I admit it: I had been waiting for this one. I couldn’t wait to sink my proverbial teeth into this one again since I last listened to it in 2001. And I knew I had to be getting close but I still refrained from looking at the CD case as I took it off my shelf. I didn’t remember the opening well enough to be certain but I remembered how episode one ended, so I was sure I’d recognize it before that. But episode one didn’t end the way I thought – that was episode 2. And a ton of things that happened in the first episode I had long since forgotten. Oh, I won’t pretend I didn’t piece it together, but it took longer than I expected. I had forgotten the casino and the characters, not because they were not memorable, but because of it being nearly 2 decades since I listened to it last. But did I love it as much this time around? Absolutely.
Well, to begin with, casinos, gangsters, and blood money are not typical elements of a Doctor Who story, unless perhaps you’re looking at the lackluster Minuet in Hell, yet here they work remarkably well. Like ingredients in a good recipe, there are elements that enhance the flavor exponentially. You mean like demons and the Doctor with no memory?, I hear you ask? No, because while you’re right, that should have helped Minuet, the unfortunate truth is it utterly failed to so. However, here, we discover a place called The Forge. This is something like what Torchwood could have been if it were run by a sinister man who has a very un-sinister sounding name. Nimrod, played absolutely marvelously by Stephen Chance, is a scary character worthy of a repeat performance somewhere down the line. He’s at ease around gangsters like Reggie (also played perfectly by Rob Dixon) and isn’t bothered by being shot by a shotgun. He also carries some sort of weapon that I just pictures as a small grappling hook that both impales and retracts. For me, Nimrod makes the story. But let’s not loose sight of the main enemy of the piece. “Vampires!?!?” Episode two ends with Colin Baker’s realization that he’s befriended a group of Vampires, lead by Amelia Doory (once again, played perfectly by Holly De Jong). His perfect mix of horror and astonishment, as the music culminates before he says it, manages to send shivers down my spine even on the second listen! Amelia is a cunning adversary that also deserves to be recognized as one of the greats. She plays the Doctor like a Gallifreyan harp.
To make matters better, the lore of the series was not forgotten, as it so often is. The Gallifreyans are taught to destroy vampire life wherever they may find it. We learned about this in the fantastic State of Decay and it is not forgotten here. For the Doctor, to help Amelia means breaking centuries of what he’s been taught, but he recognizes her need and tries to help her “reverse what was done to her”. Alas, you can’t have a story about good vampires, so she perverts his help for her own gain and the Doctor needs Nimrod to wrap things up in some way satisfactorily. Then there’s Cassie who might actually manage to be a reasonably good vampire after all, thus proving a break in convention! The story is outstanding and flows so smoothly; it holds the attention from beginning to end. It’s also a big story; it adds to the overall lore of Doctor Who in wonderful ways, namely with The Forge. It also references Zagreus, so we know through hindsight that this was a hint of things to come.
Of all the stories I’ve listened to up until now, Colin Baker has had some of the best but this one is the cream of the crop. But I need to advise caution: this is a bloody story. There are a number of gruesome moments that are not for the faint of heart. Ironically, if there’s any complaint I have with the story, it’s not the blood but Evelyn’s fairly mundane reaction to it. When a person explodes shooting their entire remains all over you, I don’t expect quips. Hell, I’m not even sure one could form words at that point. Still, you know, Vampires and blood go tooth in neck, so what do you expect, but it’s worth noting. Kudos to Caven Scott and Mark Wright for writing a really winning episode. I sure hope we get back to the Forge one day because there is just so much potential there. ML