Microcrystalline silicon films grown in an expanding thermal plasma, i.e. in the absence of ion bombardment, are found to be porous and rich in nano-sized voids. By carrying out an extensive investigation on the material quality of films deposited in the amorphous-to-microcrystalline transition regime, on the microcrystalline silicon growth development, and on the influence of the substrate temperature, it is concluded that the inferior material quality is related to the lack of a sufficient amount of amorphous silicon tissue. As possible cause for the insufficient amount of amorphous silicon tissue, the interaction of atomic hydrogen with amorphous silicon films has been studied in order to highlight a possible competition between film growth and H-induced etching of amorphous silicon, and between film growth and H-induced surface/film modification. The etch rates obtained are too low to compete with film growth. Furthermore, atomic H cannot be considered responsible for the poor quality of amorphous tissue present in the microcrystalline silicon films, as the H up-take mainly takes place in divacancies. These results suggest that ion bombardment may be a necessary condition to provide good quality microcrystalline silicon films.