Big Finish: Doctor Who TIME APART Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who TIME APART Review

Tony takes time out with the Fifth Doctor.

Time Apart is the latest in the range of anthology releases from Big Finish. It’s also a perfect opportunity for the Fifth Doctor to frankly, openly run away from his latest full Tardis. Having lost Adric to the Cybermen, in recent Fifth Doctor releases, he’s picked up a new male companion, Marc (played by George Watkins) – and then run into the Cybermen again. Despite working with an invigorated determination to make sure he loses no-one else to the metallic monsters, there have been…consequences for Marc. Certainly, he’s still alive, but he’s been changed by the experience of meeting the Cybermen.

The Doctor, processing everything about his life, runs away, taking none of his friends with him. Taking none of the responsibility for their lives and souls and destinies with him. For the Fifth Doctor particularly, that’s a poignant thing. More than most incarnations, he inherited companions that he didn’t ask to stay. Even the Fourth Doctor, really speaking, chose none of his final companions. Adric stowed away. Nyssa was mysteriously foisted on him by the Keeper of Traken. And Tegan wandered on board the Tardis entirely unaware of what it was. The Fifth Doctor, with a new body and a new outlook, nevertheless made the grinding best of his situation, which frequently muted his ability to explore his own personality. It’s no accident that the Fifth Doctor on-screen reached his peak in his final story, when he had just the one companion. The Caves Of Androzani allowed the Fifth Doctor’s quality to shine through, and it was glorious.

In Time Apart, what we have is a Fifth Doctor very much in New Who territory, travelling further and further away from the moment when the weight of responsibility was too much. This is to some extent the Tenth Doctor ‘Specials,’ five Doctors early. And like those specials, it gives us a look at the Doctor as he simply drops into some situations, makes a difference and runs off again.

Ghost Station, by Steve Lyons has a very Sapphire And Steel feel. A border guard, alone, in East Berlin. A train station, with occasional trains running through but never stopping. A dead body. A very dead body. And there’s the Fifth Doctor out of nowhere, immediately suspect but – and this is key – uninterrupted by his gaggle of friends, able to speak for himself, to reach out, person to person and deal. Even possibly able to heal a situation that shouldn’t have been.

Peter Meier (Timothy Blore) is nervy. Never a good thing for an armed guard. But he’s also jumping at shadows. His guarding partner has disappeared. And there’s a body in the station. When the blond-haired stranger arrives, what unfolds is almost like a hostage negotiation, or a talking of someone down off a ledge. Why can’t Peter remember what happened? What actually happened? Who does the body belong to? What? Why? When? All questions that are somehow blocked from Peter’s mind. And there’s the Fifth Doctor, gently coaxing him, step by step to understand what’s happened, even if he can’t remember it.

It’s a good combination of strong storytelling elements – again, the vibe is very Sapphire and Steel – with a small, enormous personal connection, the Time Lord and the border guard, talking together. When Peter finally accepts the truth, his world will never be the same again, but whether for better or worse, Steve Lyons keeps us guessing till the very end.

Peter Davison has frequently said that he was too young when he was cast as the Doctor, and that he’d do a better job of it now. While that’s a harsh judgment on his TV output, give him stories like Ghost Station and you understand what he’s driving at. The complexity, the instinctive, compassionate competence of the Fifth Doctor shines through here, and while it’s not entirely a new light by which to view him, it is a stronger light by virtue of giving him more space to shine.

The Bridge Master by Jacqueline Rayner has a very New Who feel – you can imagine the Tenth Doctor in this scenario, giving it all “What? What? What?” Finding himself back in the medieval period, the Doctor gets involved in a superstition made manifest – the trapping of souls in village bridges to act as guardians of the villagers from looting and harm. A pseudo-religious ceremony performed by a Bridge Master, it’s a superstition which is mostly hocus pocus and flim-flam.


In a sense, when the Doctor finds himself the victim of a ceremony that will, he’s told, gradually kill him within a handful of days so his spirit can be absorbed by a bridge and he can stand as guardian to a village, he nevertheless stands instead as judge and jury. Agatha, a scared village woman who helps lure him into the trap but then repents her actions stands on one side. Clement, the bridge master who needs the Doctor’s ‘spirit’ to be entombed, stands on the other. Misguided good, self-serving bad, and the Doctor in the middle with his lives at stake. Peter Davison strides through this story with a New Who energy, affected by the story, but still maintaining his incarnation’s firm refusal to be drawn into the supernatural. He’s patient with the people of this era, but he’s never prepared to believe in spirit-prisons, even as his own body begins to succumb to whatever ‘magic’ the bridge contains. And ultimately, again, the New Who energy of a Tenth Doctor story shines through at the end, as he gives Clement a chance to redeem himself, to reclaim his life and freedom. Whether Clement takes the ‘one chance’ surreptitiously given him or not…would be telling. Have a listen and find out for yourself.

