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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who
Hornets’ Nest
The Stuff of Nightmares


Author: Paul Magrs
Starring: Tom Baker
BBC Audio
RRP: £9.78
ISBN: 978 1 4084 2673 9
Available 03 September 2009

Responding to an advert apparently worded for him alone, Captain Mike Yates (retired) is reunited with a ghost from the past. But why has the Doctor, that mysterious traveller in Time and Space, sent for his former UNIT acquaintance? Trapped by a horde of vicious creatures in an apparently innocuous English country cottage, the two old friends are on the brink of an enormous adventure. As the Doctor relates his recent escapades, it becomes clear to Mike that they - and the Earth at large - are facing an enemy of unimaginable power and horrific intent. The nightmare is only just beginning...

There has been something of a backlash against this release, partly because the anticipation surrounding it was so huge as to be almost impossible to live up to, and partly because the BBC’s pre-publicity had given the impression that this would be a full-cast audio drama. In fact, it’s more akin to one of Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles, an audio book with supplementary voices - though in fact there are more voices here than in the audio drama Doctor Who and the Pescatons.

Tom Baker, returning to the role of the Doctor for the first time in 28 years (unless you count his on-screen first-person narrator in the VHS release of the incomplete Shada or his bizarre cameo appearance in Dimensions in Time), does the lion’s share of the talking. Perhaps this very fact is what persuaded him to come back - he has declined to star in any audio dramas for Big Finish, but he has recorded several Doctor Who audio books for the BBC, and this production is not such a great leap from that. He sounds older now, of course, but not that much older, and he appears to relish the opportunity.

Supporting Baker are Richard Franklin as Mike Yates, Susan Jameson as housekeeper Mrs Wibbsey and Daniel Hill (Chris Parsons in the unbroadcast Shada) as the “sort of” villain, Percy Noggins. Some have questioned the involvement of Franklin, as he never appeared alongside Baker’s Doctor in the TV series, but he has already proven himself as a compelling voice artist for both BBV and Big Finish, and his inclusion here is no stranger than recent Big Finish Doctor / companion combinations, such as the Sixth Doctor and Charley or Polly and the Brigadier. Mike has in fact met the Fourth Doctor before, in the BBV talking book The Killing Stone, though that adventure is not specifically acknowledged here.

The character of Percy Noggins has been criticised for being an effete baddie, but the point is that he’s not simply a villain - plus it’s a great name for Baker to roll around his mouth! The forbidding Mrs Wibbsey is a more successful creation, and the good news is that she’s a recurring character in this series.

The offbeat writing style of Paul Magrs is a good match for the wacky nature of Baker. This curious case of intelligent hornets and stuffed animals returning viciously to life is more akin to the Fourth Doctor’s Annual adventures than his television stories. The voice effect applied to the hornets sounds similar to that of another insect race he has encountered, the Wirrn, who also get a name check.

First-person past-tense narration, which accounts for about two-thirds of this production, lacks the immediacy of full-cast drama. We know, for example, that the Doctor is never really in danger when he describes being attacked by reanimated animals - but then the same is true of The Companion Chronicles, and we know the Doctor won’t die anyway!

Provided you are aware of and can accept the fact that this is not audio drama before you buy it or listen to it, then you will probably find The Stuff of Nightmares intriguing stuff.


Richard McGinlay

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