Review by Jacob Licklider
As February continues on, Big Finish’s monthly range reaches its penultimate installment, and it becomes clear that the end of the range is meant to parallel its beginning. As the second story was a Fifth Doctor and Turlough adventure, so is The Blazing Hour, making the total number of adventures to feature this specific TARDIS team in the Monthly Range to reach the large number of five. It makes The Blazing Hour one of those rare opportunities to see a rare all-alien TARDIS teams; placing the Doctor and Turlough in a story that reflects on the absolute worst of humanity. This is a story where one should not judge the release by it’s cover. The cover from Tom Webster is strikingly surreal; boasting Turlough in a wheelchair, the Fifth Doctor barely standing, a disfigured figure, and flames in the background. While all of these things occur in The Blazing Hour, instead of telling a story of surrealism, James Kettle provides a story all about the greed that humanity succumbs to and how that can corrupt genuinely good ideas and advancements in technology. The first episode of this story spends quite a bit of time on speaking against the idea of nuclear power in a manner close to sounding like a Luddit;, as Kettle focuses on the ease at which nuclear energy could go awry. While Kettle intends it to be cautionary and foreshadowing, it isn’t as clear here that he is speaking on what happens when negligence and greed become the main point of running a power station.
The story takes place on the planet Testament, where a company and government is in control of an energy source that draws on the paradox caused with the Blinovitch Limitation Effect. While this is already setup in the Doctor Who universe as something incredibly dangerous, it is built up here as something becoming exponentially more dangerous the larger the source of the effect is, and the amount needed to build the energy for the planet’s needs puts this colony with a deep culture and billions of citizens in grave danger. The pacing of the first half of this story is a slow build with Turlough separated from the Doctor. Turlough’s story is one of survival: he finds himself with broken legs as the world of Testament simply tries to make his life a living hell. Turlough doesn’t like humanity, finding their greed deplorable and the fear of living near a nuclear power plant on Earth gave him great fear from his day-to-day life. Mark Strickson gives perhaps his best performance as Turlough; playing the alien as this worn down man who is ready to give up and thematically it leads into Planet of Fire well. Turlough’s plot is essentially reactionary to what is happening on Testament as the power source slowly creeps pasts the breaking point and disaster strikes. Yes, this is a story which ends in complete disaster for Testament leaving the listener with this empty feeling which demonstrates just how bad humanity can become when ruled by greed.
The main villain of The Blazing Hour is Violet Hardaker played by Rakie Ayola. Hardaker is a cutthroat capitalist who slimily goes behind the back of everyone she knows in trying to gain more profit and more energy. She’s kind of setup as a foil for the Fifth Doctor, and even a potential companion figure, but as the story continues she shows herself to be just as bad as everybody else in the story. She is the one to stop the Doctor’s attempts to save Testament by simply bowing to bureaucracy. There is a scene in the middle of the story, played completely straight, where Hardaker essentially says she has doomed her planet to death with no emotion, no sense of regret. Composer Howard Carter punctuates this with haunting scores bringing in the desperation of the story that brings up some of the slower moments of this plot. This is a story where the Fifth Doctor is reflective of his recent events. Season 21 for the Fifth Doctor is a slow decent into despair from Warriors of the Deep ending with the genocide of the Silurians and Sea Devils, the end of the universe setting of Frontios, Tegan’s exit and the sheer amount of death in Resurrection of the Daleks, and finally his eventual regeneration in The Caves of Androzani are all echoed here. The Doctor ends this story with his hope in humanity completely broken and Peter Davison perhaps puts in his best performance as the character. He sounds tired and broken and in need of a break, and that isn’t a slight, it’s brilliant.
Overall, The Blazing Hour is a difficult story to listen to simply for how bleak the scenario is. It is an excellent story to lead to the end of the Monthly Range next month and allows Peter Davison one last chance to give that powerhouse performance that he is known for giving. Ken Bentley pulls together James Kettle’s script and the entire story is built around a central theme. 9/10.
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