Review by Michael Goleniewski
The Fifth Doctor is on his own. After the events of “Conversion” and seeing yet another friend fall victim to one of his greatest foes, the Doctor has left his companions behind on an alien world and is traveling alone to give himself some time to think and recuperate. “Time Apart” as a release picks up more or less right where that story left off and is an anthology of adventures for the Doctor in Earth’s history set in the vein of releases such as “Breaking Bubbles” or “Circular Time”. It’s a decent idea to give this incarnation some time to himself after the painful and somewhat chaotic events of the previous story and the premise of an anthology allows for a wider variety of adventures to fill in the time before this TARDIS team inevitably reunites in the next audio to come.
The set begins on a very personal note with ‘Ghost Station’ serving as a murder mystery set deep below the streets of twentieth-century Germany. A young border guard has encountered a body on an abandoned railway station in enemy territory underneath the Berlin Wall. When the Doctor lands nearby and inevitably gets involved, the pair will need to follow the footsteps of a dead man in order to learn the dark truth about what happened. Steve Lyons delivers an intriguing and extremely tense script with only one other character besides the Doctor taking part in the narrative. While the plot is a little bit on the weak side with a twist that’s handled differently but easy to spot, the eerily realistic atmosphere and outstanding acting more than make up for it. This is a piece that truly relies on the strength of its performances and Peter Davison and Timothy Blore as patrolman Peter Meier are both fantastic with some of the dialogue they are given. It’s frankly a disturbing little horror narrative that’s short but very sweet and starting things off on a very high note.
From there, the release then moves to “The Bridge Master” which sees the Doctor ambushed in a medieval village and forced into a dark sacrifice that binds his shadow to a local bridge condemning him to a slow death. His only hope comes in the form of dark dreams that lead him to a ghostly hill and a confrontation with the infamous character of the title who may be less supernatural than the villagers seem to think. Jacqueline Rayner’s writing works with superstition and folklore as well as the deception of innocent people but the premise is more substantial yet less interesting than its predecessor with a predictable plot that doesn’t exactly leave much to the imagination. Thankfully, Wayne Forrester‘s conman Clement is a suitably slimy character for this Doctor to be in conflict with and the way the climax resolves itself is a bit technobabble-heavy but still a nice way to flip things on their head that feels suited to a future incarnation rather than this one. It’s not an amazing story and there’s not much here that will keep you coming back to it but it’s certainly an enjoyable one at its best that does exactly what it wants to do on the cover.
The penultimate story “What Lurks Down Under” takes the TARDIS to an eighteenth-century convict ship in the Indian Ocean where a young woman is under threat from her entranced fellow prisoners, plagued by uncontrollable rage, hallucinations, and eventually catatonia. The ship’s surgeon is far out of his depth but thankfully the Doctor arrives to help as he determines the odd cause beginning to spawn from the deep waters all around them. Tommy Donbavand’s script is a fascinating one that plays on some different but very takes on a well-trodden underwater base-under-siege story. Effectively split between fifteen minutes of build-up and fifteen minutes of action, the plot juxtaposes both human and alien elements together very successfully. The side cast is also worth mentioning as a big highpoint with Laura Aikman being an incredibly likable presence as the young Mary Wade. While it is very reminiscent of other undersea stories particularly taking inspiration from “The Silurians” and “The Vampires of Venice”, ‘Down Under’ is a great little nautical tale that ends up helping to set the scene for the redemption of the Doctor’s inner turmoil.
Finally, the release concludes with “The Dancing Plague“, a pseudo-historical set in Strasbourg where a strange illness is overtaking the townsfolk forcing them to literally dance to their death. As the Doctor and a young assistant of one of the locals look to find a way to help, they are stopped at every turn by a superstitious backward-facing culture. But they are soon drawn to a mysterious external source hiding in the cathedral of the town that could potentially stop the deaths….that is if the suspicious crowds and leaders will allow them to. Kate Thorman’s script is the only one of the set that feels a bit too short, needing more expansion to really resonate with what it has and feeling more suited to a two-parter rather than a single confined adventure. But for what we do get, it’s a very effective little tale focusing on hysteria and how it affects the people on a mass scale rather than the actual premise and its predictably extraterrestrial source. Still, it doesn’t skimp on some of the more gruesome details of what’s going on and it’s probably the tensest story of the whole affair even if it’s nowhere near the scariest. It’s a good end to the set even despite its length and concludes things on a fairly high note.
In terms of the release as a whole, many elements are great across the board despite the many different atmospheres and tones at play. Some good themes are threaded through the set such as the power of lies, the corruption of one’s self, and injury towards others needing to be forgiven. It all builds very well off of what the Fifth Doctor is going through at this point in his life and Peter Davison is outstanding here getting a large variety of things to do while still struggling with his immediate past and his more idealistic inclinations. The individual four-part format (while unusual and out of the norm) also means that the pacing is strong and quick to where this release breezes very nicely through its two-hour runtime.
When all is said and done, “Time Apart” is a very good anthology set with a wide diversity of Earth-based adventures tied together by several common themes and the Fifth Doctor’s internal struggles of what has occurred in both his immediate and more distant past. In needing to social-distance himself from his friends, it allows Davison’s incarnation to show off how good he can be on his own and each story (while having their own individual flaws) is strong enough to justify itself while also delivering something worthwhile in regards to the bigger picture. It’s a great little break of an audio that anyone can dive into regardless of whether they know what’s going in the timelines or not that still foreshadows the following intense reunion most likely to come in the August Main Range release.
GHOST STATION — 9 / 10
THE BRIDGE MASTER — 7 / 10
WHAT LURKS DOWN UNDER — 9 / 10
THE DANCING PLAGUE — 8 / 10
OVERALL – 8 / 10