What’s it about: aquaphobia n. An abnormal fear of water, or drowning. blattodephobia n. The morbid fear of cockroaches. catoptrophobia n. Fear of mirrors, or seeing one’s own reflection. There’s a whole ABC of horrors at Bluefire House – as four young people, drawn together to this tumbledown hotel at the edge of nowhere, are about to discover. But whatever the ancient and foul thing that has emerged from the wilderness to drag them here, speaking of it will only strengthen it. The Doctor alone knows what lurks at the heart of Bluefire House. But the monster of his childhood dreams is coming. The Mi’en Kalarash is coming… Just this once, the Doctor’s afraid
The Real McCoy: There is always something more satisfying about the prolonged absence of the seventh Doctor (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way at all) because his Doctor is always one for manipulating things behind the scenes and the more he is out of my sight the less comfortable I feel. And in this case he has a very good reason for staying out of the action for a while considered he was trying to outthink a demon from his own mythology. His panicked reaction when told they are expecting the Master made me chuckle, that’s a gag I don’t mind being repeated because each Doctor acts in a very different way. In a house full of phobias you can find the Doctor who recognises that the universe is full of terrors that give him the heebie-jeebies. Of course he knows what he is doing…he just doesn’t know what he will be doing five minutes from now. Its fascinating to see the seventh Doctor go from being so angry at himself and then so scared, begging Sally not to open the door. McCoy sounds genuinely pained during these scenes and it was quite discomforting to listen to. He finds that cutting corners invariably results in a far more interesting journey! When 20 out of 24 test subjects pass successfully through the experiments the Doctor still finds those odds unacceptable. When Soames states that the dimensionally transcendental nature of the TARDIS is ridiculous the Doctor chuckles charmingly as if he is delighted at the fact. He made me chuckle when he asked for six sugars in his tea and was thrilled to be handed the nice steaming cup! He’s in a playful mood in the real world and it’s a delight. He yawns in a wonderfully over the top way during the despotic rant suggesting when you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all! Its odd how right the Doctor sounds invading everybody’s nightmares and drawing them out like some kind of benevolent omnipotent being. He offers quite a tasty meal considering he has the misery of a 100,000 races and worlds stored in his mind. He reveals his fear to be the Old Time, the Times of Night and Chaos and he knows the creature remembers those times too, what was done to it and what it did. The Doctor was wondering if Sally would consider going AWOL with him after listing the great qualities he has noticed in her throughout this adventure.
Standout Performance: Kudos to Amy Pemberton and Miranda Keeling for holding up the entire first episode on their own (Timothy West is present for a second but hardly makes his presence felt until later in the story). We have had stories where the regulars have had to hold up entire episodes on their own (The Daleks, The Ark in Space, The Girl Who Waited) but never before have guest artists been called upon to keep the audiences attention whilst waiting for the Doctor to appear at the end of the episode. The fact that they do this with characters who don’t even know who they are is some feat. After two episodes of hearing her battle against her fears it is spine tingling to finally hear Number 05 scream.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘How do you do. I’m the Doctor and believe its dinner time…’ – a great opening line that closes the first episode.
‘Have you ever seen anything in a mirror? Anything that has frightened you?’
‘No Mr Dodds, I’m joking. I always joke about the end of the world.’
‘And what happens if it doesn’t go according to plan?’ ‘Then I suggest we all run very fast’ – the Doctor really is in a playful mood in this story.
‘Please fasten your safety belts and prepare yourself for a drawn out a terrifying death. Thank you.’
‘Oh I have plenty of mercy…but none I’m afraid for you!’ – McCoy gets angry and its brilliant. Who ever knew?
