Released September 2011
Amnesia is a recurring theme in Doctor Who and its spin-off media, Big Finish employing the technique in ‘Question Marks’ just two releases ago. As such, ‘House of Blue Fire’ starts off in initially familiar territory as four people who remember nothing about themselves except for their fears arrive at an ominous hotel.
The greatest strength of ‘House of Blue Fire’ is unquestionably the tense and claustrophobic atmosphere that writer Mark Morris crafts as the people known only by numbers try to come to discover both where and who they are. With the Doctor not appearing until the end of the first episode, each of the four guest characters is afforded plenty of time for exploration as they find a series of very disturbing rooms filled with the likes of lifeless dolls and a derelict swimming pool filled murky water and dead leaves. These incredible images abound and are highly evocative, but the effect is somewhat diminished by the necessity of lengthy dialogue to effectively describe what the characters are seeing.
As the characters are killed one by one by the things they fear, the story initially seems that it will feature the much darker persona of the Seventh Doctor that occasionally manifests, especially as it seems that he is behind the building and the amnesia. However, it soon becomes apparent that something far more complex is in play, and this is the second release in a row to feature a devastating cliffhanger midway through that completely changes the course of the second half. Here, it turns out that none of the first half actually occurred, the Doctor linked into the four people’s minds at the Bluefire House military base as he tries to help them fight off an infection from the ancient Mi’en Kalarash.
This twist is certainly an intriguing one, and it works very effectively even if it means that the third episode is comprised mostly of the Doctor explaining events, but it’s difficult to not simultaneously feel a bit disappointed with this revelation since the sinister horror of the first half is so incredibly effective and suits McCoy’s incarnation perfectly. Lizzy Watts does well in realizing the scope and threat of the Mi’en Kalarash, a presence from Time Lord legends that feeds on fear, but the foe is unquestionably much more powerful and effective in the faux reality before she begins ranting about destroying the universe like so many others before her. The story almost seems to recognize this as the military personnel and Doctor Soames are forced back into a fake reality, but this second sequence doesn’t offer anything that the first sequence does not.
However, despite these flaws, ‘House of Blue Fire’ is never boring, the enthusiastic performance of Sylvester McCoy superb and the unexpected addition to the TARDIS of Amy Pemberton’s Number Eighteen, Sally, an exciting prospect moving forward. With Nostradamus’s prophecy of the Doctor’s future still looming and the dangling thread of the black TARDIS to be resolved, this third of a fairly standalone set of stories certainly seems as though it will have greater importance in future context. Still, the incredibly effective tense horror at the beginning of the release is some of the strongest in Big Finish’s library and absolutely makes ‘House of Blue Fire’ a memorable release in its own right.