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Reviewed: Big Finish’s Doctor Who – Time Apart

In last November’s Warzone/ Conversion, the Fifth Doctor left his companions behind. Despite their protestations, he ran away, no longer able to deal with the guilt of putting them in harm’s way.

Time Apart sees the Doctor trying to come to term with this – traveling through the history of the earth without his friends.

Ghost Station by Steve Lyons

The Berlin Wall continues underground. Peter Meier (Timothy Blore) patrols the non-existent line between east and west. It would be so easy for him to flee down a train tunnel and escape, but he never has. He guards the Ghost Stations where trains fly past, but never stop. It seemed to be quite a dull job, until he discovered the Doctor near a corpse.

Peter and the Doctor search the station, trying to find an answer to the murder in the gloom. As they search, they talk about Peter’s life, about his hopes and dreams. The Doctor realises he is dragging another person into his life of danger. He gives Peter the chance to leave, one he tried to give Nyssa, Tegan, and audio companion, Marc before running away.

The half-hour run time is perfect for this two-hander. Davison and Blore play off each other very well.  The latter plays a rather timid, cautious character who is swept up in the Doctor’s willingness to rush off into the darkness.

In a very short space of time, we get a look into the mind of someone living on the wrong side of Berlin. The historical setting is very well explored simply using a single character. The Doctor doesn’t give anything away about the future of the Berlin Wall, but encourages Meier to not give up hope.

The Bridge Master by Jacqueline Rayner

We go even further back in time for our next story. The village of Rowanbrook has built a new bridge. Instead of celebrating this achievement, they instead have to pay the Bridge Builder’s high price: a human sacrifice. It turns out that a Time Lord will work just as well.

He has a week to live, not that he believes it.

History can take many forms in Doctor Who. Sometimes it’s a daft romp like The Shakespeare Code or Castle of Fear; other time it’s The Massacre. Raynor takes us to a place which is somewhere in between. There’s a lot of comedy in the story, but scenes take a sharp turn. Agatha’s regret at protecting her son at the expense of another life is admirably portrayed by Kate Harbour. She is a mother who has lost too many.

I found it particularly arresting when Agatha reels off the list of her dead children and talks about how some of them don’t even have headstones. She laments the fact that she will not be reunited with them in heaven due to her sins. It’s wonderful to see Doctor Who not shy away from the religiosity of people in the past. Too often, they are just treated as the same as us, but with different haircuts, and sometimes not even that. The Bridge Master deals with characters who have a deep belief system that affects their daily lives. How else can you deal with the loss of so many children?

The story leaves you guessing right up to the conclusion and jogs along at a decent pace. I really like this short format.

What Lurks Down Under by Tommy Donbavand

Time Apart opens with Peter Davison giving us the sad news that this release is dedicated to the late, great Tommy Donbavand. It’s his first story for Big Finish and it is a great shame we will not get to hear any more from him because What Lurks Down Under was my favourite of the four.

Doctor Who doesn’t go to Australia very often. You’d think the Fifth Doctor would a perfect fit, taking Tegan to see the history of her country. Sadly, Miss Jovanka (as well as Marc and Nyssa) are not with the Doctor at the moment. He is alone when the TARDIS materialises below the decks of a sailing ship. Everyone onboard is in a trance, except for a young girl called Mary.

Peter Davison’s breathless delivery really suits these stories where his Doctor is shoved into the action straight away. 30-minute stories have a pace to them that I very much enjoy. It is easy to imagine the Fifth Doctor dashing about from one adventure to the next. He does get a little bit of a breather in this story, as there’s not much room to move on a boat…

There’s quite a few Doctor Who stories set on boats, both on TV and from Big Finish. With historical stories, you have a visual shorthand; we have all seen sailing ships (or at least pictures of them), so there’s not quite so much descriptive dialogue as there would be in an audio set on a spaceship. This is something most of the release benefits from, with its earthbound settings.

Donbavand uses the small cast well to paint two very strong characters. It’s a great dramatic trick to have all the other passengers in a trance – they are there, but Big Finish don’t need to hire any more actors. The companion stand-in for the story is Mary, a young girl who is packed off to Australia for crimes that become apparent as the story progresses. She works very well with Davison, asking all the right questions and plunging into the world of alien madness with both feet.

Davison is marvellous as usual. There are people who say that Big Finish has made his Doctor more grumpy and sarcastic, but I think that was always there on TV. There’s just more of a focus on it now, with Davison’s slightly older voice adding gravitas that he may have lacked during his early years. That said, he is still able to imbue the role with energy and youthful vigour; he’s still the Doctor I imagine running about the most. (McCoy strolls by the way, if you were wondering. Colin barges.)

The Dancing Plague by Kate Thorman

The beauty of audio drama is the ability to travel anywhere in the world (or universe) simply by closing your eyes. Though I don’t advise doing that whilst driving, it certainly can enhance the experience when you aren’t operating a vehicle. Big Finish don’t need to send their actors around the world or pay for expensive CGI monsters: everything is done with sound. Which can sometimes be an issue for stories that might be suited for a more visual medium.

The Dancing Plague of 1518 saw between 50 and 400 people struck with the need to dance for days. Whether this was caused by a virus or mass stress-induced hysteria (two modern theories), you can imagine that the spectacle was quite a sight.

Sadly in this case, I didn’t think my imagination was quite enough. Dancing does not really lend itself to the way action is conveyed on audio i.e., dialogue.

Still, this story does have Peter Davison. He’s as energetic and wonderful as he usually is. He is paired with a girl desperately trying to find a cure to the illness. The superstition of the time is a barrier to the two of them sorting the mess out.  The way the story resolves itself is particularly fun, and overall is a decent enough way to conclude a set which is enjoyably different from what the Main Range has included before.

Doctor Who: Time Apart is available from Big Finish for £14.99 on CD and £12.99 on Download.

Liam Brice-Bateman

Reviewed: Big Finish’s Doctor Who – Time Apart

by Liam Brice-Bateman time to read: 5 min
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