Time Apart follows the Fifth Doctor after the traumatic events of his previous mini-series, which saw a new companion join the TARDIS crew and experience a close call with the Cybermen. Running from painful memories, this new set of stories begins with the Doctor choosing to spend some time alone. Where else might he go but into the history of his favourite planet?
Written by Steve Lyons, this meeting between the Doctor and a conflicted soldier takes place in a most evocative location; one of Berlin’s Geisterbahnhöfe during the Cold War. On the West Berlin underground lines, but located east of the wall, these so-called “ghost stations” became places where the two sides of the divided city brushed together.
Lyons’ tense and affecting story, in the vein of Sapphire and Steel, pushes you not only to consider the soldier’s predicament, but also the wider reality of how the post-war division of Germany ripped families and lives apart.
The Bridge Master
Writer Jacqueline Rayner takes us much further back in time, embroiling the Doctor in a medieval mystery. With his shadow apparently sacrificed to christen a bridge, he becomes weakened and in a race against time to uncover the truth.
Paired with Agatha (Kate Harbour), a local mother who bears some responsibility for his predicament, this is a pleasing tale playing with ideas of superstition.
What Lurks Down Under
Materialising on an eighteenth century prison ship, the Doctor discovers a cargo of women and children; all sentenced to be “transported” on the Lady Juliana and all in some sort of trance. All that is except for Mary Wade, a spirited young woman who soon forms a strong rapport with the Doctor.
Written by the late Tommy Donbavand, who was able to finish the first draft of this tale before he sadly passed away, ‘What Lurks Down Under’ is a terrific story. A celebrity historical, albeit with a lesser known focus, it highlights Mary – one of the founding mothers of Australia. Full of action and heart, this is easily the highlight of the set with a terrific performance from Laura Aikman.
The Dancing Plague
The final tale brings the Doctor to Strasbourg in search of Erasmus. While the famed scholar is away, his assistant Margareta (Harbour again) is scouring his library for information on the “dancing plague”; a most unusual phenomenon that has gripped a city where the peasantry has been harshly oppressed by its ruling class for many years.
Kate Thorman’s story pursues some interesting avenues as the Doctor attempts to divine the source of the plague. Rooted in real events, it comes to a fascinating conclusion.
Bound by the theme of visits to Earth history, Time Apart is an entertaining anthology of diverse tales. While deliberately travelling alone for these adventures, the Doctor cannot help but find pseudo-companions throughout; the most obvious being Mary Wade, whose destiny awaits elsewhere. Of course, the show requires someone to fill that role, be they human, talking cabbage or robot dog; in these shorter tales it is fun to play with different pairings. Clever too, as the Fifth Doctor was always travelling in company through his television tenure.
With a solid guest cast, most taking multiple roles, this is a great showcase for both Peter Davison’s Doctor and a range of writing talent. Nothing here feels rushed, these are well-constructed shorter tales which ably fit their time – for which credit must be accorded to script editor/director Scott Handcock.