We take a quick break from the Seventh Doctor’s continuing chronology to dip back into the adventures of Peter Davison’s Tardis Team. The Waters of Amsterdam is set between Time Flight and Arc of Infinity – so, in that nebulous space where all of Five’s solo adventures with Nyssa so far have been squeezed in – and therefore, in audio terms, just before The Elite. The other two stories in the trilogy can be comfortably placed post-Children of Seth. While it’s a shame not to have the entire crew aboard (no Turlough this time), The Entropy Plague did wrap up that particular storyline fairly definitively. Onwards, then!
Big Finish Folly, Part 16b – The Waters of Amsterdam, by Jonathan Morris
Reunited with the Doctor and Nyssa, Tegan joins them on a trip to Amsterdam’s Rijkmuseum to see a new exhibition of the work of Rembrandt van Rijn, featuring his drawings of “Vessels of the Stars”. The Doctor is astonished to discover that they are designs for spaceships that would actually work, and decides to pop back to the Dutch Golden Age for a quiet word with Rembrandt – but the world-weary artist is no mood to help.
Meanwhile, strange forces are swirling in the canals, creatures from ancient myth, the watery, goblin-like Nix. What is their connection to the mysterious Countess Mach-Teldak – and to the events of Tegan’s life during her year away from the Doctor?
There’s a feeling of glorious fun in this story – all of the cast are enjoying themselves, as if Big Finish has done a Who and actually coughed up for some foreign filming, so to speak. And yet while there are some great irreverent pokes at the series itself, and some excellent in-jokes (Davison’s double-take when Kyle mentions the Master is almost visual), there’s also some very strong writing for both Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton to sink their teeth into, helping to deepen their characterisations along the way. Tegan in particular hasn’t been served in this way since the story that reintroduced her to the Main Range (The Gathering, released in oooh, 2006, though that was actually rather good and portrayed her later on in life as a changed character).
In the play’s quieter moments – and there aren’t too many of those, to be honest – Nyssa gets to share sorrows with Rembrandt. The artist comes across as a grumpy sketch to begin with but his scenes with Nyssa deepen him and give some heart to the historical core of the play.
That historical core quickly diverts into an alternative reality, giving Jonathan Morris the opportunity to take the story back from post-Tudorpunk into a spiraling high concept space opera affair of space fleets, revenge and time paradox. Peter Davison gets to be put upon and angry, and also a lot more punchy than usual.
The Nix – hmm. A water-based monster, gurgling and splashing. OK, yes, they have to be distinctive, but they’re not quite distinctive enough for me. The ominous dripping as they seep through window frames and roofs is a lot more effective than the rest of their presence. And their part in the hang-on-we-can’t-kill-everybody-quick-bring-the-deus-ex-machina is eminently forseeable. The fate of the Countess was one part I didn’t actually see coming – quite suitably brutal.
The Waters of Amsterdam is, as other reviewers have already noted, a good place to step on if you are coming in fresh. It’s not a classic by any means, but it’s much more than competent, and representative of the top end of what the Main Range can achieve in the slight gaps between the TV episodes.