Friday, 28 January 2011

Thicker than Water written by Paul Sutton and directed by Ed Salt

What’s it about: Three years after Világ was all but laid waste by the Killorans, the Doctor is back alongside a different companion. And a lot has changed. Now elected Principle Triumvir, head of a tripartite government, Rossiter is working to secure a peaceful future for the planet by researching the technology the Killorans left behind. But he has to contend with opposition from his daughter, Sofia, who heads a public campaign demanding the destruction of all alien artefacts. Politics has caused a rift between father and daughter, and as if that weren't enough, Sofia doesn't approve of her new step-mother either. Emotions soon boil over into violence, a violence that seems to have gripped the entire city. Friendships bind people close, but they say that blood is...

Softer Six: Here’s a chance to really see the best of the sixth Doctor, through the yes of two of his greatest Big Finish companions, Evelyn and Mel. Its rather wonderful how fondly they talk about him and it was here that I really came to understood just how much repair work Big Finish has done to his character, giving him a wonderful life that takes place after his TV stories. Liking his character is a given now (which it wasn’t for some on the telly) and he gets to have event stories that are based on the heartbreak of losing his companions ala The Green Death. The final scenes of Thicker than Water that see the Doctor partying and saying goodbye to Evelyn are some of the best moments of any Doctor. Mel wants to talk to him about his attitude and thinks he needs to learn to tone it down a bit in company. He has always walked a tightrope between genial and brash (although he sees it as the mecuriality of genius!). Hardly the model of tolerance. I adored his quick mention of his behaviour after he regenerated and how Mel should be grateful that she met him after the steadying hand of Evelyn Smythe had woven its spell on him. When Evelyn returns to the TARDIS after seeing Rossiter again and says that she wants to leave the Doctor’s bluster might just bring you to tears. He is hiding a whole world of pain. When Mel leaves the Doctor says he might organise a parade! The Doctor knew they were getting married but after the way he behaved when Evelyn left him he didn’t think he would be missed. When he learns how devastated she was that he didn’t attend he berates himself for being so childish. At the close of this story he admits that he still misses her and rather wonderfully they get one more dance together. Its all due credit to Paul Sutton, Colin Baker and Maggie Stables that this soap opera storyline is as sensitive and touching as it is. It could have so easily have been farcically melodramatic but we are so invested in these characters and their relationship now it really and it brings this chapter of their lives together with warmth and friendship.

Learned Lecturer: If you have fallen in love with the sixth Doctor and Evelyn pairing (which anybody who’s anybody will have) then this is the story that will break your heart, splitting the pair of them up and giving Evelyn (apparently) her last appearance in the series. Before you go on a drinking bender to drown your sorrows it please me to tell you that not only would there be another story that takes place after Thicker than Water that chronicles her life after this story but we would also be lucky enough to have lots more adventures with her and Sixie that take place before this story to come too. Ingeniously it means the Evelyn adventures can run and run with the firm knowledge that her story has a definitive end. As soon as I heard the name Evelyn Rossiter I knew I would need the hankies before it was over. Evelyn is criticised as being more used to the past than the present as she debates the use of alien technology. Recently she has become crabby and intolerant and aggressive, plus she is suffering terrible headaches. The Doctor told man that she ran off with a fancy man. Sofia thinks she is so sanctimonious she must glow in the dark. When the Doctor returned Evelyn to Vilag she was worried Rossiter wouldn’t even remember her and it was always in the back of her mind that she would want to stay with him. I loved her decision to not take anything from the TARDIS because she wants a completely fresh start. Now Evelyn has political enemies because she is strongly in favour of studying Killoran technology openly, to learn about their old enemy. The Doctor taught her to always act as if she owns the place. When talking with Mel she says she travelled with the Doctor for a long time but not too long. They had some disagr
eements but they soon got over them and had a lot of fun together. Nowadays she is so hot bloodied and doesn’t know why she gets so angry. She never told the Doctor about her heart and doesn’t regret leaving him – she is very happy with Rossiter. Who wouldn’t miss him though? He’s the Doctor! It’s been many a year since Evelyn blushed at anything! When she got married she wanted the Doctor to give her away, he had been everything to her, friend, father, life itself. When the seventh Doctor comes to visit her she can see it is the Doctor because of his eyes. He shows her a photo of Hex (and calls him brave, loyal and terribly bright) and has wanted to come and tell her that they are travelling together ever since he met him – the Doctor hopes it can repay some of the hurt he caused her by not turning up at her wedding. If Sofia ever needs a mother’s advice she will try her best. At the end of this story, Evelyn has no more headaches, has retired from politics and a man on her arm, she couldn’t be better! Rossiter suggests that they renew their vows with the Doctor in attendance and it means such a lot to her that he can give her away this time. Evelyn tells the Doctor he has been such a great friend, she met him at a time when her life was going nowhere and he gave it back to her. She feels very close to him and wants to tell him that she loves him very much. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go and blub like a big baby whose had all his sweets taken away. What a beautiful examination of both Evelyn and her relationship of the Doctor. We couldn’t have asked for a finer departure story.

