Review by Jacob Licklider
Conversion ended with the Doctor abandoning his companions on the planet Callanna as he has an emotional breakdown. July’s Monthly Range release Time Apart shows the Doctor attempting to cope with the end of Conversion through for with mixed results, leaving August’s release to provide catharsis to this little arc. Thin Time and Madquake is a double feature which shows how each group apart from one another can come to terms with the events of Conversion, facing their own demons in their own stories. Dan Abnett (in a return to Big Finish in over a decade) and Guy Adams both tell character focused stories overcoming their own traumas and issues in their own way.
Thin Time by Dan Abnett is the Doctor’s half of the tale and see’s him just sort of wandering without purpose. He refuses to have a companion with him and is dragged off-course to a house on Halloween, 1892. Celebrated author Charles Crookshap has made contact with what he believes to be his own future, promising him that he will last forever and renew his own form. His friend, John Hobshaw, is skeptical, and the plot thickens when the Doctor arrives and realises that this area of space and time is thin. There is something stalking them and their maid Mrs. Polly and they may not survive the night. Abnett excels at draping the story in a single
hour of horrors; using suggestion to depict something that defies description. There is a real sense of cosmic horror throughout Thin Time, and the setting of an old Victorian house really makes the soundscape pop. Robert Harvey uses several minimalist cues to their full effect and some of the recurring themes from previous releases, rearranged for Thin Time and Madquake is excellent. Crookshap and Hobshaw are an excellent double act. Abnett portrays them as friends, but not really friends as Crookshap is derogatory towards Hobshaw throughout the story while the Doctor doesn’t know who Crookshap is, while slipping that Hobshaw is important in literary circles.
Peter Davison’s performance is the highlight here as he plays the Doctor as incredibly vulnerable here. He’s reeling from Marc being partially converted into a Cyberman and the trail of death and destruction he has left in his wake. He acts incredibly distant and tries not to get attached, but is unable to do so. The Doctor deals with a situation where everyone around him is especially doomed to die and Abnett makes the wise decision to spend a large portion at the end of the story to the Doctor working out his own emotions. Abnett gives an interesting look into the Doctor’s psyche throughout these little scenes as he comes to the conclusion that he is in fact in the wrong and that his friends actually need him. He realises that there are risks when it comes to travelling with him, and he is stuck in a situation where he may not be able to save everyone. It becomes a retroactive foreshadowing of much of Season 21 where a large body count in stories is common. Abnett also includes a cameo here which actually goes above the usual ‘fan fayre’, and leads to some genuinely heartfelt moments. Thin Time is nothing short of a masterpiece, using it’s limited time wisely and blending horror with real character development and resolution. 10/10.
Madquake by Guy Adams is the second half of the release and tells the story of the Doctor’s companions and how they are coping. The first episode of this story is absolutely brilliant: the plot really doesn’t kick in until the cliffhanger so Adams spends time looking at what the companions are thinking. Each character gets their time to shine here while the second episode is where the plot is crunched. It’s a simple plot: the Slitheen need to be defeated as they wish to sell this planet as sludge, but it’s most definitely the weakest element of the story. The Slitheen characters aren’t given much depth and while their plan is defeated by the companions in a fun manner, it really feels like background noise for the interesting character drama Adams brings to the forefront. There is a Slitheen who goes against the family business and serves as a therapist, with an arc involving becoming accepted for their differences, however, the Slitheen are just a fun window dressing really.
Adams excels in giving George Watkin’s Marc this depression; he is no longer human, lacks happiness, and now understands the machinery that has replaced much of his body. He doesn’t go to sleep for fear of the screaming monster inside of him. Marc has had his entire identity ripped away from him and he’s trying to figure out just who he is. He no longer feels a human connection with Nyssa and Tegan and believes himself to be a monster. He is in desperate need of therapy, but this situation is anything but therapeutic as it is a vacation against his own will. Watkins is perfect in the role and the end of the story makes it a shame that the trilogy of Fifth Doctor stories has been cut short. Tegan Jovanka is also not coping with being abandoned on a therapy planet: she’s terrified by her experiences with the Mara and is convinced that this planet holds an entity like that. She hates her mind being soothed in the evenings, and it makes her even more abrasive and irritable. She is completely wrong about the planet being evil and Janet Fielding is absolutely wonderful in the role. Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa is also on the irritable side as she is unable to get through to her friends and is angry at the Doctor for not just talking to them. They’ve all been travelling with each other enough of a time that they should be acting like rational adults and because the Doctor didn’t, they have been thrown. The story concludes with the characters reuniting and makes things interesting.
Overall, Madquake isn’t perfect, but it does a lot of things right in a way to match Thin Time’s character development. 7/10.
Overall, Thin Time/Madquake is a roaring success from the Monthly Range, moving the
characters along and changing the character dynamics of a relatively new TARDIS team. 8.5/10.