Now, I am famously not a fan of the crossover. I find having characters from multiple different fictional universes interacting in each others’ spaces achieves little more than breaking two fourth walls at once, if I may stretch that metaphor beyond what is fashionable numerically.
Similarly, I’ve said long and often how much I dislike the part-performed, part-narrated sort of audio play that Big Finish typically puts out in its First and Second Doctor ranges. In this case, it’s the jerk of tense-change that breaks the fourth wall for me, pulling me right out of the story.
So it came as something of a surprise that the eighth outing in Big Finish’s Doctor Who Novel Adaptations range – Guy Adam’s part-performed, part-narrated adaptation of Andy Lane’s Who/Holmes crossover All Consuming Fire, with up to three of its fourth walls missing – is so very, very, very bloody good indeed.
I think partly this works because the (part-)narration style is absolutely correct for one of its canons. Since the original Holmes stories were narrated by Watson, having Watson do the same here feels perfectly fine; and the addition of a few other voices to the task of narration similarly doesn’t seem at all out of place.
The meeting of two canons, my other bugbear, is also a (surprisingly) effective thing. The mercurial Seventh Doctor is perfect in Holmes’s world, confounding the latter with an equal intellect but far more humour throughout, as is his wont, in a manner that leaves the Great Detective utterly baffled. Similarly, Bernice Summerfield’s overtures to the embarrassed, astonished but ultimately game Doctor Watson work because of where they stretch the canon too. The fact that Holmes and Watson are taken so far from their comfort zones, and react in absolutely character-appropriate manners, makes this a far more effective crossover than the usual fanfic attempts which result in no-one acting any different to how they normally do at all, despite two universes having crashed together. To be fair, the Who side of the equation hasn’t moved far from its usual dance – but even here, at one point Ace subtly acknowledges the absurdity of interacting with fictional characters in a way that actually just makes it work all the better.
Ace, sadly, is slightly side-lined in this – but to a certain extent that is inevitable with such a relatively large cast. The story’s main characters of Holmes, Watson, Summerfield and Seven are superb, especially Nick Briggs whose almost definitive Holmes complements perfectly Cumberbatch’s other almost definitive Holmes off of the telly.
The writing is very strong. I don’t know the original novel, but this adaptation has tight pacing and a good rhythm that makes the story satisfyingly even across its two hours.
And, as one has come to expect of BF, it just sounds beautiful. The use of their own Holmes series’s music is just right, and meets the sound design perfectly in the middle.
Overall, this is just a must have. And you should never listen to anyone who is stupid enough to tell you that part-narration and crossover won’t work.
All Consuming Fire is available from BigFinish.com