Saturday, 2 February 2013

Why I love Evelyn Smythe…


They broke the mould when they made Evelyn Smythe. She’s everything that (typically) a companion wasn’t supposed to be. Weak of body (if not spirit), old, domestic, intelligent, argumentative…and yet she is simply one of the greatest gifts that Big Finish has given us. Evelyn Smythe was the first original companion to be introduced by the audio dramas and remains one of the most popular (if not the most popular) to this day. Played by the meticulous, delightful and erudite Maggie Stables who shares gorgeous chemistry with Colin Baker, Evelyn has taken us on a roller coaster of emotions and this is the closest I imagine us ever seeing the Doctor getting to one of his companions without actually marrying them and forming a long term commitment. It’s an intellectual as well as an emotional connection that bonds them and they sometimes argue as though they were husband and wife! Evelyn is a university lecturer with penchant for chocolate and a lust for something more – she’s kind and thoughtful but also has a crabby side that you don’t want to be on the wrong side of! Introduced in a historical gem (The Marian Conspiracy), Evelyn has walked through the dangers of Daleks invading Gallifrey (The Apocalypse Element), Silurians (Bloodtide), Vampires (Project Twilight), murderous pirates and the Doctor’s singing (Doctor Who and the Pirates), politics and war (Arrangements for War), Burke and Hare (Medicinal Purposes), space walking (The Feast of Axos) and she has always come out with a song in her heart, a smile on her face and a slice of chocolate cake in the wings! There is a saddening arc in her middle period (Pirates through Arrangements for War) where she is sickened by all the young lives that they have lost on their adventures and has to try and find a way to understand how the Doctor copes with that that allowed us to see both characters in a new light. She’s a marvel and I would welcome her return at any time. We’ve already had her departure story (Thicker than Water) and her very last story (her death features heartbreakingly in A Death in the Family) but she was too good a companion to let go of so she pops up every now and again to show these young whippersnappers how its done. This is a walk through Evelyn’s best moments and further reasons why it would be in your best interests to check out this marvellous creation.

Favourite moments – some of these are the big, dramatic moments of her tenure but others are simply examples of how wonderfully entertaining she could be, especially in her interaction with Sixie.

‘Oh its you…the lunatic!’ The Marian Conspiracy (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxqh3r3bA3E)

This is where it all begins for the Doctor and Evelyn. After he interrupts her lecture and is given a swift ear bashing the Doctor decides to terrorise Evelyn at home instead. There is something wonderfully innovative about this audio in how it completely re-establishes the sixth Doctor’s character with the minimum of fuss. Whispers of Terror saw a petulant, argumentative Sixie but here he is calmer, more adjusted and wonderfully warm and good humoured, a Doctor is would have a been a delight to see on screen but in a way I am glad he is restricted to audio as it is a real feather in Big Finish’s cap. Colin Baker and Maggie Stables have an instant rapport and their chemistry bursts into your ears from their first scene together. I love the domestic scenes in episode one as he follows Evelyn about, simple things like answering the phone, shouting through the letterbox…he comes across as a big brother to Evelyn’s irritated fussiness! He drops names like nobody’s business and is shouted down by Evelyn hilariously as they both try and give their opinion on Queen Mary – he has truly found his match! It establishes Evelyn as somebody with a life of her own, a formidable personality and a woman of considerable charm.

‘Smells like a physics undergraduate!’ Bloodtide (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUqpL_cR3JU)

Evelyn manages to be effortlessly cool without even trying by this point in her adventures. By simply getting on with the sixth Doctor we see him in a whole new light and she seems like his ideal equal. Maggie Stables has such a warm voice and she manages to instantly charm practically anybody she meets – it’s a voice like warm chocolate and coffee. Her rapport with the Doctor is like that of an old married couple but a couple who are madly in love. She has always admired and been fascinated by Charles Darwin and this is scene where he reveals that as a special gift he has brought her to meet one of her heroes. Its just so sunny.

‘You’re inhuman!’ Project Twilight (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjWMbzeFMME)

Even in the direst of situations, even when she is absolutely terrified and out of her depth, Evelyn shows incredible bravery. You have never seen Evelyn so muted when she witnesses Cassie’s abuse, it’s a complete anathema to anything that she is used to. I love how defiant she is in the face of Amelia and Reggie’s threats (they call her old and past her best to which she reacts she is as tough as old boots!). She faces up to death with bravery (‘Just get on with it!’).

