Batman: The Animated Series, “Paging the Crime Doctor”


This is the kind of episode that only works when you’ve created a deep bench of secondary characters. Now, the initial story hook-a doctor who caters exclusively to criminals-doesn’t require that. But this aspires to more than “Batman beats up a bunch of guys in green scrubs,” and the only reason it works is thanks to our prior knowledge of Rupert Thorne and Leslie Thompkins, even if they aren’t the emotional heart of the story. That would be one Matthew Thorne, who never appears before or since….but does a damn fine job while’s on screen.

The episode actually begins with a neat idea, as a crew of crooks uses an ambulance as a disguise to rob an armored car. Batman intervenes in an attempt to keep them from getting away (even though he somehow manages to keep up with the speeding ambulance on foot), but thanks to the unexpected use of their cargo, a medical laser, he’s shoved off the bridge and the criminals manage to escape. Rather than stealing the device for some kind of insane scheme to make their own laser or something similar, it’s actually for its intended purpose…sort of. It turns out that the crime boss Rupert Thorne has a medical doctor for a brother, and they stage almost  a master class on how to deliver exposition effectively. They’re still telling each other things they already know, but it comes out as lines in an argument, making it a real back and forth conversation instead of “As you know, Rupert….” It’s interrupted when Rupert Thorne collapses. His brother tells him either Rupert goes into a hospital to be treated, or he dies. But instead, Matthew is pressured into telling Rupert about an old friend who could help, one Leslie Thompkins.

I’ve mentioned that Matthew Thorne is the heart of this episode, and the confrontation with Leslie is a great example. On the one hand, he feels honor bound to go see her himself, rather than just waiting for his brother’s thugs to bring her into the operating room. At the same time, for all the reminiscing he does in an effort to convince Leslie to come along, he hangs back as the two thugs force Leslie to come with them, looking pained….but doing nothing. He occupies a grey area for much of the episode, clearly unhappy about the people he’s helping, but not wanting to let his skills go to waste over one past mistake, and desperately clinging to the hope that his mob boss of a brother will finally come through with a new medical license. There haven’t been many characters who are neither all good or all bad in the series so far; even characters with a tragic element to them, such as Clayface or Two-face, have come down firmly on the side of “bad” thanks to their actions. So Thorne is both a compellingly realistic character, and a very rare one for the show.

Things come to a head not during, but after the operation on Rupert; the episode is smart enough to avoid using much medical terminology, or making the actual surgery a point of drama. Where Matthew assumed they would just take Leslie back home, he finds out his brother intends to kill her instead, and that’s going too far for Matthew. He instead tricks the would-be assassin into being sedated, and tries to take Leslie out of danger on his own. Meanwhile, Batman has been investigating Leslie’s disappearance, and discovers Matthew Thorne’s connection to Leslie and his father. Thorne is able to hold off his brother’s men for a while, but he  ends up needing Batman’s help (who is at first delayed by a homicidal orderly) to save her. At the same time, his effort is the only reason she stays alive long enough in the first place.

It all comes together in a beautiful ending. There’s no mention of what happens with Rupert Thorne or the crime hospital; instead, we cut to Matthew Thorne, sitting in a police holding cell, where Bruce Wayne comes to visit him. Bruce says that he’ll help with Matthew’s legal costs, and put in a good word for him. At first thinking Bruce wants some kind of illegal favor like he’d been giving his brother, Matthew prepares to leave, knocking for the guard, but Bruce says he doesn’t want anything of the sort. And when Matthew asks what he does want, Bruce pauses, telling him that it’s something only Matthew can give him…and in a perfect combination of expression and reading, Bruce Wayne says “Tell me about my father.” We don’t get to hear what stories Matthew Thorne has to tell, but that one line hits me in the gut every time, because you can hear all the sadness and loss in Kevin Conroy’s voice, and the unexpressible grief on the character’s face.

Once again, we’re closing out a set of the series on a number of strong notes. And in my opinion, this is the strongest one yet. A few things get smoothed over, such as how Batman was able to find the hospital where Leslie had been taken, but there aren’t any major plotholes that could detract from the story. If anything, it’s one of the most accessible yet complex episodes so far, and it’s amazingly well animated; there wasn’t a single frame I could find with a real issue in the visuals. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.


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