Answering a distress call, the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa find themselves propelled 100 years into the past. There, they discover that the reason for the distress call in the future originated here. They believe there is something out in space causing trouble but the trouble might be closer than they both think.
I’m a massive Fifth Doctor fan and I count Nyssa as one of my favourite companions, so I’ll always enjoy any Fifth Doctor story. Downward Spiral from Alan Flanagan is a story that falls somewhat short of other stories in the Short–Trips range but is a story where you can appreciate the effort gone in here.
Where the script from Flanagan shines is in how he manages to make the spaceship interior feel very grounded and real, despite it taking place hundreds of years from now. There are some great ideas on offer here, and a nice ending, made even sweeter by something said at the beginning of the adventure. However, that line of dialogue is easy to miss, especially if you aren’t paying attention and I probably took something away from it at the end that is completely wrong. But with an AI system that can be anyone you like, it allows for some character development for the secondary character that Nyssa and the Fifth Doctor encounter.
Where I was a little confused was in Nyssa using the term “you” when either talking to the other character or to you the listener. I wasn’t entirely sure if we were supposed to be the secondary character or it was a recording Nyssa made for someone. Perhaps this was what I missed in the beginning but it certainly left me with lots of questions and no answers.
That’s not to say that in any way Downward Spiral was a failure, it’s still a great story that may have benefited from being expanded to at least two episodes. Where it shines is in Sarah Sutton’s soft narration. By now, she eases back into the role of Nyssa and manages to perfectly recreate the role she began playing in 1981. The other characters she gives a soft Irish accent too, an accent she is very talented at doing and her impression of Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor is light and soft enough to distinguish him from any other incarnation of the character.
Perhaps the main problem of this story is that it is a short story. I think it would have definitely benefited from having at least another instalment to really develop the villain and clear up who Nyssa was talking to or into. But if the main problem of a story is that it isn’t long enough, then it proves that it is another great story, it just needed more time to breath and develop.