Going into this audio adventure, I had very little in the way of expectations. I figured it’d be a typical Seventh Doctor and Ace adventure, albeit with an extra companion named Hex (Philip Oliver) and co-starring Katy Manning as Iris Wildthyme – both characters, I’d heard of but never heard. I only knew there was substantial history with both due to past audios, but I was going in fairly cold.
During Parts One and Two, Paul Magrs’ Muse of Fire, directed by Jamie Anderson, is a rather sedate tale, almost too laid back. Just another temporal hooligan rewriting history, though on a somewhat small scale. I was scratching my head wondering if Time’s Grand Tapestry should really be that concerned about discouraged and missing artists in 1922 Paris (well represented in the production). Really, in the grand scale of things, is this a huge threat? We do get a really cool “Map of Souls”, though.
As far as the characters, Iris is a bit odd, Hex is pleasant enough. Christine Kavanagh commits nicely to the mysterious Dora Muse. The Doctor and Ace are doing what they do. The young American couple, played by Gethin Anthony and Rebecca La Chance, do a nice job. Anthony is English, while La Chance hails from Baltimore; nonetheless, both deliver spot-on accents, even if they do remind me of earnest Disney heroes constantly on the verge of breaking into song. All in all though, a nice if unremarkable jaunt.
Okay. Admittedly, I was never that much interested in Iris Wildthyme’s little section of the universe, at least not enough to check it out. I thought it was just some new gimmick and if I was going to invest in any audios, a late addition to the Doctor Who pantheon like that would probably be low down on the list. But…. no one ever told me about Panda.
Insane ideas are often iffy. Sometimes they don’t work at all and the offender ends up in the bin marked “FAILURE”. But sometimes they do work and Panda is an insane idea that works. I think. I don’t even care what society says. Panda works for me. Suddenly, this story kicked into a new gear, simply by the arrival of this small, talking Panda (brilliantly voiced by David Benson — I love this guy). This extraordinary character also made me look at Iris differently and before you know it, I’m hooked. In fact, by the end of Part 3, where the Doctor and Iris face off… I’m with her. Sorry Sylv! Keep in mind, Iris is a worthy successor to the Meddling Monk, so it’s not as if she’s a goody-goody.
Parts One and Two may have been a slow build but oh, it’s worth it. The second half builds into a sharply written, bizarre romp. I laughed out loud a couple time.
“I’m strangely disappointed!” You’ll see.
The previously considered “low-stakes” threat doesn’t even really matter, as the threat is there more or less to support this wacky guest cast. Panda is a goofier idea than even Frobisher but if you liked that little Whifferdil, you should get a kick out of this hirsute misfit. And Katy might just be in danger of making Jo Grant only the second best character she’s ever portrayed in Doctor Who. Wildthyme’s certainly a more challenging and rewarding part for Manning. It’s possible that a little Iris goes a long way but I think I got a very good sample here. Her and…
Muse of Fire is out now from Big Finish.