Big Finish Folly, Part 126 – Thicker Than Water, by Paul Sutton
Needled into returning to Vilag, three years after the Killoran invasion was defeated, the Doctor has only intended to say hello to his former companion Evelyn Smythe to prove a point to his current companion, Melanie Bush. But where there’s a Doctor, there’s danger – and this time it could be that only the Doctor can save both Evelyn and Vilag itself from a new catastrophe…
Thematically at least, this play makes a good companion piece to Catch 1782. Relatives, the problems one has with them, the misunderstandings thereof – but while Catch 1782 was nicely self-contained, Thicker Than Water does have a bit of continuity attached to it. Ideally you need to have heard Arrangements For War, which lays out the history between the Doctor, Evelyn, and Rossiter, but unfortunately for the Folly, you also need some knowledge of the ongoing Forge storyline which had its roots in Project Twilight and leaves mucky fingerprints all over the Seventh Doctor’s storylines. I’ve already noted elsewhere that I’m not a great fan of the Forge stuff so far. Given that Thicker Than Water is effectively a farewell story for Sixey and Evelyn (flashback scenes show Evelyn’s departure from the Tardis), it’s a shame that the Forge storyline has to reappear in such a prominent cameo scene (if you don’t want spoilers, don’t read the tags to this post, that’s all I’m saying).
The plot itself is a straight-forward affair of scientific research, mistrust, medical abuse, and villainous bad guys explaining their motives in a climactic confrontation before conveniently offing themselves to escape justice. War criminals are prone to doing that, it seems. As an action piece, it works pretty well, though gunfights and muted shouting from offstage can cause disorientation if you’re not paying full attention. The secondary characters are all cut from fairly standard moulds – Dr Szabo is a smoothly duplicitous Bond villain, while the mistrusting Sofia Rossiter is an off the shelf antagonistic step-daughter type. The Doctor himself manages to make several brisk leaps of logic to keep the plot advancing, plainly uncomfortable that nearly everyone has noted that he didn’t really have much intention of coming back to see Evelyn atall before Mel bullied him into it.
As we’ve seen before, – and we’ll see again – the Doctor doesn’t do partings very well. From Susan, all the way forwards to Charlie Pollard, it’s always abrupt and awkward, a bit like caring too much for a deceased pet. You get another one, you move on. This gives the cameo scene in the fourth episode a new resonance – a big dose of guilt for what the Doctor has done to his companions, as well as an opportunity for him to say to the universe in general, “Look, I’m not all that uncaring after all, am I?”
The universe, needless to say, knows him a bit better than that.
In general then? An excellent swan-song story for the character of Evelyn Smythe, leaving her exactly where you’d want her to be post-Tardis, but not quite a classic story in itself.