Interstitial and Feast of Fear

Posted in Audio by - October 17, 2019
Interstitial and Feast of Fear

Released October 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Following something of a growing trend over recent years, Big Finish’s monthly Doctor Who range turns once more to two one-hour stories for its next two releases. Beginning with ‘Interstitial’ by Carl Rowens and ‘Feast of Fear’ by Martyn Waites, new companion Marc discovers just how wondrous and dangerous life aboard the TARDIS with the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan can be.

With the TARDIS drawn off course by a temporal distortion stemming from a research facility undertaking dangerous experiments with time, ‘Interstitial’ is a story that bravely jumps into very heavy and bold science fiction territory. Unfortunately, doing so in a condensed story that must also continue to develop a new companion means that both aspects of the story feel rather underdeveloped as a result. Without question, there are several resonant themes such as the linked but contrasting pursuits to achieve perfection at all costs and the desire to retain a sense of humanity when all of time’s potential is seemingly there for the taking and with godlike powers in reach, but these motivations and sequences are simply too rushed when mixed in with the introduction of interstitial time and the paradox of sorts that the Doctor unwittingly finds himself in to allow his own victory in admittedly easy fashion. ‘Interstitial’ delivers quite a unique cliffhanger, but the speed of the story once the scene is set with strange visuals abounding means that any tension from this is likewise dispersed almost immediately, instead only managing to hint at what a more deliberate pacing and extended running time could have afforded.

‘Interstitial,’ accordingly, is also a very strange story in which to properly introduce Marc to the Doctor’s world. A former Roman slave who now must come to terms not only with his own freedom but also the danger of the Doctor’s world, Marc is understandably unable to comprehend several of the notions and ideas around him, though with some help he is able to frame several of the experiences within a context he can understand. George Watkins balances these sentiments quite well as Marc and is a suitably engaging presence throughout this story, but Marc doesn’t receive quite as much exploration or heroic moments as might be expected. Still, this is a character with tremendous potential if handled properly going forward, and the strong writing for Nyssa, Tegan, and the Doctor on display here certainly manages to keep anticipation high for this new grouping. However, ‘Interstitial’ as a whole is perhaps too heady and ambitious for the time allotted it, making it a whirlwind journey through a setting and core concept that could have delivered so much more.

 ‘Feast of Fear’ delivers almost a polar opposite experience as the TARDIS arrives during the height of the Irish famine and the Doctor and his companions quickly become embroiled in the strange affairs of a traveling carnival seemingly set to bring cheer across the countryside. The famine isn’t necessarily the focus though it obviously serves to develop the general populace’s physical condition and state of mind as the dead accumulate in the carnival’s wake, and the story quickly throws listeners squarely into the drama of the carnival that has Nyssa acting very against character at its head and the Doctor serving as an exposition-laden psychic who is surprisingly adept at reading palms. However, despite its interesting setting and setup, ‘Feast of Fear’ follows a very predictable route filled with elements that have been explored many times before, and this psychic vampire who lives on the emotions of others but has its one weakness also rooted in those needs becomes far too generic despite the changes in characters that result.

With the power of friendship and love clear themes throughout, ‘Feast of Fear’ always manages to maintain a sense of optimism despite its bleak backdrop, but the resolution that looks to capitalize on the themes comes off as a bit too easy, whether this is again a result of the time allotted the story or not since the threat is vanquished at the first sign of genuine danger for the Doctor. All of the performances are uniformly strong, and even if Marc again does not receive the exploration or definitive moment expected, George Watkins again proves how easily he can stand amidst this well-established TARDIS trio. This likely is not a story that could have been expanded out to a four-part standard release, but the result is one that doesn’t quite have time to fully develop the emotions of its supporting characters as it needs to, creating a serviceable and predictable affair that at times seems more like a checklist of desired components.

Big Finish has all but perfected the two-part format over the years, making this latest double bill that features too much ambition in its first half and too little in its second all the more disappointing. While the performances, direction, and sound design are strong as is to be expected, neither manages to capitalize on its core components, and Marc as a new companion remains more of a generic presence than a fully-realised individual at this time. Hopefully this is just a misstep rather an indicator of how Marc’s tenure in the TARDIS will be developed, but the avid and casual fans alike could easily skip this release and miss nothing of consequence in this ongoing arc.

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