Friday, 11 February 2011

The Nightmare Fair written by Graeme Williams & John Ainsworth and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: The TARDIS has been drawn to Blackpool in the year1985, where the Doctor intends to investigate a dangerous space/time vortex… while enjoying some local attractions along the way. But an old enemy is watching from his base deep within the amusement park, a timeless being who craves revenge. The Celestial Toymaker has returned. The game is on. And, should he lose, the Doctor will pay the ultimate forfeit…

Theatrical Adventurer: Caught in a nexus between the acerbic, bitter Doctor of season 22 and the mellower, more comfortable Doctor of season 23, this is a great way to pitch old Sixie to bridge the gap between the two. You’ve got the occasional moment of nastiness but also some gentleness and I hope the latter will develop throughout the season and become the Big Finish Sixie we know and love. You cannot build a place like Blackpool Tower for pleasure purposes (and he knows planets that have tried and it was doomed to failure!). It is perfect, genius frivolity! I love the pointless continuity references – it feels so authentically season 22 for the Doctor to name-drop Mr Sin and Duggan! Peri introduces him to candy floss and declares there is nowhere else he would rather go for such innocent fun. He does perhaps a florid turn of phrase! I love his gleeful pleasure at the roller coaster; he really is learning to let his hair down. A little bit older but probably not wiser. Brevity is the soul of wit, he claims. ‘If you’ve harmed her then you and I shall fall out’ he warns the Toymaker of Peri and you believe him. An insolent gypsy whose manners have not improved with time? The Doctor compares the machinations of the Toymaker with the games of the Coliseum. He always was a victim of his own intellectual conceit but it seems to have developed into full-blown paranoia! Egocentric in the extreme! The Doctor claims that many of his fellow Time Lords run away when they come across something they do not understand. An unfeeling block? Wow, how many times can the Doctor be insulted in one story? He’d sooner patronise the human race than butcher them. He prefers the classic simplicity of space invaders which didn’t bore him for at least fifteen seconds! He dishes out his retribution on the Toymaker with great regret and has some idea what it will be like to be trapped in the endless stream of time. He is not a cosmic taxi service (hmm, Davison was!). At the end of the story he wants to go back to the funfair!

Busty Babe: It is so wonderful to hear the Doctor and Peri laughing together at the funfair, it is clear that we are going to see them get a lot closer throughout this missing season. She’s not so good with heights. It’s nice to have Peri off investigating on her own. She’s always paranoid when people are hunting her. The thought of Kevin and Peri working together made me chuckle. Peri is clever enough to realise Kevin is a Toymaker construct even if it does leave her screaming her head off! The Doctor and Peri have known each other far too long! When he agonises over his torture of the Toymaker Peri tells him that he had no choice.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A gung ho robot and a ravenous space plumber! We’re going to make an unbeatable combination!’
‘I detest caging even the wildest beast Toymaker but for you there is no other answer.’

Great Ideas: Reports of a Chinese mandarin appearing out of thin air…the Celestial Toymaker! Mechanical miners coming to life! This will be the deciding game between the Toymaker and the Doctor, the last. Centuries of servitude is the price to pay for losing a game. The Toymaker existed before Time Lord records, he is old beyond imagining and was once seen to play with supernovae as though it was a paddling pool! The Toymaker thinks the Earth was made for him. Stefan was with Barbarossa, the army of the third crusade against the Turk, one of the most savage and barbaric forces in history. The Toymaker has been researching his game via the visitors to the funfair to make it as challenging as possible. He isn’t from this universe, that’s why the laws of the universe don’t concern him. There was a catastrophe that hurled him from his own universe into this one and carried his own matter with him. He will live for millions of years in crushing borderm, the isolation of aeons. Meaningless destruction is just as effortless for him as meaningless creation and the Toymaker has done both to death and now finds them unfulfilling. He threw off purpose and meaning so he could play chance and hazard. The Doctor traps him in a loathsome punishment, his thoughts going round and round, trapping him, holding him, echoing around him for the rest of time.

Audio Landscape: Hooting monkeys, whistling wind, seagulls, funfair jingles, laughing booth, the clanking tracks of the roller coaster, Peri screaming with delight (for a change!), the gloriously tacky synth music of the Galactic Adventure, laser beams, crazy rattling gunfire, growling alien, robotic footsteps, space invaders style computer game, Yasamoto electrocuted, heartbeat, Peri’s stretched scream…

Musical Cues: There’s an occasionally tacky, occasionally sinister score which reminds me of the 80s perfectly.

Isn’t it Odd: The pacing of the first episode is really slow and it all feels a bit too relaxed in places, the whole episode is one long lead up to the Doctor agreeing to play the Toymaker’s game, something which took 5 minutes in the 60s! It is a little too quiet and undramatic; the first episode would have made a surprisingly eventless season opener.

Result: After listening to The Nightmare Fair I am in two minds about the Lost Stories. On the one hand I want them to be as authentic as possible so it feels like we are literally skipping into season 23b but on the other hand I want them to be as slick and as confident as Big Finish’s usual output. Graeme Williams story opens on a great location and genuinely innovates the Toymaker with an unforgettable, unexpectedly affecting conclusion but much of what comes between is quiet, talky and unmemorable. The performances of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant feel totally authentic and David Baillie steps into Michael Gough’s shoes effortlessly and the production is the usual high standards. I’m not sure what to make of this story to be honest, I enjoyed it for nostalgic reasons but I don’t think it stands up to the best of Big Finish’s usual output: 6/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

1 comment:

David Pirtle said...

The beginning of this is fun, and the ending is almost moving. Most of what happens in between is pretty dull stuff. The Toymaker is a character with almost limitless potential, practically a mischievous deity, but he continues to be wasted. The Celestial Toymaker is one of only a handful of stories that I regard as genuinely awful, and I'm a pretty soft touch. This one's better (it actually features the Doctor throughout, which helps), but it's definitely not worth more than a 5 or 6.