This is one of the rare times that I have to say, shame on you Big Finish! Medicinal Purposes left a very bad taste in my ears about Big Finish as a producer of Doctor Who merchandise. Thankfully, their success rate is so high that one bad seed won’t spoil the overall enjoyment of their releases, but I was not a happy camper listening to this story. Robert Ross wrote a story that might actually not be a bad science fiction idea, but it’s not a Doctor Who story. Or if it is, it belongs in the Unbound universe; a universe of “what if” Doctors.
The worst part of that is that the recent run of Colin Baker and Maggie Stables adventures have been so strong! The audio Doctor is so far superior to any of the scripts Baker was given to work with in his televised run, that it’s always a treat hearing a Big Finish episode with him playing the Doctor. But that’s not the case this time. In fact, the most likeable character in this mess is Daft Jamie played by the wonderful David Tennant. So how could it possibly go so wrong?
The story puts the Doctor and Evelyn in the late 1820’s at the time of Burke and Hare, the notorious murderers and body snatchers. They are working for another doctor, one Dr. Knox. Knox is a human who bought a TARDIS and has used it to create a time loop so he can experiment on people with a virus that’s destroying another race. Ok, so far, interesting right? Yet it goes very wrong…
Let’s start off light.. or rather dark. The Doctor arrives in a dark place and immediately tells Evelyn they should leave. Um… who is this? When did the Doctor become afraid of the dark? And what about that bloody great big light on top of the Police Box? Does that cast no light? Ok, let’s assume that was it, I’d be splitting hairs over nothing! I could comment on the Doctor’s insistence in nearly every story that “the names you drop have to bounce”. Yes, he’s at it again, referencing historical personalities he’s met. I’ve met Doctor Who celebrities, but how often do I drop them into conversation in my real life? Once in a blue moon. Yet the Doctor does that during every episode. Tiresome, but again, largely fussing over nothing. Or perhaps I could whine about the Doctor teaching the audience that Jekyll is pronounced “Gee-Kill, by the way”. It was so evidently aimed at the audience too! Maybe that was how Stevenson planned it but no one on this side of the pond is ever going to adopt that. And still I agree, splitting hairs, right? Until…
Daft Jamie is described by Evelyn in unflattering terms for being “odd looking”. However, it’s clear Jamie suffers a disability, so who thought the good guys should be critiquing Jamie’s appearance or personality? Leave that to the villains who call him a sewer rat, not the Doctor’s companion, who is a teacher no less! Luckily there are no HR representatives in the drinking establishment called The Last Drop or the Doctor might be in real trouble! I’m going to skip the biggest issue for a second and talk about the episode finales. The first and second episode end with a real shocker: no one has ever heard of Burke! Have you ever heard of my friend Tom Dennis? NO?!?! NOOOOOOO!!!!!! OOOOEEEEOOOOOOOOOOO. Um… not exactly stellar cliffhanging material and certainly not worthy of a repeat in the second part. So no one had heard of the guy. I’m sure there are tons of people on my block that I don’t know by name. Why would contemporaries know who Burke is? Since he’s performing criminal activities, maybe he uses a thing called “an alias”. Maybe the people who go to the pub don’t wear name badges. It’s hardly a shock! But that’s not even the worst of it!
The most offensive moment for me… oh, it makes me cringe…. Did I ever tell you, dear readers, that I’d like to shake Osama bin Laden’s hand? Hitler’s? You didn’t know that? Yeah, sure, because if not for them, we’d not have heightened security at airports, or rules around war crimes. I mean, their actions are a bit of a grey area, because the outcome of their existence was ultimately to improve our world, right? NO, you’ve never heard me say that and never will because the concept is deplorable. It’s a sick way to even think! Yet that is exactly what the Doctor wants to do at the start of the adventure and when Evelyn questions him on the morality of it, he spouts some nonsense around the outcome of their lives leading to medical advances as if crime is ok if you have a benefit for that action. That, to me, is like saying thanks for improving security on airlines. Yeah, good to have that added layer of safety, but really tragic that we even need to. This derailed me so badly from the story that I had to struggle to stay focused for the better part of part 1 because I kept thinking that the idea was so awful. Now, that’s pretty terrible to write our hero in such a way, but then to have him be the catalyst for infecting Dr. Knox with a lethal virus only to then watch him get sicker and sicker before Knox staggers off with a “we’ll meet again” as if that let us know he probably won’t die from it… well, that was just some rancid icing on this Devil’s food cake.
Look, I get it, they can’t all be winners, and I am totally ok with that. But someone needed to really give a good hard look at what Ross was writing before turning this into a script. The Burke and Hare experience, not unlike the Jack the Ripper tour I went on when visiting London many years ago, might sound like a fun romp, but no one was actually being murdered on the tour and for another series with another character, it might even have worked. But so much failed with this story I can’t accept it. I even have to question the idea of Knox buying a TARDIS (a type 70, no less) and learning how to operate it, so even that premise is flawed, beyond the writing of the lead character. Knox gets one great line, “evil gets all the best lines.” In this story, it’s absolutely true. In fact, that was the best line. Apparently, the good guys get the worst: belittling the appearance of a man with a disability and wanting to shake the hand of a murderer and body snatcher… no, that definitely did not win me over. This was a bitter pill indeed. ML