THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Arrangements for War
Big Finish Productions
Thicker Than Water

Written by Edward Salt Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2005
Continuity Between The Trial of a Time Lord and
Time and the Rani

Starring Colin Baker, Maggie Stables and Bonnie Langford

Synopsis: 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. Friendships bind people close, but they say that blood is...


Reviews

Finally, A Happy Ending by Mekel Rogers 11/11/05

The Colin Baker/Evelyn Smythe story arc has been packed with tragic events and bitter-sweet experiences which is also reflected in the TARDIS team's personal strife. So it comes as a great relief that Thicker Than Water is about resolutions, and finally concludes the emotional roller-coaster we've all been on for the past four or five Evelyn adventures.

Strictly speaking, Thicker Than Water is a sequel to Arrangements for War. Set on Vilag several years after the Doctor's first visit. Evelyn's departure from the TARDIS and subsequent marriage to Sutekh (oops, I mean Rossiter) has already happened and is explained in several very good flashback scenes. The Doctor visits with his now-companion, Mel, and gets embroiled in yet another political crisis.

Colin Baker comes off so well in this audio, being sarcastic and harsh one minute, compassionate and darn near cuddly the next. His scenes with Gabriel Woolf and Maggie Stables are wonderful character moments that really illustrate just how special Evelyn is to both men. As one might expect, Mel gets rather sidelined in this story. Bonnie Langford has a good go at it but apart from her falling down a lift shaft and getting slapped twice there's not much there on the page for her to do. On the other hand, Sylvester McCoy turns up in a surprise cameo during part four and in a brilliant scene, makes peace with Evelyn and resolves a conflict stemming all the way back from the events in Project: Lazarus. Marvelous.

Bottom Line: After all Evelyn has been through, thank goodness she's finally happy, because my nerves couldn't take anymore.


Thicker than pigshit by Phil Ince 17/11/05

I believe that I may have finished this story at about 6 o'clock on Wednesday morning and in my sleep. Having heard the first episode some days before, the supremely anodyne script and consequently limping performances didn't spur me to persist at any pace.

Having finished the thing, I turned as usual to the glorious timelash site to see what others made of it. And at the time of writing, there were 6 votes up yielding an average rating of 7.

Seven? Seven!!!??? SE-VEN?????????!!!!!!!!!!

#~$!*%£ *%$!

Oh, good God above! Oh, Christ almighty! Oh, merciful saviour and redeemer... you get the idea... is it awful?

What *$!# could possibly devote above average ratings for this crud? How could anyone listen with pleasure to this timid, painful, humourless cheese? Written by and produced for the children of parents exposed to dangerous doses of radiation during pregnancy, I presume, the audience can be supposed only to comprise freaks with brains 1/10th the normal size in nevertheless grotesquely-enlarged crania. The children of Chernobyl. In short, Ukranians and the Welsh.

One can only guess at the sense of shame and failure which overwhelms the performers as they make the first, sickened read through of the script. For poor Colin Baker, it must be quite like old times.

Apparantly, Bonnie Langford and Colin Baker are "two of the best things to ever happen to Doctor Who". If the producer sincerely believes that to be the case, why would he then continue to insult them with this trash?


Happy goodbyes! by Joe Ford 20/1/06

I want to thank Big Finish. They have offered me the perfect jumping off point for their Doctor Who range. I have long been disillusioned about the quality of their adventures for a good few years now and have always been on the precipice of deciding that 14.99 is just too much to spend every month on a range of such variable quality. However there was one character who kept me coming back, who made sure I at least kept eye on what was going on with Colin Baker's Doctor, who made the series genuinely worth listening to.

Doctor Evelyn Smythe. Played by the wonderful Maggie Stables, she has taken the character and the series to unexpected places and proven to us that there is still so much more for Doctor Who to explore. Here is a woman who genuinely complements the sixth Doctor, primarily because she is as dotty and as brusque as he is and as such she has positively humanise the leas likable Doctor and turned him into someone far more accessible, likable and charming. With Evelyn by his side the sixth Doctor is the best Doctor, bar none. Not only that, but the writers have always been kept on their toes with this character and the level of quality in the sixth Doctor/Evelyn stories is unrivalled in Big Finish's catalogue. Just look at some of those titles: The Marian Conspiracy, Bloodtide, Project: Twilight, Jubilee, Doctor Who and the Pirates, Arrangements for War... quality stuff and no mistake.

Thicker than Water is the end of an era. But it's a satisfying one. It pulls Evelyn's adventures together into one self-contained story, one that it will be my pleasure to dip into again and again. Would there ever have been a story good enough to push Evelyn out of the TARDIS in? I doubt it so Paul Sutton doesn't even bother. Instead he sets Thicker than Water after she has already departed and now the Doctor has the unforgettable Melanie Bush by his side. However Sutton realises we can't just hop from Medicinal Purposes where Evelyn is perfectly content travelling by the Doctor's side to this without any kind of explanation as to why she left so he includes a number of Buffy/Angel style flashbacks throughout the narrative to chronicle her decision to leave and her building of a new life in the country Vilag.