Generous Ginge: What’s amazing is the wonderful chemistry between Mel and Evelyn that develops very quickly and their few scenes together show that they would have made a fine pair had they chosen to travel together with the Doctor. Mel really wants to meet this miracle worker Evelyn Smythe who managed to tame the beast that is the Doctor! She is described as the latest model he is dragging around the universe! Mel has never been in love but there’s plenty of time for it. She tentatively asks Evelyn is she wishes the Doctor has come back for her. You wouldn’t believe the pain poor Mel suffers in this story…first she is punched by Dr Lawrence, then she is slapped by Sofia and finally she is pushed down a lift shaft by Dr Szarbo! The Doctor manages to catch her and thanks her for not being nearer his body weight! Evelyn gives Mel her chocolate cake recipe (I wonder is she is making it for porky Glitz?).

The Other Rossiters: It is a measure of both Gabriel Woolf’s performance and the characterisation that Rossiter steals Evelyn away from the Doctor and it is impossible to bear him any malice. He’s just such a nice guy you can see exactly why Evelyn has fallen for him. When Evelyn stepped back into Rossiter’s life 2 years ago he was the happiest man in the world, especially when she chose to stay. It is very natural for a daughter to hate her mother in law. Given her predilection for extreme mood swings Rossiter is in fear of becoming a domestic violence statistic! He pushed his daughter away and forced Evelyn into a role she is not enjoying. Rossiter couldn’t bear to be married to a sarcastic woman! Lawrence, the poor little rich boy turned out t not be Sofia’s type. It shames Rossiter to think that anybody on this planet could ever torture the Killoran’s.

Standout Performance: Both Colin Baker and Maggie Stables work wonders with this material and their last scene together is a real tearjerker.

Great Ideas: Since the Killoran invasion there have been two choices, to study the alien technology or ignore it. The opinion of the public majority is the latter. Evelyn and Mel are kidnapped by Lawrence the lovesick puppy! It appears for a while that Sofia has been authorising unethical experiments and torturing Killorans in a secret underground zoo. Turns out it is Szarbo the xenophobe who is behind it all, experimenting on Killoran genetics and injecting patients with their accelerat
ed regenerative powers, including Evelyn. There’s a wonderful race against time conclusion to stop Sofia from operating on Evelyn who has been polluted with aggressive Killoran DNA. Lawrence was murdered because he drew attention to the experiments.

Audio Landscape: Microphone, screaming moorland winds, classic music, drilling, banging, the fantastic dissolve from the TARDIS leaving Evelyn and return with Mel, birdsong, gunshots, gas, helicopter blades, an ambulance, sirens, guns cocked and fired, moaning experimental patients, Mel’s everlasting scream down the lift shaft, heart monitor, party scenes…just like Arrangements of War, Thicker than Water has been put together with real care to make it sounds as authentic as possible.

Musical Cues: There is a soft piano score as Evelyn leaves the Doctor. The music is quite dynamic in places, bringing more drama to the story.

Isn’t it Odd: Who gives a ¤¤¤¤ about the plot when Evelyn is leaving the Doctor?

Standout Moment: Evelyn telling the Doctor she loves him. It’s beautifully tender.

Result: Hankies at the ready as we say goodbye to Evelyn in a story that cleverly leaps ahead a few years after she left the Doctor and we get involved in her new life on Vilag. It’s a stunning examination of the strongest Doctor/companion duo Big Finish have to offer and by the end you realise it makes perfect sense for them to part company and on such good terms. There is a plot in there somewhere about torture and genetic manipulation which offers a few exciting moments but I was far more concerned with the character drama to give it much thought. Newcomer Ed Salt’s direction is urgent and softens the soap opera elements to make them something very sensitive and touching. A fantastic departure story for my favourite companion with a final scene will break your heart and make you grin from ear to ear: 8/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

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