THIS STORY TAKES
BIG FINISH AUDIO
IN THE LIMELIGHT" AND
"THE FEAST OF AXOS."
BIG FINISH CD#143
RELEASED IN JANUARY
Sent down south to
assist the Police in
INTO the gangland
kingpin known only
as 'the Doctor', DI
finds herself up to
her neck in robot
Tube trains... and not
one, but two Doctors.
Meanwhile the real
Doctor AND Evelyn
have become ensnared
in the machinations
connection to the
can anyone contain
the gathering swarm?
The Crimes of
After bringing four fresh scribblers into the fold in December, Big Finish turn to trusty old hand Jonathan Morris to open 2011 with a real rocket of a four-parter. The Crimes of Thomas Brewster brings back the popular team of the sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe for the first time in nearly three years, whilst also resurrecting the fan-favourite “bluebottle”, Anna Hope’s Detective Inspector Patricia Menzies, and the eponymous rapscallion himself – John Pickard’s mischievous mudlark, Thomas Brewster.
In his notes accompanying the story’s CD release, Morris likens his script to that of a Russell T Davies season-opener, and that’s certainly the feel that he’s engendered. This production is teeming with creatures, colour and character, and its story is built upon a classic Doctor Who image: a dreary old tube train rattles into its well-trodden tunnel, only to emerge on an alien world instead of at Great Portland Street Station.
Morris’s lively script riffs on sources as sundry as Ashes to Ashes and Planet of the Dead, but never does it feel tired. Indeed, with Morris and the uncredited Eddie Robson splitting
the writing duties between them, The Crimes of Thomas Brewster has the benefit of two of the series’ most distinctive dialogue writers, and the alien world on which the train arrives is novel, to say the least; perhaps even unique. Even the robotic insect Terravores have their comic charm, sounding a little like Darth Vader’s Imperial Probe Droids when agitated.
The big talking point here though is Menzies. As soon as the cast for this one was revealed, I received a flood of e-mails asking me to alter Old Sixy’s timeline on the site so as to shift his adventures with Charley back to before his time with Evelyn to account for his and Menzies’ meeting in this story. Happily I didn’t have to – in the wake of River Song, Charlotte Pollard and The Time Traveller’s Wife, it seems that modern writers are far more willing to cosset cross-temporal meetings, and that’s exactly what Morris does here. Personally, I love to see the Doctor running into his friends and enemies in the wrong order; it used to drive me mad when, no-matter where and when he bumped into, say, the Master, for both of them it would be after they met the last time. The Laws of Time, inscrutable though they often are, nimbly rationalised such convenience, but I still loathed the complacency. I certainly couldn’t direct such a complaint at Morris though - he uses his ‘problem’ to his firm advantage, using to it to demonstrate both Menzies’ mettle and maturity, and even to fuel the intrigue concerning the identity of the plot’s kingpin “Doctor”, who it is posited may be an incarnation from Old Sixy’s future. There’s also a delicious sense of irony to the Doctor and Menzies meeting in this way as, when Menzies first met the Doctor, he was unwittingly travelling with a woman whom he hadn’t met yet. The arcs almost rhyme.
Furthermore, Crimes’ greatest
strength is probably the rapport
between Menzies and the Doctor.
With Evelyn sidelined for much of
the adventure, accommodating
both wayward youngsters and
sentient planets, Menzies falls
into the traditional companion
role. Listening to the play, I was
often put in mind of the Doctor’s
relationship with the Brigadier,
with whom Menzies has much
in common. Just like Nicholas
Courtney’s immortal character,
Hope’s is softening slightly with
each story. She’s becoming more accepting and more credulous, yet she never loses sight of her priorities or her perspective. The Crimes of Thomas Brewster is a particularly delightful story for her as she’s called down to London, and then just as she’s getting used to how the Met do things down South, she’s whisked off to another planet altogether where she has to masquerade as a genderbending Time Lord!
However, Thomas Brewster is almost as endearing here, even though he’s “up to his old tricks” again. When we meet him here he’s buying up arms for what seems to be an east-end gang war, but as matters progress it becomes clear that his motives are less sinister, and there is even a whiff of tragedy to them. Brewster’s scenes with the sixth Doctor are a real pleasure to listen to, although Morris really makes the listener wait for them, and even when their paths do cross poor Brewster is left labouring under the misconception that the Doctor isn’t the Doctor, but a man called Norm. Their swords inevitably clash, of course, and with the altogether more bombastic sixth Doctor far less tolerant than his predecessor, they really clash. If you liked the idea of Brewster stealing the TARDIS, here he goes one better, pulling off an armed TARjacking!
Maggie Stables’ Evelyn fares less well than her co-stars, but she’s not neglected. This story offers her the chance to flaunt her nurturing, lecturer side as she tries to bring out the best in Brewster and the two tube-travelling youngsters (played by “authentic young actors” Ashley Kumar and Lisa Greenwood) who’ve ended up on an alien world instead of at “Matt’s twenty-first.” In the last couple of episodes Evelyn is just a mouthpiece for the alien planet, which is something of a shame, but by that point the listener’s interest isn’t really in Evelyn – it’s in the Doctor, Brewster and Menzies.
This four-parter also boasts a memorable turn from Baker’s long-time friend and son of the second Doctor David Troughton, who gives a type of performance here that we haven’t really seen from him at Big Finish before. His cockney crime lord, Ray Gallagher, is a most snidey, sickly fellow – a far cry from gallant alien Kings, booming celestial deities and socially-inept toy manufacturers.
On the downside, the first half of the adventure is despoiled by its billing. Eschewing recent Big Finish tradition, one of the story’s biggest reveals is effectively given away to the listener before he’s even started to listen to Part 1. Whilst I can understand the company wanting to maximise sales to by promoting its guest stars, Brewster’s palpable presence kills off any sense of mystery concerning the identity of the gangland ‘Doctor’, which is a real pity given the “timey-wimey” themes bubbling away throughout. What’s more, whilst the re-structured script benefits from the lengthened London sections, the loss of the signature cliffhanger is keenly felt – the tube train emerging on an alien planet feels nude without the howl-out.
On the whole though, The Crimes of Thomas Brewster is a real belter. The performances are perfectly-pitched, the story is incredibly imaginative and even a little ironical, and one-liners such as “I can’t stress this enough, I am not Captain Kirk” and particularly “’scuse me for not having much confidence in a living planet speaking through an OAP” won’t be fading from my memory anytime soon. Nor will the image of the Doctor being forced to wear old jeans and a drab jumper from a police lost property box, for that matter…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
From the Doctor’s unique perspective, the events of this story take place several subjective (Menzies guesses around five, given the Doctor’s appearance, though that could equate to decades when his Gallifreyan physio-gnomy is taken into account) years prior to Menzies’ first meeting with him in The Condemned, set in 2008.
However, as this adventure is set in 2011, Menzies has already enjoyed (at least) two adventures with the Doctor by this point – adventures that, for him, are yet to come. This might account for his unusual reaction when she arrests him when meeting him for the first time in The Condemned - “typical!” – and perhaps the faith that he subsequently shows in her there too.
Turning to placement, this story’s production code places it (and thus the two releases that follow it) after Assassin in the Limelight. We have placed all three accordingly.
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