Trevor Baxendale as the choice for the writer for The Dark Flame is an odd one as although he has written Doctor Who novels, he never wrote for the Virgin Doctor Who Novels. That is a real shame as Baxendale creates an atmosphere straight out of the Virgin New Adventures of the period almost better than Paul Cornell’s The Shadow of the Scourge. It’s a story that nails the characters so well it is almost like this was meant to be a pitch for the Virgin New Adventures but was rejected for having its characters get along. The placement of this story is after All-Consuming Fire when the Doctor, Ace and Benny were getting along at their best here which is refreshing and really makes the story quite humorous as they in turn tease each other for their flaws which I just love. Sophie Aldred and Lisa Bowerman steal the show as Ace and Benny as they give their best performances ever. Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor is also great as he has quite a lot to do here especially at the end as he goes into a mind battle a la The Brain of Morbius, but here as it is audio and McCoy is less arrogant than Tom Baker, the mind battle is really tense as the Seventh Doctor is almost given total and absolute power over time and space which allows the end to be an actual deus ex machina with the Doctor as the god in the machine.
This all fits in the plot which sees the Doctor, Ace and Benny mixed up with the resurrection of Vilus Krull the leader of the cult of the dark flame which promises eternal power and of course Krull wants to take over the world. This is full of vivid imagery of people getting their eyes removed and just a lot of murder which I adore in the story as it really makes you feel that Doctor Who can do these dark subjects. It helps that Baxendale does a good job at creating his supporting characters as they are all unique. Krull is the weakest character with a paper thin motivation as he just wants to control the world. Remnex, the dead body that Krull possesses, is also weak as he gets one scene before his death with the establishment that he is the Doctor’s friend so has very little time for any real characterization. They are played by the same actor who does give a good performance as both of them. Joseph is a much more interesting character who is basically the opposite of Marvin the Paranoid Android. Joesph isn’t depressed he is only a pessimist who loves his work even if he doesn’t have the capacity for enjoyment. His self-sacrifice is genuinely emotional. Slyde is the only other character who gives a good performance as Michael Praed has one of those voices which just make for a good and enjoyable listen. Slyde is a murderer which the Doctor allows to go free so he doesn’t create a paradox involving the withering of Benny’s hand and the nature of Remnex’s death.
The story may be a good one with an atmosphere on point with The Shadow of the Scourge, but it isn’t nearly as good. This can be put down to a couple of things, first off the pacing is off which can make some of the portions of the audio to be very boring and difficult to get through. I also feel as the direction is falling flat especially compared to Jason Haigh-Ellery’s last effort with The Rapture and the music is also pretty bland sounding like generic stuff composed by an amateur. Even though I said the deus ex machina was creative it doesn’t forgive it for being a deus ex machina which doesn’t really amount to anything. Baxendale and any writer should know that if you reference the problem of your story it doesn’t forgive it for being a problem.
To summarize, The Dark Flame is leaps and bounds above Nekromanteia, which isn’t very hard to do, but it is still a flawed story. The plot has some intrigue with its characters but there are problems with the fact that it feels a lot like a traditional Doctor Who story. The regulars and Michael Praed give their absolute best performances and are the highlights of the story, but the rest of them are one note or are just a bit uninteresting. The direction and music also just feel a bit flat on the whole. 68/100