Thomas Brewster is an odd companion, in that his two stints in the TARDIS are less Doctor-Companion and more “person forcing himself on The Doctor for a while”. It’s an interesting concept, but Brewster can be on the obnoxious side… As for his debut story? It’s good, full of atmosphere and some fun characters, though the music lets in down, especially when it’s played by itself for 20 seconds… Anyway, let’s take a look!
Thomas Brewster is haunted by the ghost of his drowned mother. But she is not the only apparition to disturb his dreams. Every few years, he is visited by a mysterious blue box…
Helped by his new assistant, the young Scots scientist Robert McIntosh, the Doctor struggles to unravel the twisted knot of temporal implausibilities which bind the TARDIS to Thomas Brewster. Meanwhile, lost in the stews of Victorian London, Nyssa must face a host of spectral creatures gathering in the fog.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
The Doctor (Peter Davison) – The Doctor is rather confused as the TARDIS comes to a stop. His inter-dimensional time and space machine isn’t know for having power cuts…
Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) – Nyssa is just as confused as The Doctor when the TARDIS suffers a power outage, though by the third power room she’s more re-confused at the TARDIS’s layout!
Thomas Brewster (John Pickard) – Brewster is a “mudlark”, a kid whose job it was to root through the mud of the Victorian Themes and bring back any junk they find to their handler. Throw in visions and the voice of his dead mother alongside killer fog, and Thomas Brewster has had a tough start to his life…
Robert McIntosh (Christian Coulson) – Robert McIntosh is a medical student in the 1860s, looking for a top academic to study under… Maybe one wearing a strange cream cricket outfit?
Mr. Creek (Barry McCarthy) – The man in charge of the “mudlarks”, he has no qualms with beating the children when they misbehave, after all, if it weren’t for him they wouldn’t even be getting the small amount of food he gives them…
Yeesh, they couldn’t be bothered with this cover, could they?
Ghostly apparitions, dense Victorian London fog, characters straight out of a Charles Dickens novel… it’s a unique but very well-crafted atmosphere, if nothing else. Poor Brewster hearing his dead mother’s voice in the fog is creepy, more so when you hear his earliest memories as a child were of his mother’s funeral. He may get on the annoying side later on, but the set up was fine. In fact the entirety of Part 1 was all his backstory narrated by Brewster himself, which as I said, adds to the unique atmosphere.
During the story The Doctor gets stuck in Victorian London for a year, and spends that time acting as an academic called Dr. Walters, growing a beard and generally doing his best to fit in while also trying to create a way out. This is where Robert McIntosh comes into the picture, as he ends up as his understudy. McIntosh is actually the best new character in the story, and I would have much preferred to hear his sarcastic Scottish wit in future stories over Brewster’s Oliver Twist act. I was genuinely annoyed that he sacrificed himself in Part 4.
The main villains of the piece, ghostly beings trying to cement their own existence in time by creating a bootstrap paradox, was a fun concept, though the “ghosts” being aliens trying to project themselves is a bit old hat. I did enjoy that they were undone by, essentially, The Doctor telling them that the fact they exist is an impossible paradox, and that by them realising they’re impossible, they accidentally willed themselves out of existence. The paradox they tried to use to create themselves ended up un-creating them paradoxically… My head hurts, but I kind of like it.
I don’t know who was in charge of the sound design, but I’m glad they (seemingly) were never used again. There were a lot of instances where a scene ends, there is a gap of a few seconds silence, then some instrumental music plays for sometimes up to 10 – 15 seconds, then the next scene starts. It’s like an old fashioned radio play, I guess, but man is it ever over-used and annoying as hell.
Thomas Brewster is a tragic figure, but sadly his naive Victorian orphan boy routine gets on my nerves after a while. It gets to the point where you want to somehow smack the character across the back of the head and tell him to stop being an idiot. Yeah, I understand the trust issues given what’s happened, but jeez. Thanks to the ghostly entity posing as his mother showing him how the TARDIS works he actually ends the story running off with it, leaving The Doctor and Nyssa behind. It’s an effective cliffhanger, but the idea of smug and somehow not remorseful Thomas Brewster running off with the TARDIS ground my gears back when this first came out, and although I know his full story now, it’s not much better the second time round.
Creepy DWM preview artwork that makes a far better cover than the cover…
The Doctor and Nyssa would catch up to Thomas Brewster and the TARDIS in “The Boy That Time Forgot”, where he would travel with the Fifth Doctor for a short spell, then later with the Sixth…
This is the first time The Doctor lives in 107 Baker Street, a house that he owns that has made several appearances over the years.
The Doctor helps Brewster and solves a key problem by materialising his TARDIS around itself, something that in past stories has had dire effects. Why it didn’t here is anyone’s guess…
The use of mirrors and lenses to create time travel, in Victorian London no less, was also a key plot point in the Second Doctor classic “The Evil of the Daleks”. The time machine that the ghostly version of Brewster’s mother gets him to build is later found and used by the Victorian pick-pocket in the Sixth Doctor audio “The Crimes of Thomas Brewster”.
The Haunting of Thomas Brewster is a good story, thick with atmosphere and some fun time travel shenanigans, but it also has a central character that never stops being annoying, and a very strange audio set up that REALLY gets annoying. A mixed bag, but while I still think more good than bad, I can’t help but feel 4 would be too generous…