And springing out of its cage and bursting out in the lead for wonderfully entertaining new Doctor Who is Jonathan Morris’ The Waters of Amsterdam!
Big Finish’s first release from January 2016 of its main range Doctor Who stories is a cracking romp that will leave long term fans happily fulfilled and serve new listeners to Big Finish with a healthy ‘stepping on’ point.
Picking up directly from a 1980s televised adventure, we find the TARDIS crew consisting of the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa happily reunited with their friend Tegan after her (long or short, you be the judge – it’s a matter of canon!) leave of absence from the TARDIS. Whilst their thirst for adventure is evident, none of them quite expect to be thrust so quickly in dangerous events, all of which begin as soon as Tegan’s sycophantic ex-boyfriend turns up.
Tegan Jovanka, one of the more boisterous and stronger companions to the Doctor in the 1980s never quite got her onscreen dues, perhaps partly due to a lack of character background. Sure, we had fleeting glimpses of aunties and cousins but no follow up when it came to the emotional connection that she shared with these people. There were small moments of remembrance but not enough to build the character fully. Writer Jonathan Morris capitalises on this with his latest tale and offers us a Tegan with a past, a Tegan with a boyfriend and more importantly, a Tegan that didn’t live happily ever after. Because life can sometimes be complicated after the TARDIS; that’s what makes the experience at the time more rich. The fact that Tegan doesn’t have quite the most industrious romps after she initially leaves the TARDIS, makes her willingness to re-join her time travelling crew on TV even more understandable. Her wariness with her current life is evident: she’s struck gold with the Doctor and this is where she wants her life to lead, it makes the sense of adventure even more satisfying here.
And the adventure itself? Satisfying to the extreme. Whilst episode one begins as something of a comedy, episodes two, three and four delve into a more serious drama which includes celebrity historical star Rembrandt. The Doctor notices that some of his paintings are somewhat odd and decides to journey back in time to have a quick chat with the painter. Rather than an extremely happy-go-lucky character or an extremely-toured-soul, we’re offered a great meeting in the middle. Rembrandt is hilariously grumpy, with grounded problems and real money issues. He also has an emotional crux to bear with the death of his beloved, explored in a wonderful speech during a conversation with Nyssa. This is the way that one imagines a figure of the past would actually come across if encountered.
This leads listeners to an adventure including creatures made from water, fire extinguishers used as weapons and aliens from another world needing a lift home. Jonathan Morris may have taken elements from other Doctor Who stories but he makes them work in his own, unique way. The outcome is exemplary.
With a sterling musical score by Jamie Robertson, excellent writing by Jonathan Morris, wonderful sound effects from Martin Montague, some tight direction by Jamie Anderson and of course resounding performances from the regular and guest cast, this is a splendid start to the Doctor Who 2016 range.
The Waters of Amsterdam is available now on CD or via download from Big Finish.