Released March 2011
Wasting no time with exposition, ‘Industrial Evolution’ concludes the latest Thomas Brewster trilogy with a busy plot in nineteenth century Lancashire with the Industrial Revolution in full swing at Samuel Belfrage’s brass mill. As Brewster struggles to get a fair deal for his fellow mill workers, the public’s fears that the machines are taking control prove more insightful than anyone thought.
‘Industrial Evolution’ brings the atmosphere of the time to life fantastically, and the assortment of underprivileged workers, garrulous MPs, upper class woman taking the workers’ side, and overbearing fathers all fit in with expectations perfectly. Wisely, though, writer Eddie Robson doesn’t simply rely on stereotypes to flesh out his world, and each character has a determined realism and rationality about them that helps give an emotional meaning to their plight. For although the workers are grateful for the employment that the mill and copper extrusion techniques have offered, they and the general public are rightfully upset that their bodies and appendages are at such high risk. Back in his own time to start a new life, Thomas Brewster takes it upon himself to lead a strike in a call for better working conditions.
Evelyn and the Sixth Doctor are paired for most of the story, watching how Brewster settles in to this time, and the sterling chemistry between Maggie Stables and Colin Baker is on display from beginning to end. With the story thus framed more as a coda or addendum to the previous two stories rather than as an outright continuation, John Pickard and the script likewise do impressive work making Brewster a dynamic and more sympathetic figure as he plays off of Rory Kinnear’s roguish Belfrage. Though Brewster’s ultimate fate feels perfectly apt and earned, his sudden change of heart as he expresses sadness at staying in one place in one time after so desperately wanting to get home in the previous stories does feel a little off.
Despite the grim industrial atmosphere, the tone of ‘Industrial Evolution’ is generally much lighter than either ‘The Crimes of Thomas Brewster’ or ‘The Feast of Axos’ even as the relationship between the Doctor and Brewster continues to further strain and weaken. There are teases that the sentient robots may, indeed, be the Cybermen before the ultimate revelation, but the actual creatures behind events are a little underwhelming and their plan, while serviceable, does not really hold up to deeper analysis. The environment and atmosphere is a rather novel one for Doctor Who, but many aspects of the plot itself have been used in similar ways before.
In the end, ‘Industrial Evolution’ is not the heavy-hitting conclusion that might be expected, instead a story with a fairly generic plot that puts the emphasis on the characters instead. While the exploration of the similarities between the Sixth Doctor and Brewster isn’t compellingly described, bringing these two characters together has certainly been a successful experiment and has gone some way in reforming Brewster into a slightly more mature and less self-centred character. However, Brewster’s relationship with Belfrage is unquestionably a highlight, and Rory Kinnear deserves full credit for stealing the show away from the powerhouse combination of Baker and Stables. Still, with some nice dialogue and well-realised action, ‘Industrial Evolution’ is certainly worth a listen even if it does bring this portion of Brewster’s tale to a close rather abruptly.