Feeling a Right Burke

Big Finish Folly, Part 91 – Medicinal Purposes, by Robert Ross

Welcome to Edinburgh. Note, if you will, the blood-soaked cobbles near the cattle market; the noose and gibbet outside The Last Drop; the body slumped in the alley just over there; and, of course, the wonderful graveyard, replete with disinterred coffins. Now, see the house of Dr Knox – there it is! And now it isn’t! What do you mean, houses aren’t supposed to do that…?There’s a proper heavyweight cast in this adventure for Old Sixey and Evelyn – none other than David Tennant and Leslie Philips are playing alongside the regulars, hamming it up gloriously in roles that perhaps you wouldn’t expect them to play. But while they seem to be having fun, I certainly wasn’t.

I don’t have a problem with the historical setting, and nor do I have an issue with the idea of a time-travelling interloper, using history purely for profit (Dr Knox’s cavalier approach to time travel involves flitting forwards from 1827 for canapes). That, alongside the backdrop of hardened villains Burke and Hare, should have made this play a true dark classic, to complement the direction of BF’s Sixth Doctor arc over the last half dozen or so stories. But Medicinal Purposes really doesn’t do it for me. Here’s why.

It’s the two leads. The Doctor and Evelyn. For once, they just don’t ring true, and they aren’t even consistent across the play. The Doctor is his fidgety self, but veers from the moral high ground to murky ambiguity as he deals with Knox. He is admiring of Burke & Hare for the good that will come of the experiments their ill deeds facilitated, but when Knox uses much the same excuse (alien virus destroying another race, Knox using 1827 as a base for his own experiments to find a cure, with “The B&H Show” as a sideline) the Doctor goes off the deep end. The Doctor tries to save Daft Jamie, while at the same time telling Evelyn that Daft Jamie can’t be allowed to live. The same goes for poor Mary who is alternately feted and given short shrift. It seems the Doctor doesn’t know how to act. And for each stance he takes, Evelyn adopts an opposite view. She exhorts him to leave the Tardis when he doesn’t want to, only to want to return almost immediately when the Doctor becomes fascinated by the era.

The constant back and forth – and the red herring of the virus plot – is tiring. I have to admit to being relieved when it was finally over. The sole saving grace for me was Leslie Philips as Knox – a proper villain with potential for a return.
**

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