Doctor Who (BF – The Lost Stories, 1.1): The Nightmare Fair (AUDIO DRAMA REVIEW)

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.

19 thoughts on “Doctor Who (BF – The Lost Stories, 1.1): The Nightmare Fair (AUDIO DRAMA REVIEW)

  1. Nightmare Fair would have originally brought back the Celestial Toymaker actor Gough (Brian Gough? Alfred out of the original Batman movies anyway).

    It is a classic example of how the retro / fanwank / nostalgia urge becomes too strong when the show gets too comfortable and arrogant as He Who Moans puts it in his reviews.

    It isn’t enough just to bring back an old (old, old) villain. There needs to be a story too, and not just a flimsy reiteration, something meaty.

    When you get right down to it the Celestial Toymaker is, to coin a phrase, a right bastard, and, to coin another phrase, a bit tasty in a fight, so he needs something suitable convoluted and epic to be up to, not just rabbiting round Blackpool.

    At least put him in Rhyl. Or Bognor Regis.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Target printed a novelization for “The Nightmare Fair” — adapted by Graham Williams himself — in the late ’80s, when they were scuffling to find new titles. Three of the “aborted” Season 23 scripts made their way into print (along with “Mission to Magnus” and “The Ultimate Evil”), all by the original scriptwriters.

    All of the books were uniformly atrocious.

    Granted, I haven’t read “Nightmare Fair” the book since… I wanna say, 1997… but it was clear that there was not enough plot here to fill 90 minutes of TV. When I finally heard the Big Finish adaptation I was underwhelmed. They got someone to adapt and punch up the Williams’ scripts but the story was just too flawed to fix completely. Still, it was a noble effort on BF’s part.

    IMHO, the “Lost Stories” really kick into gear when they got Nigel Robinson to adapt some old First Doctor scripts and got William Russell and Carole Anne Ford to star in them. But, I”m sure that’s a post for another day …

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  3. I have to agree about this story though the casting of David Bailie is one great thing about this production (I much prefer him in the Companion Chronicle Solitaire though). Everything you say is pretty on point – the lack of a story really lets this production down. It perhaps might have worked better on screen as it’s such a visual story but I do think it’s probably best that this stayed lost.

    There are much better releases in the Lost Stories range [IMO] though so I look forward to hearing your thoughts on some of those if you review them. 🙂

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  4. I really need to listen to more Big Finish. I have listened to some of the freebies and some that others I know own… and I bought their anniversary release for the 50th anniversary. Everything I’ve heard has been good, and they do a great job of building the world in only audio.

    I am curious about all the Lost Stories they have adapted. It’s a shame what happened to Doctor Who back in the 1980s the way a lot of people were jerked around. I sincerely hope we don’t ever get to that kind of place again.

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  5. So strange, I have just finished listening to this same story just a couple of days ago. Did you, like me, just purchase it on that Humble Bundle deal?

    I plan on writing up my own comments soon, once I’ve formulated them. But a quick correction: the Celestial Toymaker only appeared once on TV, and that was in a William Hartnell story.

    The Toymaker did face off with the 2nd Doctor in an epic fan fiction comic called The Ten Doctors, though, which you should definitely read if you never have.


      1. It’s a bit of a minor spoiler, I guess, but pretty much everybody is in The Ten Doctors. Maybe it’s biggest flaw is the feeling of being overwhelmed by all the characters and monsters making reappearances. But when it was coming out (over a couple of years, including the year of the David Tennant specials, it was quite the treat.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. What a shame, I’d have been interested in this story if the review had been more positive. But as you quite rightly point out about Peri’s attributes I guess my imagination needs a bit more help these days….


  7. Hubby (Simonsmrt) is a MASSIVE Who fan and I am institutionalised to his passion. The only audio we have is the I Davros series as well as Dalek Empire. I Davros is an absolute MUST recommendation from us both, if you haven’t listened to it, YOU MUST! xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I got this for Christmas, and the best way I can phrase my opinion on it is this: the Lost Stories are like the comedy sound-effects in Deep Breath. Only when they’re actually there do we know whether or not they should have been. But it’s still nice just to have a new Celestial Toymaker story.

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