Released June 2009
‘The Angel of Scutari’ sees Hex meet Florence Nightingale, his inspiration for joining the nursing field. Set during the Crimean War with weaponry and espionage at every turn, what follows is a superb release that confirms once again that Big Finish is masterful at keeping the historical genre alive and well.
Admittedly, the first episode does begin a bit slowly and is filled with ideas that have littered countless Seventh Doctor stories before. While the Doctor proclaiming his innocence as he finds that the TARDIS has once again landed in the middle of danger as well as Ace’s accusations of his manipulation may be well-trodden territory, the Doctor’s sheer terror and guilt when Ace gets injured exemplifies his compassion for his companion to an extent that has rarely been glimmered up to this point. McCoy exudes a sort of quiet power throughout the story as he condemns war and attempts to make sure all loose ends are tied up for continuity of the timeline, but his impassioned decision to put Ace before the TARDIS is certainly a great moment for a character who so often seems to put his own schemes above any individuals.
At its core, though, ‘The Angel of Scutari’ is very much a story about Hex. This is the first of these three stories to truly allow an intimate exploration of Hex, and it’s refreshing to see that events from ‘The Enemy of the Daleks’ have not been forgotten. Following Hex’s feelings of futility when facing the Daleks’ might, he arrives somewhere where he can do some good and put his skills to use. Deciding to stay in place to tend to the wounded while the Doctor and Ace do some exploring a month in the past, he is flabbergasted that simple medical principles he takes for granted such as general cleanliness are not adhered to in this time frame. Struggling with the desire to add some anachronistic tools and techniques to the field hospital, Hex’s sterling efforts quickly earn him the titular nickname, and his intentions and results quickly earn him a meeting with Florence Nightingale.
It is during his heartfelt conversations with Florence Nightingale that he truly sees who the Doctor and Ace truly are with some truly riveting remarks and admits that, while his intent was always to travel with the Doctor temporarily, he feels differently about Ace even if he is starting to reconsider how close he wants to get. Then struggling to take in Nightingale’s news that the Doctor is dead, Hex once more proclaims that he is a man who has never managed to find where he belongs, and he undergoes a surprisingly complex amount of characterization as he brings certain questions to light. The ultimate culmination of events as he is shot, calling out Ace’s name as his companions carry him away, is truly shocking and wonderfully tense, a fascinating cliffhanger to a momentous personal journey.
Every member of the guest cast offers an engaging performance, the highlight of course being Jenny Spark as the caring Florence Nightingale. However, perhaps even more powerful is Alex Lowe’s Brigadier General Bartholomew Kitchen, a man driven to chilling insanity simply by war and the decisions he has had to make during it. At the same time John Albasiny’s Lev Tolstoy shares some magnificent scenes with Ace, and Hugh Bonneville’s Tsar Nicholas I plays the game of manipulation against the Doctor incalculably well.
The sound production helps bring the historical and war-ravaged setting to life superbly, rounding out what is yet another strong release for this TARDIS trio of the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Hex. With such quality on display, it’s hard to understand why the historicals= releases are still such a rarity for Doctor Who; nonetheless, ‘The Angel of Scutari’ manages to tell a gripping story for all of its characters against the backdrop of factual events while bringing Hex to the brink after a fascinating internal journey.