviously still possible in future stories. Still, as a standalone story, ‘The Blood Furnace’ introduces an intriguing and dangerous alien foe and ties nicely into the character of Mel, but the script never fully realizes the strength of its antagonists, and some of the supporting performances don’t quite reach the requisite heights to elevate the production as a whole.

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