All-Consuming Fire was always going to be a difficult one to adapt into an audio format. The book is one of the best Virgin New Adventures but it’s definitely meant to be a novel and not an audio. There were also a lot of more adult scenes that build up Victorian London as a very grim and gritty place to live in with brothels for the rich and some brutal descriptions of the spontaneous combustion in the novel that make it a novel not for kids. Now that would be less of a problem if this was made in the early days of Big Finish when their audience was mainly adults who could handle that sort of thing, but as their popularity grew their audience’s ages slowly dropped to younger teenagers so some of the descriptions are a bit too graphic for the audience. Yet while Guy Adams did tone the sexual bits down quite a bit the graphic violence in the story wasn’t shied away from. The death of Mrs. Prendesly in Part One is even a bit more graphic as you can hear the squelching of the skin as it burns and the way McCoy and Earl react just adds to the disturbing imagery.
The audio also does a great job with the background music getting you in the mood. The story opens with Big Finish’s masterful Sherlock Holmes theme setting the mood in the pre-credits sequence and using narration by Watson to keep the tone of the book intact. While yes the frame story with the Doctor, Ace and Benny observing the First Doctor and Susan with Holmes’ father is cut as it isn’t really necessary, narration keeps the idea that the story didn’t happen as we have just heard it with details and names changed to protect the innocent. The pre-credits sequence almost acts like its own little trailer for the story as it introduces all the main characters even though some of them don’t appear until the second half of the story. Guy Adams also does a wonderful job of converting some of the books more humorous scenes for audio, especially when the Doctor meets Holmes and Watson for the first time. The banter between Nicholas Briggs and Sylvester McCoy brings the prose to life much like what happened in Love and War.
Scott Handcock is once again in the director’s chair in his third novel adaptation after marvelously directing The Highest Science and Theatre of War. Handcock has a very distinct style with where he decides to put the music in the stories. His flair as it were is that he will often let scenes speak for themselves and of course have flowingly musical transitions between scenes. Even though he hasn’t directed a lot for Big Finish whenever he does direct it is a feast for the ears.
I’d also have to point out the stellar casting of the main villains of the piece. Sherringford is played by Hugh Fraser who is most famous for playing Captain Hastings in Agatha Christie’s Poirot and here he is pretty much an older version of Sherlock which he is supposed to be. Anthony May plays the secondary villain Baron Maupertuis who is much more big headed than he was in the novel which almost works better as he is a power hungry character who already has a lot of power. Adams does however cut out the demise of Sherringford which is described in great detail in the novel and while yes it may have been a bit much it doesn’t feel nearly as fulfilling as it was in the novel. While this is a nitpick with the novel it really bugs me whenever I’m listening to the novel.
To summarize, All-Consuming Fire is a near perfect adaptation of a novel with the acting, directing and music on point. The adaption process went better than it ever could have gone with the only flaw being Guy Adams leaving out the fate of the story’s villain. 99/100