Muse of Fire brings transtemporal adventuress Iris Wildthyme back into the world of Doctor Who for the first time in a long time (since May 2014’s The Elixir of Doom) and her companion Panda into the world of Doctor Who for the first time ever, if I’m not mistaken. Iris and Panda bump into the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Hex in 1920s Paris, a time and place of great literary and artistic innovation.
Katy Manning’s Iris is always a pleasure to listen to, and this is a setting that plays to her strengths, as she hosts literary salons and flirts with Hex. I haven’t previously heard Panda on audio (aside from a brief cameo in Bernice Summerfield: Many Happy Returns), and David Benson turns out to be a joy, especially when Panda is letting loose as an overly harsh critic.
Being written by Paul Magrs, the story is also filled with kooky concepts. I enjoyed the scene where Hex bumps into Salvador Dalí, for example, and the central threat of the whole tale is not original, but it is well-employed in the way it gives rise to the situation that the Doctor and Iris and their companions find themselves in. The rapport between Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor and his two companions is also strong; I enjoy the Doctor relishing the atmosphere of the era, and his companions not getting it, and the subtle romantic tension between Hex and Ace. The whole thing is quite pleasant to listen to — Magrs is good at this sort of thing.
That’s also the weak aspect of the whole piece. It never really ratchets out of “pleasant”. At one point the Doctor declares war on Iris… but then nothing much happens. That’s a shame, because that’s an idea with great potential. It doesn’t even have to be dramatic potential, because I can imagine a great, hilarious, madcap story where the Seventh Doctor plays master manipulator while Iris upsets all his plans. But we don’t get that here; it takes a long time before the conflict even emerges, and then once it does, its resolution is all too obvious.
I think if you like Iris, or like Paul Magrs (or both, duh), you’ll like this. But I also feel like there’s an alternate version of this story that could have been much more than merely likeable.
Muse of Fire (by Paul Magrs; starring Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Philip Olivier, Katy Manning) was released by Big Finish Productions in December 2018.