The Matt Signal – Episode 53: Paging the Crime Doctor

Plot summary: Rupert Thorne requires life-saving surgery. Luckily, his brother is a disgraced doctor who will do anything he asks.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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Notes

Episode Title: ‘Paging the Crime Doctor’

Original Air Date: September 17th, 1993

Directed: Frank Paur (11)             

Written: Mike W. Barr (1) & Laren Bright (5) (story) and Randy Rogel (6) & Martin Pasko (2)

First-time series writer Mike Barr has written a lot for DC, with his Batman highlights including Year Two, Son of the Demon and Bride of the Demon.

The Crime Doctor was in fact a minor Batman villain, debuting in 1943, but only made a handful of appearances.

Recap

A trio of mobsters driving a fake ambulance steal a crate from an armoured truck, but Batman runs them off the road by covering the windscreen with his cape.

Bats attempts to interrogate their leader, but is shot with an experimental medical laser (the stolen cargo) and then tackled off a bridge! He of course survives by landing on a passing cable-car, a very normal thing that all major cities have.

Turns out this group work for Rupert Thorne, who brings the laser to his brother, Matthew, who operates a shady clinic for nefarious characters. This is apparently the latest in a long line of ‘gifts’.

The Thornes argue, providing exposition that Matthew lost his licence for removing a bullet from Rupert without reporting it to the police. Just as things get really heated, Rupert collapses.

Over at the Thomas Wayne Memorial Free Clinic, Dr. Leslie Thompkins finishes up with a patient early after noticing Batman waiting at her window. The 99% get screwed over again.

Leslie diagnoses him with a concussion and expresses frustration with his refusal to take breaks from his vigilante lifestyle to let his body heal. Bruce takes it all in stride and claims he will stay in bed for 24 hours.

Matthew Thorne informs his brother that he has a tumour pressing against his heart, requiring immediate surgery. Rupert naturally refuses to go to a hospital due to how exposed it would leave him to his many enemies.

Forced to perform the surgery in his less than ideal conditions, Matthew feels only one person can help him. You’ll never guess who!

Despite seeming like he’s the good sibling who will ask Leslie nicely, Matthew brings some of Rupert’s goons and they force their way into her clinic after hours.

Condemning him for continuing to practice without a licence, she refuses to help him. So they kidnap her, of course! Matt looks mildly cut up about it.

Bruce realises the men he tangled with work for Rupert Thorne and then heads back to see Leslie for his follow-up and finds the clinic trashed. He inspects a framed picture of her and his father with an inscription from Matt on the back.

Alfred confirms the three were firm friends, while Bruce consults some sort of yearbook for the med-school they attended together. Is that a thing? Seems fake. Anyway, he discovers Matthew’s last name and is shocked.

Rupert’s operation was a success, but Leslie remains furious with Matthew. That’s the least of his worries though, as it turns out the crooks were ordered to murder her, which he not only accepts quite quickly, but even insists on doing it himself!

Batman arrives on the scene, but his sense of stealth is severely compromised by his swimmy concussion-head and he proceeds to get his ass kicked for a while by one of the bulky orderlies. He of course wins in the end, but it was a struggle.

Leslie tells Matthew he’s no better than his brother, seemingly accepting her fate. Matt instead injects the thug holding her steady with a sedative and leads her to safety. Phew.

Naturally this leads to a chase between the remaining goons and the elderly doctors. Truly the height of drama! Batman does his best to inject some fun into the proceedings but it’s thoroughly dull stuff.

In the height of the chaos, Leslie falls off the roof and Bats swoops down to catch her just in time. She playfully scolds him for not taking the day off like she prescribed.

Bruce later visits Matthew at the GCPD and asks for a favour. Thorne of course thinks he’s being asked to commit more illegal deeds, but Bruce instead solemnly asks to hear about his father.

