I’ve long toted the merits of Big Finish’ audio plays. For over 15 years they’ve produced hundreds of all new stories using the original cast of Doctors and companions from the classic series. With their Lost Stories range of audio dramas, they seek to revisit those lost stories which never made it to the screen – scripts that were delivered and complete, but never went any further.
I’m going to try and start reviewing some of their plays, as I have plenty on my backlog (and plenty of time to listen to them).
Season 23 of Doctor Who is something of an anomaly. The previous season, which aired in 1985, saw the BBC changing the formats of the standard story (from 4×25 minute eps to 2×45 minute eps) in the hopes that the ratings would pick up. Alas, they did not, and the BBC announced the cancellation of the long-running SciFi program. Of course, when this was announced, a collection of scripts for season 23 had already been written. Due to fan upheaval, the BBC chose not to cancel the show, but merely to put it on a 18-month hiatus. The actual season 23, The Trial of a Time Lord, perhaps created in symbolic response to where Doctor Who currently sat, replaced the submitted scripts. And thus the original season 23 was aborted.
Until Big Finish decided to pick them up.
The Nightmare Fair, originally penned by Graham Williams, was the first of said scripts. And it’s been quite nicely translated into the audio drama medium. The Doctor and Peri travel to Blackpool in 1985, where they search for a dangerous time/space vortex. Naturally, they stop to have some fun at the local fair. Soon, however, they realize they’re caught up in an elaborate nightmarish game, and the Celestial Toymaker is pulling the strings.
It’s always lovely to hear Colin Baker reclaim his Doctor. Of all the classic Doctors, I feel he always translates best on audio. Perhaps it’s Colin’s attempt at breathing new life into his (sadly) much derided Sixth Doctor. But he’s great. Youthful. Charismatic, as all who work in audio dramas must be. With Nicola Bryant, it’s another story. I always felt her character, Peri’s, best attributes were more… visible than audible. And in this audio play I find her voice just a tad too grating. Especially when she’s screaming on a roller coaster. Why they chose a British actress to play an American companion I’ll never know.
David Bailie as the Toymaker is brilliant casting. In his interviews after the drama, you hear him speaking quite casually, and his voice is still undeniably villainous. I loved it. But throughout the play he does a beautiful job portraying the character (last seen in a First Doctor story). We learn much of the Toymaker’s evil tendencies, and what kind of a creature he is, which is all very cool. I can’t get over the fact that his plan for the Doctor was to play him in an arcade game though. He’s been waiting on earth for, assumedly, thousands of years, just to play a game with the Doctor. And when he gets the chance his ultimate game is not dissimilar to Alien Invaders or Galaga.
It was a very disappointing revolution, to an enjoyable audible romp. Sadly it missed the mark. Perhaps it would’ve been better on the television. Or maybe it was a script best left unproduced.