“Muse of Fire”
Directed by Jamie Anderson
Written by Paul Magrs
Starring Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Philip Olivier (Hex), and Katy Manning (Iris Wildthyme)
I don’t know whether there are really accordions playing in Paris all the time, or maybe that was Paris in the 1920’s, but the association is immediate. The Doctor’s just confirming what you already know by making it official, but when an audio drama can impress you that quickly with a musical cue, it can only get better from there and Muse of Fire is an audio drama of the highest order.
Joined by companions, Ace and Hex, the Doctor has brought them to Paris with no objective beyond getting to meet artists and collectors like Gertrude Stein. It comes as a shock, then, for the Doctor to learn most of these geniuses have left the city, abandoning their pursuits after receiving nasty reviews from a particularly scathing critic. Somebody’s tampering with history and the Doctor’s raring to find out who. Meanwhile Hex meets a mysterious woman at a café who invites him to attend the salon she runs on the Île Saint-Louis, while Ace becomes concerned about a young man named Kevin (Gethin Anthony), whose poetic inspiration from a bump on the head has led him to neglect his wife, Isabelle (Rebecca La Chance).
Also appearing in this drama: Iris Wildthyme and her loyal companion, Panda (David Benson)! Doctor Who fans who know Manning for playing companion, Jo Grant, are sure to take to her chaos-embracing Time Lord, Wildthyme (and you read that correctly – Iris is a Time Lord! I didn’t realize that until the Doctor mentioned she had two hearts but like Hex, a character I was unfamiliar with before this drama, and who I still don’t know much about beyond he was a nurse, not knowing their history doesn’t get in the way of falling head over heels for these characters and this story).
Magrs originated the character of Wildthyme, so he’s especially qualified to write for her voice, but while Wildthyme is undoubtedly a highlight of Muse of Fire, it’s all of the characters who are in top form. There are lines so good, you can’t resist jotting them down (one of my favorites – Wildthyme saying, in reference to the 7th Doctor, “Bless his little question mark jumper”). Having listened to a few Big Finish dramas at this point, they’re usually divided into four parts but a significant difference with Magrs’ is he doesn’t depend on cliffhangers. Part 2 closes and nobodies screaming or facing impending doom. There’s drama, and you are going to listen to Part 3, but there’s nothing manipulative about it.
There are layers to Ace and Hex’s relationship, too, that make it more complex. Ace, especially, likes to rib Hex a lot but there’s a point when Hex has had enough, and he tells her that. Muse of Fire really gives the supporting characters a chance to shine but, not to be left out, the Doctor shows another side of himself, as well, just not his best one. It’s always strange, to find the Doctor in the wrong, and he’s rather callous here, but it all adds up to a nifty, self-assured story that’s more fun than a stuffed panda bear.
Muse of Fire is available to purchase from Big Finish.