‘Thin Time’ and ‘Madquake’, form a double-header of two-part stories for Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor. Still spending ‘Time Apart’ from the companions he fears he has endangered once too often, he enjoys an adventure in Victorian London. Meanwhile, feeling rather cast off, Nyssa, Tegan and Marc encounter the Slitheen.
Continuing the Doctor’s solo travels, ‘Thin Time’ is a tense Victorian horror story with some clever twists. Set at Halloween, 1892, it features that famous writer of scientific romances, Charles Crookshap and his schoolmaster pal John Hobshaw; the only problem is that the Doctor has never heard of Crookshap. Further more, his arrival appears to have been foretold in quite the strangest manner.
Writer Dan Abnett returns to Big Finish after some thirteen years (though he’s written elsewhere in the Whoniverse) with a terrifically entertaining story. We were genuinely wrong-footed as to what was going on and loved the slow reveal of the mystery. He effectively builds a creeping fear of the outside, as the setting becomes a house-under-siege. The tale also has an irresistibly ritzy coda, which we won’t dare spoil.
We particularly enjoyed the scenes the Doctor shares with the maid Mrs Polly (Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo), who displays a form of quiet bravery. She provides him with some much needed hope and perhaps a little renewed purpose.
Meanwhile, Tegan, Nyssa and Marc are coming to terms with their abandonment, as well as dealing with the unique properties of the planet Callanna. Of an evening, its atmosphere becomes decidedly relaxing and while some appreciate the effect, Tegan finds it deeply disturbing; she has previous form with things meddling in her mind. Nyssa, on the other hand, rather enjoys the effect.
The outside peril comes here from the Slitheen, and it was fun to see these companions face up to a modern monster. Writer Guy Adams story gives the childlike gangsters room to hunt, but also allows our heroes to foil them in amusing fashion. He also manages to preserve the Doctor’s lack of knowledge, ready for ‘Aliens of London’ some regenerations later.
Adams’ finds plenty for the companions to do emotionally; without the Doctor to defer too, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) becomes more strident. The altered dynamic between her and the suspicious, abrasive Tegan (Janet Fielding) is an interesting note to explore. In more concerning scenes, Marc (George Watkins) desperately struggles to cope with the brutal changes wrought upon his body and mind by the Cybermen, and his inherent loss of humanity.
A Game of Two Halves
In modern Doctor Who, stories which barely feature the Doctor and have companions carry the tale are not uncommon. Born of scheduling, it allows episodes to be filmed concurrently and has brought us gems like ‘Blink’ and ‘Turn Left’. Here the choice is narrative and it makes for unusual bedfellows; ‘Thin Time’ is a haunted house tale with a temporal twist, while ‘Madquake’ is all character, with the unsubtle horror of the Siltheen.
Both stories ably fill their time and they bring the Doctor and his companions back together at the end, ready for fresh adventures. With the range shuffled as a result of the pandemic, we off into Seventh Doctor territory next, before returning in October to a lone Fifth Doctor, lost in the Time War, for ‘Shadow of the Daleks’. When we do return to this line-up however, there is clearly trouble still to come with Marc.