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Doctor Who: Time Apart – Review

Following on from the last Fifth Doctor trilogy which introduced the new Fifth Doctor companion Marc, and cruelly saw him suffer almost a worse fate than Adric, and got turned into a Cyberman. Warzone/Conversion saw the Fifth Doctor ‘abandon’ his three friends, Nyssa, Tegan and Marc on a paradise planet because they all came to the conclusion that needed some time away from each other.

This leads into this audio which sees the Fifth Doctor travelling solo for four half-hour adventures. And it was nice that the set opens with a dedication to the late author of the third episode, Tommy Donbavand.

Cover Art for Time Apart
Cover Art for Time Apart

Steve Lyons opens the set with Ghost Station. Lyons has quickly become one of my favourite Doctor Who writers over the years and has penned many of my favourite spinoff media Doctor Who stories. One wonders why he’s never written for the series properly, especially as his stories usually have some timey-wimey essence to them.

Ghost Station is no different as the Fifth Doctor finds himself in Berlin, underneath the Wall which divided the country for so many years. This is definitely my favourite story of the set, with its time-travel elements, titular ghost and its creepy vibe. But what really sets this story apart from the rest is how effective it is as a two-hander. It’s just the Fifth Doctor and a scared-solider trying to work out what’s happening.

Anyone familiar with the Sapphire and Steel story which was also set at a train station might get similar vibes from Ghost Station but Lyons taps into the idea that people can become ghosts before they die. One does wonder if the Doctor could be viewed as an angel as he watches the soldier cross over. Its a sad ending but all the clues are there from the beginning. Once you know the ending, you’ll certainly want to go back to the beginning to piece those clues together.

Jacqueline Rayner continues the set with The Bridge Master. The title might suggest a returning villain but instead, Rayner focuses on a real-life medieval legend where anyone crossing a bridge could become cursed. This element of the story is explored in detail as the Doctor finds his life being drained away from him, but much like Ghost Station, Raynor makes sure this story has a wholly human focus, in this case, a mother’s love for her son.

It’s another strong entry in this set which doesn’t pose any easy answers about which actions are easily forgivable and those actions which aren’t. Those events which aren’t forgivable are especially explored towards the end of the story and The Bridge Master is another good story exploring what it means to be human.

The late Tommy Donbavand pens the third story, What Lurks Down Under, a title which I didn’t realise until writing this review actually has two meanings. When the Doctor finds himself on a convict-ship travelling to Australia or Down Under and finds the crew and prisoners have fallen victim to something from down under the surface of the ocean.

And like the previous two stories, Donbavand gives the story another human angle, this time exploring people’s fear about change. While on-board, the Doctor meets the little-known historical figure, Mary Wade, who is, alongside the ship’s doctor, the only other person who hasn’t been affected by whatever illness is taking people over.

Its thanks to Mary that the human element comes into the story as she clearly fears what life will be like in a country she doesn’t know but she isn’t letting it stop her from anticipating the good times ahead. As she says, some of them will become mothers, wives, teachers, nurses, doctors and life will be better for most of them. It’s a good angle for Donbavand to put the story in as he could have just as easily had a lot of doom and gloom instead.

It all comes to an end with The Dancing Plague from Kate Thorman. This was a real-life event which nobody knows where it came from, people in Strasbourg in 1518 suddenly started dancing and couldn’t stop. Perhaps the weakest of the set of stories, Thorman does throw some twists and turns into proceedings to keep things interesting. At times though, it does feel like a run-around, the ending is particularly original, especially for a Doctor Who story whereby now, most things have been done.

As a finished result, Time Apart is a strong Fifth Doctor anthology, perhaps not as strong as others but there is nothing here that will offend the ears. Its clear how much fun Peter Davison and the rest of the cast are having with this scripts. My favourite was definitely Ghost Station but I think we’ve been so spoiled with Fifth Doctor stories in recent years, I was missing Nyssa and Tegan. But Time Apart does stand apart from the rest of the Fifth Doctor output putting the spotlight solely on the Doctor this time around and it’s all the stronger for it.

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