Best Performance

Joseph Campanella does his level best to inject an air of legitimacy to the episode, and in fairness he probably gives the best overall performance as Matthew Thorne. It’s essentially a less pronounced version of what I talked about with Ron Perlman; some guest stars are just obviously better actors than others. I wouldn’t say he ran circles around the regulars though.

Honestly I was tempted to give it to Kevin Conroy purely on the strength of the final scene with Bruce yearning to hear about his dad. Touching stuff in an otherwise emotionally weak episode.

John Vernon continues to be great as Rupert Thorne, but Matthew is the meatier part.

Ranking

There’s a version of this episode that’s great. This isn’t it.

By no means do we need a member of the Rogues Gallery to be terrorising Gotham with poisonous gas for the show to be good, but this almost immediately collapsed under the weight of its ambition. I was totally with them from the opening through Rupert Thorne’s collapse, but everything that followed was a big ol’ snoozefest.

Ultimately the writers’ attention seemed laser-focused on Matthew Thorne, and while he’s decently performed, his character isn’t compelling enough to carry the whole episode. His difficult position is interesting for approximately two minutes, but after that he’s just a straight up monster who kidnaps an old lady in the middle of the night. His change of heart has minimal impact, and the chase scene is a dud.

Not to be that guy, but this needed far more Batman. Heck I’d settle for some more Rupert Thorne!

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Almost Got ‘Im
  3. Heart of Ice
  4. I Am the Night
  5. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  6. The Man Who Killed Batman
  7. Perchance to Dream
  8. Two-Face Part I
  9. Joker’s Favor
  10. Feat of Clay Part II
  11. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  12. Beware the Gray Ghost
  13. Mad as a Hatter
  14. Heart of Steel Part II
  15. Appointment In Crime Alley
  16. Two-Face Part II
  17. Pretty Poison
  18. Feat of Clay Part I
  19. Off Balance
  20. Vendetta
  21. Birds of a Feather
  22. Heart of Steel Part I
  23. On Leather Wings
  24. See No Evil
  25. The Clock King
  26. It’s Never Too Late
  27. Joker’s Wild
  28. Eternal Youth
  29. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  30. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  31. Day of the Samurai
  32. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  33. Terror in the Sky
  34. P.O.V.
  35. Christmas with the Joker
  36. Fear of Victory
  37. Be a Clown
  38. What is Reality?
  39. Night of the Ninja
  40. Mudslide
  41. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  42. Nothing to Fear
  43. Prophecy of Doom
  44. Tyger, Tyger
  45. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  46. Dreams In Darkness
  47. The Last Laugh
  48. Cat Scratch Fever
  49. Moon of the Wolf
  50. Paging the Crime Doctor
  51. The Under-Dwellers
  52. The Forgotten
  53. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) (sixth appearance)

I mean… he’s barely even present. The argument between him and his brother is the highlight of the episode, and Vernon continues to play him fantastically. But… yeah, where did he go?

Speaking of which, Thorne has basically been swept aside in favour of Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni in the last 30 years, which is a shame given some of his appearances in the series. This isn’t one that props that argument up overly well though. Down he goes.

  1. The Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Two-Face
  4. Mad Hatter
  5. Poison Ivy
  6. Catwoman
  7. Harley Quinn
  8. Clayface
  9. The Riddler
  10. Clock King
  11. Penguin
  12. Killer Croc
  13. HARDAC (and Ronda Duane)
  14. Lloyd Ventrix
  15. Count Vertigo
  16. Josiah Wormwood
  17. Scarecrow
  18. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  19. Rupert Thorne
  20. Sid the Squid
  21. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  22. Tony Zucco
  23. Man-Bat
  24. Hugo Strange
  25. Red Claw
  26. Arnold Stromwell
  27. Mad Bomber
  28. Tygrus (and Dr. Dorian)
  29. Kyodai Ken
  30. Talia al Ghul
  31. Ra’s al Ghul
  32. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  33. Cameron Kaiser
  34. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  35. Professor Milo
  36. Romulus
  37. Sewer King
  38. Boss Biggis

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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