Doctor Who: “A Death in the Family”

I listened to Big Finish’s A Death in the Family this past weekend. I’m not certain, but this may be my favorite Seventh Doctor story yet.

This is a complicated Doctor Who story. I’m never that person who ponders the PLOTS of Who, trying to figure out if they hang together or not. This frequently means that the more timey-wimey stories lose me at some point. This problem is exacerbated with Big Finish’s audioplays, as some scenes take me a moment to figure out where and when we are, and who is speaking to whom. But none of that interfered with my enjoyment of “A Death in the Family.” Nor did it interfere with my dread.

This story is a rollercoaster of inevitable, spliced with a funhouse of doublecross and time-space trickery. Yet the emotional beats come down like a freight train. It’s all here, the themes I most love in Who. The lies and manipulation and secrets of The Doctor. The faith of his Companions. How he abuses that faith. How the Companions are changed, inexorably and not always for the better. How lies start to run both ways, and love and faith are weak.

The Doctor I recognize, the one I see on screen or in the audioplays and say, “yes, that, that is my Doctor,” is this wry, dark, funny, sardonic old man. Sometimes bitter, sometimes exultant, but so very knowing. Playing a deep game that wears a coat of inadvertent contempt for other creatures. The Doctor treasures life, yes – but sometimes he forgets to respect it.

It’s not a spoiler to say that Evelyn is in this story — Maggie Stables is in the credits. And her scenes are fantastic. She embodies another of my favorite themes in fiction, the consequences of one’s past choices. Her conversation with The Doctor at the end of the story is one I devoutly hope the Eleventh Doctor remembers when he looks at Clara.

This Doctor is my Doctor. I don’t always like him, I don’t always trust him, but if the universe must have a semi-benevolent omnipotent creature interfering in its workings, I want it to be this one.

Unless …

Unless I can have whatever he’s turning Ace into, instead.

The Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors have not always seen their Companions clearly enough. That lack of attention keeps coming back in ways The Doctor doesn’t like. You’d think that, eventually, he’d learn.

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