Arrangements for Water was a pretty stunning audio, all told. It featured some fantastic sound design and music, a rock solid plot, which kept throwing up surprises and a heartbreaking examination of the Doctor/Evelyn relationship. If anyone was going to write this story it had to be the man who wrote that. Step forward Paul Sutton, who provided one more surprise in his debut audio and that was the burgeoning relationship between Evelyn and Rossiter, a politician who was trying to secure peace between two states. It could have been awful, a stodgy romance between two old dears sounds like the recipe for melodramatic mush but thanks to some great dialogue and the fantastic chemistry between Maggie Stables and Gabriel Woolf it turned out to be the best thing about the story. Their relationship opens up some surprising information about Evelyn and allows us to see her in a softer light. The scene where she breaks down, tired of her heart condition, running away from the Doctor and thinking about her dead mother, is a real grab-the-hankies moment.

So here we are, three years later and Evelyn has settled with Rossiter on Vilag. The flashback to her departure with the Doctor is brief but speaks volumes, his childish dismissal of their time together and wish to run off back out into the universe says so much without having to say anything. The emotions brewed between them in this story are very potent, especially when we discover that Evelyn married Rossiter and was eager for the Doctor, her best friend, to return and give her away. This sounds terrible, faux-soap operish nonsense but it is a testament to the relationship Colin Baker and Maggie Stables have built up over these years that this material is heartbreaking. The Doctor has never had a friend like Evelyn before, someone who in all practical sense plays the role of his wife. She was his confidante and his friend and they were more than intellectually matched. When she walked out of his life he felt hurt and alone, further reason to love this tempestuous incarnation. Her delightful reaction when he pops back with Mel is wonderful.

Talking of which, this is another great audio for Bonnie Langford who is notching up a fair few classics of her own. Her chemistry with Colin Baker is as frisky as ever and their first scene together is a particular highlight. Whilst Evelyn will always be the sixth Doctor's ultimate companion in my eyes, Mel would come a close second; it is astonishing how well the two of them work together in this story. That was the moment I really wanted to get to in this story, when Mel and Evelyn get to be a companion duo. I mean honestly, would you take these two on?

Could the plot possibly match up to all the heavy character work going on? Not really, but it has a bloody good go anyway. There is an interesting back-story running through concerning the Killoran invasion in Arrangements and the desire of the academics (including Evelyn) to study the devices they left behind. This sets Evelyn up against Rossiter's daughter who is widely opposed to the idea. Cue: assassination attempts, kidnaps, horrid experiments, torture and mother in law/daughter in law arguments. There's a lot packed in, the lighter, character-based first episodes leading into a complex plot of intrigue, highlighted by some smashing twists later on. Why is Evelyn so grumpy of late? What happened to those Killorans who were injured but not killed during the invasion? And who (and why) would anyone want to kidnap Rossiter's new wife?

The Doctor and Rossiter get to spend a lot more time together in this story than they did in the former and it is quite fascinating to compare Evelyn's old suitor to her new one. There is none of the embarrassing "she's mine!" you might expect; Sutton is too disciplined a writer to insult us is with that. instead, both share a strong affection and concern for Evelyn that is a delight to see. When Rossiter turns on the Doctor and gives him the slap in the face he needs (not literally, he tells him how heartbroken Evelyn was when he did not turn up at the wedding) the Doctor's pained, quiet reaction is a revelation. The race against time conclusion to save her life is every bit as exciting as a climax should be and with both the Doctor and Rossiter desperate to see Evelyn survive the stakes seem higher than ever.

All of the juiciest stuff comes in the last episode including a well-timed and surprising visit by the seventh Doctor, making one of his briefest and yet best appearances in any Big Finish audio. There is a twist here that will leave regular Big Finish listeners reeling and to give it up during a sixth Doctor adventure when it concerns somebody who has no relevance on his life whatsoever is daring in a way this company hasn't been in a long while. I loved it, and I hope the information can be used effectively in the seventh Doctor's adventures now.

It's another atmospheric production but I expect nothing less these days. Big Finish have been churning out these CDs for years now and their behind the scenes crew know exactly what they are doing. Everything sounds authentic: gunfire, rebuilding, parties, tortured victims (I'd love to see them recording that!) and I was once again planted right in the story. It was Ed Salt's first Doctor Who story after directing a ton of Bernice Summerfield audios and he does a fine job. With material this good it would be hard to get it wrong but he utilises some techniques that work a charm, especially during the flashbacks, which I fear would not have been as effective in the hands of some other directors. He certainly gets the emotional content spot on and again you may find yourself reaching for the hankies before the end.

The final scene is a perfect conclusion to the Doctor and Evelyn's relationship. If they had no further material together after this I would be more than happy to leave their relationship here. When she tells him the she loves him it is the climax of a relationship that has been exquisitely nurtured and rather than reaching for the sick bucket I could barely hold back the tears.

A wonderful partnership comes to an end in real style.