The Nightmare Fair novelisation
Big Finish Productions
The Nightmare Fair

Written by Philip Martin Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2009

Starring Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant

Synopsis: The TARDIS has been drawn to Blackpool in the year 1986, 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...


One Final Game, Doctor by Jacob Licklider 21/4/22

It is safe to say that most if not all Classic Doctor Who fans know about the lost Season 23 and how it eventually became The Trial of a Time Lord. For those who don't, in 1984 John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward had pulled together writers and directors for Season 23 before Michael Grade had the show put on permanent hiatus. The original Season 23 had an entire layout of eight stories which would have gone as follows: The Nightmare Fair by Graham Williams, The Ultimate Evil by Wally K. Daly, In the Hollows of Time by Christopher H. Bidmead, Yellow Fever and How to Cure It by Robert Holmes, Mission to Magnus by Philip Martin and The Children of January by Michael Feeney Callan, with Leviathan by Brian Finch and Point of Entry by Barbara Clegg as backups in case something went wrong with another script. The entire season would be cancelled, with three of the scripts (The Nightmare Fair, The Ultimate Evil, and Mission to Magnus) being novelized in 1990.

Fans speculated about these missing stories for years until 2009 when Big Finish announced The Lost Stories, a range dedicated to recreating this lost season along with many other lost stories. They kicked the range off with The Nightmare Fair with John Ainsworth using the novelization and a copy of the script provided by Williams' widow. The plot remains mainly intact, with the Doctor after the events of Revelation of the Daleks taking Peri to Blackpool for a vacation, but not all is well as the Celestial Toymaker has been waiting for a final game between the two of them. The Doctor is forced into playing a deadly videogame while Peri is stuck playing through other games with Kevin. It works a lot better than The Celestial Toymaker, mainly because it actually uses the Doctor and the Toymaker going up against each other to create a better hero-to-villain dynamic that was missing in the original serial. The plot, however, does have one major problem. The buildup to the reveal of the Toymaker and the Doctor playing a game takes the entire first episode, which covers the first disc. Now it isn't bad that we get some time devoted to developing the Doctor and Peri, but the other characters really are just as one note as they would be if this was a television story.

Colin Baker mentioned in the extras that this was a return to the Doctor as seen in Season 22 and a way to develop the relationship from an adversary to a friendship between the Doctor and Peri. This is, however, not really how the story feels, as the Doctor actually feels like he did at the end of Revelation of the Daleks; not a perfect friendship, but definitely the two of them are friends to say the least. Colin Baker is great as the Doctor, and his personality really works against the Celestial Toymaker, as the Doctor is still very much arrogant. The Doctor knows that he is going to win, as he has won in the past, and he plays up this aspect when he eventually confronts the Toymaker. He just wants to get on with it and not have to deal with the Toymaker again, which is admirable. Nicola Bryant as Peri also gets to have moments in the spotlight here while she is separated from the Doctor, but these are just a few moments in a sea of story. David Bailie makes his debut here as the Celestial Toymaker, as Michael Gough refused to return. As much as I like Gough as an actor, Bailie gives a much more nuanced performance as the Toymaker, as he has been studying the Earth more and more and has even taken on an apprentice in the form of the camp Stefan. Bailie really steals the show as the Toymaker, which is honestly great.

John Ainsworth and Jamie Robertson work really well together at directing the story and placing the music in a way that it feels very much like a story from the 1980s. Robertson's score really feels a lot like something that Paddy Kingsland would have composed in that period. It really does work well as a score for the story and takes you right back to the Colin Baker era of Doctor Who.

To summarize, The Nightmare Fair really does deserve its title as a lost classic story, as it would have seen the return of the Toymaker as a credible threat and a definite continuation of the Doctor and Peri's dynamic into the area of friends. The biggest problem in the story is its pacing, which takes way too long to actually get going. Still, a great opener to the Lost Season 23. 80/100