Young Thomas Brewster hasn’t exactly led a charmed life. Orphaned at the age of five, he winds up in the London workhouses and is eventually handed off to a vile man who forces young men into a life of virtual slavery, searching the banks of the Thames for valuable cargo thrown overboard by corrupt boat skippers who don’t want to pay taxes on what they’re carrying (or smuggling). But from his mother’s funeral onward, there have been two constants in Thomas’ life (aside from suffering): his mother’s ghost speaks to him, and he keeps seeing a tall blue box whose occupants keep asking after him. When he finally meets these two people – a man called the Doctor and a girl named Nyssa – they seem pleasant enough, but they’re an obstacle to his plans. His mother’s ghost has given Thomas instructions to build a time machine to change the future – an act which she assures him will reunite them at last. And when Thomas’ makeshift time machine isn’t enough to change history to his mother’s liking, she tells him to steal the Doctor’s TARDIS instead…
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Leslie Ash (Mother), Christian Coulson (Robert McIntosh), John Pickard (Thomas Brewster), Barry McCarthy (Creek), Sid Mitchell (Pickens), Trevor Cooper (Shanks)
Timeline: between Renaissance Of The Daleks and The Boy That Time Forgot
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: An intriguing historical romp of the kind that Peter Davison’s Doctor didn’t get to have much of on TV, The Haunting Of Thomas Brewster unfolds from two different perspectives: episodes one and four are told from Thomas’ viewpoint, complete with first-person narration, while the second and third episodes are heard from a perspective more like a typical Doctor Who adventure, with the Doctor and Nyssa at the forefront. Some events overlap between the two perspectives, and in some cases we don’t find out until much later why some things have been happening. It’s an intriguing narrative device – the love child of Creatures Of Beauty and Flip-Flop.
As with other Doctor Who audio adventures that have played havoc with the tendency for a narrative to be linear, Haunting may require a couple of listens to work out what’s going on. But the story itself is actually an intriguing one, and it hearkens back (or is that forward?) to an episode of the new TV series as well: it’s never quite spelled out exactly who the gaseous aliens from the future are, but they certainly behave a lot like the Gelth from the Christopher Eccleston story The Unquiet Dead – perhaps the Gelth’s more sinister component, at the height of their powers before their race was decimated by the Time War. Naturally, this is all conjecture, since Big Finish’s license forbids explicit connecting tissue to the new show: they’d have to seek a separate license for that. But it’s an intriguing possibility all the same.
The episodes narrated from Thomas’ perspective have an interesting quality to them; they reminded me a little bit of the Torchwood episode Random Shoes, from the decidedly non-upper-crust accent of the protagonist to the message that finally occurs to him late in the story: that he is in control of his own destiny. It seems as though Thomas is being groomed as a new companion, but the unexpected rwist of him once again stealing the TARDIS at the end of the story, leaving the Doctor and Nyssa stranded, undermines that expectation (as well as putting the main characters in place for the following fifth Doctor/Nyssa story, The Boy That Time Forgot). There are other little hints at “future” Doctor Who developments, including the fifth Doctor’s use of the tenth Doctor’s trademark phrase “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” – looks like Time Crash rubbed off on the earlier Doctor more than we thought!
Overall, Haunting is an intriguing shift in the fifth Doctor stories, perhaps in response to fans who have charged Big Finish with significantly advancing the character development and histories of the sixth, seventh and eighth Doctors without doing the same for Davison’s incarnation. The problem is that the fifth Doctor’s era was rather more heavily serialized: to give just a couple of examples, there’s no conceivable way to jam an extra story in between Earthshock and Time-Flight, or between Frontios and Resurrection Of The Daleks, just two of several instances where one story follows on immediately from the next. The sheer number of Big Finish adventures stuck in between Planet Of Fire and Caves Of Androzani is almost a strain to credibility. Now it looks as though there’ll be a similar significant chunk of new history inserted between Time-Flight and Arc Of Infinity; only time will tell if it’s achieved seamlessly.