The TARDIS is drawn to Blackpool in 1986 where the Doctor wants to investigate a space/time vortex whilst enjoying the attractions at the Pleasure Beach along the way. An old enemy is watching from under the amusement park wanting to challenge
Imagine a parallel universe. One where Michael Grade never dropped the axe on Doctor Who and Colin Baker was able to complete his sentence at the end of Resurrection of the Daleks, leading into his second full season as the Doctor. A parallel universe where Doctor in Distress would cease to exist…sounds blissful, doesn’t it?
It’s that parallel universe that Big Finish attempt to give us a glimpse of in their adaptation of The Nightmare Fair, which would have been the opening story for the originally intended Season 23. Unsurprisingly considering the tone of his era as producer, Graham Williams’ script is quite light-hearted and it would have been interesting to see what kind of reception it would have received as it does not feel like a ‘traditional’ season opener, but it does feel like a response to the criticisms of the more violent Season 22.
The Nightmare Fair is a good, if not exceptional, story which does struggle with some pacing issues. The first part of this story feels as though it takes a long time to actually get going, and although the scenes of the Doctor and Peri enjoying the rides at Blackpool Pleasure Beach are lovely, it does feel as though it piles more pressure onto the second part. As a result, the second part has to both establish what the Toymaker’s plan is and ultimately rushes the ending. It’s well worth noting at this point that I have not read the novelised version of this story so I can’t say for certain whether this is due to an issue with Williams’ original script or the adaptation to audio, but I must commend the adaptation for feeling as though it would have fit into the era perfectly, even down to the unnecessary continuity references that were rife in this period of the show, especially alluding to characters like Duggan from City of Death. The antagonist of this story was last seen in a First Doctor story, and bringing him back to front up the new season feels like the move of a programme that felt it was too big to fail.
One thing that is noticeable here is that the personality of the Sixth Doctor has changed here. It is no secret that Colin Baker has issues with how his character was written during the time that he was the incumbent on television, and Big Finish has taken steps to make him more of a likeable character. Here, he is a hybrid of the two, which works tonally for the stories broadcast in the 80s, as the Sixth Doctor is certainly an adjusted character when he returns in Trial of a Time Lord. There is a mention in this story that the Doctor and Peri have been travelling together for a while, and it is nice to see that their relationship has shifted in a more positive direction. In the Behind the Scenes feature on this story, producer David Richardson talks about the challenges involved in making sure that the Doctor presented here has similarities with the ones seen on television and heard on other Big Finish productions. There are moments where we see the flashes of the original Sixth Doctor, like when he tells the Celestial Toymaker that he will have him to deal with if anything has happened to Peri. Baker is good here, as he usually is when he has a single antagonist to rail against – the Sixth Doctor is often at his best when exasperated and fighting someone of similar standing to himself.
Big Finish developing characters also has an impact on Peri, as like a lot of companions she has seen her role increased as is now standard with the revived series. Nicola Bryant speaks on the Behind the Scenes feature on this story about her concerns about going back to a reduced role being allayed by this story where she does get a chance to display her resourcefulness, like when she manages to get the gun in Part One.
I detest caging even the wildest beast, Toymaker. But for you, there is no other answer.The Sixth Doctor
The Celestial Toymaker makes his return here, played by David Bailie, and he puts in a strong performance as the central antagonist. The Toymaker has been trapped on Earth for several millienia, tricking unsuspecting humans into playing games against him and trapping them into immortality in servitude when they lose. He has developed an arcade game which harvests the souls of those who lose to it which then generate powerful creatures, with which the Toymaker intends to take over the World. Bailie is still recognisable as the same character as the one played by Michael Gough but adds some more childish glee in his schemes. Bailie and Baker play off each other beautifully, which help elevate this story which does have some moments that feel as though it is treading water. The Doctor and the audience learn more about the Toymaker, including that he is from an alternative dimension where time moves slowly. I quite liked the resolution to the Toymaker’s story even if it did feel a bit rushed, as I felt it was quite clever. Aside from Bailie, there are very few stand-outs from the guest performers, but I did quite like the character of Shardlow. The rest give rather stilted performances, sadly, which does detract from the story.
Verdict: A story with a good central idea and good performances from Baker, Bryant and Bailie, is let down by some pacing issues. 6/10
Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), David Bailie (The Celestial Toymaker), Matthew Noble (Kevin), Andrew Fettes (Stefan), Louise Faulkner (Woman), William Whymper (Shardlow/Attendant), Toby Longworth (Yatsumoto/Truscott/Manager/Man) & Duncan Wisbey (Humandroid/Security Man/Geoff/Guard).
Writer: Graham Williams (adapted by John Ainsworth)
Director: John Ainsworth
Behind the Scenes
- This story would have kicked off the 23rd Season of Doctor Who had the show not been put on hiatus. Michael Gough would have returned as the Celestial Toymaker in a story which would have explained his origins. The story would have been partially filmed on location in Blackpool, following on directly from Revelation of the Daleks
- The audio adaptation by Bigh Finish was the firest release of audio plays of other lost stories.
- The original story was written by John Nathan-Turner’s predecessor as Producer, Graham Williams. The script was released as a novelisation which was used by the director John Ainsworth to adapt the story for audio. Williams himself passed away in 1990.
- Michael Gough had retired from acting by the time of production, so the role was recast with David Bailie. Bailie previously appeared in The Robots of Death and would reprise the role of Celestial Toymaker in Solitaire.
- Matthew Noble had previously appeared in Cuddlesome and Return to the Web Planet.
- Andrew Fettes has appeared in numerous Big Finish plays, including The Sirens of Time, the Gallifrey range and The Diary of River Song.
- Louise Faulkner most notably has appeared in the Bernice Summerfield stories playing Bev Tarrant.
- William Whymper also appeared in Dead Man’s Switch.
- Toby Longworth has appeared in a lot of Big Finish including the Doctor Main Range, the Unbound Range, Bernice Summerfield and Iris Wildthyme.
- Duncan Wisbey has appeared in a number of production across the Main Range, the Fourth Doctor Adventures and Jago & Litefoot.
Any moment that the Doctor and the Celestial Toymaker are together.
Ah-ha! There you are! I knew you’d be watching from somewhere. Well, don’t hurry on my account. Just let me know what you want when you’re ready. If I die of boredom before that, I hope you take it personally.The Sixth Doctor
Previous Sixth Doctor review: Revelation of the Daleks