What Lurks Down Under, by Tommy Donbavand, is a bittersweet story. Tommy was a Who-fan of extraordinary vivacity, who sadly is no longer with us. While he was extremely ill but fighting, he wrote his first draft of this, his first and only Big Finish story, and, wheels and calendars being what they are, it’s only been released now, some time after his passing.

And what it shows above anything is that he could have gone on to turn out some fabulous Who. What Lurks Down Under also has a New Who feel to it, somewhere Planet Of The Dead and most of the Eleventh Doctor’s era, with a dash of Thirteen in the mix. The Doctor arrives on board the Lady Juliana, a ship on the Indian Ocean where sickness reigns. A sickness that makes people fall into a trance. Only two people on board seem unaffected – the ship’s doctor, and one Mary Wade, convict, being transported to the penal colony in Australia.

Mary Wade being a real historical human – the youngest person ever sent to Australia as a convict - gives this a celebrity historical gracenote, but the history never gets in the way of a cracking story of coma-zombies, mystery plagues and Something In The Water. Tommy Donbavand, and those who turned his draft into this story, do a lot of Very Good Things here. They show Wade as an absolutely viable proto-companion, giving her a moment to shine on behalf of the human race. They hit plenty of dramatic beats, from mystery plague to coma-zombies, to the threat beneath the waves and even to a wider understanding of that threat and its underpinnings. They give us the Fifth Doctor as would-be negotiator of a peace between species, as he was in Warriors Of The Deep, but here rather more successfully, thanks to the influence of Mary Wade. It’s a more sprawling, expansive story than either of the two before it, despite its initially claustrophobic setting. Because it has a definite sense of progression, it allows itself to open up like a flower the further on it goes, and there’s a pleasing sense of completion by the end of it. Could Mary Wade have made an awesome companion for the Fifth Doctor? Beyond a shadow of doubt after hearing Laura Aikman play her here. But the time and the mood is wrong for the Fifth Doctor to take on any more travelling companions, so he leaves her to her antipodean destiny. Still, it’s a beautiful and satisfying story in this particular set. Here’s to you, Tommy.

And this four-story delve into moments of Earth history comes to an end with The Dancing Plague, by Kate Thorman. Unashamedly one of the most weird phenomena in history, the dancing plague was real. In Strasbourg in 1518, people…just…began…dancing.

Some didn’t stop until they died.

The Doctor arrives, and with a certain Time Lord arrogance, begins looking for a cure, a solution, or at least some explanation for why it’s happening. But as the stranger scientist turns up no answers, no solution, and people keep dancing themselves to death, the crowd grows ugly and open to paranoia about the Doctor himself.

While it’s an almost uniquely Fifth Doctor trait that leads him into this mess in the first place – many a Doctor felt no need to ‘prove’ themselves clever, but the Fifth was always yearning to make some mark – it’s also distinctly Fifth Doctor behaviour that gets him out of it, as he realises the reality of what’s going on, and does perhaps the most difficult thing the Doctor ever does, in the hope of providing a solution to the mystery.

This is a release which uses the anthology format to great effect, giving the Fifth Doctor a kind of genteel mid-life crisis which takes the events of Warzone/Conversion and gives them a real impact, while pulling their effects through to the next release, Thin Time/Madquake. Strong performances from Kate Harbour and Wayne Forrester, each taking three roles across the four stories, Lucas Blore, taking two (including the springboard role of Peter Meier), and Laura Aikman as Mary Wade bolster the storytelling, and Peter Davison excels, as he always does and did when given enough dramatic oxygen to breathe.

Time Apart is consistently rich drama with a Fifth Doctor escaping the responsibility of friendship, only to meet both trouble and new companionship along the way. It’s quartet of strongly-written stories with no quarter given, and it’ll repay repeat listening even after the surprises are known.

Doctor Who: Time Apart is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until August 31st 2020, and on general sale after this date.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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