A First Doctor tale, performed with style and panache by William Russell and Carole Ann Ford (and additional help from Nabil Elouahabi), that finds the travellers arriving in sixteenth century Spain when the country is at war with England and the inquisition is hunting down supposed heretics as quickly and as powerfully as they can, runs a strong parallel with the recently released DVD The Reign of Terror which focused on a very different but very threatening time in France during the revolution.
Writer Marc Platt addresses issues of religion and belief with his usual power and tact and the setting that he creates is gritty, real and altogether terrifying for the TARDIS travellers. It’s also well realised as a Doctor Who story for the early 1960’s characters as well. Each of the four leads acts out their usual parts to play: the Doctor gets involved with the higher-ups, Barbara feels lost and alone whilst she worries for Ian’s safety, Susan worries in general and Ian gets himself arrest and nearly killed due to his usual heroic manner and hotheadedness. The first two parts culminate with a near death experience for the Doctor and Ian before they’re whisked away to safety where the stories second act begins.
It’s at this stage where things take a more original turn in Platt’s script, on hearing that Frances Drake needs a message delivered to him in order to facilitate his attack on the King of Spain’s fleet, Ian jumps at the chance to meet his hero and deliver the message in person. This leads to a disheartening meeting where Chesterton learns that sometimes your heroes aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be and that sometimes it’s best that you don’t meet them at all. It’s all the more touching when the Doctor, although angered at his friends decision to sneak off and cause possible trouble to the timeline, duly follows Ian in order to save him from, perhaps, his own bad judgement.
The Flames of Cadiz ultimately leaves one feeling slightly perplexed with regards of how to feel about it. This is a well told story with some excellent sound design and direction, it nevertheless feels slightly too long at four parts. The paradox being that it also needs these four parts in order to breathe and culminate with its big finish at the end. This could have better been served as a four-part story in Big Finish’s main range with perhaps a Doctor such as Colin Baker able to truly throw his weight around with members of the Inquisition and ultimately Francis Drake.
As it is offered here, The Flames of Cadiz is a powerful tale albeit one that takes slightly longer than usual to get to the end.
The Flames of Cadiz is available from www.bigfinish.com now on CD or via download.