Four seasons, four stories... In the springtime of a distant
future, the Doctor and Nyssa become embroiled in Time Lord
politics on an alien world...
than being your standard four-part adventure, Circular
Time is a collection of four very different one-episode
tales. All of them involve the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison)
and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), though they are not necessarily
consecutive - indeed, the last one, Winter, certainly
takes place some time after Autumn for both of the
First up is Spring. Readers of Paul Cornell's New
Adventures novels may be familiar with the seasonal motif
that ran through his first few novels in variations on the
phrase: "Long ago in an English spring/summer/autumn/winter."
Those readers may also be familiar with his sometimes controversial
references to and interpretations of previous stories.
Here Cornell, co-writing with Mike Maddox, gives us in-jokes
such as Nyssa asking what kind of adventure they are to have
next - "Alien planet or mad scientist?" - a reference to '60s/'70s
scribe Malcolm Hulke's comment about the limitations he perceived
in the UNIT format. The writers also play with the possibility
of a Time Lord regenerating into a different species. This
notion has previously been floated, inconclusively, in Destiny
of the Daleks (Romana's temporary regeneration
into a blue-skinned humanoid), the
1996 TV movie and The
Parting of the Ways (in which the dying Ninth
Doctor suggests that he might end up with two heads or even
no head). The Time Lords are described as people who "may
be gods, and yet they are not gods", a possible allusion to
revelations made in Death
Comes to Time.
Curiously, on top of all this cross-referencing, the writers
fail to comment on the apparent propensity of retiring Gallifreyans
to become leaders of planets whose people have evolved from
birds. Zero (Hugh Fraser) does just that in this story, as
did Azmael prior to The Twin Dilemma.
in all, though, this entertaining flight of fancy keeps the
listener guessing, and certainly isn't strictly for the birds.
Spring to summer, the seasons turn... During the stifling
heat of a summer past, the Doctor and Nyssa suffer the vengeful
wrath of Isaac Newton...
of these tales has a very different setting: an alien world
in Spring, 20th-century Earth in Autumn, an
altogether stranger location in Winter. Summer
is a purely historical tale, in which the Doctor and a very
dryly humorous Nyssa meet Sir Isaac Newton (David Warner).
But it isn't the pleasant encounter you might expect.
Warner is perfectly cast as Newton: a figure of authority
and a genius at the height of his powers. However, his overworked
brain causes him great agitation, leading to some riveting
intense character piece.
In the recent past, Nyssa spends a romantic golden autumn
in the quiet English village of Stockbridge while the Doctor
Autumn is also very much a character piece, though
of a far more relaxing variety.
It's easy to see how some of the other episodes tie in with
their respective seasons. The regenerative themes of Winter
and Spring respectively symbolise the end of life and
its rebirth. Summer, I suppose, sees Isaac Newton at
the balmy heights of his mental prowess, his overheated brain
like a stifling midsummer. But how is autumn depicted? I guess
there's a sense of winding down, as the Doctor enjoys a few
games of cricket in Stockbridge (the setting of several comic-strip
adventures, not that you need to know that) and Nyssa tries
to write a book but ends up engaging in a tentative romance.
The relationship that develops between Nyssa and Andrew (Jamie
Sandford) is beautifully written and just as skilfully performed.
This anthology just keeps on getting better.
And finally, many years after their travels together have
come to an end, the Doctor and Nyssa meet again under the
strangest of circumstances...
MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
of Cornell's New Adventures novel Timewrym: Revelation
will be familiar with his fascinating exploration of the Doctor's
psyche. Winter similarly gets inside the Time Lord's
head, and comes complete with teasingly familiar-sounding
concepts and quotations from previous stories, particularly
Logopolis and Castrovalva.
Listeners may at first be confused, as I was, by references
to Adric and Tegan. Isn't this episode supposed to be set
after the Doctor and Nyssa have parted company? My eyebrows
rose even higher at the idea of the Time Lord growing old
with a wife (Sunny Ormonde) and kids. How can this be, when
we all saw him regenerate, after just three seasons of television
stories, at the end of The
Caves of Androzani? Cornell and Maddox ingeniously
tie all of this together in a sort of Last Temptation of
the Fifth Doctor. (As an interesting Christian aside,
Cornell symbolically crucified this incarnation in Timewrym:
Revelation.) The writers also weave in an element of the
dissatisfaction that many fans (and, ultimately, Davison too)
felt about this Doctor's all to brief innings - a shortfall
that Davison and Big Finish are now remedying with audio dramas
such as this one.
only criticism of Winter is that the "old" Doctor doesn't
really sound any older than usual. Other than that, this makes
a fascinating conclusion to a varied and inventive collection
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