Well, this is a first for this series: an episode of which I have absolutely no memory whatsoever. Which leads me to suspect I never actually saw it, because it’s pretty damn memorable.
It’s September 17, 1993, two days after “Mudslide” and four after the “Shadow of the Bat” two-parter, so I’m still going to save news and charts for that entry. This is, in fact, the last episode of the first season to air, a day after “The Worry Men,” the final episode of the season in production order.
“Paging the Crime Doctor” is an interesting place to stop, since it reaches to before the beginning, to the youth of Thomas Wayne. More than Batman or the episode’s villain, Rupert Thorne, this episode focuses on two of Wayne’s medical school friends, Leslie Thompkins and Matt Thorne, the latter of whom is the titular Crime Doctor.
Much is left unsaid in the relationship between the Thorne brothers. Matt takes care of the injured criminals Rupert brings him and keeps Rupert’s secrets, but is that because it’s the only way to continue to practice medicine without his license? And Rupert provides Matt with equipment, a safe place to work, even a nurse, but is that because he feels responsible for Matt losing his license (which appears to have been because Matt failed to report Rupert to the police when he came for help with a bullet wound) or because it’s a convenient way to get medical treatment for people involved in his criminal enterprises without drawing the attention of the authorities?
The key, I think, comes in a line Rupert never finishes because he’s interrupted by a heart attack: “After I gave up everything so–” A story unfolds from that line: two brothers, one with dreams of medical school, the other delving ever deeper into corruption and crime to support him. There is a web of debt and responsibility tying these two men together, perhaps after brotherly love has been buried in regrets and recriminations. Each feels they owe something to the other; each is bound to the other. In this they are an inversion of the Stromwell brothers from “It’s Never Too Late”; where the Stromwells were driven apart by one’s criminality, the Thornes are brought together, even though in both cases the non-criminal brother is dedicated to the care of others and repulsed by his brother’s choice of career.
Though he puts aside that repulsion to work with Rupert, Matt still has limits, and his reunion with Leslie Thompkins reminds him of what they are. He will heal criminals and murderers, but he will not stand by while they murder someone in front of him. His escape sequence with Leslie provides the main action of the episode, including a great scene of two elderly doctors steeling themselves in sequence to try to jump from one rooftop to the next, while pursued by a machine gun-wielding thug.
In the end, with a key assist by Batman, Leslie and Matt escape–from Rupert Thorne, anyway. When next we see Matt Thorne, he is in a jailhouse visiting room awaiting Bruce Wayne. And even though the line is tremendously telegraphed, such that I know it’s coming even though I have no recollection of the episode, it still nearly brings me to tears: Bruce asks about his father.
This is an episode about family, the ones we’re born into and the ones we make. Bruce Wayne’s father and mother were killed in front of him, but in Alfred and Leslie Thompkins Batman has a surrogate mother and father. He has other surrogate fathers as well, one of whom we will meet posthumously in the next episode. And he has his surrogate children in the assorted Robins and Batgirl; even, eventually, a grandson in Terry.
And to hear Alfred describe it, Matt Thorne, Leslie Thompkins, and Thomas Wayne were a found family as well, three close lifelong friends, at least until one died and another fell from grace. Blood is thicker than water, as the old saying goes, but even older is its original formulation, the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb. Matt chose the one with whom he shared the water of the womb over the ones with whom he shared the blood of the covenant, and so he fell; by returning to the covenant, rescuing Leslie and telling Bruce stories of his father, he can begin the long slow climb back into grace.
Batman can never quite do the same, because then he ceases to be Batman. But still he tries, building one found family after another; despite being an orphan, he has perhaps more parents, siblings, and children than any other character in comics.
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