The Doctor brings the TARDIS to a landing at Blackpool in 1986, promising Peri a relaxing getaway for once. But other alien forces have different plans for Blackpool: the Celestial Toymaker is play-testing a new arcade game there, one which burns out the minds of those players who prove to be very good at it. The two time-travelers are separated, and the Toymaker intends to use Peri as a pawn to secure the Doctor’s cooperation in his scheme to take over the world.
Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), David Bailie (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)
Notes: This first entry in the Lost Stories range of sixth Doctor audios was originally written by former Doctor Who producer Graham Williams as the opening story of season 23; the last TV story of season 22, Revelation Of The Daleks, was actually intended to end with the Doctor promising to take Peri to Blackpool, as a lead-in to The Nightmare Fair. Of course, Doctor Who was taken off the air after season 22 by the then-controller of BBC1, Michael Grade, leading to one of the most controversial periods in the show’s history. The existing scripts for season 23 were scrapped and replaced by the Trial Of A Time Lord season. The Nightmare Fair joined two other abandoned season 23 scripts as novelizations, and was also adapted for audio as a charity fan-made project. David Bailie, who appeared in the classic Doctor Who story Robots Of Death, also plays the part of the Celestial Toymaker (originally played by the late Michael Gough) in the seventh Doctor audio story The Magic Mousetrap, as well as in a Companion Chronicles story featuring the eighth Doctor and Charley, Solitaire. The Nightmare Fair would have been a timely story in 1986, dealing with video games as a plot element, and several classic (if rather dated by 1986 standards) video game sounds are heard in the background of this story, most notably various Atari 2600 sound samples and, most prominently, the opening fanfare of Namco‘s Galaxian arcade game (1979). (The Doctor professes a liking for an even older game, Space Invaders, and who are we to argue?)
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: The Lost Stories range was, perhaps, an inevitability: Big Finish adapted the abandoned scripts for audio production, getting as many of the original cast involved as possible, finally bringing these stories to fruition in some form. But it’s simply the fact that Big Finish has produced better sixth Doctor stories than the BBC ever did that gave me some pause: wouldn’t this be a move backward? Big Finish’s stories with Colin Baker have advanced his portrayal of the Doctor considerably, and the Lost Stories would effectively be regressing him to the blustery, aggressive character seen in season 22, constantly bickering with Peri, another character who had evolved considerably in Big Finish’s hands. Did people really want to hear this now that the sixth Doctor and Peri had both been handled better away from the small screen?
The Nightmare Fair certainly does conjure up images of the twenty-third season that never was: like season 22, the episodes are at least 45 minutes in length, the music is ’80s-style electronic, and the Doctor is back to the “Me? Me? ME???!?” characterization of season 22, with Peri occasionally coming across as a barely-willing participant in his adventures. The past continuity references arrive fast-and-thick, with mentions of City Of Death and, of course, The Celestial Toymaker, among others.
It’s the reinvention of the Toymaker – played wonderfully by David Bailie without being a pale imitation of Michael Gough’s version of the character – that is perhaps the element of the original script that most bothers me. A lot of mystery is built up early on, including the revelation that even the Time Lords haven’t been able to figure out who/what the Toymaker is. This is interesting in that it potentially puts the Toymaker on the same level as Fenric and the Gods of Ragnarok, or perhaps even the Black and White Guardians, but in the end he’s just a misunderstood, isolated being driven mad by boredom; the Doctor even expresses remorse for the way in which he ultimately has to deal with the Toymaker. While the Toymaker in his original ’60s story wasn’t exactly a heavy depiction of ultimate evil, this almost defangs the character too much.
Almost more fascinating than the story itself are the CD extras, which have a greater running length than usual due to the “two 45+ minute episodes” format, which leaves a lot of CD real estate open for interviews. Writer Graham Williams’ widow and youngest son are interviewed, as are the cast and producers, at great length, and in addition to covering the origins of this story, a lot of time is spent discussing how Big Finish came to do the Lost Stories range, and why we won’t be hearing The Ultimate Evil (another abandoned season 23 story) in audio form. It’s actually pretty interesting stuff.
For those who feel that the lost episodes are unfinished business that must be finished, The Nightmare Fair will be a welcome jolt of nostalgia. I’m a little bit ambivalent about the story itself, the languid pacing of the ’85-season-style 45+ minute episodes, and the return to the sixth Doctor/Peri minus the character development that both characters have been afforded by Big Finish – but I’m holding out hope for the return of Sil in the next installment.