Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - Interstitial / Feast of Fear
October sees the continuation of the adventures of new companion Marc in the TARDIS alongside the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan, as established in last month's Tartarus (read our review here).
Interstitial / Feast of Fear has been written by Martyn Waites and Carl Rowens and directed by Scott Handcock. It is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here before going on general release on the 30th November 2019. Here's the synopses...
Interstitial by Carl Rowens
When the TARDIS is drawn off-course by temporal disruption, the Doctor and his companions discover a research facility conducting dangerous experiments. But how do you fight the future when time itself is being used as a weapon?
Feast of Fear by Martyn Waites
At the height of the Irish famine, a carnival travels the country bringing cheer to all they encounter. But it also brings something else along with them… and it already has the Doctor.
I'll be joined by my son Ben, regular reviewer of Big Finish at The Digital Fix and the world's biggest Doctor Who fan. Beware of potential spoilers as we delve into this latest release...
Baz Greenland (aged 38)
Big Finish mixes up the main range format with two shorter stories compared to the standard one-story four-part format. It's something we've seen more of over the last couple of years and it provides a refreshing change of pace, allowing for more succinct, well-paced tales that aren't beholden to the requirement for an episode's worth of set up and the need for three separate cliff-hangers. Not every story needs to be epic and these two stories are perfectly suited to the two-part format.
Interstitial (try saying that three times' fast) is a solid little adventure that gives new companion Marc the chance to experience a timey wimey futuristic setting. The first part if packed full of mystery and tension as the TARDIS crew are separated and experience different time periods out of phase with each other. Considering my comments above about the usual, larger releases, the first half is largely devoted to setting up the head to head with villain Kalu in the second. Part one is devoted solely the characters reacting to the timey wimey mystery, capped with a decent, tense cliffhanger
The real meat to the story comes in the second part as 'mad scientist' Kalu (Anna-Maria Nabirye delivering a commanding performance) ascends to a higher plain of existence and threatens to destroy the reality around her as. Through the Doctor and Marc, she is challenged with a very real question - what does ascension really mean and where do you go after that? Do you just float there all seeing? The ascension of a life form into a non-corporeal being is a theme of many a good sci-fi tale, but I don't think I've ever seen it tackled from quite this point of view.
That engaging debate aside, there's very little that lingers with the listener after Interstitial has finished. It's a good tale with a very interesting question at its heart, but it is largely a one act play filled with mystery and not much more.
Feast of Fear is the stronger of the two; who doesn't love an evil circus? If Interstitial feels akin to Warriors Gate there certainly feels shades of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy in this story. We saw Sarah Sutton get play a bit evil in a 2017's Big Finish tale Dalek Soul, but here she clearly relishes playing the baddie as a possessed ring master in a cricus travelling through rural, famine-ravished Ireland. The alien threat is an intriguing one (though perhaps nothing new to Doctor Who) and the two part-format allows the listener to jump straight in and answer questions later. The fate of Nyssa and the Doctor is an intriguing hook that keep the momentum going throughout.
There's an added depth to this tale that really makes it a success. Through the eyes of Marc we see the past as the grim future of someone who has never lived outside the Roman Empire and there's a real political vein running throughout as the harrowing and very real situation in Eighteenth Century Ireland is experienced through his and Tegan's eyes. The poor, starving masses, persecuted by rich land owners and forced to flee to a new life in America makes for a very charged setting, even without an alien feeding on the poor country folk. There's even a surprise story thread around lovers Brianna and Shannon that adds another layer to the tale.
Interstitial and Feast of Fear are two solid and thought-provoking tales that move fast due to the shorter lengths. While there's a bit more depth and entertainment to be had in the latter, both succeed in asking interesting questions of the characters and the audience, while giving every member of this new TARDIS team something to get their teeth into.
Ben Greenland (aged 13)
It's unusual to see this story format be used this late in the year, but for now at least, it works to full effect, compromising of the two spooky stories Interstitial and Feast of Fear, which connects with the October release perfectly.
Interstitial surprised me. By the trailer and synopsis, I believed it would be quite dull. I was wrong. It was a terrific atmosphere piece with only six characters, and some timey-wimeyness sprinkled in there. It's a simple concept, a time experiment going wrong and blasting two humans into very different states of evolution, but it works really well. It's nice to see the continuation of Marc's storyline (and a mention of Cicero) after his introduction in Tartarus, even if I do fear for his fate somewhat. He is put through the wringer here, out of his depth on a futuristic space station and aged to death then restored. The other members of the TARDIS crew all get decent amounts to do, with Tegan and the shocking part one cliffhanger used to great effect. If anything, it's probably the Doctor and Nyssa who get the least to do here, and if I had one complaint, it's that the story almost just stops, abruptly.
Feast of Fear is the opposite. I thought I would enjoy this story the most, but it sort of lost me about midway through part two. That's not to say it's a bad story; far from it. The plot of this one is a bit average, but it's more about how the characters deal with these events. It's always interesting, those stories that start midway through and you learn the beginning a bit later, and here it drops you right in. While in Interstitial Tegan and Marc got the most to do, here roles are reversed, giving the Doctor and mostly Nyssa the meat here. The monster itself is a bit dull, not most because we've seen variations of it plenty of times before, but that doesn't matter. As I said before, it's all about character. The supporting cast are decent, if not slightly forgettable, but they function for the purposes of this story. It's Nyssa who gets the most to do here, possessed for most of the runtime, and what she experiences here is very different to what she's come across before.
Overall, this a good set of two parters, with the right spooky feel in each, perfect for an early Halloween treat.
Two five minute music suites sit between the two tales, both atmospheric scores from composer Ioan Morris that suites the tone of stories being told. The music suite for Interstitial makes great use of low synth chords, reflecting the futuristic nature of the tale, while makes great use of slow mournful strings in the music suite for Feast of Fear as is fitting of this period piece.
Next month's main range release continues the 'two stories in one' trend and the trailers for Warzone / Conversion looking to bring the current cycle of Fifth Doctor stories to a dramatic end.
Finally, there are fifteen minutes of interviews with the cast and crew. There's a lot of challenges around the pronunciation of Interstitial whil guest star Anna-Marie Nabirye delights at playing an evil scientist. Sarah Sutton also relishes the chance to play evil in Feast of Fear, while Sutton and Janet Fielding discuss the challenges of techno babble. What's clear though, is just how much fun the original cast are having, making these as delightful to listen to as the audio itself.