Starring the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Mel (who has re-joined the TARDIS after her travels with Glitz), Big Finish’s Doctor Who story The Blood Furnace brings the companions home to Earth and relatively close to their respective times as they materialise at a Merseyside shipyard in 1991.
It soon becomes a rather personal trip for Mel too, as she runs into her ex-boyfriend Stuart Dale, now the owner of the Dark Alloy Corporation and in charge of making a rather unusual vessel for a new customer. Of course, it is not long before there is a murder and the Doctor and friends find themselves accused.
Eddie Robson’s story is well routed in its period setting, with the situation in Merseyside providing an interesting backdrop. While it is not that long ago, the 1990s provide plenty of local colour, from references to ‘the rozzers’ to scenes featuring an arcade game. The story snowballs impressively from seemingly humble beginnings to an outer-space finale, with blood sacrifices and alien spell-like incantations and along the way, Robson creates a couple of terrific cliff-hangers with episode three’s providing a particular thrill.
Continuing the theme of making the character of Bonnie Langford’s Mel more three-dimensional, confronting her with a face from her own romantic past works well – although we were never truly sold on the notion that she might leave her TARDIS travels to work for Stuart. For one thing, he was too much of a drip! Of course, the placement of this story as second in the trilogy did not help, if they wanted to play that trick perhaps it might have been better in the final slot?
Once again, Mel’s computer programming skills are mentioned and they tie neatly into one of the themes of the story – that of the rise of digital technology. This particularly chimed with us, as we recall that ‘digital’ was an all-pervading buzzword of the early nineties and, in fact, we are not quite sure how the writer managed to avoid referencing Douglas Adams’ and digital watches being a pretty neat idea.
Despite the focus on Mel, Ace and the Doctor get plenty to do and the trio work well together. Among the guest cast, Todd Heppenstall plays suitably naive as Mel’s ex, Stuart and Clare Calbraith is entertaining as his assistant Orla, but if we are honest, the story really belongs to Julie Graham (Survivors, Shetland) who clearly relished the chance to play a full on villainess and does so in appropriately scenery chewing style.