THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Medicinal Purposes

Written by Robert Ross Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2004
Continuity Between The Trial of a Time Lord and
Time and the Rani.

Starring Colin baker and Maggie Stables

Synopsis: When accidental tourists the Doctor and Evelyn Smythe stumble upon one of Britain's most lurid, illuminating chapters in history, a simple case of interest in the work of dedicated man of science Doctor Robert Knox, quickly turns sour.


Reviews

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 15/10/04

The audio from 2004 I was looking forward to the most! Burke and Hare, bodysnatching, graveyards, bygone Edinburgh, 6th Doctor, Evelyn, ladies of the night, Scottish folklore and things that go bump in the night!

I have just finished a rather sordid book about Edinburgh, which I probably unconsciously picked up in preparation for Medicinal Purposes. Close and Deadly outlines lots of murders committed near Edinburgh city centre in the last 100 years. Fascinating book too, full of detective wranglings and extreme behaviour. A dark book it definitely is, totally strange and frightening what man can do to his fellow man - and what emotions drive them to do so. It's a fascinating area of interest, if rather morbid. I don't suppose it was that much of a jump from that factual book to this folklore inspired tale. I was ready to explore the dark alleyways and tombs where these notorious body-snatching criminals operated.

From the off I was in Edinburgh. I have visited the great city on numerous occasions, and I love it. I find it very easy to transfer myself to years gone by, in such a place. Edinburgh lives off its history more than most - and Big Finish recreate this very well. Maybe also I was so familiar with the era, and was picking up previous knowledge. Whatever - I was there - and the audio experience was all the richer for it.

The 6th Doctor and Evelyn are now officially my favourite TARDIS team. It takes real brilliance to knock the 4th Doctor and Sarah-Jane off their pinnacle - but Colin Baker and Maggie Stables have now done just that. I would be quite happy if most of every year's audio output featured them - I would love Big Finish to do like they did with the 8th Doctor a few years ago, and have the first 6 months of the year devoted to just them - but it ain't gonna happen - and I'm just happy they continue to notch up story after story. Five years on from her debut Evelyn is still with us - and may she continue to dazzle us many years in the future, with her wonderful personality and charm.

The guest cast here is above average. Leslie Phillips shines from the production, like the great trouper he is. Quite a coup for Big Finish to acquire such a legend in his own right. His character here is terrific. Throughout the first few episodes the question remained who Robert Knox actually was, and through skilful storytelling the answer continued to just elude the listener - thus making the revelation surprising. He's ably supported by Kevin O'Leary and Tom Farrelly as Burke and Hare. Hare undoubtedly has the meatier role, but both are excellent. Also a special mention for daft Jamie himself David Tennant. He gives much gravitas to a delightful, yet ultimately tragic character.

Medicinal Purposes was never intended to be a vastly different Doctor Who story - one that pushed the boundaries of what DW can be. It's not an envelope stretching story, but the contents are essentially pure Doctor Who - of a traditional bent that I adore. It's dependable story-telling - and Robert Ross deserves plaudits for that.

What will I remember most from Medicinal Purposes? Probably the interplay between Knox and the Doctor. The Doctor's enthusiasm for Burke and Hare also stands out - revealing a rather morbid personality trait of the Doctor. There's also the drip, drip, drip of the Edinburgh underground tunnels. Those are the things that will stay with me - and when I listen to it again those will definitely stand out again.

What could have been better? I expected more scenes in graveyards, substantiating the tremendous cover image. Some dissections would have been interesting too - but here I will stop for fear readers will consider me a strange death-loving freak!

I have been mightily impressed with this year's Big Finish output. It's not as left field as last year's experimental releases - but I think rather more dependable. This Edinburgh adventure is one of the best. 9/10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 18/10/04

Medicinal Purposes is a return to traditional Doctor Who; although it is a story where little happens over a great length of time. Once again the performances save the story, as the plot is hardly the most original; the Sixth Doctor has dealt with grave robbing before (albeit in the novels), although the setting of Scotland is refreshing. Colin Baker is subdued as the Doctor, not really getting a chance to take an active role in events until the last half of the final episode. And Evelyn is vastly underused, being left to make quips and get arrested.

Guest star Leslie Philips is better served as the time meddling villain of the piece, but the real standout performance lies in David Tennant`s portrayal of Daft Jamie, an endearing and sympathetic character whose interactions with the Doctor are one of the few redeeming moments in the play. Nice performances but ultimately unmemorable, which is a shame as Medicinal Purposes should`ve been so much better.


A tale of two halves... by Joe Ford 21/10/04

By the end of episode two I was convinced I wasn't going to like this but something bizarre happened in the last two episodes that turned it around for me. I still have to admit however it is strange just how little the Doctor and Evelyn actually achieve in the story and you only realise this at the end because the story whizzes by so entertainingly. It's not a Big Finish classic by any means but it does have enough charm to sail you through 130 minutes.

