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Reviewed: The Nightmare Fair, a Sixth Doctor Audiobook Starring the Celestial Toymaker

The Toymaker is back! Yes, back in 1986. Except he didn’t come back. Even though the Doctor Who team wanted him back so badly that they commissioned a script. And got a script. But (complicated story you may know already) the season was cancelled. So they scrapped the script. But then…

The Toymaker is back! Yes, back in 1989. But not on TV. A novelisation of the unused script. Sort of the first of its kind. A new adventure for the Doctor in book form. Kind of a pioneer, once, amongst its own peers. Now we have loads of new Doctor Who novels. But this was the first — the original, you might say.

But it must have seemed like deja vu all over again for its writer, Graham Williams. Is he the unluckiest writer in Who? Firstly, he was given a brief to make Doctor Who more ‘family friendly’, despite the fact that millions of families across the country loved the spooky Hinchcliffe era. Then rampant inflation (remember that?) led to the budget not stretching far enough. Underworld had to be filmed in front of a blue curtain with everything added in the background using a steam-powered Megabyte Modem.

But Graham soldiered on for three variable, but often wonderful seasons. And his swan song was to be the Douglas Adams-scripted, Cambridge University-set epic: Shada! “Ahh, the untransmitted story,” says Tom Baker in the VHS reconstruction. ‘Not actually finished so not actually able to be transmitted’ would be a more accurate description.

So it must have seemed a bit of a relief — a vindication, in fact — to be asked back seven years later to launch the Sixth Doctor’s second season. And feature the Toymaker. Did I mention he’s back? Then Graham’s dreams were dashed once again. You think being ‘cancelled’ is a modern scourge. Tell that to Graham Williams in 1979 and again in 1986. I’ll wait here while you do that.

The Toymaker is back! Yes, back in 2023. Not on TV. Yes, back on TV too. But also back here in this complete and unabridged audiobook by BBC Audio. It’s read by Toby Longworth, who’s famous for playing Caw/ Squawk in The Infinite Quest. But don’t let that put you off: he does a good job. But I wonder why it isn’t Colin Baker narrating; after all, they managed to plaster a photograph of his quizzical face astride the original cover artwork, rendering it much less dramatic and interesting in the process.

While we are on the subject of Colin ‘Old Sixy’ Baker, you have to dial back all the mellowing and character development that Big Finish and Baker have honed over the last 24 years of audio adventures. Here we have Doctor Six and Peri’s fractious relationship in full flow. In fact, Graham Williams (unless script editor Eric Saward intervened) rather lays it on a bit thick, at first anyway. You wonder why the Doctor wants this person in the TARDIS, and why Perpugilliam Brown doesn’t hop on the first train from Blackpool to Lanzarote, or Baltimore, or frankly anywhere to get away from the multicoloured git from space.

Like many of the Colin Baker two-part 45-minute episodes, it takes a long time to get going. That’s because the tradition of the cliffhanger ‘big reveal’ of the enemy/monster usually happened at the end of episode one. Leaving only half the story left for them to be [spoilers!] defeated at the end. And The Nightmare Fair still suffers from that structural issue.

Plus the Toymaker, now in the ‘real world’, is rendered less mysterious and magical. He has henchmen to do his dirty work, and technology to carry out his evil plans. He seems less of the eternal demi-god from the original story, The Celestial Toymaker. But the story rattles along and Graham Williams delivers some laugh-out-loud lines and descriptions. Maybe he did more than just supply Douglas Adams with whiskey and black coffee to write City of Death?

It’s hard to imagine how the denouement with the Doctor playing a space-invaders type arcade game would have played out if filmed. But the Doctor eventually [spoilers] traps the Toymaker alive in a perpetual prison – shades of the cruel fates of the Family of Blood. Overall, it’s an enjoyable alternative history for the Sixth Doctor and Peri. And the Toymaker. Yes, he’s back. I may have mentioned it earlier.

But, of course, he wasn’t back in 1986, not on TV. Which would have changed Doctor Who history. If he had been back, then Russell T Davies may not have resurrected an old foe last seen in the mid-80s, rather than a mysterious mandarin who terrorised the First Doctor back in the 1960s. And for that we should be grateful. Sorry Graham. Cancelled again.

Sorry for the downbeat ending. You want something fun? I know, I’ll take you to… Camden!

The Nightmare Fair is out now from BBC Audio.

Peter Shaw

Reviewed: The Nightmare Fair, a Sixth Doctor Audiobook Starring the Celestial Toymaker

by Peter Shaw time to read: 3 min
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