Well...what can I say about 'Castle of Fear'?
I really enjoyed it and found it very amusing. Of course I had to listen to it a number of times in order to get my head around the some of the terminology they used in the Middle Ages.
I had my CD cover for this story signed recently by the lovely Sarah Sutton who plays Nyssa. She's absolutely brilliant in this story, and it happens to be one of her favourites which I can understand why that is. She said to me she listened to it in the car and remembered really enjoyed the recording of that story with the cast especially with likes of John Sessions.
It was Christmas 2009 for me, and I was so excited about the new trilogy being released from Big Finish, featuring the Doctor and Nyssa who are my favourite TARDIS duo.
The setting for the trilogy is in a special place from comic book land called Stockbridge. I've never read any of the Fifth Doctor comic book adventures, but that didn't matter to me as this was a trilogy that featured the Doctor and Nyssa, and that was enough for me to enjoy.
"Castle of Fear" really sets 'The Stockbridge Trilogy' off to a good start, and it certainly feels like a Christmas offering. The Doctor and Nyssa attend a Boxing Day gathering at the 'Green Dragon Inn' in 1899. They watch a mummer's play being performed about 'St. George and the fiery Dragon', and it happens to feature a certain 'doctor' with a stick of celery on his lapel. As you can guess this concerns the Doctor greatly and it isn't before long that the Doctor and Nyssa are whisked off back in time to the 'measly' Middle Ages at Stockbridge Castle.
Written by Alan Barnes (Big Finish's Script Editor), this story is filled with doses of drama and comedy, from the likes of 'Monty Python' and 'Blackadder'. This is evident in the performances of some of the guest stars in the play, which I really like. Some of the guest stars are outrageously funny and over-the-top with their performances, and it made me think 'wait a minute, this can't be happening!' The cast feature the likes of John Sessions, Joe Thomas and Susan Brown.
John Sessions, who plays Sir Roland of Britanny, is outrageously funny as he's playing a Normandy Knight with a bad French accent, with a cruel streak in him. As the story goes, Roland claims to be a famous knight declaring glory and honour on his noble quest. It isn't before long that he soon loses his accent and the secret's out that he's not what he seems.
Joe Thomas (from 'The Inbetweeners') who plays Hubert, Earl of Mommerset, was such a delight to listen to. His stuck-up upper class manners really make the comedy work and Joe Thomas certainly has good comic timing. Hubert, who returns to Stockbridge Castle to claim his inheritance, is an interesting story, as it turns out that Hubert isn't the 'Earl of Mommerset' at all. He's not even 'Hubert'!
Susan Brown (straight from 'Torchwood - Children of Earth'
) gives a really extraordinarily funny performance as Maud the Withered. Her cackling laugh that echoed over the closing credits of 'Part One' really gave me the shudders not to mention bewilderment. Her 'You're doomed! DOOMED!' reminded me very much of Dad's Army's Private Frazer. I really like the scenes she has with the Doctor when she helps him out of the boar trap and into the castle underground. It's such a shame she got killed off at the end of 'Part Two'.
When it's revealed who the 'demons' of Stockbridge Castle were, it took me completely by surprise. I wasn't expecting it and it was week before I'd seen 'Horror of Fang Rock'
on New Year's Day, but in fact it turned out to be the Rutans, enemies of the Sontarans.
Nyssa's definitely the highlight for me in this story. She gets to do so much in this story when separated from the Doctor. It's nice that Nyssa has a sense of humour, although that's not implying she didn't have one before. I really like the moments she laughs during the story when she finds things amusing i.e. when having a piggy-back on Osbert or when seeing Roland's long johns. I like the scenes when she stands up to Roland about his principles as a 'mercenary' and that beautiful line she gave when said 'I'd rather be a peasant than a mercenary'. It demonstrates her compassionate and caring nature in the story, especially when she befriends a certain peasant named Osbert.
She had me completely fooled in 'Part Four'. Like the Doctor, I thought that the Rutans had actually killed her or she'd been turned into one of them. I really like it that it's Nyssa who saves the day from the Rutans and not the Doctor, and that she solves the mystery of the mummer's play connecting with the events of Stockbridge Castle in the Middle Ages.
Nyssa of course visited Stockbridge before this story, as she had a love affair with Andrew in the 'Autumn' episode of 'Circular Time'
, which is my favourite Doctor and Nyssa audio. I was very pleased that the connection was made to Nyssa's past in 'Castle of Fear' as well as for the whole trilogy.
Peter Davison is certainly my one of my favourite out of three Doctors (the other's being Christopher Eccelston and David Tennant). His energy really fuels his characterisation of the Doctor, as he's so determined to solve the mystery of Stockbridge Castle and his reluctance to take part in events such as the mummer's play featuring a certain 'doctor' makes the comedy really work. His fondness for Nyssa really stands out in this story, as it's clear that she's his favourite companion.
The climax of 'Castle of Fear' ends on a cliff-hanger in which the Doctor and Nyssa are trapped in the Rutan ship and it explodes. This of course leads into the next story of the trilogy, which I couldn't wait to listen to after hearing this one.
The special features included on this CD are some 'behind-the-scenes' interviews with the cast and crew on disc one. I really like the comments made by Sarah Sutton, Peter Davison and some of the crew about how the Big Finish audios really develop their characters, especially with Nyssa.
There's a mini-episode of 'The Three Companions' on disc two. This stars Nicholas Courtney as 'The Brigadier', Anneke Wills as 'Polly' and John Pickard as 'Thomas Brewster'. Although I couldn't quite follow what was going on, I really enjoyed listening to the voices of the actors playing their parts.
And the CD wouldn't be complete without a 'next-time' trailer for 'The Eternal Summer'
. All I can say is that I immediately put the first disc of that story into my CD player after listening to 'Castle of Fear'...