Big Finish Folly, Part 160 – Angel of Scutari, by Paul Sutton
October 1854: As the British Army charges into catastrophe in the Crimea, the Minister for War sends Miss Florence Nightingale to take charge of the field hospital at Scutari. But there’s already an angel of mercy working with the wounded at Scutari. A first-rate fellow who’s turned up out of the blue. Goes by the name of Schofield; Thomas Hector Schofield…
With the Doctor and Ace lost in the siege of Sebastopol, Hex has rediscovered his calling. But there’s cannon to the left of him, cannon to the right of him – and a deranged spycatcher-in-chief on his case.
Aha! The lesser-spotted pure historical! Although to be fair we have ventured into Cromwell’s Ireland during this run of adventures, and that was a very grim, Hex-centric affair. Is Angel of Scutari any different? On first impression, the answer is no – Hex’s inner turmoil, his drive to save lives, his resistance to what must be in terms of temporal determinism, powers the play through to crisis point. Hex is a companion version of the Fifth Doctor in this respect, forever trying to get things right, forever frustrated by the sheer inertia of fate and death. Poor bugger.
But while Scutari plays with narrative timescales in a similar manner that The Settling did, with a storytelling structure that isn’t quite as clear as it ought to be until later on, it’s also not as unremittingly grimdark as The Settling was either. There’s a streak of puritanical faith that follows Florence Nightingale, sure, grounding the play hard in the history of the time, but there’s also a playfulness that The Settling lacked – witness Ace’s escapades with young Lev, a writer with a bright future ahead of him…
There’s a slip and a stumble for the Doctor’s continual tweaking and cunning plans too. He’s very fallible, his plotting more dangerous than ever, yet he just can’t seem to stop himself. And at the periphery of the story, there’s a hint that all’s not well with the Tardis – blasted by cannons at Sebastopol, it reappears as an entirely white police box. Here’s Big Finish finally getting the Seventh Doctor back on track, finally getting the balance right between dark content and the schlock of The Forge.