Friends Reunited… but not quite yet. Thin Time sees the Doctor face a house of horrors alone, while in Madquake Tegan, Nyssa and Marc are prey for the Slitheen!
The latest trilogy of Doctor Who monthly adventures from Big Finish continues as the Fifth Doctor is reunited with his companions Nyssa, Tegan and Marc. Eventually, anyway. In fact, their reunion is put off until the last possible moment. All the better to provide us with a double-A side release, of sorts. Here the Doctor and his companions have completely separate adventures while reflecting on their time apart. Flowing from the keyboards of Dan Abnett and Guy Adams it means Thin Time/Madquake gives us two very different, but equally compelling stories.
The first of our two tales fits neatly as a fifth story in Big Finish’s mini-arc of the Doctor’s solo travels begun with the Time Apart anthology. As with the four one-part stories there, Thin Time is another historical. In common with more than one of them it also comes with a pseudo-supernatural edge and a dose of horror. It’s an intoxicating cocktail of influences, with a strong base spirit of Sapphire & Steel, a measure of HP Lovecraft and a dash of Doctor Who’s own Father’s Day. And it’s just what Blogtor Who ordered.
The Doctor arrives in Victorian London to discover he’s been expected. He’s gloriously befuddled to be greeted by someone claiming to be an earlier incarnation of himself, a number of bodily regenerations ago, but of whom he has no memory. But fortunately the listener doesn’t have to update their ever expanding Powerpoint chart of pre-Hartnell incarnations. Rather than being a past-Doctor this man, the ‘scientific-romance’ novelist Charles Crookshap, believe his visitor is a future-Crookshap. Because he’s been visited in his dreams, you see, by someone or something claiming to be his own future self and instructing him on the building of a time-portal to allow them to meet…
Thin Time thrusts the Doctor into a world where the normal rules no longer apply, and where even he knows fear…
The Doctor, naturally, is distrustful of Greeks bearing gifts, especially when those gifts are advanced quantum equations beyond human science. And before long, he, Crookshap and the others (the author’s friend John Hobshaw, housekeeper Mrs. Polly and butler Stubbs) find themselves besieged. All of reality beyond the walls of Crookshap’s house appears to have ceased to exist. The unseen tapping on the windows and the knocking at the doors that have tormented Mrs. Polly all night are not local kids playing tricks. Time has been stretched thin. And whatever Crookshap has been dealing with may not be trying to get in. It may already be here…
Big Finish makes brilliant use of Thin Time’s two episodes, measuring out the exact right amount of incident and mystery for its length. And Peter Davison’s on fine form here too. His Doctor rests on the knife edge between being the only one who can possibly understand, and being completely confounded. Confunded enough in fact to experience that rare feeling for the Doctor – terror of the unknown. The prestige reveal at the climax is wonderfully played, with a story apparently full of red herrings revealed as one where everything is a clue. And if the resolution falls into place a little conveniently (everything is lost until, suddenly, it’s not) it doesn’t detract from a study in mood and terror well worth a listen under the duvet this Hallowe’en. Just check the doors and windows first…
Meanwhile… Previously, on Big Finish. Tegan, Nyssa and Marc have been stranded, if that’s the word, on a planet called Callanna. A planet which atmosphere creates a natural soothing effect and seems, to fellow visitor Dr. Cott, the perfect place for a therapist to help her patients work through their issues. Tegan, of course, is distrustful of jungle planets that effect your mind and wants to get away somewhere, anywhere, else.
But beyond that there’s a discussion with parallels to the use of medicines in the treatment of mental health. Part of Tegan’s complaint is that her own emotions don’t feel ‘real’ to her if they’re the product of the planet’s positive effect on her state of mind. While Cott’s patient Mison, suffering from PTSD after an interstellar war, points out that the planet’s influence isn’t a cure – it simply brings a balance to his mental state that allows him to function. Finally Marc no longer knows if his emotional numbness is a result of his botched Cyber-conversion. It may just be the planet keeping the pain of his new existence at bay. Nyssa, meanwhile, is about as content as we’ve ever known her. She even openly hopes the Doctor never returns for them. Understandable, perhaps, when you consider it must feel almost like being back in the groves of Traken.
More Texas Chainsaw than CBBC, Madquake dwells more on the gruesome reality of a family that kills and skins people for kicks
But these are issues that would be challenging enough for one of Big Finish’s full length Doctor Who drama to deal with, let alone a two-parter. So they fade into the background as the action gets going with the arrival of the Slitheen at the cliffhanger. Yes, the Slitheen. Producer Scott Handcock describes the idea as too good to resist – taking advantage of the Doctor’s absence to inject a modern monster into events before the Doctor ever met them on TV.
But James Goss’ script leans more heavily into the gruesome side of the Slitheen than they ever did on TV. They’re essentially overgrown sadistic children, who hunt and kill sentient beings and then wear their skins. With only a token fart or two included almost like a contractual obligation, these are the Slitheen taken horribly seriously. And as they gibber and giggle their way through the jungles of Callanna on the trail of the humans, the tone is less CBBC, or even The Most Dangerous Game, but more Deliverance. It’s all aided by a magnificent and urgent soundtrack that sounds to all the world like John Carpenter let loose in the Radiophonic Workshop’s file library.
By holding off the team’s reunion to the very last line, Big Finish have kept even the cast on tenterhooks for their next adventure
The end to their little Slitheen problem, however, veers back towards The Sarah Jane Adventures territory. If anything though, it’s rather less bloodthirsty. (The Bannerman Road gang were always uncharacteristically quick to whip the pickled onions out when it came to the Slitheen.) But, despite not seeming like a permanent solution, like the play as a whole it’s a neat idea cleverly executed so it’s hard not to like.
Which brings us the Doctor’s return and Madquake’s very last line. Where do the Doctor and his companions go from here? Even in the bonus interviews, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton ponder if things can really just go back to normal. Or will their next delivery of Big Finish scripts reveal more tension and fall out to come? Like the actors themselves, Blogtor Who can’t wait to find out.
Thin Time by Dan Abnett
Hallowe’en, 1892. Celebrated novelist Charles Crookshap claims to have been receiving time communiqués, promising secrets that could change the world forever. But when the TARDIS interrupts the household’s evening, the Doctor realises he isn’t the only alien interloper in London.
Madquake by Guy Adams
Abandoned on the planet Callanna, Nyssa, Tegan and Marc take advantage of its therapeutic atmosphere to come to terms with recent events; but others seek to take advantage too. The Slitheen are on their way – and they’re ready to sell this world to the highest bidder!
Peter Davison (The Doctor)
Sarah Sutton (Nyssa)
Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka)
George Watkins (Marc)
Dona Croll (Bella)
Raj Ghatak (Mison)
Kate Isitt (Cott)
Zaqi Ismail (John Hobshaw)
Nicholas Khan (Stubbs)
Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo (Mrs Polly)
Wilf Scolding (Charles Crookshap)
Harley Viveash (Grumma)
Writers Guy Adams Dan Abnett
Cover Artist Tom Webster
Director Scott Handcock
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery Nicholas Briggs
Music Robert Harvey
Producer Scott Handcock
Script Editor Scott Handcock
Sound Design Robert Harvey
Senior Producer David Richardson