‘Still the best thing that ever happened to me…’ Jubilee (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EdMnjBJ_Pc)

Stables, one time French teacher turned actress injects Evelyn with real heart and intelligence that ranks her amongst the very best of the Doctor’s travelling companions. However it is stories like Jubilee where she steps from that role and becomes a fully-fledged protagonist driving the drama of the story. Stables is lucky in a way, companions are not usually offered quality material like this and she runs with it giving her best performance yet. In a moment of heartbreaking drama Evelyn confesses to the Doctor that he is the best thing that has ever happened to her. He has given an old woman a new lease of life and it really captures the joy that the Doctor can bring to your life without any of the Russell T Davies’ style hero worship. Okay it might be a wizened, disabled, alternative version of the Doctor but the sentiment is gorgeous and the scene beautifully played by both actors.
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/40-Doctor-Who-Jubilee

‘You’ll kill me because I ask why you wont kill me? What is the matter with you?’ Jubilee (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDlYQrrYo6A)

It plays out similarly to the Rose/Dalek sequences in Dalek except it doesn’t descend in twee mush (and is so much superior for it). A battered, broken, tortured Dalek is being held prisoner and rather than feel repulsed by it (she has met and been threatened by the Daleks before) instead she feels great sympathy for a creature that is suffering. However things turn even darker as the Dalek starts to gain automony and stretch his psychological powers over the guest cast, to the point where he can convince one character to murder another through sheer strength of will. The scene where Evelyn discovers Farrow’s body and confronts the Dalek is so murderously played I had goose bumps. Evelyn’s violent, almost suicidal anger as she confronts the Dalek for killing Farrow is devastatingly dramatic.
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/40-Doctor-Who-Jubilee

‘Though strangely disguised in bombazine…’ Doctor Who and the Pirates (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyNTRM2ptxE)

It’s a glorious story that mixes comedy with tragedy (and throws in some musical numbers too!) that highlights Evelyn at her best. She forms a close bond with Jem the cabin boy when they escape a burning ship together and are forced to paddle across the ocean on a makeshift raft! He reaches a tragic end and in a moment of heartbreaking emotional honesty Evelyn cannot stop the flow of tears. In the same story she is trying to provide some kind of therapy for her ex-student Sally who has suffered a terrible blow, crashing her car and killing her boyfriend. If all this sounds maudlin then you are mistaken because somehow, somehow the divine Jacqueline Rayner manages to squeeze a hilarious, massively entertaining pirate tale out of it. Don’t believe me? Check out this musical number which pauses to celebrate everything that is wonderful about Evelyn Smythe.

‘Oh Doctor! You can’t always make everything better with a cup of cocoa and a slice of cake!’ Project Lazarus (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKCTa3hmwDg)

This is a real turning point in the Doctor and Evelyn’s relationship. Having seen Jem killed, Evelyn suffers another blow as another young life is taken from her. Its also the story where we discover that Evelyn has been ill with a heart condition since before we first met her. She is desperate for him not to find out because she believes it will end their travels together. If there was ever a moment to give you a slap around the face then this it. Evelyn’s reaction to Cassie’s death is violent hysteria; she rejects the Doctor’s attempts to comfort her and storms off to her room in tears, leaving their relationship up in the air. Her tears are just horrible, its like listening to your nan have a breakdown.

‘I find it weighing heavier on my mind…’ Arrangements for War (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sIEon78qWw)

Evelyn’s story has been meticulously played out over the past four stories to give her the sort of development that some Doctor’s never even achieved. It has been a roller coaster ride of emotions and not always entirely enjoyable because she has become much more than a companion but a good friend and to see her so distressed has made for uncomfortable listening, but utterly gripping all the same. We have been fortunate indeed to have had the unmatchable Maggie Stables on hand to play Evelyn, surely one of the strongest actresses to play such a role and some of the best material as well. Thank goodness her horrors are over for the time being and we can get on with some good old-fashioned adventuring but Arrangements for War is one of the most important stepping-stones in Evelyn’s evolution and its events would return and help her to make a very important decision in her life. Halfway through this story Evelyn suffers a physical shock when she jumps from a train and wakes up in a hospital next to Rossiter, a man who has fallen in love with her. Evelyn’s confession that she is dying is heartbreaking and her tears will break the heart of even the most hardened fan. When she first met the Doctor he was so strange and exciting she didn’t dwell on her heart problems anymore. She has started to remember her husband’s good points and thinks in his own way he was a truly wonderful man. Her mum used to call her a bookworm and her sister was always the favourite. Rossiter tells her she needs people around her who love her like he does. Its never twee or overly sentimental, this is beautifully judged characterisation.

‘I like you…’ Arrangements for War (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTY4i7H1pgs)

There is a very telling moment in this story where she accuses the Doctor of letting Cassie and Jem die, falters, and changes her mind – they both let them die. Watching the Doctor experience what she has been through with Cassie and Jem, she realises that you cannot change what has happened and changes the time co-ordinates to prevent the Doctor from doing so. She comforts him, tells him she doesn’t want him to change because she likes him just the way he is. Now they understand each other better she wants to put this all behind them. When Evelyn says ‘I like you’ you realise that it was primarily through her acceptance and friendship with the Doctor that we have come to fall in love with his gentler persona. This scene almost threatens to tip over into mushiness but the performances of the leads is so strong and the sentiment so worthwhile after everything they have been through I just went with it.

