THIS STORY TAKES
THE TELOS NOVELLA
"CITADEL OF DREAMS"
AND THE NOVEL
BIG FINISH CD#42
RELEASED IN MARCH
A thousand years
ago, the evil Cult
of the Dark Flame
star system in the
galaxy. the Cult is
NOW legendary, its
despotic leader a
But for some the Dark
Flame still burns. For
some, its horrifying
power is the ultimate
goal AND All that is
required is for the
right people to be in
the wrong place and
An archaeologist and
his robot are on the
poisonous world of
Sorus Alpha, where
they will uncover a
hideous relic. The
Doctor and Ace are
on their way to the
deep space research
centre Orbos, where
Summerfield is soon
to start the count-
down to universal
Four acolytes of Evil.
Three mad scientists.
The Dark Flame
Trevor Baxendale never wrote for Virgin’s series of New Adventures, yet oddly
his Virgin-era play, The Dark Flame, feels more like a New Adventure than Paul Cornell’s The Shadow of the Scourge did, and Cornell was one of their most prolific writers!
A lot of this is down to tone, not just in the writing of the script but in how Big Finish have produced, packaged and sold it. The whole feel of The Dark Flame is, as the title implies, dark. The grim setting, the plot about the evil cult, the actors’ wonderful performances, and the score all evoke the grim atmosphere of many of the New Adventures. Even the superb cover illustration from Lee Binding (one of Big Finish’s best to date, I reckon) depicts the
mid-Virgin era Doctor surrounded by hellfire, brimstone and the blackness of space. In fact, the superlative artwork is just about the only aspect of The Dark Flame that doesn’t evoke memories of the hideously-bound Virgin novels!
Furthermore, The Dark Flame is more faithful to the characters of the Doctor, ‘New’ Ace
and Benny than The Shadow of the Scourge was. The Doctor and Benny are particularly impressive once again; each of them sounding exactly as I imagined that they would. Lisa Bowerman is wonderful to listen to, and in this play she is given some classic Benny one-liners. Sophie Aldred is much more convincing here than she was in the trio’s last outing – here Ace sounds genuinely older and tougher. There is an especially impressive sequence where Benny, whilst under the controlling influence of Remnex, attacks Ace (who is bound). Afterwards it takes a lot of effort on the part of the Doctor to convince Ace not to tear Benny apart – much more in keeping with the ‘New’ Ace that I remember!
But unfortunately, despite solid
performances from the regulars, The Dark Flame isn’t actually a
very good story… at all. It’s no more than a traditional / knock-
down / runabout / space station
/ quarry four-parter that pales in
comparison to Cornell's earlier
and much more thought-provoking
effort. Whilst the feel of play may be very New Adventures, there is certainly nothing here that is “too broad and too deep for the small screen”, which is a huge shame because Big Finish don’t have the same ceilings that the television series did; the audio medium allows them to go anywhere and do anything… and so Baxendale takes us to Space Station Orbos and the dead world Marran Alpha.
The resolution of the play is even worse than the main thrust of the plot; a complete and utter cop-out. Fortunately, The Dark Flame is redeemed in part by the compelling performances of Steven Wickham as the entertaining robot, Joseph, and especially Michael Praed as the over-the-top villain, Slyde – he’s deplorable from the minute that you meet him and you can’t stop hating him right until the end. Slyde is the antithesis, really, of Praed’s definitive Robin Hood.
Ultimately the kindest phrase that I could use to describe The Dark Flame is ‘the play that Nekromanteia should have been’. If I were Big Finish, I would have put the seventh Doctor, Ace and Benny in Nekromanteia and the fifth Doctor, Peri and Erimem in The Dark Flame. As things are, I wouldn’t recommend The Dark Flame to anyone but the most forgiving New Adventures fanatics, but I will say one thing for it – it has fantastic dialogue: “she has given herself to the Dark Side. You know this to be true.” It’s just a pity Baxendale that didn’t write the best bits of it!
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
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