If I’m being fair to myself, 2005 was a long time ago! The fact that I’d forgotten some of the nuances to the audio stories shouldn’t really bother me that much. But I am bothered! I’m bothered because there are so many things to praise about this story that forgetting all of those things feels like a massive memory loss! I know I’m a visual learner and retain things I see better than things I hear, but this story deserved to be remembered. Maybe it was the month-long delay between releases that made it fade for me. Still, Thicker than Water is an outstanding episode on so many levels…
To begin with, I was amazed that Evelyn was now married to Rossiter from Arrangements For War. Did I totally blank on that, at the end of that story? Readers may recall that I said there had been some hype around that when it was released and I had some vague memory of Evelyn leaving, but I was absolutely certain that she hadn’t when I listened earlier this month! Was I part of a Mandela Effect, slipping between parallel worlds? Nothing so strange…
The absolute genius of the writing here is that it’s taking place 3 years after the events of Arrangements. We soon learn that after the Doctor and Evelyn left the planet Vilag, they returned and Evelyn stayed to marry Rossiter. There’s something lovely about that, but it meant the departure took place off screen. Then Big Finish surprised me with another move: they had the Doctor now traveling with Mel, both of whom go back to visit Evelyn. So this is one of those dreams-come-true for fans of the series, who always wonder what it would be like for the Doctor to go back to visit one of his previous companions.
Then, like its predecessor, the story becomes one of political intrigue with just a hint more sci-fi than the previous story. Evelyn and Mel get kidnapped by a guy who is in love with Sophia, Rossiter’s daughter (and Evelyn’s stepdaughter). He ends up being a loose end for Dr. Szabo, who plans an unfortunate demise for the poor chap. Evelyn has been having aggressive tendencies and that has to do with DNA from the enemy from Arrangements for War that’s been introduced into her body. The resolution to that is surgery that nearly kills her. Most of the story is enjoyable on its own and the only real issue I took was when Mel is flung down an elevator shaft… only to be caught by the Doctor. I admit, his line about appreciating that her body weight was not nearer his own makes up for a bit, but it does seem unlikely that he could catch a falling body. I’ll accept simply because he is not human.
So why am I speaking so briefly about the story if I say it’s a masterpiece? Because the story doesn’t matter as much as the character and the connection between this and a number of other Big Finish audios. First off, the character development is all about growing up, growing older, and letting go. There’s the Doctor’s reaction to Evelyn leaving which is childish and hurtful, then the hurt of realizing he let down a friend, and the redemption that comes when people who care about each other really listen to one another. Evelyn wanted the Doctor to give her away at her wedding and he petulantly didn’t show up, but it must have been on his mind enough that the (uncredited) 7th Doctor shows up after Evelyn’s surgery to share some news, connecting The Harvest, Project: Twilight, and Project: Lazarus beautifully in just a few brief lines. (Namely, Cassie, whose death deeply affected Evelyn, had a son named Tommy who now travels with the Doctor… That’s Hex, we’re talking about!)
To my amazement, Evelyn tells the Doctor she loves him but the audience understands: it’s not the love of romance, but the love of two very dear friends that have impacted each others lives on a “soul”ular level. I am all too familiar with that sort of bond. Also to my surprise, I realized I was getting teary eyed on the way to work listening to the goodbyes of such friends. I hate goodbyes; there’s no sweet sorrow in saying farewell to a friend, just sadness and I felt every bit of that goodbye. Tough way to start a work day.
We didn’t need monsters, alien threats, mad plots, fiendish scientists or companion kidnappings to make this story a masterpiece. We needed great acting, outstanding writing, and emotion, and we get that in spades with this story. Although it would require listening to a few others in the range to truly appreciate them, I highly recommend listening to these. I wish Big Finish would talk to Chris Chibnall and explain how to tell stories that span time. Creating a cohesive universe is tough, especially in a timey wimey series like Doctor Who, but Thicker than Water does a stellar job of doing just that. The friendship that exists between the Doctor and his companions is indeed thicker than water. And I’m very happy to have been able to witness that. ML