AUDIO DRAMA
Doctor Who
Medicinal Purposes

Starring: Colin Baker
Big Finish Productions
RRP 13.99
ISBN 1 84435 098 3
Available 18 August 2004


Edinburgh, 1827. The infamous body snatchers Burke and Hare are at large, and the local prostitutes dull their fears with cheap whisky. When the Doctor and Evelyn stumble upon one of the most lurid yet illuminating chapters in British history, the Time Lord's interest in the work of a dedicated scientist quickly turns sour...

There's a real sense of the Doctor (Colin Baker) and Evelyn (Maggie Stables) starting over in their relationship at the beginning of this adventure, following their "trial separation" during Arrangements for War. Light-hearted banter about the TARDIS being "the woman" in the Doctor's life only reinforces the comparison of the two Doctors' relationship to that of a romantically entwined couple.

But Evelyn soon has cause to question her travelling companion once again, when they land in 19th-century Edinburgh and the Time Lord shows a grisly fascination for the exploits of William Burke (Kevin O'Leary) and Billy Hare (Tom Farrelly). Thank goodness the director/producer Gary Russell persuaded the writer, newcomer Robert Ross, to move away from his original idea, which concerned the legend of Jack the Ripper, because that subject has already been dealt with in the Virgin New Adventure, The Pit and BBC Books' Matrix. As it happens, the chosen setting fits the pragmatic Sixth Doctor like a glove, as he celebrates the scientific advances that were made possible by the body snatchers' work.

Among the other historical figures that the time-travellers encounter is one "Daft" Jamie (not to be confused with the Second Doctor's long-serving companion, Jamie McCrimmon). David Tennant, who plays the recurring role of Agent Galanar in the Dalek Empire series, is virtually unrecognisable as the local simpleton.

The undoubted star of the show, however, is Leslie Phillips as Dr Robert Knox. Perhaps this story should have been called Doctor in Trouble! Though the script has its fair share of darkly comical moments (which is hardly surprising, since the writer is a leading expert on British comedy), Phillips mostly plays it straight - and very nasty indeed.

The adventure's historical background is fascinating enough in its own right, so if anything I was ever so slightly disappointed when the tale twisted into more of a time-warp story, akin to Carnival of Monsters with a bit of The War Games thrown in.

On balance, though, I have little hesitation in prescribing Medicinal Purposes. Take one episode each evening before you go to bed until the course is finished. If symptoms persist, listen to it again.

Richard McGinlay

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