The new TARDIS team of the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Marc continue their adventures in two-brand new adventures. Interstitial sees them dealing with timey-whimey stuff while Feast of Fear gives them a chance to show how close they’ve become over the course of their travels.
This set of stories is a real change of pace with the two-story format allowing us listeners a chance to breath with shorter adventures, that allows time to focus on characters rather than spectacle. And the Fifth Doctor era had its fair share of two-part adventures so he feels perfectly at home in this format.
The opening story, Interstitial from Carl Rowens, is an ambitious way of opening the set, particularly for the new companion of Marc. It was a brave way of giving him his first proper story a futuristic setting and I was a little surprised at how quickly he adapted to it, especially given how for companions who come from the past, it takes them a long time to adjust. Still, this allowed for the story to progress nicely and quickly enough and Marc fares quite well here, even if he doesn’t get as much air time as Nyssa and Tegan.
While I described this story above as timey-whimey, perhaps that isn’t the best way to describe this story, as Rowens explores the nature of time in a much different way. He uses evolution in a really interesting with time-evolving and de-evolving people unfortunate enough to get caught up in it and I don’t think the nature of time has been used like this in the show before so it was a great way to look at it.
If anything lets this story down its that it is a little dense, in many ways reminding me of the early sci-fi heavy Hartnell stories. No doubt Interstitial will benefit from a re-listen, with the first time giving you the concept and overall feel, and the second listen allowing you to understand the storyline. It’s a great story and an excellent debut from Carl Rowens but perhaps a story that relies too much on imagery over the story. But giving it a re-listen won’t be a bad thing as overall this was a great way to kick this set off!
What I really liked though was the way Rowens handled the TARDIS team. It was nice to see that while Marc excepted the things going on in the space station, he is having a hard time adjusting to life on-board the TARDIS. Actor George Watkins performs the character perfectly, with an innocence that not many companions have had and looks at the universe with a great amount of wonder.
Rowens also makes sure that Nyssa and Tegan get a time-to-shine with Nyssa showing how intelligent she is when she is separated from everyone and Tegan is handled just right. She’s as strong as always and ready to argue but here, she puts those confrontational skills of hers to great use! Hopefully, Rowens will be giving us some more scripts like this in the future with some more great use of character.
The set concludes with the second story, Feast of Fear by Martyn Waites. And while one might think that this is something akin to The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, this story actually proves to be a little simpler than that outing but it is no less great.
As the cover might tell you, we get a chance to see an evil version of Nyssa and what’s clear from the beginning is that this is a Nyssa who had all her inhibitions stripped away. It’s a great exploration of the character, allowing us to see how she might have turned out after her home-world of Traken was destroyed at the end of Logopolis. Of course, it doesn’t take us long to learn that she’s been taken over by an alien, but it allows the same sort of exploration of a character’s darker side that Tegan got whenever there is a Mara storyline.
Waites also takes a bold approach to open the story with the Doctor and Nyssa having already been captured and taken over. Normally, the story will build up to that point, but by placing us straight into that situation, Waites allows the listener to work the story out for themselves or at the same time as the characters.
It was nice to see this more vulnerable side to the Fifth Doctor as the carnival uses him as a soothsayer, blindfolded and chained to a chair. It’s a harsh way to treat the character of the Doctor but it does allow us to see the true horror of the story. As a result, as capable as Tegan and Marc prove themselves, I wasn’t too sure where the story was going to go. Perhaps this was Waites intention all the time but you take the Doctor out of the equation or make him a weaker character somehow and the story instantly takes on a desperate vibe. And for a while, this is a story without hope.
What really works in this story’s favour is how drastically different it is from the opening tale. While Interstitial was hard science-fiction, Feast of Fear has a little bit more a Brother’s Grimm dark fairy tale vibe going on. I’ve always liked Doctor Who stories that focus more on horror and dark themes rather than those which focus on science-fiction, so it was nice that Waites, another newcomer to Big Finish was daring to write one of those style of stories this early in his time with Big Finish and so well.
Feast of Fear is a really spooky and enjoyable outing and its a shame that nothing like this was ever made on television in the 80s, this is how I like my Doctor Who, dark, creepy with a touch of creepy fairy-tale fantasy thrown in for good measure.
Overall Interstitial and Feast of Fear make a couple of really enjoyable outings for the Fifth Doctor and his crew. And there is an overarching feeling of loss running throughout these two stories, something that will come into play no doubt in the next outings, Warzone/Conversion which see the gang meeting the Cybermen again. Given what happened to Adric last time these metal meanies turned up, I’m hoping nothing happens to any of them!