Released April 2008
Big Finish has done well in introducing both recurring characters and companions, and Thomas Brewster- an orphan whose mother drowned- is the latest to join that list. He holds quite an interesting past, educated by the church but then becoming a small-time criminal in a group that routinely scours the Thames for anything valuable. Yet the continued appearance of a blue police box as well as of a ghostly vision of his mother who requires a piece of advanced technology to help bring her back from the bed suggest something wholly more intriguing for the character.
In a unique device for Big Finish, Thomas Brewster as a character is allowed time to assert himself by employing first-person narration, allowing audiences to understand just how he fits into the Victorian world as a lower-class citizen. Brief vignettes of Brewster’s life are attained as well- first various family members explaining why they cannot possibly foster him after his mother’s death and his uncle forcing him to look at the corpse, then a harsh schoolmaster who suffered not even the smallest mistake, and then being handed over to the lowlife rivermaster looking for any means of profit possible- as he is constantly visited by his mother’s apparition begging him to help her return. As he finally gets a chance to get close to her on the Thames, a horrifically simplistic cliffhanger results that effectively leaves much to the imagination of the listener. John Pickard is suitably engaging as Brewster, channeling a Dickensian feel and bringing across a strong devotion to the mother he wants to get to know, but there is still ample room for further characterization in the return appearance that is teased at this story’s end.
Meanwhile, the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa encounter a time breach that drains the TARDIS of its power, a spectral figure separating Nyssa from the Doctor and sending her to London in 1867. The Doctor has spent the past year posing as a scientist and teaching at the Royal Society, waiting for Nyssa to appear and gathering equipment to repair the TARDIS. Word has been spreading about a series of local break-ins where items of scientific import have been stolen rather than more classically valuable items, and Thomas Brewster soon enters their lives. As Brewster completes his machine, though, it’s not his mother that comes through to this world but rather a dense collection of a gaseous race that can instantly suffocate anyone within its reach. These creatures are the masters of a possible future Earth- albeit one with an incredibly slim chance of actually becoming the dominant one- and they are trying to increase the probability of their survival by creating a time corridor to Brewster’s era and imposing their will and existence much earlier temporally than would normally have happened.
Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are both given a lot to do, and both rise to the occasion spectacularly. Davison, in particular, portrays a very confident Time Lord who is very much in his element dealing with the time travel component of the story, constantly modifying his plan to ensure that the gaseous race does not overtake Brewster’s time. He plays the role of puppeteer behind the scene all too well, ensuring the TARDIS shows up where it needs to in order to stabilize the true timeline even despite Brewster’s aptitude at stealing it. Stories like these all too often rely on a plot contrivance to resolve the overall issue, but the resolution here is fully earned and incredibly satisfying thanks to the Doctor’s steadfast work. Nyssa, likewise, is afforded a great opportunity to show her scientific side as well, handling The Bootstrap Paradox quite well and taking on the role of a mentor along the way. This is also a story that references Nyssa’s loss of her father, directly contrasting her own reaction to Brewster’s and allowing some deeper insight into both characters along the way.
Yet for such an intriguing story, it feels as through Brewster’s mother should have been more involved beyond just being the focal point for the gaseous creatures. Sadly, she just never comes off as the more important character she is clearly intended to be. That is somewhat of a recurring theme in ‘The Haunting of Thomas Brewster,’ though, as none of the secondary characters are really fleshed out beyond typical Victorian clichés. Christian Coulson’s Robert McIntosh, the Doctor’s assistant at the Royal Society, at the very least offers a grounded response of anger as he realizes that he is out of a job once the Doctor’s true identity is revealed, but otherwise nobody really stands out at all.
In the end, this is an appropriately fitting introduction to the character of Thomas Brewster, who in his own way offers a unique contrast to Big Finish’s own higher-class historical Charlotte Pollard, and it certainly whets the appetite for further adventures with him. The gaseous creatures and secondary cast may not have the best characterization, but the atmospheric plot and strong lead performances absolutely create a memorable experience.