It’s been a year since Tegan Jovanka left the Doctor, and it’s been almost as eventful as her time in the TARDIS, largely thanks to her falling for and subsequently breaking up with the almost-too-perfect Kyle. Then, when the Doctor comes back into her life, so does Kyle. This may sound more rom-com than sci-fi, but rest assured, they’re all soon propelled into a time-travelling adventure including water-based goblins, a scheming Countess from a faraway planet, and spacecraft designed by Rembrandt himself.
And, though the plot device used to kick off this adventure may resemble one from 2010 TV episode Vincent and the Doctor, The Waters of Amsterdam is a fantastically original adventure from writer Jonathan Morris, largely due to its focus on the emotional lives of its characters, an aspect sometimes neglected in the weaker of Big Finish’s productions. The opening episode, depicting Tegan and Kyle’s relationship through a series of flashbacks, is a refreshing break from the usual exploration of spaceship corridors, and is vibrant and touching. It’s almost a disappointment when we get to the sci-fi bits, but even then, Morris anchors all elements of the story in the development of this relationship, as it gets, suffice to say, a bit complicated.
What The Waters of Amsterdam also has to its credit is an abundance of humour: there’s Tegan losing her air hostess job in a characteristically loud-mouthed manner, there’s a number of good wisecracks from Peter Davison’s dry Fifth Doctor, and then there’s Rembrandt. Historical figures in Doctor Who are often romanticised, but this version of the Old Master is a grumpy old sod, entirely unimpressed by the Doctor and co.’s intrusion into his life, to very entertaining effect.
The story isn’t perfect – a great third cliffhanger is resolved a little too easily, and the Nix (those watery goblin fellas) are left not fully explored – but its strengths outweigh these weaknesses. In the year that Big Finish are expanding their new series properties, it feels appropriate that this classic series audio is embracing the greater focus on emotion and humour that characterises post-2005 Doctor Who, and it’s also worth noting that the story, the first part of a trilogy covering Tegan’s return to the TARDIS, is a good jumping-on point for new listeners. Credit, too, to Jamie Anderson, who, in his first directing gig for Big Finish, conjures up the atmospheres of both 1980s and 17th-century Amsterdam with exciting flourish.
With a touching emotional story, a sci-fi adventure, a lot of humour, and a historical figure thrown in for good measure, The Waters of Amsterdam is a very strong and, at times, very original Doctor Who story – just what we love to hear from Big Finish.
THE WATERS OF AMSTERDAM (DOCTOR WHO) / AUTHOR: JONATHAN MORRIS / DIRECTOR: JAMIE ANDERSON / STARRING: PETER DAVISON, SARAH SUTTON, JANET FIELDING / RELEASE DATE: 31ST JANUARY