The Doctor and Evelyn arrive in Scotland, and the Doctor quickly deduces that they’ve arrived at the time of the infamous string of grave robberies attributed to Burke & Hare. But things are not as they should be – the Doctor begins to notice that certain things are out of place, and certain elements of history are not as they should be. The time travelers quickly find out why history seems to be playing out differently than recorded: they’re not the only ones there with a TARDIS.
Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Maggie Stables (Evelyn), Leslie Phillips (Dr. Robert Knox), David Tennant (Daft Jamie), Glenna Morrison (Mary Patterson), Kevin O’Leary (William Burke), Tom Farrelly (Billy Hare), Janie Booth (Old Woman)
Notes: The villain in this story claims to have procured his TARDIS second-hand on the planet Gryben; that planet is mentioned in the Gallifrey audio miniseries as a stronghold set aside by the universe’s time-traveling superpowers to detain any time travelers who gain access to time without having developed sufficiently enough to use that ability maturely and harmlessly.
Timeline: after Arrangements For War
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: A number of the writers who have worked on the Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventures have expressed a view that Colin Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor is perfect for the kind of pseudo-historical stories that really vanished with William Hartnell’s era, and they may well be right. This is another such story, with a little bit of a science fiction twist to it, but it makes a nearly-fatal flaw of being rather dry for much of its first half. Newcomer Robert Ross is to be commended for a script with sharp characterizations and a keen eye toward the historical events being portrayed, but when part one’s cliffhanger moment is the mere oddity that two of the historical figures who should know each other apparently don’t, you’re in trouble – it’s an interesting beat for the middle of an episode, but as a cliffhanger is just doesn’t have the necessary oomph. We’re almost to the end of part two before the presence of another time traveler becomes apparent. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but despite the wonderful subtleties of the historical elements of the story, there’s a certain standard required by a cliffhanger moment in Doctor Who. Slight disconnects with established history that may or may not be readily apparent to the listener don’t really seem to rise to the occasion.
The cast of Medicinal Purposes is firing on all cylinders, however. The excellent David Tennant is back, this time as Daft Jamie, a mentally disturbed street urchin whose apparent disabilities mean he’s the only piece on the board who can tell that the game is starting over and over again. Glenna Morrison is excellent as Mary, giving the character just the right amount of heart and bite. And Leslie Phillips is sleekly sinister as Dr. Robert Knox, the bodysnatchers’ paymaster who may or may not be more than he appears to be.
An intriguing story, but perhaps one that, just for once, should’ve dispensed with the authentic four-episode format. For one thing, it stretches the traditional 25-minute length of those four episodes out to around 35 minutes (so much for authenticity), and for another, there’s the issue of cliffhangers; this story is more befitting the longform format that was squandered on stories like Zagreus and Neverland. Medicinal Purposes is an interesting tale that falls victim to its format.