Big Finish Productions
|Adapted by||Guy Adams|
|Starring Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Lisa Bowerman|
|Synopsis: The Library of St. John the Beheaded contains the most dangerous books in all creation so when some of them are stolen who else should the Vatican call but Sherlock Holmes? Immediately, one of the possible suspects seems more suspicious than others. He has no traceable background, refuses to give straight answers and hides behind a pseudonym. However, Holmes and his loyal friend Watson soon realise this suspect is also their greatest hope: war is brewing and an Old God is rising. To save humanity, they need the Doctor as much as he needs them.|
Audio Wholock by Matthew Kresal 2/4/17
For a while now, people on social media have been wanting a crossover between Doctor Who and Sherlock on TV (usually refereed to by the term Wholock as I understand it). Chances are, they probably didn't know it already happened some two decades before in the Virgin New Adventures novel. Written by Andy Lane, the 1994 novel All-Consuming Fire featured the Seventh Doctor finding himself allied with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. While that novel has been out of print for nearly two decades since Virgin Books lost the Doctor Who license, there is another way of experiencing this crossover tale. Big Finish, whose output also includes an excellent range of Sherlock Holmes audios starring Nicholas Briggs, released an adaptation of it as a full-cast audio drama with strong results.
I must confess that, as I sit here writing this review, I have yet to read Andy Lane's original novel. So I can't rate it on just how faithful it is to it. What I can say is that Guy Adams' (himself no stranger to writing both Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes) adaptation seems solid from the knowledge I do have of the source material. It's an effective combination of Holmes and Who together in one package, as Holmes' investigation into missing books from Library of St. John the Beheaded leads him into contact with the Seventh Doctor and companions. The case soon begins to involve cults, the Holmes family and aspects of Lovecraftian mythos. It's a dense story, to be sure, that takes Holmes and Watson across the world and indeed beyond, but it's definitely a Doctor Who story as well, making it what might best be termed a romp. A jolly good one full of great imagery, which moves along at a cracking pace that nonetheless gives room for its characters as well.
Indeed, it's a tale where the performances are key to its success. Across a number of earlier Big Finish releases, Nicholas Briggs (perhaps best known as the voice of the Daleks, Cybermen and various other monsters from current Doctor Who) and Richard Earl have proven themselves to be an excellent Holmes and Watson team, which this release goes even further to prove. Their reactions to the incredible events they find themselves caught up in feel absolutely in keeping with how they've portrayed their characters before. Indeed, one of the great thrills of this release has been hearing Briggs and Earl interacting with McCoy's Seventh Doctor, especially in episode one where Holmes finds himself unable to read the Doctor and when Watson becomes the Doctor's companion for a bit. Like with the other Big Finish Holmes releases, it's Earl's Watson who pushes the narrative forward as the narrator, and he continues to be one of the best Watson's, you're ever likely to encounter here as well. For Holmes fans, especially those who have ever encountered the Briggs/Earl combo before, you're in for a treat.
With Holmes and Watson (or should I say Briggs and Earl?) being so front and center, it might seem like the TARDIS crew might get sidelined. That is true to an extent, but this is definitely a Doctor Who story, and you're not ever really allowed to forget it. Sylvester McCoy's Doctor has a strong presence in one of the more interesting performances McCoy's given for his Doctor, less master-planner and more impish, though most certainly capable of being dark and serious when the moment arises. Hearing McCoy's Doctor and Briggs' Holmes interact is made all the more interesting as a result of that, with the Doctor frequently exasperating Holmes. It's an interesting performance to be sure, though not quite the one you might expect out of this Doctor.
If anyone gets sidelined, it would be the companions. Lisa Bowerman's Bernice Summerfield only appears in the latter disc of this release, though she does get some fine moments when she does appear alongside Earl's Watson. Sophie Aldred's Ace gets more of an extended cameo across much of the story before making an eleventh-hour appearance in the story. Given what they've got to work with, both Bowerman and Aldred do rather nicely though (and once again this might be down to the source material rather than Adams' adaptation), it would have been nice if they had been given more to do here.
The rest of the production is up to the usual Big Finish standards. The supporting cast is solid, including Hugh Fraser in a role of interest to Holmes fans, Anthony May as a villainous baron, and Samantha Beart in a couple of very different roles. Of particular note though is the music and sound design from Big Finish stalwart Alistair Lock, who surpasses himself here with a rich soundscape and a magnificent score (the latter of which is nicely included as a suite on this release). It's a prime example of the quality of Big Finish's output.
For those craving a crossover between these two icons of British popular culture, Big Finish's adaptation of All-Consuming Fire is just the ticket. True it isn't the Moffat versions of either, but it's something that perfectly captures the spirit of both without completely overwhelming each other entirely. Add on some solid performances and the company's usual production values, and the results are simply superb. It's a thrill ride that is well worth a listen for fans of the Doctor and Mister Holmes alike.