New Adventures Adaptations 8: All-Consuming Fire
Written By: Andy Lane, adapted by Guy Adams
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Lisa Bowerman (Bernice Summerfield), Nicholas Briggs (Sherlock Holmes), Richard Earl (Doctor John Watson), Hugh Fraser (Sherringford Holmes), Anthony May (Baron Maupertuis), Aaron Neil (Tir Ram), Samantha Béart (Mrs Prendersly/Azazoth), Michael Griffiths (Ambrose), Guy Adams (K'Tcar'ch).
While two adaptations from the New Adventures came out at the same time, All Consuming Fire has more general interest with it than the other, Theater of War, because it is the fictional encounter between the Doctor, in his seventh Incarnation, with Sherlock Holmes. It also borrows much from H.P. Lovecraft, giving it triple-geek status (while Theater of War is important for its place in the New Adventures, BF and Bernice Summerfield canons, and it has a few other points of interest, I give it an average rating for audio stories).
When dangerous books go missing at the Library of St. John the Beheaded, Sherlock Holmes and Watson find themselves in the middle of a power struggle which transcends the earth. But it will be awhile before they come to realize and accept this fact, despite strange events which defy explanation happening before their eyes (people being consumed by fire).
As they seek to find out what happened to the books, they encounter the Doctor (or, more to the point, the Doctor goes to them). Early on, he is a confusion to Holmes, who finds out his normal ability to deduce who and what people have been doing doesn’t work with the Doctor. He isn’t sure if he trusts the Doctor or not, but when the Doctor suggests he works with Watson to look down on some of the leads of the case, Holmes thinks it is the best way to keep track of the Doctor and also properly launch his investigation.
But things do not go smoothly. When one of the possible suspects has his body go up in flames—in front of the Doctor and Watson, it’s clear this is a rather unusual case. Watson, and Holmes, do not immediately accept the implications and try to find logical explanations for what happened. The Doctor, to be sure, agrees that the answer has to be logical, though the logical explanation for him transcends what Holmes and Watson are initially going to accept.
It is only being followed by an alien, being attacked by a Rakshasa, and talking to Holmes’ eldest brother about Holmes’ father’s encounters in India (learning that the Doctor claimed to be there with their father), do Holmes and Watson begin to accept the truth.
Who or what was behind the theft of the mysterious books? What power is discussed in them? What is the goal and point of their mysterious foe, sending demonic creatures out to attack them? These are the initial questions the Doctor and Holmes have to answer – only to have to revise their understanding of the situation later, once they learn their foe is someone who is also being double-crossed by an alien entity on another planet.
Sherlock, it turns out, is quite capable of adapting to his new place in the universe, and to see the Doctor for the hero he is. Watson, on the other hand, is rugged, quite capable of handing the situation and keeping up with his humor, but struggles more than Holmes to deal with the events as they unfold. But he finds himself in capable hands, first with the Doctor, and later with Bernice, so that his own inner strength is able to help him with the transition and to remain stable and sane (there is no Lovecraftian ending for Holmes or Watson here).
Each episode of the story takes the story one step further, adding new details or changing what it is all about in the process. The first introduces the mystery which gets Holmes and the Doctor together. It points them to India, where the Doctor’s companion, Bernice is waiting for him (hiding out as a man). It is only near the end, when the Doctor, Bernice, Holmes and Watson go to another world (R'lyeh), chasing an English gentleman who wants to invade the alien landscape, do they also encounter a powered-up Ace, and also find out all that has been happening.
The story mixes horror elements of the Lovecraftian mythos with Hindu imagery, albeit not as well as I would like (the Hindu side allows for adventures in India, but really warps the Hindu mythology for the sake of a plot device). Some of it is quite good, and reminds me of what I liked when I read the New Adventures: The Doctor taking on the Cthulhu mythos.
All of this could be and should be riveting. And there is a lot of good here.
But alas, I didn’t feel anything for Nicholas Brigg’s Holmes. He seems too empty to me. Not enough excitement or emotion; far, far more subdued than I want for Sherlock. And the story, while full of good ideas, felt like it needed to be fleshed out a bit more. Instead of a four parter it should have been a six parter, allowing more interaction with Holmes and the Doctor. But as it is, with one of the weakest representation of Holmes that I know of, the desired effect of the story falls flat. This is not to say the story is bad, but it is disappointing. Yes, I know Briggs now plays Holmes on Big Finish, but they should have tried to get someone else, someone famous who has played Holmes on the screen before, and let him have at it here (which would have attracted more attention to the role). I know, Cumberbatch probably would not have done it – but what about, I don’t know, Matt Frewer (this would also have a double interest as a way to exorcise the demons around the Max Headroom Incident)? This needed someone with more pizzaz for Holmes, especially if the story was played as straightforward as this.
Don’t get me wrong. This is still enjoyable, but it doesn’t satisfy in the way people want a Holmes/Doctor story to do. Holmes ability to deal with the new universe he has awakened to is good, but his general persona is where it is lacking. Ace, getting a short shift here, is not much of a problem, for this gives Bernice and Watson a good amount of time to work together and they do work together quite well.
7/10. It could have been higher with a different Holmes.
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