The first of two December releases for the Big Finish Doctor Who main monthly range brings the TARDIS to Paris in 1922. Travelling with Ace and Hex, the Seventh Doctor is keen to meet some of the creative greats of the age, but instead finds himself at odds with his old sparring partner and fellow time-traveller, Iris Wildthyme.
The trans-temporal adventuress and bon viveur has taken up residence in the city, playing host to a nightly salon attended by the likes of Salvador Dali, but it seems her presence is having a deleterious effect on the scene with various notables such as Gertrude Stein and James Joyce abandoning both their creative passions and the City of Lights itself. With time heading off-track, exemplified by the famous bookshop now being named “Dickens” and not “Shakespeare and Company”, the Doctor cannot help but investigate.
Writer Paul Magrs brings his deft comic sensibilities to this historical adventure, a marked change in tone from the intense drama of tales like The Peterloo Massacre, and he uses the backdrop of Parisian café society to tell a story of the Doctor’s mistrust of Iris, as well as the fortunes of a young American couple whose fates are entwined in the unfolding events. Magrs clearly has a penchant for this era, its passions and excesses, and it is joyfully evident in every moment.
The darker nature of Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor is challenged by the irrepressible Iris, although the story works to keep them apart in its early stages. As ever, Katy Manning brings Iris to life with gusto and she hooks Phillip Olivier’s Hex during a chance café encounter, leading to some amusing scenes. Also, in play is her critical companion Panda, vividly enlivened by David Benson, and his spiky interactions with Sophie Aldred’s Ace are hilarious!
In addition to the returnees, director Jamie Anderson assembles an impressive guest cast, with Gethin Anthony (Game Of Thrones) doubling up as both the struggling poet Kevin and as Salvador Dali, while Broadway star Rebecca LaChance shines as Isabel and Christine Kavanaugh plays the beguiling Dora Muse.
From the outset, Benji Clifford’s jazzy period score helps root us in Paris and we were slightly disappointed not to have any isolated music tracks to accompany the release, as is often the case.
Subscribers this month will also receive access to Tuesday, a narrated short trip for the Eighth Doctor which finds him catching up with former companion Harry Sullivan in a subtly changed world. It is a clever and touching tale, providing a thoughtful nod to Harry’s time in the TARDIS and his exploits since, with the tale penned by Tony Jones (noble audio reviewer of this parish).
With a light comic touch and oodles of Gallic charm, Muse Of Fire offers an entertaining collision of two time-travellers with vastly differing styles; if the Doctor is the master manipulator, Iris is a brash force of nature and together they make for a heady cocktail of fun!