Great Ideas: Opening with a girl wandering into a creepy old house with no memory of why she is there or who she is, this is immediately more arresting than The Doomsday Quatrain. There are going to be PS9’s? The idea of waking up one day and being completely forgotten is a chilling one and it looks as though the girl is almost there, having even forgotten herself. Ugh there’s a dirty slimy swimming pool in the house – that’s very unnerving, it accentuates the feeling that this place is decaying. Is the house intelligent, sentient? Are they walking around inside a dying building? A group of people who are phobic about something and Athazagoraphobia is Sally’s condition of choice. If you did wake up with a bunch of strangers with no knowledge of your past you could be related/married/enemies…anything! The joy of these kinds of stories is discovering the links that these people have to each other. Both Buffy and Angel did an episode with this type of premise but in both cases it was played for comic potential since we know who the regulars are really (Giles and Spike as father and son was hilarious) but here it is played amongst people we don’t know which makes the result much more intriguing. There is a foul and ancient thing building its time in the shadows but it wont make its presence known because it doesn’t know what the Doctor is. The discussion of the phobia of water was fascinating – how Number 05 fears it because it is muscular and sinewy and just keeps on going and yet at the same time finds its stillness absolutely chilling. A place where peoples fears come to life, where you can see a presence of glass or water in the distance, where cockroaches are the size of your head and where you genuinely can be forgotten in an instant. The revelation that they are military officers connected in a dreamscape comes out of no where and is completely unexpected. They are army officers with specific phobias who are under research to isolate those fears and extract them. Instead of creating more effective warriors the experiments created psychic instability. The unconscious minds of the test subjects are wide open to attack, they are far more dangerous sedated than they are with their psychic powers on the loose when they are awake. If you take away fear then people lose their sense of self preservation, the Doctor points out that it can be a positive emotion. The idea of extracting fear and using it as a weapon is terrifying, to cripple entire nations with acute psychological trauma. In the legends of the Doctor’s people there are tales of an entity that inhabits the wastelands between realities, feeding on nightmares and it has infiltrated the minds of the blue fire subjects. The creature hitched a lift back into the physical world when the Doctor returned from the dreamscape. It is seeking to seeking to manipulate and corrupt impressionable military minds to bring about Armageddon. It clings onto the dread and expectation of peoples phobias.
Audio Landscape: Walking on gravel, a squeaky gate, opening a creaking door, walking up wooden steps, running footsteps, a lift that sounds as though it is barely hanging on by a thread, the swimming pool water, a clock chiming (I swear that is the same chime from The Chimes of Midnight just a little slower), banging on the windows, bubbling saucepans, bells ringing in symphony, a biting wind, a scuttling giant cockroaches squealing and chittering in the walls, a gushing torrent of water approaching, smashing through a window, banging on the front door, heart monitor, siren, items flying about and crashing to the ground, the screaming creature reaching out from the blue fire, the plane struck by lightning and plummeting to its destruction, the growling, purring creatures in a jungle, flames crackling, fairground music and the echo of a hall of mirrors, the bibbly bobbly world dream world, lightning cracking through the sky.
Musical Cues: There are some very effective musical cues in the first episode as we explore the house – I love the electronic sting that bridges scenes, it sends a chill right down my spine! I beg you to listen to the musical track once you have heard the story – this is how to grab hold of your audience with music.
Isn’t it Odd: Things get a little histrionic towards the end of episode two. Where things were bubbling along very menacingly for a minute or two everybody starts screaming. Which is the opposite of what made the first episode so effective.
Standout Scene: When the Doctor wakes up at the end of part two in a medical facility I was like… ‘Wh-wh-what?’ A lovely feeling to have and a great game changing cliffhanger. I loved the sudden cut to the aeroplane – a brilliant change of scene and a horror we can all empathise with.
Result: A great minimalist opening in an atmospheric location, thank goodness somebody has remembered that you don’t need to put things on an operatic scale each month to make a good audio drama. Morris is the master of things that go bump in the night and as such he writes a story in a creepy location with plenty of opportunities for things to jump out at the audience. He has chosen some interesting phobias to examine and they are a gift to the director who gets to bring those fears to life. Speaking of Ken Bentley, he came on the scene with a wealth of terrifically directed stories under his belt a few years back but his work in the last year has felt tired as Big Finish have used him more and more. This is his best direction for an age, stripping away all of the empty bluster of the last handful of stories he brought to life and focussing purely on creating a disturbing tone. Once the story hinges in a new direction after episode twos cliffhanger the script plays intelligent games with the idea of a mental force that is attracted to fear. My one complaint would be that the final confrontation between good and evil isn’t as epic as I would have hoped but it does allows Sylvester McCoy to gnash his teeth in a very effective way (for those in the know that is called a miracle). It definitely starts better than it ends but taken as a whole The House of Blue Fire held my attention throughout and had many standout moments on the way. The score is fantastic too: 8/10