‘I love you…’ Thicker Than Water (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBuY9Yhx1tk)

So this is where the Doctor and Evelyn say goodbye. Or rather this is set after the Doctor and Evelyn have failed to say goodbye properly and need to heal their relationship. After some bumpy moments in their reunion they soon come to admit their feelings for each other. Evelyn tells the Doctor he has been such a great friend, she met him at a time when her life was going nowhere and he gave it back to her. She feels very close to him and wants to tell him that she loves him very much. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go and blub like a big baby whose had all his sweets taken away. What a beautiful examination of both Evelyn and her relationship of the Doctor. We couldn’t have asked for a finer departure story. Its all due credit to Paul Sutton, Colin Baker and Maggie Stables that this soap opera storyline is as sensitive and touching as it is. It could have so easily have been farcically melodramatic but we are so invested in these characters and their relationship now it really and it brings this chapter of their lives together with warmth and friendship.

‘Messing around in space like Barbarella!’ The Feast of Axos (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5V50smswLsI)

The Doctor, Evelyn and some British astronauts are space walking around the edge of Axos and suddenly it all goes horribly, terribly wrong. The end of episode three is absolutely devastating; Evelyn unhooking herself and just out of reach of Axos, floating out of reach of the Doctor. Her quiet despair and his desperation not to lose his best friend will break your heart. Colin Baker and Maggie Stables both give outstanding performances to the point where tears were forming in my eyes. It is a cruel and beautiful affirmation of their incredible friendship and a terrifying reminder of the dangers of space travel.


Stories

·                    The Marian Conspiracy - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/02/marian-conspiracy-written-by-jac-rayner.html
·                    The Spectre of Lanyon Moor - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/02/spectre-of-lanyon-moor-written-and.html
·                    The Apocalypse Element - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/02/apocalypse-element-written-by-stephen.html
·                    Project: Twilight - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/04/project-twilight-by-cavan-scott-mark.html
·                    Real Time - 
·                    The Sandman - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/08/sandman-written-by-simon-forward-and.html
·                    Doctor Who and the Pirates - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/08/doctor-who-and-pirates-written-with.html
·                    Project: Lazarus - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/08/project-lazarus-by-cavan-scott-and-mark.html
·                    Arrangements for War - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/10/arrangements-for-war-written-by-paul.html
·                    Medicinal Purposes - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2010/10/medicinal-purposes-written-by-rupert.html
·                    Pier Pressure - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/02/pier-pressure-written-by-rupert-ross.html
·                    Thicker than Water - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/01/thicker-than-water-written-by-paul.html
·                    The Nowhere Place - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/nowhere-place-written-and-directed-by.html
·                    Assassin in the Limelight - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/06/assassin-in-limelight-written-by-robert.html
·                    A Death in the Family - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/death-in-family-written-by-steven-hall.html
·                    A Town Called Fortune - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/town-called-fortune-written-by-paul.html
·                    The Crimes of Thomas Brewster - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/03/crimes-of-thomas-brewster-written-by.html
·                    The Feast of Axos - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2011/09/feast-of-axos-written-by-mike-maddox.html
·                    Industrial Evolution - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/industrial-evolution-written-by-eddie.html

Novels

·                    Instruments of Darkness
·                    Spiral Scratch

 

Short Stories

·                    "Mortlake" by Mark Wright (Short Trips: Past Tense)
·                    "The Diplomat's Story" by Kathryn Sullivan (Short Trips: Repercussions)
·                    "Jupiter" by Andy Russell (Short Trips: The Solar System)
·                    "Christmas on the Moon" by Simon Guerrier (Short Trips: The History of Christmas)
·                    "Old Boys" by James Parsons & Andrew Stirling-Brown (Short Trips: The Centenarian)
·                    "The Eighth Wonder of the World" by Simon Guerrier (Short Trips: Dalek Empire)
·                    "The Crackers" by Richard Salter (Short Trips: The Ghosts of Christmas)

My advice would be to check out all of Evelyn’s stories because it is a terrific run of form for Big Finish and a wonderful character journey to go on. If you were looking for somewhere to start with Doctor Who on audio I can think of no finer place because it offers an innovative take on the sixth Doctor, a fantastic companion and a wealth of great stories. Here’s to Evelyn Smythe, the most wonderful, witty, surprising and heart-warming of all of the Doctor’s companions.

7 comments:

Shaz said...

I couldn't agree more. Both Maggie Stables and Evelyn are wonderful!

TF80 said...

Yea, totally agree. She took my heart since the first moment. I laughed my head off on the first minutes of her first interaction with Six, when she was lecturing and he was with an annoying "beeping" machine

Gayle Ramage said...

Love, love, love Evelyn Smythe. One of the best companions in any medium!

Joe Ford said...

Thanks for commenting guys and gals...isn't she just fabulous?

kurumais said...

i guess i have to listen more i have only heard the marian conspiracy and found both that story and evelyn rather dull.

Tyrionhalfman said...

Have only listened to Jubilee, but loved every second of it. Evelyn makes Rose's role in Dalek have considerably less gravitas. She just filled the role so well. The way she acted as devil's advocate for both the Daleks and the Doctor throughout, and the fact that, without giving it magic compassion powers, she is the only companions to find goodness in a Dalek make her one of the best companions ever. And I've only listened to one story from the middle of her run.

Mike Smith said...

Just recently finished all Evelyn's stories. She is an incredible companion, her voice like a warm hug on a cold morning. Beautifully played and wonderfully written, she's in my top 3 companions!