I said to Rob in a recent e-mail that Medicinal Purposes has convinced me that the sixth Doctor and Evelyn are the most frightening characters to grace a Doctor Who story. Their development and continuing story has been steady and understandable, in recent adventures they have had some huge obstacles to overcome, namely death and how it stalks their adventures. Evelyn had huge troubles trying to deal with the death of Jem the cabin boy in Doctor Who and the Pirates and Cassie's murder in Project: Lazarus (indeed both scenes are about as gripping as Doctor Who as a straight drama comes) and the Doctor has shared in her uselessness as Princess Christina and her boyfriend (both of whom he has befriended) are pointlessly killed at the climax of Arrangements of War. It appears that both characters have had an epiphany, realising that some deaths ARE for the greater good.

And that's what frightens me. What ever happened to the Doctor who laughs in the face of certainty and thrives on unpredictability? When the sixth Doctor arrives in Edinburgh during the infamous Burke and Hare bodysnatching period he not only wants to shake hands with the men who brutally slaughtered people to make a quick buck but also attempts to justify their actions in the context of the web of time and the good it will do to medical science! To hear him so calmly rationalise murder is genuinely scary, far scarier than anything else in the story. Evelyn hasn't let her compassion slip entirely but still gave me the odd shiver... especially when they take Jamie back to be the right time and place in time for his murder. She whispers, "I think I finally get it..." People are just historical characters in the story, their story playing out pre-set... and I cannot remember the Doctor every being quite so ready to police the web of time to this extent. The only time he threatens to spoil its grand design is when he wants to stop Dr Knox's obnoxious plans.

And THAT'S what I love about Colin Baker's Doctor, there is always so much more to learn about him. Even when I don't always like him (and there have been other times... his murderous behaviour in The Twin Dilemma, his vicious verbal assault on Evelyn in The Apocalypse Element) he constantly keeps me on my toes. His mood swings are pendulous, from one extreme to the other and this story goes some way to redressing that spiky, dangerous side that some have commented has been lacking since Big Finish have softened him up. And he plays the part so damn well, with each line uttered with conviction, even the aforementioned "death is acceptable" speech has a ring of truth about it when spoken by Colin Baker. His jubilant sense of humour that has emerged in these audios is out in strength in this story and he shares too many memorable moments with Evelyn throughout. They remain the cream of the crop in these CDs of Big Finish, no matter how terrifying they are.

And isn't it fabulous how snappy they are with each other again? The Doctor and Evelyn were always willing to go head to head in an argument and all their recent angst left them all cuddly and sickly sweet but this a return to the rocky relationship from before, the best of friends of course but locking horns when they think they have a genuine point to make.

The story itself was not exactly what I was expecting by the delightful trailer ("No one can shout when the Doctor's about"), which led me to believe it would be a gothic delight. Whilst there are shadings of horror this is a science fiction story through and through and even the simplest of atmospherics (fog, murders) have a complex SF explanation. Doctor Who and bodysnatching is a great idea for a story but instead of concentrating on the human side of this atrocity the story opts for a more universal approach, gutting the story (and the period of history) of some of its terror. When it is revealed that the whole sorry affair is just a medical experiment/entertainment time loop I have to say I never saw that coming! Whilst you do get attached to some of the characters they never seem quite as important as the plot that is unfolding around them and that is a shame, I guess we've had too many tales where we get close to victims of circumstance.

What does impress in the use of Leslie Phillips, for once a Big Finish guest actor who lives up to the promise of the hype. As the slimy Dr Knox Phillips creates a memorable character for the Doctor to battle, one who always seems one step ahead. His grotesque attempts at justification it his murderous acts provide some discomforting moments and his gentle mocking of the Doctor's arrogance (and the arrogance of his people) is superb. Misdirection is afoot and for a while I was convinced this was an old character returning (brr... after last year's affair with continuity I was almost fearing the worst) but the script goes one better, having you certain it is a particular foe and pulling the rug under your feet by revealing he is no such thing. Knox is vicious, hilarious and downright scary... he makes a fantastic Doctor Who bad guy.

Glenna Morrison and David Tennant both put in excellent performances as Mary and Daft Jamie and do a superb job of appealing to our sympathies. I love it when Doctor Who flirts with authentic historical characters and Medicinal Purposes goes some way to explaining these were just ordinary people caught up in some pretty extraordinary circumstances. I especially enjoyed the Doctor's relationship with Jamie and his casual reminiscing of his old companion; it was very sweet how he took the boy under his wing. A shame he had to lead him back to his death at the climax. Mary's attempts to get the Doctor's trousers around his ankles and show him a good time in the early scenes were hilarious, possibly the rudest landing the TARDIS has ever made!

I wanted Medicinal Purposes to be an absolute cracker but it falls a bit short of that, there is nothing at all wrong with the direction from Gary Russell (which is urgent and entertaining) or the score from David Darlington (which has lashing of gothic overtones) but it still didn't quite have the atmosphere I was expecting by the deliciously disturbing cover. Like Robert Ross said in DWM, it is an old style romp, the sort Doctor Who does so well with lots of humour and silliness to balance the darker aspects. I guess I wanted a From Hell type story, a chilling straight drama that deals with a historical curiosity with unrelenting horror... and instead I got a fun Doctor Who story. I shouldn't moan, I suppose, that is the name on the cover.

Give it a listen; the last two episodes will shock at just how many twists and turn this type of story can have. I don't want to say Big Finish is running on autopilot again but after an impressive run of stories the last two releases have fallen short of the reputation the company had started to improve on again.

The Eighth Doctor up next... after last season should I be scared?