Time Apart is taking advantage of creating a new period where the Fifth Doctor is travelling by himself and giving us an anthology of four short stories. The release gets off to a great start with the first story, but then it all becomes a bit… mediocre. Wasted potential? Maybe, but by how much? Let’s find out!
Separated from his companions, the Doctor attempts to find solace in the history of his favourite planet — Earth — but instead discovers new threats lying in wait.
Travelling from twentieth-century East Berlin to sixteenth-century Strasbourg, the Doctor encounters creatures from other realities: monsters beneath the waves, and human beings determined to exploit their fellow man.
But how long can he survive without a friend?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the first story (“Ghost Station”) is really good. The Doctor arrives in the underground during a post-war segregated Berlin where a soldier named Peter Meier (Timothy Blore) is thinking of deserting. He discovers a corpse he believes to be that of his partner just as The Doctor arrives. Cue usual accusations, but it soon becomes clear The Doctor knows something else is going on here, and sure enough Peter looks at the corpse and sees that it’s him. Literally, it’s Peter Meier, same missing button and all. The Doctor reveals that the person he’s talking to is a “ghost” from an alternate timeline when he tried to run but was killed, shifted into this timeline by pure force of will and attracted to Peter’s same desire. He slowly gains Peter’s memories and is in position to carry on his life, but decides it’s not fair and wills himself out of existence, bringing the actual Peter back to life. The Doctor convinces Peter to run and be free like he wants, an offer he takes. It’s great stuff, a two-hander with a fun premise to explore.
I’m not sure where to put the next three tales. They were all fine, none of them were bad, but they were all so… plain that I felt quite bored by the end, especially coming after such an interesting and thought-provoking opener. Let’s just stick them in the bad, but know that they’re not really all that bad… God I’m making this confusing…
A great cover once again. Very nice use of blending colours… and freaky deep-sea fish.
The second story, “The Bridge Master”, sees The Doctor get his life attached to a medieval bridge due to stolen alien tech and befriends a family who one member of was due to be the sacrifice instead. The Doctor meets another bridge ghost and figures it all out, exposing the bridge builder and chaining him to the alien device instead.
Story number 3, titled “What Lurks Down Under”, sees The Doctor arrive on a ship with prisoners bound for Australia, but the crew were all acting like zombies. Our heroic Time Lord meets a female prisoner named Mary Wade (Laura Aikman), who was guilty of having worn one of her owner’s dresses (the dastardly rogue!) and a high-ranking crewman and they figure it’s the fish that’s making them like this, alien fish as it turns out. The alien fish were exiled to Earth in the same way the prisoners here are being exiled to Australia, so they come to an understanding and … that’s about it. There was a moment where Mary pleaded for The Doctor to take her away, but he refuses, which was a good bit of drama…
Finally, “The Dancing Plague” finishes us off, set during that same unusual incident in Strasbourg. The Doctor is curious as to what was causing the plague, is accused of starting it himself, and then hedges his bets on the idea that it’s just mass hysteria and so allows himself to take the blame and leaves, coming back later to confirm his suspicions. I kind of liked the idea of it not actually being the work of evil aliens this time, there is a misdirect with a fallen meteorite that was fun, but other than that, it was just… there.
Beyond being set after “Warzone / Conversion”, where The Doctor feels he’s failed his companions and gone off in a huff, it doesn’t connect with anything.
Time Apart plays with the four-by-20-ish minutes anthology format but sadly, with the exception of the first story, falls into a the biggest issue with short-form storytelling: not having enough time to tell a compelling or interesting story. No time to set up characters or moments you’re invested in because there isn’t enough time to become invested. “Ghost Station” worked its way around this with a two-person cast and a great premise, but the others were just… fine. Not bad, but not all that interesting either. A split score it is then!
Episodes 2 – 4: