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22 September 2020

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Dan Abnett & Guy Adams

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: August 2020

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


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!"

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

Thin Time
By Dan Abnett

After last month’s 4x4 outing, this month we get one of Big Finish’s occasional dips into shorter stories. Comprising two, two-part tales, we pick up where Conversion (and presumably all of Time Apart) left off with Thin Time by Dan Abnett. It’s been a long time since Abnett was in the fold and on the strength of some of this play, I hope he’s back again before too long.

The Doctor lands in London on Hallowe’en, but much to his surprise he’s been expected. Pretty soon, the household in which he’s arrived is in trouble with a terrible something from outside, which is using visions and visages to tempt people. It’s a ghost story, in some ways, but one told with real flair and tension. Peter Davison sounds energised by the script and he’s supported by a very good supporting cast.

Sadly, it’s not perfect. The opening is fairly clunky with its exposition and scene setting, and the resolution is less drama and more the Doctor explaining what is going on to an attentive audience, which is never especially satisfying. You just wonder why the monster hasn’t eaten someone mid-sentence and instead just stands there patiently.

And then we’ve the final scene where (spoilers) the Fifth Doctor meets up with the Eleventh Doctor. Jacob Dudman is often celebrated in fan circles for his pitch-perfect impressions, but I’ll freely confess that it took me a good 30 seconds to realise it was even meant to be the Eleventh Doctor here. It’s not his finest hour by any stretch, but then again it’s a big ask for him to do an impression for so long and try to sustain it. Much like the Chronicles box sets he’s narrated, it doesn’t land.

Neither does the chronology of it all still. I mentioned before that I just don’t buy the Fifth Doctor swanning off to mope; the idea of him abandoning his companions fails to ring true at all: heck, The Caves of Androzani is about a Doctor who won’t ever do such a thing! Frustratingly, the talk here of the Doctor not wanting to endanger his companions does have a potential spot in established TV continuity which would fit far better: after Tegan has left, disgusted by the violence she has seen. You can buy the Doctor needing time to reflect after that, but not so here. I’m retreading old ground though. Overall, Thin Time isn’t perfect but it has moments that are achingly close.

Madquake
By Guy Adams

And then we have Madquake, a play that in part tackles PTSD and mental illness. But they called it Madquake. Ironic jibe or bad taste? You decide.

The approach to these topics doesn’t feel great at times. The relationship between a therapist and her patient is unlike any I’ve come across (full disclosure, I’ve done therapy many times now) and smells less of authenticity and more of someone wanting to have an excuse to have their characters talk a lot. Dialogue is largely less natural and more ‘we need a bit of exposition or character development here’.

This slightly sub-par feel runs through the script overall, sadly. A few scenes in, we have Marc tell us he’s not sure he’ll ever feel again. But he does it while panicking, before getting angry and then crying. It’s not exactly consistent, though later he clarifies that he fears he will never be happy again. The Cybermen seem to have left him with the ability to soliloquise at length about how bad his life is now, in tones that would make college-level amateur dramatic groups take a second pass at the scripts, but also, handily, they’ve also left him with the ability to detect drama: something bad is about to happen, he intones funerally at one point, a handy spidey-sense to have when you’re part of the TARDIS crew.

It’s frustrating as there are a couple of genuinely brilliant moments: Tegan worrying that all she is is anger, and what will happen if she’s robbed of that is heartbreaking, and Nyssa having a backbone and standing up for herself against Tegan is properly triumphant. I just wish the Guy Adams who wrote those moments was the same Guy Adams who wrote the rest.

As for the Slitheen? Well, they're definitely here. Their appearance would have been a genuine surprise had Big Finish not announced their presence beforehand, and it's a shame that didn't come to pass. I've not much else to say about them though, beyond that their defeat is pretty awful. Riffing on the "go to your room!" cliffhanger resolution of The Doctor Dances, this has neither its wit nor its logic or context.

It's funny. For all I didn't like Madquake all that much, what it represents fascinates me. Not too long ago, the mere idea of mixing New Series monsters with Classic Series Doctors was enough to warrant a fanfare and two box sets.  Contrast also the celebration for the first River Song box set, and how the latest series was announced in a paragraph at the bottom of an entirely unrelated piece of news from Big Finish in the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine.

I'm not sure what it represents. Complacency and lack of respect for the material? Indication that repetition means things are less special? Or realisation that despite the bells and whistles, this is all one and the same silly old series (whether we like it or not, to quote the series itself)? Maybe the answer lies somewhere in-between.

As for this arc, one suspects that it'll be some time before we have any answers thanks to the pandemic. We end here though with a conclusion to the arc waiting in the wings. I'm sure many are enjoying it, but I'll be glad to see it gone. But I'm interested all the same in seeing what happens next. Perhaps I'm not as burnt out as I suspected.


+ Thin Time / Madquake is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


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