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

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Big Finish: Doctor Who THIN TIME / MADQUAKE Review

Tony gets his shudder on.

The Fifth Doctor has run away.

From his companions, from the responsibility of their lives, and from the consequences of his failure to keep all of them safe. Having failed to save Adric from the Cybermen, he’s acquired another male companion, Marc, from ancient Rome.

And then encountered the Cybermen. Again.

And again, his male companion has paid a terrible – if this time, a more complicated – price.

So the Fifth Doctor is running away. Taking a break. More than most Doctors, the Fifth had no control over the people with whom he travelled from the beginning of his incarnation, so it feels like a reasonable mid-life crisis in response to a particular trauma. And in Thin Time and Madquake, he learns enough to get over his own panicked, exhausted instincts and make his way back to his friends.

Thin Time, by Dan Abnett, is a story that deserves to go down in the annals of Big Finish as a must-listen.

Overselling? Nah. It’s in the same sort of league as stories like Chimes Of Midnight – creepy house, someone or something messing around with time and reality, and people potentially from the future who may be controlling the story as it unfolds around us, and around the Fifth Doctor.

But whereas Chimes Of Midnight unfolds for reason or reasons initially unknown, Thin Time is possibly the perfect Hallowe’en story, set when the ‘barrier between worlds’ is at its thinnest. Creepy house. Supposedly famous authors doing time experiments – very Time Machine. But when a real time machine arrives in the house, the Fifth Doctor gets caught up in possibly the strangest case of mistaken identity ever.

And then…well, then, to give him every ounce of credit, Dan Abnett spurs the story on like a mad, wild horse having the fright of its life.

Screams. Moving…somethings…in the grounds of the house, scenes which mix The Wizard Of Oz with Sapphire And Steel to utterly bone-chilling effect. High-stakes truth or dare moments when the maniac responsible for breaking the chain of consequence around the house reveals themselves, and, when the plot itself has been driven off a cliff and a calm moment comes, there’s a moment you absolutely will kick yourself if you don’t hear when it’s fresh. Seriously, if it’s months or years from now when you get to Thin Time, you’ll regret all the time it took to hear it.

That’s the thing about Thin Time, really. As a creepy, escalating, high-stakes game of what-the-hell, it’s right up there in the higher echelons of Who. Imagine, say, the Fifth Doctor in Ghost Light, with a chunk of The Time Machine, a little Upstairs, Downstairs, and a heaped teaspoon of Sapphire And Steel, the Fifth Doctor, unfettered by young companions, stepping forward to take as much control of the situation as any of his predecessors. It’s a thing of sublime construction, played to the very ends of his fingertips by Peter Davison, with a cast including Wilf Scolding as Charles Crookshap and Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo as Mrs Polly giving it everything they’ve got to heighten both the melodrama and the real human consequence, so you’ll get a gut-punch before you’re done and might need a nice cup of tea to centre yourself. And then you get an ending which is both entirely different, and powerful, and wonderful, and will take you entirely by surprise. And more to the point than any of that, it includes a talking-to for the Fifth Doctor that makes him see a truth about his companions, and determine to be a better Doctor than his running away has let him feel. Determine to do better than to completely withdraw himself from his friends. Determine to find them again, and to make amends.

Which leads us directly to Madquake by Guy Adams.

It’s hopefully not too much of a spoiler to say it’s the Fifth Doctor, reunited with his friends, up against the Slitheen, given that they’re on the cover.

This is a Guy Adams story though – it’s not going to ever be quite that simple. The planet Callanna, where the Doctor left his friends before disappearing into the forever-gone, has particular therapeutic qualities. It very much wants you to like it. It wants you to relax, and to have a happy time.

Tegan, naturally, doesn’t trust it as far as she could throw it.

Nyssa is using the time and the planet’s positive influence to take a breath from her recent adventuring, and to some extent, to come to terms with the Doctor’s abandonment. Marc meanwhile is in a deeper, more complex form of therapy, to try and coax him back from the dark place where his mind has gone after the encounter with the Cybermen.

The downside of all this of course is that any planet that can respond to your moods and try and help you chill your mandibles is potentially highly lucrative.

Annnnd cue the Slitheen, for more or less a greatest hits album – selling the planet to the highest bidder, zips in the foreheads of flesh-suits, the joy of nakedness and hunting. Everything you could possibly want from the Slitheen if your sole exposure to them is in the Christopher Eccleston series, Guy Adams faithfully delivers. But he also digs a bit deeper, picks up on hints in their TV appearances and in the expanded universe such as Ninth Doctor Titan Comics releases, and rounds out their story arc a little.

One of the coolest things about the Slitheen, as revealed in Aliens Of London and World War 3 was that the Slitheen were in no sense a unified species. They were a family. A large, crooked, space mafia family. That made them more complex than many other species the Doctor had encountered before, because it didn’t demand a universal purpose for the whole species.

What Guy Adams manages to do here with a good deal of conviction and sympathy is take that idea and run with it. Because what family do you know that agrees about everything? What family do you know that doesn’t have outcasts, or rejects, or that cousin we just don’t talk about?

In Madquake, you get to meet the cousin the Slitheen just don’t talk about. The insufferable white sheep in a family of poison-hearted space-gits. It would be entirely spoilerific to explain how that happens, or whose forehead comes with a zip, but one frankly joyful thing about Adams’ Slitheen is that a) the ones who arrive en masse don’t come disguised, and b) the ‘good Slitheen’ doesn’t give themselves away by a succession of increasingly unfunny fart gags. For reasons.

As villains in a Doctor Who story, the Slitheen don’t lend themselves to too much differentiation from what appeared on screen. Take them too far from home and you end up with a creature that could be any old rent-a-villain, and lose the essential twee killer mafia-predator vibe that the Slitheen bring to any story. But Guy Adams, being Guy Adams and liking to push both himself and his material, takes them as far from home as is probably viable, while still making them recognisably the Slitheen.

That gives you a combination of familiarity and freshness, and pitting them against this Tardis team – particularly in the wake of the Doctor’s disappearance – allows for whole new regions of response to them, which is enormous fun.

Of the two stories in this release, Thin Time is probably the one that will stay with you longer, both because of its creepy-as-all-get-out main story, and because of the what-the-actual-hell ending. But just as after an intensely flavoured meal, you sometimes need a light dessert, Madquake has the right ingredients to ground you again, and to reconnect the Fifth Doctor with his friends.

It’s been a great ride overall, divorcing the Fifth Doctor from the responsibility for his regular friends for a little while. But, as much for the endless stroppy joy that is Janet Fielding’s Tegan Jovanka as anything else, it’s wonderful to get the team back together for new adventures.

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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