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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
The Lost Stories
The Nightmare Fair


Starring: Colin Baker
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 84435 444 3
Available 30 November 2009

The Lost Stories: adventures that were originally written for the Doctor Who television series but never made, now available to hear for the first time... The TARDIS has been drawn to Blackpool in the year 1985, where the Doctor intends to investigate a dangerous space/time vortex - while enjoying some of the local attractions along the way. However, an old enemy is waiting and watching from his base deep within the amusement park, a timeless being who craves revenge. The Celestial Toymaker has returned. The game is on, and, should he lose, the Doctor will have to pay the ultimate forfeit...

The first few releases in Big Finish’s new Lost Stories series all hail from the abandoned 23rd season of Doctor Who, which was intended to commence broadcasting in January 1986, starting with The Nightmare Fair... that is, until BBC1 Controller Michael Grade stepped in, controversially put the series on hiatus and reduced its screen time. The planned scripts were abandoned, and when the show returned it was with The Trial of a Time Lord instead.

In common with Season 22, there’s an emphasis on returning enemies in the unmade Season 23 (in this instance, the Celestial Toymaker) and the episodes run to around 45 minutes (though, in fact, the episode lengths of The Nightmare Fair are uneven, the first one running about five minutes short, the second over-running by more than ten minutes).

The characterisation is also of its time. Though not as abrasive as his Season 22 persona, the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) is still given to raising his voice in high-pitched annoyance (a pitch that the Baker of 2009 has some difficulty reaching), while Peri (Nicola Bryant) is more reactive than proactive (though we’re promised some character development as the series progresses). Also, had the author (the late Graham Williams) been writing post-Harry Enfield and Chums, he probably wouldn’t have teamed Peri up with a character called Kevin (Matthew Noble)!

Michael Gough, the original Celestial Toymaker, has all but retired from acting (barring voice work in Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and Alice in Wonderland), so David Bailie (who played Dask in The Robots of Death) has stepped into his mandarin slippers. Vocally, Bailie is rather different from Gough, though both actors’ voices have a soothing, hypnotic quality to them. Bailie has not attempted to imitate Gough but instead brings his own interpretation to the role: his Toymaker is given to extreme mood swings, ranging from childish glee to furious rage. Indeed, the character is written quite differently in The Nightmare Fair than in The Celestial Toymaker. For example, he has never before demonstrated a thirst for conquest, and previously preferred to enslave people rather than killing them straight away. However, an explanation for such discrepancies has already been offered by the Fifth Doctor novel Divided Loyalties.

As the interviews at the end of each disc reveal, these unused TV scripts tend to contain more characters than your average Big Finish production, so there’s some impressive doubling up (or rather, quadrupling up) here by actors Toby Longworth and Duncan Wisbey, each of whom portrays no fewer than four different characters. Longworth plays Yatsumoto, Truscott, Manager and Man, while Wisbey takes on the roles of Humandroid, Security Man, Geoff and Guard.

The transition to audio (achieved by John Ainsworth adapting Williams’s scripts) is largely successful, though some aspects are a little confusing and might not come across fully to the listener, such as the details of the Toymaker’s video game, the monsters that emerge from it, the various creatures in the cells, and the Doctor’s eventual entrapment of the villain, the latter of which is only explained in dialogue after the fact.

To be fair, though, despite its flaws, this audio version of The Nightmare Fair is a commendable effort, as indeed is the entire Lost Stories concept, which I suspect will only get more intriguing as the series unfolds...


Richard McGinlay

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