Doctor Who: CuddlesomeThe Doctor’s TARDIS literally crashes through a suburban greenhouse, and upon stepping out of the TARDIS he immediately meets the greenhouse’s owner, though she’s more worried about her boyfriend being injured than she is about the damage. The Doctor finds her boyfriend in a delirious state, with alien toxins in his blood and a pair of bite marks in his neck, which the man apparently suffered while searching for a relic of his childhood in the attic. Concerned about the strange developments, the Doctor tracks down the toy – a pink vampire hamster called a Cuddlesome with a voice recognition device – which was apparently all the rage in the 1980s. Now he finds that others are suffering from similar injuries, and there have even been deaths, with Cuddlesomes as the common denominator, all of them leaving the scene after attacking their owners. The Doctor follows the Cuddlesomes an abandoned toy factory, where their creator, Turvey, has activated his own kind of product recall – he has attracted the Cuddlesomes to his current location. But Turvey is at the mercy of someone else who is creating a new line of Cuddlesomes…and if the Doctor thought the 1980s models were deadly, he hasn’t seen anything yet. This attempt to cash in on childhood nostalgia could endanger the entire human race.

written by Nigel Fairs
directed by Barnaby Edwards
music by Nigel Fairs

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Roberta Taylor (Angela Wisher), Timothy West (Ronald Turvey), David Troughton (The Tinghus), Matthew Noble (John Dixon / New Cuddlesomes), Kate Brown (Miranda Evenden / Cuddlesomes / Dr. Cooper / Vehicle), Nicholas Briggs (Newsreader)

Notes: This single-part story, which shared a CD with a “director’s cut” of part one of the early Big Finish fifth Doctor/Dalek story The Mutant Phase, was included free with issue #393 of Doctor Who Magazine. Ironically, both Cuddlesome and The Mutant Phase are reworked versions of audio stories produced by Nicholas Briggs, Gary Russell and Bill Baggs in their late 1980s range of Audio Visuals plays.

Timeline: the packaging of Cuddlesome offers no hints as to where it falls chronologically, though it may occur during the same interval as The Gathering.

LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green

Review: A clever, single-part adventure distributed free with Doctor Who Magazine in 2008, Cuddlesome has a macabre sense of humor all its own, along with more than just a little bit of double-edged commentary on nostalgia for the ’80s (the real irony being that it involves a Doctor from the same time period).

Overall, though, while I’ve found that some of Big Finish’s free one-off adventures packed in with DWM are amusing but ultimately disposable, this is probably the best such story since Last Of The Titans. I’d say it has a real bite to it, but since we’re dealing with a (fictitious) line of toy vampire hamsters, that’d be cheesy. But even the occasional ’80s dialogue gag – such as the incongruous sight, well, okay, sound of Davison announcing “Hammer time!” – doesn’t come across as forced. I hate to say it, Doctor Whobut Cuddlesome is better than some of the full-length stories that have made it into circulation as regular Big Finish releases.

There’s also an element to the story that’s more than a little metacommentary about hanging onto childhood enthusiasms and hobbies. I probably need to stay out of that discussion since we’re talking about a new audio story based on a character and series I first watched when I was eight years old, but the story makes it clear that there are healthy reasons and healthy ways to hang on to such enthusiasms…and then there are unhealthy ones. Perhaps not a bad little pill of a message to slip into fandom’s aural drink there.

Quite enjoyable – and I guess I’m an unrepentant geek, because while I didn’t have a Cuddlesome (and good thing, too, since they’re an entirely fictional creation), I’m still nostalgic for the toys, and the Doctors, of the 1980s.