‘The Nightmare Fair’
In 1985, Doctor Who was suffering from a poor critical reception from the press, ailing ratings and dwindling fan support. After the departure of Peter Davison, Doctor Who continued down a path involving steadily darker and more violent material. The latest leading man in the role of the Doctor, Colin Baker, unduly took the brunt of the punishment. The 22nd series was actually a very strong set of adventures with at least two classics in its run. Stories had been commissioned for the following year that boasted the return of Sil, the Ice Warriors, the Tractators, the Master and another more obscure villain, the Celestial Toymaker. Some of the scripts were later adapted into novelized form and later still as audio productions by Big Finish. Some of the scripts were further along than others with The Nightmare Fair being one that was finished by former series producer Graham Williams.
The story of the Nightmare Fair marked the beginning of the ‘Lost Stories’ series by Big Finish, where stories that never made it to the screen were dramatized by a full cast with the auditory aplomb of the Big Finish crew. A rather lackluster story that meanders in places, it nonetheless has some very strong moments of characterization. The Sixth Doctor is at his decidedly most egocentric and vain as he crankily denounces others for their failings in intelligence as he boasts his past visits to other planets and times. It’s a shame that this story was not produced as it would have suited the Sixth Doctor’s period so well.
Invested in showing his companion Peri the finest of amusements, the Doctor has piloted the TARDIS to Blackpool in a contemporary time period (similar to Attack of the Cybermen set and transmitted in 1984). But the reality is that the Doctor did not pilot the TARDIS at all, and he had planned to take Peri somewhere else entirely. A space/time vortex has dragged the TARDIS to this location and even the Doctor is not sure what lies a its heart. An old villain the Celestial Toymaker sits at the center of the Blackpool Pleasure Beach like some massive spider pulling flies into his clutch.
A sequel of sorts to the 1965 William Hartnell story by Bryan Hayles and Donald Tosh, the Nightmare Fair features the return of that cosmic character The Celestial Toymaker. Initially portrayed by Michael Gough (familiar to many as Alfred in the 1989-1997 Batman movies), the Toymaker is a very strange character more at home in a comic book than anywhere else. Possessing mental prowess that staggers the mind, he is obsessed with games of skill and in his first meeting with the Doctor was undone by the crafty Time Lord much to his chagrin. This time he will have revenge.
Playing the Toymaker in Gough’s absence is David Bailie, Dask from the Tom Baker story, The Robots of Death. His performance is impressive as he manages to exude charisma and villainy in equal parts. Playing opposite Colin Baker, the pair make for an entertaining dual act, but sadly the two actors have very few scenes together. In fact, the Nightmare Fair feels like a story stretched out fill the running time with many sequences in which the Doctor and/or Peri are imprisoned repeating throughout. There are some great ideas such as the posh Humandroid who is mostly robotic and the Venusian mechanic in the nearby cell. If anything, the Nightmare Fair is a testament to the brilliance of Graham Williams, but it definitely requires additional tightening up to play up its strengths.
Much like its predecessor, The Nightmare Fair is very focused on games and traps which is where this story finds inspiration. Additionally, the Doctor sheds some light on the nature of the Toymaker, something that the 1965 story had no interest in doing. A being of immense power, even the Time Lords were unable to understand him or trace his origins. This story gives more clues to who and what the Toymaker is but in the end the Doctor once again decides that he is far too dangerously to be dealt with lightly. Using his cunning mental ability and a nerve of steel, the Doctor manages to unravel the mad plot of the Toymaker, leaving him and Peri free to visit the fairground once more for candy floss and another ride on the roller coaster.
An overlong yet charming adventure, The Nightmare Fair can be ordered from The Book Depository with free shipping worldwide by clicking on the link below: