Thursday, 31 December 2015

All Consuming Fire

For a few year now this has been top of the wish-list for many fans. And its not difficult to see why – the idea of Doctor Who meeting Sherlock Holmes is pure gold.
What a lot of fans don’t realise is that it has already happened
Lets rewind back to 1994 – the New Adventures are going strong, the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice are busy having adventures to broad and deep for the small screen – some fans minds are being expanded by possibilities of life beyond a TV show, others are sticking their fingers in their ears and crying into their scarves (I was 80% one half 20% the other I will let you decide the way the split falls) anyhow, in 1994 a rather special pastiche of Sherlock Holmes called “All Consuming Fire” by Andy Lane was released – written in the style of Conan-Doyle, mainly from the viewpoint of Dr Watson, but with some chapters from the viewpoint of Bernice Summerfield, it was, and remains today one of the highlights of Doctor Who in book form – imagine my joy when I found out that Big Finish were adapting it for audio – to say I was pleased is an understatement!
As details began to filter through it was announced that the one and only Nick Briggs would be playing Holmes and Richard Earl would be playing Dr Watson, and if you have not heard this duo before I urge you to check out some of Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes range here they are pretty near the definitive Holmes and Watson – Briggs is aloof and cerebral, Earl is heart and manners, the chemistry between them is immense – you can close your eyes and be transported to Baker Street with just a few phrases from each of them.
Surely there must be a downside – it all just seems too good. Let me think – McCoy, Aldred, Bowerman, Briggs, Earl – adapted by arch Holmesian Guy Adams, directed by Scott Handcock, it definitely has all the ingredients, and unlike Eric Morecambe attempting to play Greig – they all most definitely are in the right order.
This is a very faithful adaptation of the novel – yes some sections have been edited for pace and decency but it feels like a Holmes story that the Doctor has wandered in to – let me elaborate.
It begins not with the Doctor Who theme but with the Sherlock Holmes theme – we really are in Briggs and Earl’s world – Holmes and Watson are charged by the Pope to recover some stolen books from the Library of St. John the Beheaded, a repository for banned and dangerous books hidden away in the squalor of the St. Giles Rookery. Whilst investigating they encounter the Doctor who decides to get involved in their investigations…
The first meeting of the Doctor and Sherlock is interesting – Sherlock cannot read the Doctor, he cannot deduce where the mud on his trousers is from or any other traits which would leave you or I an open book to the great detective – Holmes is immediately suspicious of the Doctor and pairs him off with Watson to investigate other members of the Library whilst Holmes himself takes his investigation to the criminal underworld who provide the Library’s security…
Like all good adventure stories there has to be a  villain and in All Consuming Fire the villain of the piece is Victorian Empire builder Baron Maupertuis and like all good villains he has a henchman – the seven foot tall behemoth Surd, who as well as having fists like hams is also enamoured of some pretty special powers. Maupertuis has a plan to expand the boundaries of the British Empire into the stars – but how is this connected to the thefts from the library and to an incident in the past of the Holmes family?
The story itself is a fast paced roller coaster of a boys own adventure involving not only stolen books, but Sherlock’s older brother Sheringford a trip to Bombay, a stay at an Indian Raj’s palace, a trip to another world, spontaneous combustion and Cats! And if that isn’t enough for you it has Bernice “going all Shakespearian” and pretending to be a man “Bernard Summerfield” complete with comedy man voice, Ace all dressed in rubber, an Elder God, Professor Litefoot being name-checked and again Cats!
You may just get the impression that I enjoyed this one, and you would be right – its not quite perfect, the ending is a bit muddled but that can be forgiven as the actual journey to get there the interplay between Holmes and the Doctor, the coy flirtation between Bernice and Watson, Ace’s reports are superb. Also the music evokes Holmesian London and Victorian India wonderfully really drawing you in to the story and losing yourself in the plot.
So, for all you fans wanting a meet up of Smith and Cumberbatch I say pah! to you… Bow-tie and mind palace cannot compare to question mark brolly and deerstalker – if you don’t believe me episode one is free here give it a go, you have literally nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Overall an All Consuming dream come true for Whovians and Holmesians.
10/10.