THIS STORY TAKES
BIG FINISH AUDIOS
"THE FEAST OF AXOS"
AND "A TOWN CALLED
BIG FINISH CD#145
RELEASED IN MARCH
the white heat of the
burns THE hottest at
MR Samuel Belfrage's
brass mill, WHICH HAS
BEEN plagued by more
than its fair share OF
AS Thomas Brewster
struggles to secure a
fair deal for ALL THE
overworked hands AT
Belfrage's, THE DOCTOR
AND EVELEYN follow
"the Copper King" to
Liverpool to discover
the unexpected truth
about HIS business.
Back in Ackleton, the
local MP voices the
fears of many when
he says machines are
taking over. He's more
right than he knows…
Over the past five years Eddie Robson has proven himself to be one of Big Finish’s most exciting scribes. Even though he’s dreaming up new adventures for classic Doctors, each of his stories has a sense of the current television series about it, particularly those set in or around the present day. Admittedly, I’ve been a little less enamoured with Robson’s few futuristic forays, but was nonetheless intrigued to see how he’d fare with a relatively straight psuedo-historical. In short, the answer is brilliantly.
Industrial Evolution does a marvellous job of blending storybook impression with innovation. 19th century Lancashire sounds exactly as most listeners would expect it to, conforming to
all the literary staples, and even its inhabitants (a medley of impoverished workers, wayward damsels, domineering fathers and voluble MPs) might have been torn from the pages of an Industrial Revolution romance – at least, at a first glance. Scratch a little deeper though, and each of Robson’s characters is shown to be a little greyer, and a little grittier, than they might first appear. Each has a healthy dose of pragmatism to them that really makes the listener believe in them and their plight; even those later unmasked as marooned aliens eking out
a living have a charming mundanity to them, calling to mind the many aliens of Manchester leaving under the radar in The Condemned and The Raincloud Men.
Robson’s plot is similarly well-textured, not to mention very rich thematically. The story’s first episode introduces us to Samuel Belfrage’s brass mill, where workers are striking following a spate of horrific injuries caused by new-fangled machinery. However, these men are not luddites; in fact, they’re very grateful for the work that Belfrage’s advanced copper extrusion machinery has generated - they just don’t like having their appendages lopped off left, right and centre as a result of that work. And back in those days, there was no PUWER to protect them… which is where Thomas Brewster comes in. Having been returned to his own time to start a new life, Brewster tasks himself with taking the fight to his new employer on behalf of his colleagues, but in doing so he discovers something sinister lurking in the bowels of the Mill – something that makes avulsed fingers and hands suddenly seem not all that gruesome in of themselves. I had to suppress a chill when I heard Brewster’s final line in Part 2.
The story benefits from its writer’s typically dextrous handling of the regulars. In framing the story as a coda to the two preceding adventures, rather than an outright finale to Old Sixy’s ‘Thomas Brewster’ trilogy, Robson is able to pair up the Doctor and Evelyn for much of the narrative, while exploring Brewster’s new life in the parallel strand. The opportunity is happily seized upon by Colin Baker and Maggie Stables, who effortlessly recreate that enchanting chemistry that established them as Big Finish’s first flagship line-up. Brewster, meanwhile,
is captured every bit as vibrantly here as he has been previously, although I understand that his creator Jonathan Morris was heavily involved in the drafting of the script, so Robson may not be able to take all the credit for his dialogue’s sparkle. Nevertheless, the character works particularly well here as he’s often playing off Belfrage – another wrong ‘un, but a wrong ‘un with more in common with Sabalom Glitz than the Artful Dodger – allowing John Pickard and Rory Kinnear to indulge their characters’ mutual excesses.
I’m not entirely convinced by
Brewster’s abrupt change of
heart, however. After wanting
to return ‘home’ so desperately
in the previous two adventures,
his sudden sadness at being
stuck in one place and time
feels a little out of place, and
may be an example of Robson
trying a little too hard to imbue
his script with a ‘Rose crying in the café’ sort of feel. Still, such sentiments do bleed rather nicely into Robson’s dénouement, which neither quietly marries Brewster off nor sees him dangling from a hangman’s noose. I won’t spoil his fate for those yet to discover it, but I will say that it feels most apt. I hope that this won’t prove to be the last time that we hear from the rascal – there is definitely mileage in a seventh Doctor encounter later down the line. Imagine Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor trying to keep both Ace and Brewster under control!
Overall then, Industrial Evolution is another feather in Robson’s ever-burgeoning cap, and
a fitting way to round off Brewster’s latest time in the TARDIS. I don’t think that it quite has the sparkle of Crimes or the allure of Axos, but it certainly has heart – and lots of other body parts besides.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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