In August 1999, Big Finish started their main range of Doctor Who audios with Sirens of Time, a multi-Doctor extravaganza and statement of arrival. This was followed by Phantasmagoria, a tale for the fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and Turlough (Mark Strickson). In some ways it was this story that showed how the range could be a success by telling tales rooted deep in the show’s continuity.
March 2021 sees the final main range release, again a multi-Doctor tale, and keeping the symmetry, the second-to-last release was also a fifth Doctor and Turlough release, The Blazing Hour. (And if you’re into symmetry, last-month’s antepenultimate Colony of Fear was a sixth Doctor adventure, as was the third Big Finish release.) Sadly, despite some strengths, this ‘blazing’ finale doesn’t shine as brightly.
Testament to Greed
James Kettle’s story takes us into the far future where the human race is cruising through the galaxy thanks to the vast amounts of energy created on the planet Testament. It is to this planet the Doctor and Turlough come — the Doctor has always wondered just how they produce this power. It’s a future-tech story mixed with the Doctor Who staples of corporate and political greed — in some ways both types of power. Of course power always demands more power (and there’s an allegory for our own times hidden here somewhere) and experiments to raise output levels to match the pace of growth are about to go wrong. Very wrong. Soon the only question is can any lives be saved?
There’s plenty to enjoy as the cast, including Rakie Ayola, Donna Berlin, Raj Ghatak and Lynsey Murrell bring out the nuances of their characters under Ken Bentley’s direction. The sound work and music are good (no real signs of remote recording due to lockdown) and Howard Carter and Lee Adams deserve credit.
It’s not all positive though. The first of the four parts of his story drags. It’s packed with exposition and this is very much to the detriment of allowing the new characters room to express themselves. The final three parts remedy that, but the story also suffers from the Doctor becoming very passive. Peter Davison’s TV performances were often less direct than his predecessor, as a milder incarnation of the Time Lord found its feet. In The Blazing Hour this is taken to extremes with him actually doing very little to drive the plot for most of the adventure.
The ending is a little bitter-sweet, and there’s an implicit sense this is rooted in a more realistic version of Doctor Who than we sometimes get. Overall it’s worth a listen, even if there’s a sense of a more gripping tale unable to find expression.