Apologies for the continued lack of posts – unfortunately I’ve had to work a lot of long days this week, as we’re preparing for a release. I’m going to try to get a few posts up this weekend, and while I’m away next week (on holiday with my family, with no net access) I’ll try to write a *lot* of stuff, so when I get back I’ll have a backlog to post.
The biggest problem with Paul Sutton’s Thicker Than Water is also its greatest strength, which is that it is explicitly part of a larger continuity, and the end of a ‘story arc’. As (in story terms) the last story to feature Dr Evelyn Smythe, it ties up details of her relationship with the Doctor. It’s a sequel to the earlier story Arrangements For War, where Evelyn’s reactions were based on the events of Project: Lazarus, which was in turn a sequel to Project: Twilight. Meanwhile, the emotional turning point of the last episode (which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t yet heard it) is a revelation about the events in a completely different set of stories – the Cyberman trilogy The Reaping, The Gathering and The Harvest, which were in themselves a series of stories involving three different Doctors in reverse-chronological order and…
You see what I mean?
Rather miraculously, the story still works as a decent adventure story without having heard these stories, and for the most part you can pick up what you need to know, but there are a few scenes in the last episode that pack a real punch when you’ve heard them but would just be confusing without it.
Overall, however, the story is extremely effective. Doing the ‘new companion meets an old one’ story a good few months before it happened in the nuWho episode School Reunion, and in a significantly more adult manner, one of the two main plots of this story involves the Doctor taking Melanie Knownasmel off to meet Evelyn, who he credits with having mellowed him and made him a more decent person, but who (it is revealed) he left in a somewhat petulant manner when she decided to marry.
The scenes between the Doctor and Evelyn are some of the best acting you’ll hear – especially at the end when Evelyn tells the Doctor (for the only time) “I love you”. It’s clear in context that she means it in a fatherly way – it’s also clear that he may have loved her in a somewhat different way. But the performances here are a world away from the mopey teenage angsting of the new show – these are very *grown-up* performances, Colin Baker’s Doctor clearly embarrassed by any kind of display of real emotion, his bumptiousness and bluster all shown as cover for a very restrained, repressed person who cares more than he ever dare let show. At their best (and they are at their best here) Colin Baker and Maggie Stables have a rapport completely unlike anything in TV Who – a genuinely adult, *real* relationship between characters who are real people. It’s very unfortunate that it was decided after this to reduce the number of stories featuring Evelyn (and the scripts for those with her in have been noticeably worse since this than the ones before it), as they’re really the only ones in which the Doctor has a truly adult relationship with his companion, and they’re all the better for it.
The main ‘adventure’ plot, on the other hand, is fairly easy to follow for even someone who knows little or nothing of Doctor Who. Doctor Who (the original show and spin-offs, but not the new series) was always about … well, ‘always’ is a big word… one of the most enduring themes of Doctor Who, from the very second story up until the last series, was the fight between small-l liberalism and fascism, specifically Nazism. Almost all the memorable stories in Doctor Who have been about this in some way , from the what-if-the-Nazis-won of The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, through the whole of Tom Baker’s first series, through Curse Of Fenric, with villains like the Sontarans being caricature German officers, only missing a monocle.
The audios have returned to this theme a few times – sometimes rather clumsily just having the Doctor fight some Nazis, as in Colditz, but often looking more at the moral issues involved. Davros, for example, is ‘about’ Holocaust denial. This story, in so far as it is ‘about’ anything (and for the most part it’s actually about the human relationships involved, rather than about the subject of the plot) is about the morality of using data from Nazi ‘experiments’ to save lives (see this link if you’re unaware of the debate about this, but be warned – some of the stuff described there would turn anyone’s stomach). Actually, the debate is twisted a couple of times in this for plot purposes – it’s not a straightforward morality tale – but it at least nods to the issues, which is more than many supposedly more thoughtful stories do.
So while by no means the best of the Baker Big Finish stories, this is a good, solid story, raised above what it should have been by the performances of the two leads (and despite Bonnie Langford’s equal billing here, it really is a Sixth Doctor and Evelyn story). The only real annoyance (at least if you’re familiar with the rest of the stories referenced) is that the science at the end is so poor – I for one would like to see a ban on the use of the term ‘DNA’ from all SF/fantasy/superhero stories. DNA DOES NOT DO WHAT YOU THINK IT DOES, SF WRITERS! Today alone, I have ingested chicken DNA, potato DNA, corn DNA, wheat DNA, cow DNA and probably the DNA of a few other species as well. I have not yet turned into a horrible chickpocowheacow , and nor would I have had I injected same directly into my veins. See also black holes (I’m looking at *you*, new Star Trek film).
In general, it’s far better to just use made-up nonsense terms if you’re doing made-up nonsense science – using the real terms won’t make any difference to anyone who doesn’t understand them, and will only remove any suspension of disbelief from those who do.
But that apart, this is definitely worth a listen for Baker and Stables’ performances, and I only hope Big Finish will soon start giving this pairing some more solid stories together.