A stolen library book isn’t usually the sort of thing that would require the services of Sherlock Holmes but the Pope is no ordinary client. And the library of St John The Beheaded is no ordinary library. It contains countless texts that have been considered lost, too scandalous or too powerful for the general populace to even know about.
It is guarded at all times by two rival London gangs, each in competition with the other to catch any thief. If you are caught, the penalty is simply – you’ll be the original version of hands-free for the rest of your life. But Holmes and Watson’s investigation are going to lead them further afield than they have ever travelled before – and it all starts with a shabby little man in the library who seems determined to get involved in their investigations. A man known only as the Doctor…
OK, it’s actually called Doctor Who – All-Consuming Fire, but in many ways this is just as much a Sherlock Holmes story as a tale of the Doctor. It started out as one of the New Adventures, a series of novels that were produced by Virgin Publishing when the series was taken off the air in 1989, Michael Grade wielding the axe just as it was starting to revive its quality after the curse of Eric Saward (in my humble opinion – other opinions are available). Virgin took advantage of a relatively free hand to crank up the science fiction content and created books that were aimed at the age of the people who had grown up with the show and who now needed something with more depth to it.
Personally, some of the science fiction elements went too far for me – I’m not a big hard-core sci-fi fan, I like to read about good guys and bad guys, but on average, I enjoyed about two-thirds of the output, and some authors always produced quality tales. Paul Cornell, for example, Gareth Roberts and the author of this one, Andy Lane. Once Big Finish Productions decided to adapt some of these books for audio as full cast dramas, this was the obvious choice and apparently the most requested. No doubt in part due to the range of Sherlock Holmes audios that Big Finish have produced, starring Nicholas Briggs as Holmes and Richard Earl as Watson. Obviously, they reprise those roles here, alongside Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, Sophie Aldred as Ace and Lisa Bowerman as Professor Bernice Summerfield. All of the cast are, as ever, on absolutely top form.
As I said, this is just as much Holmes’ tale as that of the Doctor, with the first two episodes being presented from Watson’s point of view, just as the original Holmes tales were, with the second half being from Benny’s viewpoint (mostly). What is constant throughout is that Holmes is never portrayed as being out of his depth, even when he ends up with the Doctor battling demons on an alien world, accepting new realities and facts and continuing to act as the world’s greatest detective. The only time he is seen to stumble is when he tries to do his party piece on the Doctor himself – when the mud on someone’s shoes comes from an alien planet, it’s understandable why Holmes can’t deduce much from it.
It’s a testament to Holmes’ status amongst fictional detectives that this crossover works – you simply can’t imagine this working with Poirot, for example. It’s not the first time such a Holmes tale has been attempted – take The Tangled Skein for example, pitting Holmes against Dracula – but like that, it’s well worth a listen. There are so many post-Doyle Holmes tales out there, with more appearing almost every day, it’s such a pleasure to hear a tale that, despite the obvious difference, actually feels like a Holmes tale. It’s certainly much, much better than something I was sent for a review recently – I won’t name it but it was so far from feeling like the real thing. But Lane, who has written a number of well-received Young Holmes books and Adams (who adapted the novel for audio), who has written both fact and fiction about the great detective, know exactly how to stop this veering into parody.
Obviously, this won’t be for every Holmes fan, but if you’re a fan of the Doctor as well, this is well worth your time. Highly Recommended. Oh, and Hugh (Hastings) Fraser’s in it as well!
Other Sherlock Holmes stuff from Big Finish on the blog: